Music – A bold and compelling reinvention of the screen musical

Music is a powerful, original, and celebratory artistic statement. In her debut feature as a writer-director, global music legend Sia has created a bold and compelling reinvention of the screen musical that examines how people facing unexpected challenges discover ways to create community and a new sense of family.

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Deeply felt, Music is the story of how individuals struggle and then come together and create community. Their journey is supported with incredible sound, visuals and dance, all choreographed by Sia’s longtime collaborator Ryan Heffington. The film features ten musical numbers built around original Sia compositions written expressly for the film and performed by its remarkable cast.

Through her singular lens, Sia shines a fresh spotlight on the many talents of a cast, with Maddie Ziegler playing the title character – Ziegler has been Sia’s friend and creative muse since 2014, when Sia directed her in the video for the global smash hit “Chandelier.”

What Sia has achieved with Music is a cinematic experience as profound and unique as its title character.

Music is about the magic that can happen when someone who cannot speak with words finds people who can listen with their hearts.

The movies I love have this magic and this rawness, and that was what I wanted for Music. I want people to have feelings while they are watching the film. That’s the whole purpose of art — to create feelings – Sia

Writer-Director-Producer: SIA

Nine-time Grammy nominee, 2 time Golden Globe nominee and Clio Award winning director Sia has cemented her role as one of today’s most groundbreaking artists, sought after songwriters and captivating live performers. After countless hit singles and a combined 10 Billion + views of her genre-bending music videos Sia has taken on her most exciting and challenging project to date by writing, directing and producing the musical film Music – out everywhere in 2021.

Sia’s status as a provocative, singular visionary was cemented with a series of music videos co-directed with Daniel Askill, and her 2016 The Nostalgic For The Present World Tour for which she served as co-director, costume designer, production designer and performer. Starring Kristen Wiig, Ben Mendelsohn, Paul Dano and more The Nostalgic For The Present World Tour saw Sia play for sold out audiences everywhere from Lebanon to Los Angeles from 2016 – 2017.

The story begins when Zu (Hudson), estranged from her family and a lifelong self-saboteur, finds herself the sole guardian of Music (Ziegler), her teenage half-sister, after the death of their grandmother. Music is nonverbal and on the autism spectrum, and her grandmother has lovingly created a schedule and daily routine to support her with the help of some neighborhood friends.

Not having had her grandmother’s experience of loving and caring for Music, Zu instantly struggles with her new responsibility as caretaker. Their less than peaceful first breakfast together is overheard by their neighbor Ebo (Odom), a kind and gentle soul who surprises Zu by demonstrating not only his compassion, but his keen understanding of Music. His own, slowly revealed life story, makes him someone Zu can depend on and learn from as well.

Music combines a heartfelt tale about the power of love with musical sequences that propel and amplify the story, giving the audience a vivid window into the characters’ inner lives.

Conversation with Sia and her stars

Recently Sia came together virtually with her stars to discuss Music and the journey they took to bring this singular film to life. Former Rolling Stone magazine editor David Wild conducted this interview. This is an excerpt of that conversation:

David Wild: To start off, I’m David Wild and I am a music lover in every way and even more so because of this movie. When you see something this powerful moving and unique, I have to ask, what went so right in the making of this movie?

Sia: I guess the universe, at least that is what I kept saying during the making of this film. Music started life as a short story, and Maddie Ziegler’s character is based on a young boy on the autism spectrum who I met in an AA meeting. His mother was the sign language interpreter for the meeting and she couldn’t afford babysitting so she brought him with her every Sunday morning and I developed a connection with him. One day she said, Who will love him when I’m gone?” and that was the genesis of the story that became Music.

Kate Hudson: Any film always starts with the writing. It all starts with the screenplay. For this particular story you have Dallas Clayton and Sia who are very close and you can feel that intimacy on the page. The story was something that I hadn’t read before. When you work with Sia you realize there is a connection to childhood that comes out in the way that she sees things.

It’s so explosive and imaginative, and because it is Sia you can be confident that what you read on the page you will experience on the set. Whenever we got into the scenes or the songs or the choreography there was this childlike essence to it. Everything she put on the page is weighted and it is intense, and it’s all about love and redemption. Music s so refreshing because there is just nothing else like it. When we were shooting Sia would say we’re making art and that’s what we felt like we were doing.

David Wild: Absolutely. I watched it late last night and I was riveted. I was thinking I can’t even relate to anything else I’ve ever seen in terms of what it’s making me feel. The closest I could come to a bit of a comparison is the way I felt the first time I heard the album “Tommy” by the Who. Leslie what connects with you about this movie?

Leslie Odom Jr.: You asked about what went right with this film. I love that question. In my experience, it is always really hard to lead from the rear.

Sia had a clear vision, as she always does. That was our blueprint. We knew that the architect had given us good lines and it was our job to build it out.

And, then when you have actors to work with like Kate and Maddie you have people there that are thinking about the ecosystem on this set. They are there to really put others before themselves and they’re focused on the work and everybody else falls in line. When it’s not working, I find that ego only ruins projects. Collaboration is what made this beautiful for us, for me anyway. It felt that we were all collaborators and we had a lot of laughs.

David Wild: Sia, I’ve been working on the Grammys for 20 years and I have never forgotten the moment when you and Maddie came in and I was privileged to see your unbelievable creative force playing out on our stage. But I have to wonder, making a movie is daunting. Was it even daunting for you? You have reinvented the musical, and you have tackled marrying profound human drama with a touch of comedy. It could not be a more ambitious movie.

Sia: I had directed music videos so I naively thought it would just be like making a very long music video. And, I didn’t even consider the fact that most directors just direct, they don’t also help design the costumes and write the songs. But, you know what, I loved it. Even when we had problems it was like a puzzle.
I did make it a bit difficult on my producer and my editor because the way that we shot was really unconventional. Normally, you block something out and you stick to that for every take you do with each character. I didn’t know about that. Our very experienced DP Sebastian Winterø did, but he was willing to go on this journey with me and in the end we had everything we needed.
Also, when I expanded the story into a screenplay I did not originally think about making it a musical but everyone was like “you’re f——- stupid.” I finally listened and I wrote songs that would move the story into different places.

When I was writing the script with my co-writer Dallas Clayton I worked out the dialogue in my head. Then I would act things out to see how it felt. It is the same way I create music, I sing the melody as I write the lyrics. As everyone knows Maddie Ziegler is my muse and I wrote the character of Music with her in mind. Having worked with her since she was a little girl she is like family to me, and having directed her in my music videos I knew that together we could create the character of Music. It was very important to both of us that we make Music a sensitive representation of a child on the autism spectrum.

Dallas Clayton is an author, illustrator, public speaker, mural painter, and adventure seeker. When he is not busy writing books (for children of all ages), touring the world, painting on buildings, or climbing trees, he is generally trying to find happiness and share it with others.

David Wild: For the actors, the chemistry between you is so spectacular. Can the three of you talk to us about what it was like creating these characters together as an ensemble?

Maddie: Once we were all on set it felt like we were the characters, it felt like it was our lives, because Kate, Leslie and I became them all at once. I instantly felt protected by Leslie, and I felt safe because I had him there to ground me. And then, with Kate it just felt like she was my sister and I felt like family with her. I learned so much, and I was in awe the whole time, and I could not imagine playing anyone else’s sister in that moment, and it was just the best experience.

Kate: I know, it was the best, I get really emotional thinking about it. We had an amazing time. There was so much love, and that’s what the movie is about. It’s just above love, isn’t it? It’s about accepting that you’re lovable, or that you have the capacity to love. It’s what everybody needs to hear right now. It couldn’t be more timely.

Leslie: And, Music unites. Musicals cross cultural boundaries and unites people.

Kate: I look at it as a musical experience, but not a typical musical. I think the reason why I was cast in “Almost Famous” was because of the way I talked to Cameron about how I feel about music. It takes a particular type of director to really be able to have the musicality to understand how music can elevate and transform a film, it’s the great unifier, and you feel that in this movie.

David Wild: What do you hope people will take away from the film?

Leslie: People will choose their own adventure, but I’ll tell you what it taught me. It really taught me about the limits that I place on my own imagination. It is incredible working with Sia, who as a collaborator doesn’t judge the things that come to her. Her inspiration, the things that drop and wherever they come from, they come to her heart, they hit her, and she does her best to see them through. How many times do we get hit with things we think are great ideas but tell ourselves..‘I’m not the one to bring them into the world.’ This was the first time that I was in an environment working with someone so closely whose channel is not blocked. So I really hope that when people see Music it ignites and encourages them to think in a limitless way. To get that ceiling out of the way and use their imaginations in ways that they’ve never done before.

Sia: I just went boldly where I’d never been before, and I had a great team, you guys all helped me a lot because you’ve done it before, and my producer Vincent Landay, is unbelievable. He produced “Adaptation” “Being John Malkovich,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” and “Her.” He is a genius.
And he helped me, and I often deferred to him because it was my first time making a film. I would say “I want to do this, but are you telling me that’s the wrong thing to do, that I might regret that?” What was great about Vince is that he’d always let me try something, and then he’d say “now let’s do a safer version so you have all the coverage you need.”
I have you guys to thank for helping me make this dream come true, and Vince, and Ryan, the choreographer, the whole crew, there’s no way this movie would’ve happened without every single one of you. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, and it’s the most meaningful, and the most difficult.

Kate: Sia, there was so much love put into this and that’s what the movie was for me, it was about how we love. And love is a verb, we have to activate it, we have to actively seek it, we have to actively show it.

Maddie: I feel like Music is about acceptance, and that’s what it means to me. I feel like, as Music, playing her, I felt so accepted, and that’s what I want everyone to take away from this movie. The biggest thing I’ve taken from this movie is that we should never try to change people. I feel like that translated into my everyday life, and I’m so thankful for that. it’s about love, and warmth, and being welcomed, and that’s everything that I hope everyone learns and takes away from this movie.

Sia: I love movies that break your heart, then make you laugh and put it back together again. They are like chiaroscuro, they have lightness and they have darkness but there is humor as well.

The movies I love have this magic and this rawness, and that was what I wanted for Music. I want people to have feelings while they are watching the film. That’s the whole purpose of art — to create feelings