Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and ‘Spirited’ songwriters interview
“The idea of doing a Christmas movie musical with Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds was like an instant ‘hell yeah!’ for us,” declares Oscar, Grammy and Tony-winning songwriter Benj Pasek about working on Apple Original Films’ Christmas movie musical “Spirited.” Pasek is one half of the acclaimed hit-making duo alongside fellow awards magnet Justin Paul, who both wrote and produced the film’s soundtrack, with collaborators Khiyon Hursey, Sukari Jones and Mark Sonnenblick co-writing three of the songs in the film.
For our recent webchat with all five songwriters, Jones adds that there “was a lot of unheard of things that went into this process. First of all, possibly the most successful musical theater team working today decides that they want to share the wealth literally and figuratively, by creating something? That process doesn’t happen. That’s something that’s being pioneered, deciding to write characters that lots of us don’t get to see of ourselves on screen. So it was just a lot of miracles, a lot of holiday miracles happening in and out of the movie.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
“Spirited” is directed by Sean Anders, who co-wrote the musical comedy with John Morris, and it stars Ferrell, Reynolds, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”), Sunita Mani, Patrick Page, Marlow Barkley and the voice of Tracy Morgan. In this contemporary twist on Charles Dickens‘ classic 1843 novella “A Christmas Carol,” the Ghost of Christmas Present (Ferrell) is nearing retirement, setting his sights on Clint Briggs (Reynolds), a greedy, divisive, mean-spirited marketing executive. But Briggs turns the tables on the Ghost, who finds himself reexamining his own past, present and future. The film’s musical soundtrack boasts eight original songs for the film written and produced by the “La La Land,” “Dear Evan Hansen” and “The Greatest Showman” songwriting duo, with Hursey, Jones and Sonnenblick collaborating on the tracks “Good Afternoon,” “The Story of Your Life” and “The View From Here.”
All five songwriters wholeheartedly agree that songs will always play a vital role in cinema storytelling, as it is often those pivotal songs that can uniquely propel a film’s narrative and amplify the emotion of a scene. Paul admits that he loves “taking an iconic image and marrying it to hopefully a memorable song and having it indelibly etched into the hearts and minds of a new generation of moviegoers,” he explains. “I think we can’t underestimate how powerful that is, and we as musical theater songwriters and musical theater kids growing up, it’s a huge deal. So, I feel really grateful to have been a part of it and I’m just grateful that it exists in the world,” he says. “What was amazing about this one is the collision of musical theater and film; notably, this film has reprises, so we hear ‘The View From Here’ three times. It was really fun to use that really traditional craft of musical theater writing and pop it in a film and we don’t really see that too much in a movie musical,” Hursey notes about how each song is intentionally deployed throughout the film to serve the story. For Sonnenblick, it was also the ability to work with the film’s creative heads from various departments to elevate the material into something they hope will stand the test of time. “You’re collaborating with another storyteller, a filmmaker, an actor. If you’re on stage, you’re clapping with the designers. You’re clapping with the choreographer, the orchestrator. That collaboration is always what drives me,” he says.
“Spirited” is now streaming on Apple TV+.