Recently Sia came together virtually with her stars to discuss MUSIC and the journey they took to bring this singular film to life. Former Rolling Stone magazine editor David Wild conducted this interview. This is an excerpt of that conversation:
David Wild: To start off, I’m David Wild and I am a music lover in every way and even more so because of this movie. When you see something this powerful moving and unique, I have to ask, what went so right in the making of this movie?
Sia: I guess the universe, at least that is what I kept saying during the making of this film. MUSIC started life as a short story, and Maddie Ziegler’s character is based on a young boy on the autism spectrum who I met in an AA meeting. His mother was the sign language interpreter for the meeting and she couldn’t afford babysitting so she brought him with her every Sunday morning and I developed a connection with him. One day she said, ‘Who will love him
when I’m gone?” and that was the genesis of the story that became MUSIC.
Kate Hudson: Any film always starts with the writing. It all starts with the screenplay. For this particular story you have Dallas Clayton and Sia who are very close and you can feel that intimacy on the page. The story was something that I hadn’t read before. When you work with Sia you realize there is a connection to childhood that comes out in the way that she sees things. It’s so explosive and imaginative, and because it is Sia you can be confident that what you read on the page you will experience on the set. Whenever we got into the
scenes or the songs or the choreography there was this childlike essence to it. Everything she put on the page is weighted and it is intense, and it’s all about love and redemption. MUSIC is so refreshing because there is just nothing else like it. When we were shooting Sia would say we’re making art and that’s what we felt like we were doing.
David Wild: Absolutely. I watched it late last night and I was riveted. I was thinking I can’t even relate to anything else I’ve ever seen in terms of what it’s making me feel. The closest I could come to a bit of a comparison is the way I felt the first time I heard the album “Tommy” by the Who. Leslie what connects with you about this movie?
Leslie Odom Jr.: You asked about what went right with this film. I love that question. In my experience, it is always really hard to lead from the rear. Sia had a clear vision, as she always does. That was our blueprint. We knew that the architect had given us good lines and it was our job to build it out. And, then when you have actors to work with like Kate and Maddie you have people there that are thinking about the ecosystem on this set. They are there to really put others before themselves and they’re focused on the work and everybody else falls in line. When it’s not working, I find that ego only ruins projects. Collaboration is what made this beautiful for us, for me anyway. It felt that we were all collaborators and we had a lot of laughs.
David Wild: Sia, I’ve been working on the Grammys for 20 years and I have never forgotten the moment when you and Maddie came in and I was privileged to see your unbelievable creative force playing out on our stage. But I have to wonder, making a movie is daunting. Was it even daunting for you? You have reinvented the musical, and you have tackled marrying profound human drama with a touch of comedy. It could not be a more ambitious movie.
Sia: I had directed music videos so I naively thought it would just be like making a very long music video. And, I didn’t even consider the fact that most directors just direct, they don’t also help design the costumes and write the songs. But, you know what, I loved it. Even when we had problems it was like a puzzle.
I did make it a bit difficult on my producer and my editor because the way that we shot was really unconventional. Normally, you block something out and you stick to that for every take you do with each character. I didn’t know about that. Our very experienced DP Sebastian Winterø did, but he was willing to go on this journey with me and in the end we had everything we needed.
Also, when I expanded the story into a screenplay I did not originally think about making it a musical but everyone was like “you’re f——- stupid.” I finally listened and I wrote songs that would move the story into different places. When I was writing the script with my co-writer Dallas Clayton I worked out the dialogue in my head. Then I would act things out to see how it felt. It is the same way I create music, I sing the melody as I write the lyrics.
As everyone knows Maddie Ziegler is my muse and I wrote the character of Music with her in mind. Having worked with her since she was a little girl she is like family to me, and having directed her in my music videos I knew that together we could create the character of Music. It was very important to both of us that we make Music a sensitive representation of a child on the autism spectrum.
David Wild: For the actors, the chemistry between you is so spectacular. Can the three of you talk to us about what it was like creating these characters together as an ensemble? Maddie : Once we were all on set it felt like we were the characters, it felt like
it was our lives, because Kate, Leslie and I became them all at once. I instantly felt protected by Leslie, and I felt safe because I had him there to ground me. And then, with Kate it just felt like she was my sister and I felt like family with her. I learned so much, and I was in awe the whole time, and I could not imagine playing anyone else’s sister in that moment, and it was just the best experience.
Kate: I know, it was the best, I get really emotional thinking about it. We had an amazing time. There was so much love, and that’s what the movie is about. It’s just above love, isn’t it? It’s about accepting that you’re lovable, or that you have the capacity to love. It’s what everybody needs to hear right now. It couldn’t be more timely.
Leslie: And, MUSIC unites. Musicals cross cultural boundaries and unites people.
Kate: I look at it as a musical experience, but not a typical musical. I think the reason why I was cast in “Almost Famous” was because of the way I talked to Cameron about how I feel about music.
It takes a particular type of director to really be able to have the musicality to understand how music can elevate and transform a film, it’s the great unifier, and you feel that in this movie.
David Wild: What do you hope people will take away from the film?
Leslie: People will choose their own adventure, but I’ll tell you what it taught me. It really taught me about the limits that I place on my own imagination. It is incredible working with Sia, who as a collaborator doesn’t judge the things that come to her. Her inspiration, the things that drop and wherever they come from, they come to her heart, they hit her, and she does her best to see
them through. How many times do we get hit with things we think are great ideas but tell ourselves..‘I’m not the one to bring them into the world.’ This was the first time that I was in an environment working with someone so closely whose channel is not blocked. So I really hope that when people see MUSIC it ignites and encourages them to think in a limitless way. To get that ceiling out of the way and use their imaginations in ways that they’ve never done before.
Kate: I love that so much!
Sia: I just went boldly where I’d never been before, and I had a great team, you guys all helped me a lot because you’ve done it before, and my producer Vincent Landay, is unbelievable. He produced “Adaptation” “Being John Malkovich,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” and “Her.” He is a genius.
And he helped me, and I often deferred to him because it was my first time making a film. I would say “I want to do this, but are you telling me that’s the wrong thing to do, that I might regret that?” What was great about Vince is that he’d always let me try something, and then he’d say “now let’s do a safer version so you have all the coverage you need.”
I have you guys to thank for helping me make this dream come true, and Vince, and Ryan, the choreographer, the whole crew, there’s no way this movie would’ve happened without every single one of you. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, and it’s the most meaningful, and the most difficult,
Kate: Love you Sia, love you Sia : It was a very special set. Everybody came to work excited to be there everyday.
Kate: Sia, there was so much love put into this and that’s what the movie was for me, it was about how we love. And love is a verb, we have to activate it, we have to actively seek it, we have to actively show it.
Maddie: I feel like MUSIC is about acceptance, and that’s what it means to me. I feel like, as Music, playing her, I felt so accepted, and that’s what I want everyone to take away from this movie. The biggest thing I’ve taken from this movie is that we should never try to change people. I feel like that translated into my everyday life, and I’m so thankful for that. it’s about love, and warmth, and being welcomed, and that’s everything that I hope everyone learns and
takes away from this movie.
Sia: I love movies that break your heart, then make you laugh and put it back together again. They are like chiaroscuro, they have lightness and they have darkness but there is humor as well.
The movies I love have this magic and this rawness, and that was what I wanted for MUSIC.
I want people to have feelings while they are watching the film.
That’s the whole purpose of art — to create feelings.