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Posted June 6, 2015 by admin in Resource
 
 

Catatan Produksi Film Begin Again (2014)


About the Production

“If music be the food of love, play on,” wrote William Shakespeare over 400 years ago, reminding us of the way that music can inspire and speak to our emotions and connections in a deeper and more profound way than simple words. It’s no wonder, then, that the cinema has embraced the power of music to capture and enhance the screen’s powerful connection to the human spirit. No one knows that better than filmmaker John Carney, whose 2006 film ONCE went from being the find of the Sundance Film Festival to winning the Independent Spirit Award for Best Foreign Film, earning a Grammy nomination for its soundtrack, and winning the Best Original Song Academy Award for the romantic ballad “Falling Slowly” (composed and performed by the film’s stars, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.) The stage play based on the film then went on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical.

Now, Carney has brought his unique perspective to New York City for another film that documents the power of music as it changes the lives and fortunes of two struggling souls. In BEGIN AGAIN, past-his-prime record executive Dan Mulligan (played by Mark Ruffalo) is facing a failing marriage, a career he can’t keep up with, and a daughter he can’t connect to. But at his most desperate moment, he hears a powerful song by Gretta (Keira Knightley), an unknown musician on the brink of giving up her musical dreams after unexpected heartbreak and frustration. An unlikely pair who are brought together by equal parts inspiration and desperation, the film follows them as their musical partnership develops into a deep friendship, and their lives take unexpected turns.

For Carney, the idea for the film originated in the relationship between Gretta and her musician boyfriend Dave (played by Adam Levine of “The Voice” and Maroon 5). “I wanted to do something with the idea of a couple who work together in the same area of the arts, and what happens to the relationship when the playing field stops being level and one of them takes off. What happens to intimacy and trust and loyalty when fame comes along?” At the same time, Carney drew upon his own past as a professional musician to flesh out the story’s possible complications. “I got to see that whole world of A&R and publishing first hand before I left that world and got into film and TV,” he explains. “So I started to think – where are those A&R guys now? The ones in Ireland in the 1990s who were looking for the next U2 – where are they now that the industry has changed so much? Let’s find one of those guys and see where he is now, what happens when the jaded music executive of the nineties meets the young optimistic girl from now who can record and mix her album on her computer.”

“John is a really gifted director,” says Oscar nominee Ruffalo. “I loved ONCE and was thrilled to talk to him about this film. He does such a beautiful job of mixing music into the world of the film without it being a traditional musical. He’s like the John Cassevetes of cinematic musicals.”

Co-star Knightley admits she is best known for her costume dramas and period films. “My character has pretty much died in everything I’ve done for the last five years,” she jokes. “I decided I’d like to do something where I didn’t have to go through heavy emotional turmoil and die, if at all possible. There’s a touch of emotional turmoil in this, but in the end I found it to be incredibly hopeful. It’s rare to find pieces of work that are so full of hope.”

The relationship between Dan and Gretta is complex. Dan is still trying to work out his marriage to Miriam (Catherine Keener), while Gretta is still hoping that her relationship with the suddenly successful Dave will survive his newfound life in the spotlight. Rather than have Dan and Gretta make the predictable journey from friends to lovers, BEGIN AGAIN insists on making their connection intense and life-changing in surprising ways. Bound together by their mutual determination to bring Gretta’s music to life by recording her songs outdoors – with the sounds and rhythms of New York City as a sonic backdrop – they ultimately find themselves enmeshed in one another’s emotional lives, unsure of how the boundaries between friend, partner, and potential lover are supposed to be drawn. “It’s an odd-couple type of relationship,” observes Knightley. “These aren’t necessarily two people who would find each other, but this happens at a very strange moment in their lives, and they end up being exactly what the other needs.”

With a strong and uniquely powerful script, Carney was able to attract a compelling mixture of newcomers and seasoned veterans from many walks of the entertainment industry. “What we have is an incredible mix,” observes producer Anthony Bregman. “In addition to Mark Ruffalo and Catherine Keener, who have been working for decades, and Keira Knightley who has done Oscar-nominated work and the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, we also have Hailee Steinfeld from TRUE GRIT; we have James Corden from British TV who just won a Tony Award; and people from the music industry like Adam Levine from Maroon 5, CeeLo Green and Yasiin Bey (also known as Mos Def.) It’s very rare to have that combination of actors from so many different disciplines in one movie.”

Indeed, the challenge of casting actors like Knightley not known for their singing talents, and singers (like Levine and Green) who have very little experience acting, might have been daunting to many filmmakers. But cast and crew alike agree that the combination and collaboration has proved productive, if not magical. “I’ve never done anything like this,” admits Knightley. “A lot of the music wasn’t finished until I got to New York. I had been working with a vocal coach to find a sound that would work for the character, but two or three of Gretta’s songs were just handed to me on the day we recorded them, so there was been a bit of flying by the seat of our pants and hoping for the best. There’s an old stage saying: ‘It’ll be all right on the night.’ So far, it all seems to have gone all right.” Her modest impressions of her own talent are playfully contradicted by her costar: “Keira is fantastic,” says Ruffalo. “She’s fun and game for anything and a talented singer.”

“Keira brought an extra dimension to the script,” says Carney. “We suddenly had an English-American relationship which added a dimension of charm, and allowed us to have a very different tone from a cast of all Americans or all New Yorkers. In a way it reminded me of old films like CHARADE, where those two cultures meeting is part of the story’s appeal. I think as a filmmaker I need to play to the strengths of the actors, so Mark and Keira really shaped the film. As a director, I use the skills the people have, rather than what I wrote. Not to take advantage of that is a crime.”

Although he’s no stranger to the camera, having been a coach on the NBC show “The Voice” for several seasons, music star Levine had never tried dramatic acting until he was approached by Carney about playing the part of David. “I was honored just to be asked, and right off the bat I fell in love with the script. To have John believe in me is really exciting,” he says today. “John saw something in me that was this character – whether that is flattering or not, I can’t tell, but I would not have considered doing a film unless I was really connected to the material. I love John’s tone – he is a musician, and I think his sensibilities are those of a musician so we get along famously.”

“The music was easy,” admits Levine after shooting. “That’s kind of my wheelhouse, I guess, but the acting has been quite a challenge in a really great way. The only thing people said to me was ‘know your lines’ and ‘don’t act, just listen and react,’ and that was great advice. I’ve also found that being comfortable and receptive to direction makes it a lot easier. It was daunting going into this new world, but everyone was so sweet and made me feel comfortable and at home, so I felt like I was doing my best even though I had relatively little experience.”

“Performing music and acting are similar,” says industry veteran Green, another veteran of “The Voice” who plays the part of Troublegum, one of Dan’s former success stories who helps his old friend out by lending a hand to produce Gretta’s album. “In either case, you reenact the emotion of the experience when you are in the studio or on the set. There is a rhythm to the way that you walk, the way that you talk, the way that you react. It’s all poetry in motion. They are very kindred.” As for his own work, Green is cautiously optimistic that he can believably play a hip-hop star: “I can’t tell if they acted like I was doing a good job or if I really was,” he says with a smile, “but they are making me feel very comfortable. Mark Ruffalo said I did okay, so I think I’ll be all right.”

British-born stage and TV actor Corden, who plays the part of Steve, a friend of Gretta’s from back home who is also on hand to help her record, offers perhaps the most astute summary of his cast mates of various backgrounds. “Actors and musicians are similar,” he explains. “I think all actors secretly harbor a dream to be a musician, and all musicians want to be an actor one day. I’m not sure why, but it’s true of every actor I’ve met and every musician I’ve met. I think it’s because musicians see actors and say, ‘wouldn’t it be great to be someone else for a day?’ And actors see musicians and think, ‘wouldn’t it be great to just walk out as yourself and have that freedom to perform as yourself?'” As for his own limited experience with music, Corden is a bit less profound: “I’d tried to learn the guitar, and I’d never even picked one up,” he admits sheepishly. “Most of my preparation was just trying to look like a musician, because John is so insistent that all the music be played by the actors whenever possible.”

Also learning guitar is Steinfeld, who earned an Oscar nomination for her scene-stealing role in the Coen Brothers’ TRUE GRIT opposite Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. Wisely deciding to only pursue roles that will offer her a challenge and not interfere with her everyday teenage life, Steinfeld was excited to be part of BEGIN AGAIN. “There was never a minute when I felt bored. It’s not easy to find a group of people like that,” she says. “John really helped me out – when you see your director speak so highly of what you are doing, it’s really great.”

Steinfeld also picked up some guitar to play the part of Violet, who moves from being a sullen teenager to mending bridges with her father thanks to the kinship she forges with Gretta. “Music is important in this film,” says Steinfeld. “And music is a very big thing in my life. It really came in handy with the work that I did in the film. The vibe was just so great.”

Making Gretta’s dream come to life meant composing a number of original songs that not only reflected several different genres of contemporary popular music, but also reflected the inner emotional state of the characters. It also meant writing songs for Gretta that would inspire Dan to consider recording them outdoors in New York City. These couldn’t just be typical love ballads or tunes with a danceable beat. They needed to suggest the atmosphere and pulse of America’s most vibrant metropolis. “John feels as comfortable telling a story through music as he does through dialogue,” explains producer Tobin Armbrust. “I think he’s a brilliant director whether the scene has music or not, but John has a special connection.”

Although it might seem counter-intuitive, Carney actually held off on writing the songs for as long as possible, wanting to establish his characters through dialogue and action so that the film’s story would stand on its own before adding music that would complement and support the screenplay. That meant that most people working on the film read a script that merely indicated where songs would be placed and how they would function – without actually having any lyrics or melody to go by. “There’s a certain ‘trust me’ element to writing that way,” admits Carney. “You can only describe a song so well on the page. I think because we won the Oscar for ‘Falling Slowly’ from ONCE, people sort of trusted me. After the script was finished, I spoke to loads of recording artists. I wanted the music to be different from ONCE – even though Glen did end up writing one song for us. But I thought, what if Gretta was less folky and more pop-oriented, more Burt Bacharach? Eventually, Simon Carmody connected me with Gregg Alexander, who was from the band New Radicals. Gregg produced some wonderful songs, and it turned out to be a great process.”

“We felt confident we had a filmmaker who knew music,” says producer Tobin Armbrust. “I’ve never worked on a film that has this much music in it. It has to be done with such precision. We had to do live music on the set mixed with prerecorded music, so we needed music supervisors and sound people who are ready to go each day. Recording outdoors, you’re trying to get both the sound and the performances right.” The production managed to record many of the pre-recorded tracks in one of the city’s most famous studios. “The most fun was going into the studio and hearing the development of the songs that John and Gregg Alexander had put together,” Armbrust explains. “We were recording in Electric Lady Studios, so we had this great history and an extra bit of soul built in,” he says of the renowned Greenwich Village facility built by Jimi Hendrix, where rock legends from AC/DC to Frank Zappa have recorded in the last 45 years.

Making the film look as good as it sounds proved to be an equally daunting challenge. “New York is a huge character in the film, so it was interesting scouting locations and figuring out where we wanted the band to record the songs,” explains production designer Chad Keith. “We wanted to show New York as differently and as real as possible, so we needed a combination of both epic scenery and interesting sound.”

Executive Producer Sam Hoffman continues: “We would go location scouting, and we’d find a place and I’d think it was great. And John would say, ‘you’re doing it again, you’re scouting with your eyes? What is it about this place that would make you want to record an album here?’ We had to scout with our ears, which is something a director has never asked of me before.”

“The film is a love letter to New York City, written by an Irishman who lives in Dublin,” says producer Anthony Bregman. “In the original script, that affection and appreciation for New York was on every page. However, coming to New York and living here – having an actual knowledge of particular locations, how you get from one place to another – becomes apparent. And the evolution of the script came about as a result of choosing the locations, and John bicycling around the city, trying to get to know better what he had already fallen in love with.”

“Mark Ruffalo’s character is a real New Yorker,” adds Sam Hoffman. “And Keira’s character is someone who comes to New York. I think John Carney now embodies both of those perspectives; first he had that vision of the city as a tourist, and now he’s become a real New Yorker in the past few months and seems himself more as a resident.” Jokes Anthony Bregman, who has made dozens of films in and around the Big Apple: “He’s had all of the requisite experiences. He’s been in a bike accident, and yesterday he was pooped on by a pigeon, so he’s a New Yorker.”

The cast was equally thrilled about getting to work on the streets of New York City. “I love working there and how unpredictable it is,” says Ruffalo. “It has a life of its own, and if you try to fight it, it will kill you. But if you go with the flow, magical things can happen. It’s an amazing place to be an artist, and amazing place to fall in love, so it was a great backdrop for the story.”

“It was hot and humid, but we had a good time,” says Levine, who grew up in Southern California and has based his career there. “Previously, I’d never really gotten along with New York City,” he admits. “I’ve always wanted to have that quintessential New York experience – shooting the movie was the longest I’d been here, and now I feel like I’ve had that experience. I can honestly say I had the time of my life, and it made me think, ‘Well, maybe I could do this again!'”

“I’d never really filmed on city streets before,” offers Steinfeld. “And for this part, my wardrobe wasn’t really the most appropriate for a teenage girl. I kept getting looks on the street that were priceless. I’d see mothers with kids in strollers, and want to say to them, ‘Don’t look at me, this isn’t the real me, I promise!'”

Corden, who won his Tony Award for Best Actor shortly before he was cast in the film, had more of a chance to acclimate to New York and was equally enthused to be making a film there. “It was just a thrill for me,” he says. “I’m one of New York’s biggest fans. I love so many films that are set in New York. I’ve been there a while and seen people filming stuff, and I thought, ‘that just must be the coolest thing ever.’ I’m pleased to say I wasn’t let down. It was a dream come true for me.”

The special location, great characters, and talented ensemble made BEGIN AGAIN a unique production experience for all concerned. But for many of the cast and crew, their passion for the project comes back to that special connection they each have with the power of music to change one’s life and inspire greatness in both spirit and deed. “My older brother brought me to a Rolling Stones concert when I was young,” remembers Chad Keith. “The first song they played was ‘Start Me Up’ – now every time I hear it I think about that idea of being introduced to music, something that has stayed with me the rest of my life.”

“I’m a sucker for a heartbreaking song,” says Corden. “I have so many different songs that as soon as I hear them, I am transported. That’s the great thing about music. So many times you feel that if your heart is broken or you’re lost and no one could feel like that, music helps you realize that someone you’ve never met is having those exact same feelings.”

Producer Tobin Armbrust adds, “You’re always looking for a film that will emotionally resonate, and it’s almost impossible to tell from the script. Is the chemistry going to be right? Will it be edited correctly so that people will experience genuine emotion when they see it? This film laid out such a great framework for that emotional experience. It’s a movie about two people who are lost and come together and heal each other. The music that is in the DNA of these characters is what fixes them. People may look for the traditional love story, but they’re going to find something deeper and more human; the kind of love story that isn’t necessarily romantic, but has a very soulful appeal.”

With two soulful films featuring a creative and innovative use of music behind him, Carney reflects on the genre that he seems to be reinventing. “I loved musicals when I was young. I loved the joy of those movies,” he remembers. “That is harder to achieve in cinema these days. The industry leans towards making big event movies which tend to be universal and non-specific…all very well and good, but at the expense of a huge audience who want something else, who don’t only want to see Batman or Transformers. The musical is right in between. You can have a more romantic feeling as a crowd, and the story doesn’t matter in the same way. It can be more about interesting and specific things. Music is the universal element that connects and brings in the audience. You want that crowd experience without totally compromising your own aesthetic.”

Perhaps it is Levine, no stranger to the power of music, who captures the spirit of the film when he observes: “Everybody – if they have a soul – has music that they connect to. For me, it was a Pearl Jam song called ‘Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town’ – that song always made me cry when I was a kid. Being young sucks, and it helped me get through a tough period.”

“It might sound heavy to say,” concludes Levine, “but the film asks the question: can a song save your life? I do believe that the energy you feel when you hear a song that you respond to emotionally – it can change your life, and maybe save it in a way. Music saved my life, because I love it so much that I don’t know what I would do without it.”

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