Magazine article The Sondheim Review

The Work of a Fan

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

The Work of a Fan

Article excerpt

Screenwriter John Logan talks about adapting Sweeney for the screen

Perhaps you recently heard this holiday tune: "You better watch out/You better not cry/You better scream loud/I'm telling you why: Sweeney Todd is coming to town!" Every self-respecting Sondheim fan knows exactly what that means. Gifts and parties and decorations be damned - the most anticipated day in December 2007 wasn't Christmas or New Year's Eve or the start of Kwanzaa or Hanukkah. It was December 21, the Winter Solstice. And especially also the long-awaited release of the film adaptation of Sweeney Todd.

By the time you read this, the long journey to bring the tale of the cutthroat barber and his vengeful quest for justice to the masses of movie lovers will have reached its bloody end. At November press time there was still editing to be done and other post-production points to wrap up. More publicity and marketing work lay ahead - particularly if the film is to achieve the masterwork status of its cherished Broadway original. But the lion's share of the work is done.

The Sondheim Review has been fortunate to have had fairly regular insider accountings over the past few years of the making of the film through ongoing interviews with screenwriter John Logan. In October, not long after the Sweeney trailer hit the Internet and the marketing and publicity machines were revving up, he had another conversation.

"I have never been more proud of a movie I have been involved with," Logan said of Sweeney during a phone interview. And considering his credits - his screenplays for The Aviator and Gladiator both received Oscar nominations - he had much to be proud of before Sweeney came along.

"It's thrilling!" Logan continued. "And it's also frightening, because we're at that part of the process where we have to start thinking about introducing this movie to an audience. It's a difficult story, and very challenging from a marketing perspective in terms of how exactly you tell people what Sweeney Todd is. The vast majority of people have never heard of Stephen Sondheim or Sweeney Todd. Part of the challenge for us now is how we let people know what this unique creature is."

At press time there had been some rough-cut screenings for marketing purposes, to help determine target audiences and their probable responses to the film.

"That's the sort of thinking that marketers have to do, and it makes sense," Logan said. "They have to do demographic studies and that sort of an analysis. But to me, artistically, it's not really all that relevant. Sweeney Todd has always been a great work of melodrama. It has always been a popular work - from the original penny-dreadful, Grand Guignol, melodrama versions, all the way through Chris Bond's version, all the way through the Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler musical. It has always been intended to have a wide audience because the issues that it deals with - issues of revenge and love and passion - are very popular pulp issues. So what I would hope, simply as a fan of the show, is that it has the widest possible audience it can."

One of the marketing issues, of course, is how to sell a musical about cannibalism, murder and revenge during the season of peace and love and goodwill toward men. Add to that the fact that most of the primary roles were filled with performers like Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen who have topnotch acting skills but are not trained, polished singers. Early trailers did not emphasize the musical element, which became a source of concern for many fans. (If you've not seen the trailer, go to www.sweeneytoddmovie.com and click on "view the trailer.") But according to Logan, ads set to run closer to the film's opening "really play up what's really important to me, which is that (a) it's a musical, and (b) it's wildly romantic. I think the danger is that you market it like a slasher movie, which it is not."

Which brings us, of course, to the blood. …

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