Inside the Creative Mind of George Lucas and the Team Behind Strange Magic

Inside the Creative Mind of George Lucas and the Team Behind Strange Magic

StrangeMagic movie poster

I’ve written before about my childhood obsession with Star Wars.  And of course, as a Gen Xer, I am not alone in the cultural impact that film had on me. And while my 5 year-old self would have been most eager to meet Carrie Fisher, My grown up was incredibly excited to meet George Lucas and hear about his creative process and sources of inspiration for his new film Strange Magic. (I’d still be THRILLED to meet Carrie Fisher, by the way, and even more so for her work as a fantastically witty and bold writer.)

George Lucas

Strange Magic is a a fairy tale (really, it’s all about fairies) that gets to the heart of true love that comes from seeing someone for who they truly are, and not just what is on the surface.  One of the things George Lucas discussed was his own long quest to find someone after his first marriage ended in divorce.  He said he and his current wife seemingly have nothing in common, and yet in the most important ways they have everything in common – their outlook on life, their beliefs, their morals, the way they think about things in the same way at their core. And that is the thread that runs throughout Strange Magic.  Plus, I loved that he talked about how having daughters influenced him to tell a different kind of story from the female point of view.

Strange Magic is above all about the music. In a very throw back, American Graffiti kind of way, music fills very second of the movie, and is central to how the characters tell the story. The entire cast, director and musical director joined us for the second half of the press conference, and I couldn’t have been thrilled to see Sam Palladio as one of the main characters since I’m a nutty Nashville fan. And of course, Alan Cumming can do no wrong.

cast and director of strange magic

Gary Rydstrom (Director), Meredith Anne Bull (voice of “Dawn”), Sam Palladio (voice of “Roland”), Evan Rachel Wood (voice of “Marianne”), Alan Cumming (voice of “Bog King”), Elijah Kelly (voice of “Sunny”), Marius De Vries (Musical Director)

Watch this wonderful featurette of the cast talking about their characters:

The cast reiterated much of what George Lucas talked about – that sometimes you find love where you least expect it, or in the words of Elijah Kelly, “No matter how weird and strange you are, there is someone else out there just as weird and strange as you,” And if that’s not a great message for kids I don’t know what is.

STRANGE MAGIC opens in theatres everywhere on January 23rd!

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Into the Woods: Wit and wisdom from the cast and creators

Into the Woods: Wit and wisdom from the cast and creators

There are dream casts, and then there are DREAM casts.  Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, Tracy Ullman, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Emily Blunt and Chris Pine star in the new film adaptation of Into the Woods, and all of them bring exceptionally unique and wonderful performances to the movie.

into the woods press junketinto the woods press junket

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the press junket with all of these actors, plus the director, Rob Marshall, the brilliant writer, James Lapine and the producers. It was apparent from the interviews how much everyone enjoyed working with each other, and how having a real rehearsal period resulted in an extraordinary adaptation from stage to screen. Often times musicals don’t make the transition well, but Into the Woods transforms magically on the screen – with the lush sets and art direction and fantastically clever songs.

Rob Marshall talked about this balance and risk when directing a musical at the press conference in this exchange:

MODERATOR: …Rob, musicals being so different from all other genres, are they more difficult to direct?

ROB MARSHALL: They’re very fragile. I mean, I feel like you’re always this far away from like a Saturday Night Live sketch, because if the song doesn’t come out of the story in an organic way, in a seamless way, and you feel the number beginning, it’s dangerous, because of the fact that somebody’s singing. What’s so beautiful about this amazing piece that James wrote and Steve Sondheim wrote is that the material is so organic. I mean, you said this the other day, James, which I loved, which is if you pull the songs out of the piece, the piece falls apart. You know, there are musicals you can take the songs out and it doesn’t affect it at all.

ROB MARSHALL: …But what’s fantastic about this piece is it’s so interwoven. I mean, you can see that in the first [SOUNDS LIKE] 16 minutes, that opening prologue. It’s so beautifully created and written because it moves in and out of dialogue so seamlessly, but it’s very delicate, creating a musical. I mean, I feel like it’s two movies in one when I’m working on it because you have the whole side of the music, etc., and you have the rehearsals and all of that. That’s almost its own thing. Then you have the filming of it and the piece and so it’s a balancing act, and the only way you can do it well is if you have great material and brilliant actors.

Which, of course leads back to the exquisite cast. One of the aspects of Into the Woods that makes it so powerful and successful is the strength of the acting, and the singing seems to organically spring out of those performances.

Since Into the Woods is based on such well known fairy tales – Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel – it was even more important that the actors find something true and universal at the core of their characters that resonates with a modern audience.

Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine talked about this specifically, especially since Cinderella and Prince Charming are two of the most iconic fairy tale characters.

PRESS: …You know, a bunch of us grew up on Disney fairytales, but how do you guys think that these stories apply, or maybe they don’t apply, to the craziness of modern day dating?

ANNA KENDRICK: I think that this has something very mature and modern to say about separation. When Cinderella and the prince, they have this conversation and a lot of people, you know, they’re like, this isn’t your everyday Cinderella and she kicks him to the curb and while that’s sort of true, the fact that it’s done with so much civility and compassion, I think, you know, my parents set an amazing example for me because they divorced when I was 15 and I mean, we’re having Thanksgiving dinner together in a couple of days. And I know that that’s not always the case, but I think that that scene meant so much to me because I feel love for people that I have loved, and I think that’s so beautiful, and I think that’s such an important lesson for children that, you know, people can have disagreements but it doesn’t mean one is bad and one is good. And I feel so grateful to my family for setting this amazing example within separation, and I hope that that scene is a reflection of that.

CHRIS PINE: You know, I think obviously we tell each other stories in life and as storytellers that’s what we do. We tell each other stories so we can understand the world better and there’s catharsis and we understand the models of what a hero could be and what the hero’s journey as a human being is all about. But unfortunately I think sometimes those stories too can be very prohibitive and confining, and this idea that we, especially in Western culture, Western literature, [PH] Tristan and Isolde, and Romeo and Juliet, that there’s some kind of all-encompassing burning passionate love that will never die out unless you both die, is so depressing and not real. And that these two people, the prince living out this storybook life all the time, in a completely non-relational manner, with a woman that he’s apparently in love with, I think it’s very telling that this relationship, there’s not one conversation until the last moment where they break up. I mean, if you look at the film [OVERLAPPING] it’s just these little eighth page things of looking up gazingly, fervently at one another, and it doesn’t mean anything. And I think the beautiful thing about it is that here’s a woman that chooses to get out of the story of Romeo and Juliet and Tristan and Isolde, it’s like, check it out, I don’t want you, ‘cause you’re lame, and you don’t listen to me. But actually in that final moment he does listen and I think it’s very telling for the prince that he says, “Is this what you want?” He’s actually, [Yeah.] he’s being very respectful and the boundaries are very clear.

And of course, the highlight of the press junket for me was being about ten feet away from Meryl Streep. She, Christine Baranski and Tracey Ullman were incredibly funny, smart and really gave a brief master class in acting and an actress’s thought process and methodology during this brief Q&A.

Christine Baranski also talked about fleshing out what can normally be a very stereotypical character: The Evil Stepmother:

PRESS: …Christine, the role of the wicked stepmother is such an iconic character type in stories. What was your take on the role of Lapine and Sondheim’s stepmother and what did you end up bringing to the role?

CHRISTINE BARANSKI: Well, you know I worked with Rob. We talked about what is this particular nature of, you know, she’s always described as the evil stepmother and the evil stepsister. So what exactly does that mean and how is that kind of activated? And actually I found that Cinderella is somebody who just is at the house and she just does thing for us. And a lot of the evil of the character — no really. And then when she suggests that she come to the ball, it’s like are you kidding? Look at your nails, look at your dress and it’s like laughable. They’re very — I think, you know, we wanted to figure out how to make these characters kind of resonant in the contemporary world and this particular trio of women just seem right for presenting a kind of narcissism and fashion absorption and from the brilliant clothes of Colleen (Atwood) are like a little too many ruffles and the hair is just a little too high. And they look like they’re trying so hard and this is their one shot and it’s like they’re getting ready for the Oscars. They’re obsessed. And, you know, they’re just comparing. There’s even a little ad lib in the carriage after we come back from the first night and obviously Cinderella’s girl — some girl was at the ball and I did an ad lib and said, “Who is that skinny girl at the ball?” You just know that these women are just, you know, they gossip. And I think they’re benow. They’re venal characters. They’re narcissistic and opportunistic and we see this. We see this when we kind of watch television or media. It’s very interesting. It’s like, “Mmm, these are women that, you know, it’s part of our culture.” So I’m really happy that we did it this way. It was interesting. It was good.

And lastly, the brilliant Meryl Streep talking about the multidimensional motivations of The Witch – and how it relates to all parents and raising children. This is the very soul of the film.

Into the Woods opens on Christmas Day – be sure to get your tickets in advance!

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Top 5 Takeaways from Disney Social Media Moms Celebration 2014

Top 5 Takeaways from Disney Social Media Moms Celebration 2014

When a conference is called a celebration you know there is something else going on.  I was fortunate enough to go to Disney Social Media Moms last year, and this year I went again, but this time to Disneyland in California.  And, since the celebration coordinated perfectly with my daughters’ spring break and Passover we decided to make it a real family trip and stay in Los Angeles to have our seder with all of our family that lives there.  It was Kismet.

I love Disneyland.  I love its charm, its uncomplicated, easy to cover size, and most of all its history.  I believe you can feel Walt Disney’s optimism and desire to build something really special when you’re there.  I hadn’t been to Disneyland since my daughters were 4 years old (8 years ago!)

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And I’m happy to say, my daughters still loved it, even as jaded tweens.

 

One of the things I love about this conference is that they don’t tell you the full agenda and all of the surprises that are in store while you’re there.  And, they include so many different facets of Disney – so there are always unexpected and interesting people and initiatives worth learning about.

Here are my Top 5 Takeaways from this year’s Celebration:

1.  Cars Land is spectacular.  No, really.  Ever wonder what it would be like to step inside an animated film?  Well, this is pretty much as close as you will ever come.  I recommend going at night when the full neon glory of Cars Land is lit up and you can be immersed in the 1950’s vibe.  The Radiator Springs ride is crazy fun – and the backdrop landscape of Route 66 is genius.

Route 66 Neon

 

2.  It’s not the size of the castle that matters…

3. It’s the character of the princess

One of the movies I am most excited about this year is Maleficent – and we got an extra dose of maniacal fabulosity at the celebration – and an extra dose of sweet from Sleeping Beauty herself, Elle Fanning.  She is as adorable as she looks…

Elle-Fanning blows out bday cake

photo by Josh Hallett

There is also royalty of a different kind – a CEO who built a business from scratch and is now using her success for empowering students and teachers.

photo by Josh Hallett

photo by Josh Hallett

That’s Chief Exec Bear, Maxine Clark, founder of Build a Bear Workshop, who spoke to us about teachers – good and bad – and the impact they have on children’s lives.  Hearing from incredibly successful women entrepreneurs is always inspiring, but there’s an even stronger impact when it’s someone like Maxine Clark who is also honest and supportive of other women entrepreneurs.  And I love that she started Build a Bear with an underlying belief that every child should be able to buy a basic bear and fill it with love.

4.  There is magic, everywhere you look.

 Like this unexpected surprise in the headboard at the Disneyland Resort

5. Everyone is creative

When you spend time with the people at Disney you quickly come to realize how incredibly talented everyone who works at Disney is, and how diverse those talents are. But, more importantly is this belief that every cast member has a creative spark that can be brought out.

One of my favorite videos to illustrate that is this one of the janitorial team making art with water:

These things are why this is not a conference, but a celebration.  A celebration of magic, family and inspiration with a big dose of serious fun.  And most importantly for those of us that write, or film, or share our stories, is this quote from Walt Disney…

 

 

Showing off our Disney Side at a Tweentastic Disney Tea Party –

Showing off our Disney Side at a Tweentastic Disney Tea Party –

I don’t think there is any bad age or best age for Disney.  The real magic of Disney is that all ages can find something fun, wonderful and plain ol’ optimistically wonderful to celebrate and explore.  My daughters never went through a Princess phase, but they did go through a fairy phase.  Even when my daughter dressed up like Belle for Halloween at 4 years-old she added a pair of wings…

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As my daughters have gotten older they’ve experienced more and more of the things that make Disney unique, from being able to stay up really late at Walt Disney World to the Broadway world of Disney.  So when we were given the opportunity to host a Disney Side party at our home we immediately brainstormed about what would be special and fun for them and their tween girl friends.  Given that we were throwing this event after school, a tea party made perfect sense – and one that could easily be made supercalifabulous enough for tweens.

The menu:

Cinderella Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

pumpkin chocolate chip bread

Belle Craisins® scones

craisins scones

Mickey Mouse shaped finger sandwiches (cream cheese and cucumber, tuna, and PB&J)

mickey mouse sandwiches

And of course, hot cocoa and tea.

The table was set for an afternoon of Disney fun…

disney side tea party

And then the fun began…

Of course no tween party is complete without some crafting.  The girls went to work on cutting, decorating and styling Hanes T-Shirts into personalized fashion statements…

It was great to get all these girls together and have them express their Disney Side!  Plus, that Mickey Mouse shaped cookie cutter makes every sandwich irresistible!

Want to learn more about Disney Side?   Check out DisneySide.com and DisneySideCelebrations.com and get inspired to show off your Disney Side!

I was provided a suitcase full of great supplies and ideas by Disney to create this fantastic party.  The ideas, opinions, and guests are all my own!

Find Your Tribe Wordless Wednesday

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This came through my Facebook feed today via the fab Lyss Stern. Seemed to fit perfectly with Monday’s post about friendship.

Brave’s Merida – Redefining the Word Princess

There was a lot of uproar about Disney “sexing” up Merida in their lead up to her official induction into the Disney Princess Pantheon.  But, at the Disney coronation ceremony last week, which I attended as part of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, she was exactly as you would imagine – wild haired, bold, in her everyday velvet dress and riding a horse.

photo courtesy of Disney

photo courtesy of Disney

My daughters never went through a princess phase, but Merida they relate to.  Archery is one of their favorite sports – and my daughter could easily give Merida a run for her money in the biggest, curly hair category.

archerygirls

The word princess is weighed down with years and years of anti-feminist meaning – damsel in distress, pampered and spoiled, helpless and silly.  And if you’re also Jewish – well that just adds a whole other level of stereotype.   Thanks, Bravo.

But, I will be the first to admit I was all in for Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty when I was growing up.  Just like a was all in for Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman and Princess Leia – not to mention Sandy in Grease.   The “princesses,” didn’t differ in my mind from any other title and lead female character – they were all important enough to have the story revolve around them, or be key characters that drove the story.  And in the end, that is the most empowering message – you drive the story of your life.

So, I love this new I am a Princess Campaign from Disney.  I’ve written before about the power of owning a word that was used to put you down.  Girls defining what it means to be a princess now, to them, for them – that has the potential to be truly powerful.  Watch the video and tell me what you think.

 

Behind the Scenes at Mary Poppins – Disney Magic In Times Square

Behind the Scenes at Mary Poppins – Disney Magic In Times Square

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A few weeks ago we were invited to take a backstage tour of the New Amsterdam Theater on 42nd Street, current home of the Disney Broadway musical, Mary PoppinsThe New Amsterdam is a particularly rich historical theater – it housed the Ziegfeld Follies and the fabulous Fanny Brice and is haunted by the ghost of Olive Thomas.  Like most of Times Square in the 70s and 80s The New Amsterdam had fallen apart, become decrepit and rat ridden and showed Kung Fu movies.  I remember when Disney purchased the theater and announced their intention to restore it and bring The Lion King there.  Most New Yorkers were skeptical at best.

What occurred is one of those extraordinary New York and theater moments.  The restoration of the theater – most of it helped by the memories of original Ziegfeld Follies girls then in their 90s – is glorious.  All of the original details were restored or rebuilt from the crowned sconces, to the Shakespeare friezes, to the beautiful murals in the downstairs lounge that depict the history of New York.  It’s hard to imagine the lounge with 2 feet of dirty water filling the floor as it was 15 years ago when they began the restoration.

On our tour we not only saw the beautiful details but also had a backstage, hands-on experience with props and set pieces from all of the Disney musicals.  Sitting in Ariel’s scallop shell bathtub was a definite highlight.  That evening we saw Mary Poppins – for the second time I should say.  But, now that my girls are 9 they had a whole different appreciation.  It also was pretty amazing to see the show after standing on that very stage that morning.  There is nothing like walking on a Broadway stage!  Except, maybe, seeing yourself on one of the giant screens in Times Square.

We had an extra dose of Disney Magic that day when the girls got to experience a virtual Disney Park experience by posing with a beamed-in Daisy Duck and having their pictures projected on the screen above the Disney Times Square store and then again and again on within the “castle” that covered the building across the street.  I think they could have watched themselves forever…