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December 2017

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Page 17 of 43 16 POST DECEMBER 2017 DIRECTOR'S CHAIR o paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of musicals have been greatly exaggerated. Exhibit A: Last year's smash hit La La Land grossed some $450 million, and won a raft of awards, including six Oscars, seven Golden Globes and five BAFTAs. Exhibit B: This year, noted Aussie commercials director Michael Gracey makes his feature directorial debut with the highly anticipated new mu- sical The Greatest Showman, out on Christmas Day from Fox. The story of P.T. Barnum — arguably the creator of modern showbiz — The Greatest Showman features an all-star cast, in- cluding Hugh Jackman as the flamboy- ant Barnum, Zac Efron as his protégé, Michelle Williams as his long-suffering wife Charity, and Zendaya as a tra- peze artist, along with original songs composed by the La La Land duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Gracey also assembled an impressive behind-the-camera team of collabora- tors that included production designer Nathan Crowley, DP Seamus McGarvey, a posse of editors, and an army of VFX artists and technicians. Here, in an exclusive interview for Post, Gracey, who was still deep in post at press time, talks about making the film, his love of post and CGI, and how shooting com- mercials prepared him for features. This was a very ambitious project to take on for your feature film debut. How scary was it? "It actually wasn't that scary for me, as I was coming from a music video and commercials background — and in commercials, I specialize in a lot of dance and spectacle, so it made a lot of sense to me to do my first movie where I could incorporate a lot of that stuff. Fifteen years of commercials is the best training you can get for movies. So the big scale and all the work pulling the music and dance together felt very comfortable for me. I felt incredibly safe and confident in handling all that. But you're right in that it was scary in terms of the ambition and trying to make a totally-original musical. In Hollywood now, it's not that common to make a big, standalone movie from scratch that's not based on an existing piece of material or franchise." What sort of film did you set out to make? "I wanted to make a film that would en- tertain audiences in the same way all the classic musicals like West Side Story, The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins enter- tained me as a kid. The great ambition and dream was to try and make something that 30, 40 years later still resonates and is still relevant in the same way, with great songs and music and dance numbers — and that's more than just another film." What were the main technical challenges of pulling all this together? "My background is in animation and VFX, but there were a lot of people who were very concerned about the huge scale of this and the ambition of my first film, so very early on — even before it was green-lit — I was doing previs of all the musical numbers. That was a huge help in explaining to people what my ambitions and goals were, and it helped with all the music and if we needed to change a lyric or whatever. So it became the blueprint for the whole film, when we were on-set, and we also did 10 weeks of intense rehearsal first, which is very unusual when you have big stars like Hugh and Zac and Zendaya, as they can shoot another movie during that time. But it all became very much a passion piece for everyone, and they all committed 100 percent. And then it went from the CGI previs to video previs, and we edited all those videos together and then really analyzed all that to see where it worked and where it didn't, and that was the key to the whole process. Historically, you'd do an out-of-town run first for a big musical like this, so you could work out all the kinks, so our re- hearsal period was our out-of-town run." How tough was the shoot? "Pretty tough. It was a very long shoot be- cause of everything we had to do for real after the rehearsals. We had to re-block a lot of the scenes in the locations as it all changed once we were actually in the lo- cations and in a hall or stairwell instead of just rehearsing against black drapes. And often, after a long hard day of filming, we'd have to recalibrate what we'd done in rehearsal for the next day's shoot, so it was very grueling. But we also ran on adrenaline and it was very high energy a lot of the time. We shot on the Arri Alexa and also Blackmagic [Design] 4Ks and then we'd cut stuff together every night." All the visual effects were obviously crucial. How early on did you integrate post and VFX with the production? "Right from the very start. Even during the rehearsals, if there was a crucial element, such as CG animals like the elephants, or even a trapeze artist we couldn't do, Cameron would take the footage and incorporate all the previs CGI stuff in the videos and do postvis and drop in all the needed elements." MICHAEL GRACEY ON THE GREATEST SHOWMAN BY IAIN BLAIR T FROM COMMERCIALS TO THE HIGHLY ANTICIPATED NEW MUSICAL Michael Gracey (center) on-set.

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