This is part of a sponsored collaboration with Disney. I received an all-expense paid trip from Disney so that I could gather and share this information about working behind the scenes of Beauty and the Beast. However, the Beauty and the Beast review, experiences and opinions are always 100% my own as this post is written by me in its entirety. This post contains affiliate links.
When we go to see a movie, or a stage production or anything really, we tend to only see what’s in front of our eyes. But there is SO MUCH more to what we see – and it all starts at the back of the house. In order to truly appreciate the beauty of the rose, you need to know how it came to be. Join me on a journey behind the scenes of Beauty and the Beast with Director Bill Condon and legendary Composer Alan Menken, for true beauty lies within.
Behind the Scenes of Beauty and the Beast
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve seen the animated version and the stage production. Adapting a musical to film takes fine balance – throw in the animated film and you are walking on a tight rope, especially in staying true to the original. So how did you manage to incorporate all of this and how is it different from working straight off of a musical?
Bill: Well the thing is that it had been conceived as a movie first so there are certain principles like you can’t just stop a movie for a ballad for three minutes. The story’s gotta be told during the course of a movie number. You can’t do things you can do on stage. So that had already been figured out by Alan and Howard and the creations of the originals so that was a useful thing to build on and I think for me in terms of making it different you take the number of Belle. People look at that and say, well, it’s just the way it was in the animated but actually in the course of that we’re telling some other new stories.
Its revealing more. It wasn’t about reinventing. 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? I hope never to cross that line by changing something or going too far. – Bill Condon
We’re showing the fact that this is a village where only boys go to school or girls do their laundry and where the village lasses who are so into Gaston resent Belle because their mother has always doted more on Belle than them. Little glimpses into characters who then turn out to play bigger roles, one of them turns out to be Mr. Potts. One of them turns out to be somebody else’s spouse, so it was fun to be able to pack as much story into the songs because that’s when movie songs really work.
Alan: What Bill was doing you could compare it a high wire act. I mean in a sense every choice he makes is one that has to be weighed against the next choice he makes and then also what was there and people’s expectations. My job as I often liken what I do to being an architect, we take a story and we create structures that can be musicalized and write these songs and we create that structure. I love when a song or a musical of mine is re-conceived as long as you don’t take our numbers and throw a hand grenade to it. A structure is a structure but then it’s great when it gets reinvented and that’s been so well done with this movie.
When I heard that Bill was directing it, I didn’t know him. I knew the work hr 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 that was huge. – Alan Menken
On working together throughout the process
Bill: I was intimidated at our first meeting because here I am and I’m 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. 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. We just started a conversation and it went on for a couple of years, right?
Alan: Yeah, and we’re both professionals. I mean we both have done a lot of work. We know what’s necessary in order to collaborate and there are people who are new to musicals and will try to reinvent the wheel in one direction or another. Both of us have been through so much and when you’re a pro you basically arrive at the same place kind of because you know what’s important and you know what needs to get done. You also by the way know the necessity of process and I know that for me to go back to Beauty and the Beast on my own, no way I could do it. It’s all about other people coming in and collaborating and for me the director is the boss and so it takes such a burden off of me. Now I’m able to be a catalyst which is what I wanna be more than somebody driving the ship. Bill had the burden of actually driving the ship.
Adding “new” and “new old” music
Bill: There was a song that was originally conceived for the animated film, put into reissues of the film and put into the Broadway musical called Human Again. It’s a fantastic song and I think one of your favorites. That was an early conversation that just felt, even in a movie this scale it took two and a half years to do Be Our Guest and Human Again, even bigger in away and that just became something that we had to sacrifice. Part of the feelings and what happens in Human Again got translated really into Days in the Sun, which has a very different feel.
Alan: Human Again, because of Howard, it’s a brilliant song, it really is but it was always problematic, always. It was a nine minute sequence going through so many sections and so many edits, basically watching the entire coming together of Belle and the Beast and watching the objects react and going into a scene and coming back to the song. It was always a challenge to get it in. We ended up cutting it down to about six minutes by the time it got back into the animated movie and then I think it got cut even a little further for the Broadway show but I think in the future maybe we’ll do a whole musical call Human Again and make up for it.
Days in the Sun, before Bill was on as a director back to about 2008, there was discussions about a movie version of Beauty and actually went as far as early script. When I was in London working on Sister Act Tim was there and I said let’s try working on a couple of songs. 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 to be a vehicle of so much back story and we’re threading a lot of story to it.
Finding the perfect 21st century Belle in Emma Watson
Bill: After 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. She came with a whole pile of books and I was late because I was shooting and she was in the middle of reading. The only question really became she’s sung professionally before and she needed to answer that question for herself too.
It was Christmas holiday and she said you go out and get a script together you can send me. We made a handshake deal and Emma’s gonna go off to make a tape and explore her voice and that was the 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 g-d, that’s the sound that comes out of you. We’ve seen that a few time in movies too, but her voice is so much a continuation of who she is and how she speaks. 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 it was gonna be a really satisfying one.
Alan: She was a little terrified. 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 the way it always is but it’s so helpful because I think she was 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. I really hung back in the back of the control room. We also had a guy named Matt Sullivan who is a music supervisor and he had to give Emma the space to just find her voice and work on it. And she did and Dan was similar, it was new for both of them.
Alan is an incredible inspiration. He’s been working with Beauty and the Beast since the 1991 animation. What wisdom would he impart on his younger self and others?
“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. 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. 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, you know, being the nurse mate to your own material.”
Alan Menken – Overture from Beauty and the Beast – Get the soundtrack and listen along as you journey behind the scenes of Beauty and the Beast!
I hope you enjoyed going behind the scenes of Beauty and the Beast with Director Bill Condon and Composer Alan Menken! This is our group shot following the interview – don’t mind the faces, Bill and Alan were chatting about where there were headed for a much-needed vacation.
Go behind the scenes of Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson, director Bill Condon, and the rest of the cast and see how they brought the tale as old as time to life in a whole new way.
Beauty and the Beast is now playing in theatres everywhere!
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Photography by Coralie Hughes Seright/LovebugsandPostcards.com, Mama’s Mission and Disney – Behind the Scenes of Beauty and the Beast