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Immersed in Movies: 'Les Mis' Creators Schönberg and Boublil Talk Oscar-Nominated Song 'Suddenly'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood January 16, 2013 at 2:56PM

There's nothing that demonstrates the difference between the "Les Misérables" stage show and movie more than the new Oscar-nominated song, "Suddenly." The tender lullaby sung by Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) to little Cosette (Isabelle Allen) in a carriage never could've been carried off on stage...
Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne in 'Les Miserables'
Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne in 'Les Miserables'

But it wasn't until Hooper (fresh from his "King's Speech" Oscar triumph) grabbed a hold of "Les Mis" as an allegorical spectacle about the disparity between rich and poor that Schönberg and Boublil saw their project finally reach the screen. And it wasn't until Baz Luhrmann ("Moulin Rouge!") assured Hooper that the sung-through style was the only way to go, that Hooper made the bold decision to record all the songs live on set to make it more believable (as though the soliloquies were sung like prayers).

"It was experimental and risky doing a complete movie with live recording on the set with the actors and piano in a booth that they could hear with little earphones," Schönberg explains. "It had never been done before and could only be accomplished with Pro Tools digital technology. When we finished the shooting and editing, we did the recording with 66 musicians in sync with the voices. That was tough. We were discovering it day after day and solving problems together. And it was new territory for us."

Yet the filmmakers also realized that it would be tiring and dangerous without some dialogue support at the right place so the music could start again. "The combination is part of a new convention of full sung with bits of dialogue and that creates the flow," Boublil says. "We needed a return to reality with easy transitions from singing to non-singing."

At the same time, Schönberg and Boublil had a creative opportunity to make some dramatic improvements. For instance, by having Fantine sing the popular "I Dream a Dream" after she's raped by her first customer instead of after losing her job at the factory, it adds greater intensity to Anne Hathaway's Oscar-nominated performance.

They also turned "Do You Hear the People Sing?" into a more important anthem by opening it up. "It is now a real moment that illustrates the funeral of General Lamarque," Schönberg adds. "In the show he's just a name you hear several times. But he is the defender of the poor and his death is the key to the uprising. And we've properly staged his funeral and it does justice to the song as the students bring the nobility, majesty, and anger that it needs."

From a quiet lullaby to a stirring anthem, that's apparently the "Les Mis" movie musical that Schönberg and Boublil envisioned all along.

Original New Song: "Suddenly" featurette

This article is related to: Les Miserables, Immersed In Movies, Interviews , Features, Tom Hooper, Hugh Jackman

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.