Bill Condon and Alan Menken Discuss Making Beauty and the Beast
For as long as I can remember Disney’s animated classic Beauty and the Beast had been my favorite Disney movie of all time. I never thought anything would ever take it’s place. I was wrong. After screening the new live action version of Beauty and the Beast, I officially have a new favorite.
I’m always honored when I have the opportunity to sit down with the film-makers for my favorite movies. It makes me feel more connected to the projects, and when they do well, I feel a personal sense of accomplishment. We were interested in how Condon and Menken got connected to Beauty and the Beast.
AM : I was drawn to the story by Disney. I mean it was basically Howard Ashman and I were working Little Mermaid, it hadn’t been released yet but people were very happy with it and they said how about Beauty and the Beast. We’re interested in doing that next. I have to say Howard and I actually, we had Aladdin but Aladdin had to go back to development because we were a bit to edgy. There was more development work to do on that so Beauty and the Beast then came in and became the next thing we worked on together.
As far as what drew me to it beyond that I mean I gotta go back and credit Howard who looked at the initial story and how you’re gonna turn it into an animated musical then it was a matter of inventing the enchanted objects and inventing a huge ego for Gaston and his posse of nitwits who praise him. So simply because for the structure we needed to put in production numbers and comedy numbers and so it was all those brilliant ideas and I gotta say Howard was so instrumental in that.
BC : There’s this movie, this classic, perfect movie that already exist and for me more than anything it was the score, the chance to really roll around in that music and to restage it, do a kind of new version of it in a live action format but to specially those songs. It just felt to me that, that like a once in a lifetime opportunity.
AM : When I heard that Bill was directing it I didn’t know you. I knew the work you had done but Richard said Bill is a major fan of musical theatre. He loves it so this was oh, he knows the craft. He knows musicals and so that was huge.
The music in the live action film really sealed the deal for me. All of the originals are still in the film. That was huge. There’s also three songs added to the film that adds to the musical journey.
AM: Days in the Sun, before Bill was on as a director, this goes back to about 2008. There was discussions about a movie version of Beauty and actually went as far as early script and when I was in London working on Sister Act Tim was there and I said let’s try, you know, working on a couple of songs. The Days in the Sun, the genesis of that actually began back there as sort of a lullaby moment but once Bill came aboard then that really got reworked, you know, to be a vehicle of so much back story and we’re threading a lot of story to it.
And the other songs I would say they were the song we decide at the beginning. Some moments we followed through on. You know, the actual conception of the songs was yes, here they are. The actual execution was two years of here are these songs, black and blue and we’re gonna reprise it here and we’re gonna put it so a little bit of How Does a Moment Last Forever into the middle of Days in the Sun. We’re gonna take Days in the Sun theme and we’re gonna put it at the top as the Aria and just, you know you begin, you have these threads and you begin to weave with them. I never, by the way I never pull from a trunk, ever.
Bill talked to us about how he felt working with the iconic Menken on Beauty and the Beast. He opened up about their work process, and how they created the visual beauty that we’re all falling in love with.
BC : Well for me I was intimidated at our first meeting because here I am and I’m sort of talking about the first possible new song and this is a legendary composer but also it’s a property that as we keep saying is perfect on its own so it’s like okay, gonna tell me we need that but Alan is a direct opposite of that. You know, I think Alan as a man of the theatre, is somebody who craves the dialogue and the collaboration. I think that’s what it’s about and that became clear very, very soon, you know. We just started a conversation, you know, it went on for a couple of years, right?
Next we talked about the challenges they faced of preserving the timeless classic while adding new things into the movie.
BC : I think again it was always about revealing more. It wasn’t about reinventing. So it was like you start to bring it into the real world and you start to ask questions that didn’t matter in the animated film. How did Belle and Maurice wind up in this village. What happened to her mother? How did the Prince become such a dissolute figure that he was worthy of being cursed, you know? And, it’s interesting you start asking those questions and you start to bat around what the possible answers are. Then you’re making something different but I think for me I could ever really rely on my own kind of reverence for the original film in knowing when you’re changing something or going too far. You know, I hope never to cross that line.
When you see the film, you know that Emma Watson was the perfect choice for Belle. I can’t think of a single actress that would have pulled it off so well. We asked Condon how did he know she was his Belle.
BC : Well I suspected it was just seeing her in Harry Potter. It seemed like that was a perfect kind of connection to a 21st century Belle. Then we met. I was shooting a movie called Mr. Holmes. We met for an hour and the thing that I loved was how much she loved the original movie and how much she wanted to play the part and she came with a whole pile of books because I was late because I was shooting and she was in the middle of reading so there she was. And then the only question really became she’s never sung professionally before. She needed to answer that question for herself too. She wanted to go off.
It was Christmas holiday and she said you go out and get a script together you can send it to me. We made a handshake deal and Emma’s gonna go off and make a tape and explore her voice and that was the thing, that kind of scary moment. To me it’s more intimate than taking your clothes when you first hear somebody sing even in a karaoke session. It’s like oh, my god, that’s the sound that comes out of you. We’ve seen that a few time in movies too but, but, for her the voice, her voice is so much a continuation of who she is and how she speaks and there was clearly this kind of sweetness to it and clarity to it that made it seem like it was gonna be a different Belle but I was gonna be a really satisfying one.
AM : She was a little terrified. I mean no bones about it and we made sure she had her vocal coach. I had Michael Kosarin, my musical director. Bill was actually at the sessions. This is not necessarily it always is but it’s so helpful because she was I think really intimidated by me. I don’t know why. Possibly because of me being the composer I don’t think she wanted to be that vulnerable in front of me so I really hung back, you know, in the control room and in the back of the control room. And we also had a guy named Matt Sullivan who is a music supervisor and just gave, had to give Emma the space to just find her voice and work on it and work on it and she did and Dan was similar. He also was, you know, it was new for both of them.
You always seem to know all the answers in hindsight. Of course that works because you’ve already been thought it. We asked the men what advice would they give to their younger selves.
AM : What would I tell? Well, it’s just stuff I’ve learned. I mean one of the most important things I learned in my career was it’s not about me. It’s about the characters and the story and don’t ever fall in love with your own material. Let other people fall in love with it if they want and if you have a note, the best way to address a note is to go okay, and just do it because you’re part of a thing that’s larger than you and the more, that’s what’s great about musical theater also.
The more that you’re recognizing that you’re part is bigger than you and you are a part of that and just stay in the process that you can survive. I mean the most tragic thing and you can see this too is people who go I wrote this wonderful music. I don’t know why it wasn’t a hit. I gotta try. I gotta keep working. I don’t understand why they didn’t like it. It’s just tragic. Don’t try it out. Push it aside and go on to something else. Write another musical and another and another. Just move on and don’t get stuck being the nurse mate to your own material.
Our final question was to Menken, music has a way to molding our lives, and speaking to us on an emotional level. We asked how does it feel when he hears stories of how his music impacted others.
AM : It’s unreal. It’s unreal. It gives me, frankly it gives me more of a sense of what we think of a collective consciousness, that we’re all a part of a collective consciousness because, we as artists are conduits for emotion and for things they really come through us. I mean god knows we shape them and so I just feel very blessed honestly, blessed that I’m a vehicle for that when I sometimes. That’s amazing and wonderful because basically I was a kid who liked to practice the piano and I was a nervous kid with an ulcer and I just was a dreamer and then somehow I found that writing songs was really composing was where my brain would settle and I just did it and did it and did it and now it has an impact on people like that and that’s I’m just living my life and it’s had that effect and wow.
Beauty and the Beast is now playing in theaters everywhere. Be sure to grab your tickets and enjoy during opening weekend. Download the Atom App and earn a $5 gift with you buy two tickets with code BEAUTY.
About Beauty and the Beast:
The story and characters audiences know and love come to spectacular life in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” a live-action adaption on of the studio’s animated classic featuring an extraordinary ensemble cast, including: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Hattie Morahan and Nathan Mack with Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson.
Directed by Bill Condon and based on the 1991 animated film “Beauty and the Beast,” the screenplay is written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Alan Menken provides the score, which includes new recordings of the original songs written by Menken and Howard Ashman as well as three new songs written by Menken and Tim Rice. The film is produced by Mandeville Films’ David Hoberman, p.g.a. and Todd Lieberman, p.g.a with Jeffrey Silver, Thomas Schumacher and Don Hahn serving as executive producers.