15 Harmonious Facts About Once

Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová star in John Carney's Once.
Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová star in John Carney's Once.
Fox Searchlight

A decade before Damien Chazelle was attempting to bring back the classic Hollywood musical with La La Land, Dublin-born writer/director John Carney gathered up a handful of his musician (read: non-actor) friends and spent 17 days and $150,000 filming an indie musical dramedy that reinvigorated the genre and turned the film’s stars, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, into Oscar winners. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Once’s release in U.S. theaters, here are 15 things you might not have known about the musical hit.

1. JOHN CARNEY OUTLINED THE FILM IN FIVE MINUTES.

Once tells the story of an aspiring musician (Glen Hansard) who, when he’s not fixing vacuum cleaners, is busking for loose change in the streets of Dublin. One evening, his music catches the attention of a female flower-seller (Markéta Irglová) who has a vacuum in need of fixing and some musical chops of her own. The two form a fast friendship that flirts with possible romance; their relationship plays out via the film’s music, which acts as a sort of narrator. To a certain degree, the film—which was written and directed by John Carney, a former member of Hansard’s band The Frames—has some autobiographical elements.

The idea for the story came to Carney in 2004, when he was sitting in a café and missing his girlfriend, an actress who was living in London after landing a role that required her to relocate. In just five minutes, he wrote the outline for what would become Once, and told The Guardian that “it never changed … I was sitting there thinking, ‘Where has the Dublin I knew gone?’ The city has shed a lot of its greatness. It has lost its soul. I was seeing all these new immigrants in Dublin and identifying with them. I decided I wanted one character who was a Dubliner and one who was not.”

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY ENVISIONED AS A VEHICLE FOR CILLIAN MURPHY.


John Carney originally envisioned Cillian Murphy as the star of Once.

Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Considering how integral Hansard’s music is to the narrative of Once, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the film’s lead. But Carney originally developed the project as a starring vehicle for Cillian Murphy, with whom he had worked on 2001’s On the Edge.

“I originally wanted Cillian Murphy for the role,” Carney told CHUD.com. “I know Cillian, and he can sing. He’s quite a good singer. I thought I’d do the usual thing where you get a good actor who can half sing and train that voice, but then it became clear to everybody on the film that we should do it the other way around, that we should get somebody who could really sing and half act and I’ll trust that I would be able to do something magical with that.”

Other sources state that it was Murphy who opted not to do the project, either because he wasn’t comfortable working opposite an inexperienced non-actor like Irglová (“It’s a real risk for an actor to be in a movie with a non-actor,” Irglová, who was 19 at the time, told The New York Times) and/or because he wasn’t sure he could pull of Hansard’s songs.

“Cillian doesn't like me saying this,” Hansard told the Independent, “but he had reservations about some of my songs. They were quite hard to sing, quite raging. But, then, the character was pretty dark.”

3. GLEN HANSARD REALLY HAD TO BE CONVINCED TO ACT IN THE FILM.

Though Hansard had a small role as Outspan Foster in Alan Parker’s The Commitments, he didn’t consider himself an “actor” and wasn’t particularly interested in becoming one. But Once would be full of his music and, as Carney told The New York Times, “He sells the songs better than anybody.”

Still, as Hansard told CHUD.com, “I was terrified, for a few reasons. I didn’t want to suck for [John’s] sake, and I didn’t want to suck for my own. I’m a reasonably confident person behind a guitar, but in front of a camera is a whole other ball game. I needed him to tell me the truth—are we rubbish, are we going to pull it off, is it going to work? Because if it isn’t, let’s just pack it in.” Eventually, Hansard relented and agreed to step in front of the camera, on the condition: if he sucked, Carney would can him right away.

4. GUY’S GIRLFRIEND IS THE DIRECTOR’S GIRLFRIEND.

In a montage, there are flashback scenes of Guy and his ex-girlfriend. In real life, Guy’s girlfriend was Carney’s girlfriend.

5. THE SCRIPT AND THE MUSIC WERE WRITTEN IN CONCERT WITH EACH OTHER.

“It was a very collaborative process,” Carney said of the music-writing for Once. “I liked being able to work with the songwriter of the musical. In the classic musicals, the songs were already there, and you couldn’t really touch it and you wrote a story around these songs. I liked that I knew Glen and I could communicate with him and say, what do you think about this as a theme, and he would mull it over and come back with a lyric or a title, or with a song that he had written ages ago. It was very much a song here, a scene here, and we would bounce off ideas with the skeleton of the story in place—guy meets girl, he’s broken hearted, she’s this, they come together.”

The songs were written by me and Mar—some before filming, some during, some afterwards,” Hansard told Reverse Shot. “John showed us the script, and we all talked about it for a few weeks. He had a very particular aesthetic, and the fact that he chose us to be in the film made it easier for us to write what he wanted. He would say, ‘I want a song for the scene where Mar walks down the street, and it has to be a certain tone, and we would work on that while we were acting so the whole thing was organic and collaborative.’ But we were definitely working towards John’s agenda."

6. A LOT OF IT IS IMPROVISED, MOSTLY FOR PRACTICAL REASONS.

Because neither Hansard nor Irglová were trained actors, Carney let the actors improvise in order to encourage the most natural performances. “There was a lot of self-deprecation from John on the set,” Hansard told Reverse Shot. “He would say a line he had written was bullsh*t, and ask us to get the idea across in a believable way. It needed to be loose, though, because neither of us had acted before, and it would have made me very stiff if I had had to learn a complete script verbatim. I have no problem behind a guitar, but whenever there was dialogue I was a wreck.”

Irglová echoed Hansard’s concerns, admitting that, “Scripted dialogue was very hard for me because of the language problem. The scene where the characters meet was written out, and I would have never have spoken that way."

7. A LOT OF IT WAS SHOT WITHOUT PERMITS.

An indie film in the truest sense of the word, The Washington Post wrote that, “The movie was shot guerrilla-style on the Dublin streets: no permits, no lighting, no production designers, no wardrobe, no paid extras, no location scouts, no production trailers—just a tiny crew using natural light, a couple of Sony-HD cameras and real places and people, including Hansard's friends and mother. There were no rehearsals, and pre-production largely consisted of viewing sessions of independent films and musicals: Singin' in the Rain, A Woman Under the Influence, a Roman Polanski box set, [and] Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows."

8. A THEATRICAL RELEASE WASN’T PART OF THE ORIGINAL PLAN FOR THE FILM.

The fact that the film became a hit was as much a surprise to its makers as it was to anyone—especially as they hadn’t even intended to release it in theaters. According to The New York Times, the plan was to have a limited theatrical run in Dublin, but then go straight to DVD in most other markets, and to allow Hansard and the other featured musicians to sell copies of the film as part of their concert swag. Before that, it made a few film festival appearances, which is where one of Sundance’s programmers saw it. Though Once had been rejected by other major fests like Toronto, the Sundance Film Festival invited Carney and company to be a part of the 2007 event, where the film won the Audience Award and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. And just like that, Fox Searchlight decided to scoop up the theatrical rights for $500,000.

9. CARNEY PREDICTED THE MOVIE’S OSCAR WIN.

After filming the scene where Hansard and Irglová sing “Falling Slowly” in a music store, Hansard recalled that, “John said, joking, 'And the Oscar for Best Song goes to …' and we all started laughing because of the ridiculousness of the budget we were working on and the way we were shooting this film. We just laughed.”

Following the announcements of the 2008 Academy Award nominations in early January, Hansard called Carney and “said 'Man I remembered last night what you said and I can't believe it, and none of us even dared go there in our heads but my God!'"

At that year’s Oscar ceremony, Hansard and Irglová took home the Oscar for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song.

10. WE NEVER LEARN THE LEAD CHARACTERS’ NAMES.

One of Once’s most remarkable achievements is its intimacy; the way the film is acted and shot makes the viewer feel like part of the action. One way Carney extended the relatability of these characters was by never giving them names; they’re simply known as Guy and Girl in the credits.

11. GUY AND GIRL WERE SUPPOSED TO DO THE DEED.


Will they or won't they?
Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight.

    According to The New York Times, the film’s title originally referred to a scene in which Guy and Girl would sleep together—but only once. (Get it?) Though Carney wrote the scene, the actors didn’t think it rang true to the unique nature of the characters’ relationship (Irglová called it “so predictable”), so Carney scrapped it. In his mind, that changed the meaning of the title, too, which he said was a nod to the many people he had met in bars over the years: “They say, ‘Once I do this, then it’ll be great.’ But they never do it. It’s a great Irish tradition of vacillating."

    12. STEVEN SPIELBERG LOVED IT.

      Once was a huge hit with audiences, including a handful of very high-powered moviegoers. Steven Spielberg mentioned the movie to USA Today, saying that, “A little movie called Once gave me enough inspiration to last the rest of the year.”

      13. THE SIMPSONS PAID TRIBUTE TO IT.

      In what might be the greatest pop culture compliment, The Simpsons paid tribute to Once by reuniting Hansard and Irglová for a 2009 episode that recreated the film.

      14. IT WAS TURNED INTO A TONY AWARD-WINNING STAGE PRODUCTION.

      In 2012, Once began a new life on the Broadway stage, with Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti stepping into the roles made famous by Hansard and Irglová. The play was a bona fide smash, winning eight of its 11 Tony Award nominations.

      15. HANSARD WASN’T THRILLED ABOUT ITS MOVE TO BROADWAY.

        In an interview with the Independent, Hansard admitted that he wasn’t totally thrilled with the idea of turning the film into a play: “True, I didn't like the idea of it becoming a musical—I feared overexposure would kill it—but I suppose it helps me stand up and be in the world. And if I am remembered for that one song, well, there are worse fates."

        Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Almost Had a Different Title

        Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a favorite for fans of both the Harry Potter book series and its film franchise. In addition to offering readers a more mature outing for Harry and the gang, the stakes are far more dangerous—and the characters’ hormones are all over the place.

        The name Goblet of Fire is a pretty literal title, as that’s how Harry is forced into the Triwizard Tournament. In addition to being accurate, the title has a nice ring to it, but it was previously revealed that JK Rowling had some other names in the running.

        In JK Rowling: A Bibliography 1997-2013, author Philip W. Errington reveals tons of unknown details about the Harry Potter series, so much so that Rowling herself described it as "slavishly thorough and somewhat mind-boggling." In it, Errington revealed that Goblet of Fire had at least three alternate titles: Harry Potter and the Death Eaters, Harry Potter and the Fire Goblet, and Harry Potter and the Three Champions were all working titles before the final decision was made.

        While Death Eaters sounds far too depressing and scary to market as a children’s book, Fire Goblet just doesn’t have the elegance of Goblet of Fire. As for Three Champions? It's as boring as it is vague. So kudos to Rowling and her editor for definitely making the correct choice here.

        It's not the only time a Harry Potter title led to a larger discussion—and some confusion. In 1998, readers around the world were introduced to Harry through the first book in the series: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. But elsewhere around the world, it was known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

        As Errington explains in his book, the book's publisher wanted “a title that said ‘magic’ more overtly to American readers." They were concerned that Philosopher's Stone would feel "arcane," and proposed some alternatives. While Rowling agreed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, she later admitted that she regretted the decision.

        "To be honest, I wish I hadn't agreed now," she explained. "But it was my first book, and I was so grateful that anyone was publishing me I wanted to keep them happy."

        The 20 Best-Selling Movie Soundtracks of All Time

        Warner Home Video
        Warner Home Video

        Movie soundtracks can be big business—sometimes bigger than the movie itself. (And sometimes better than the film itself.) In early December 2018, three soundtracks were in the Billboard Top 10, and Mariah Carey’s Glitter soundtrack has been in the news recently for reentering the charts. But they have a long way to go before entering the top echelon.

        Here are the 20 best-selling movie soundtracks of all time—many of which have been on the list for decades.

        (The following list is based on RIAA certified units).

        1. The Bodyguard (1992)

        Certified units: 18 million

        Elvis Presley originally wanted to record Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” but his people wanted half the publishing rights. Parton refused and later commented that “when Whitney [Houston’s version] came out, I made enough money to buy Graceland."

        2. Saturday Night Fever (1977)

        Certified units: 16 million

        CPR will never be the same.

        3. Purple Rain (1984)

        Certified units: 13 million

        Prince wrote around 100 songs for the movie—and "Purple Rain" wasn’t even in that original group.

        4. Forrest Gump (1994)

        Certified units: 12 million

        Like a box of chocolates, except songs, with everything from Jefferson Airplane to Lynyrd Skynyrd featured in Robert Zemeckis's Oscar-winning hit.

        5. Dirty Dancing (1987)

        Certified units: 11 million

        Maybe don’t rush to get the album if you love the film’s songs: According to executive producer Jimmy Ienner, “We needed different mixes for the film and record ... For example, the guitars were dropped way down for the film because guitars weren’t a dominant instrument back then; saxophones were. We took out most of the synthesized stuff and replaced it with organs in the film version.”

        6. Titanic (1997)

        Certified units: 11 million

        Céline Dion told Billboard that when she was recording "My Heart Will Go On," her thoughts were: “Sing the song, then get the heck out of there."

        7. The Lion King (1994)

        Certified units: 10 million

        "Nants ingonyama" apparently translates to “Here comes a lion.” And if you've seen this Disney classic—which is about to get a live-action remake—you certainly know what "Hakuna Matata" means.

        8. Footloose (1984)

        Certified units: 9 million

        When Ann Wilson of Heart was prepping to duet for the song “Almost Paradise” for Footloose, she broke her wrist. But she refused painkillers because they’d affect her singing voice.

        9. Top Gun (1986)

        Certified units: 9 million

        The songs of Top Gun “still define the bombastic, melodramatic sound that dominated the pop charts of the [mid-80s],” according to AllMusic

        10. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

        Certified units: 8 million

        According to Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons, they were introduced to bluegrass through the Coen brothers's O Brother, Where Art Thou, saying “That movie kind of heralded the advent of bluegrass in mainstream British culture."

        11. Grease (1978)

        Certified units: 8 million

        According to Box Office Mojo, Grease is the second highest-grossing musical of all time, beaten only by 2017’s Beauty and the Beast.

        12. Waiting To Exhale (1995)

        Certified units: 7 million

        The song “Exhale” is famous for its "shoop" chorus. But writer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds explained that it’s a result of every time he wanted to write actual lyrics, they just got in the way.

        13. The Little Mermaid (1989)

        Certified units: 6 million

        According to co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker, “Part of Your World” was nearly cut from The Little Mermaid after a black-and-white and sometimes sketched version made a test audience squirm with boredom. Everyone kept with it until a more polished version solved the problem.

        14. Pure Country (1992)

        Certified units: 6 million

        Not bad for a movie that only grossed $15 million (and one you've probably never heard of).

        15. Flashdance (1983)

        Certified units: 6 million

        The song “Maniac” was originally inspired by a horror film the songwriters saw (the lyrics were rewritten for Flashdance).

        16. Space Jam (1996)

        Certified units: 6 million

        Not only was "I Believe I Can Fly" the best-selling soundtrack single of 1997, but third place was Monica’s “For You I Will”—which is also from Space Jam.

        17. The Big Chill (1983)

        Certified units: 6 million

        By RIAA certified units, The Big Chill soundtrack is the fifth biggest Motown album of all time.

        18. City of Angels (1998)

        Certified units: 5 million

        One of the chief songs from the soundtrack—“Uninvited” by Alanis Morissette—caused some piracy issues. A California radio station got their hands on a bootlegged copy and played it. Someone recorded the song off the radio and uploaded it to the internet (this was in 1998) and even radio stations began playing illegally downloaded versions. As a result, Warner Music was forced to release the album to radio stations a week earlier than planned.

        19. The Jazz Singer (1980)

        Certified units: 5 million

        Fun Fact: Neil Diamond won the first Razzie for Worst Actor for this movie and was also nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor.

        20. Evita (1996)

        Certified units: 5 million

        Evita started off as a concept album in 1976. Then two years later it premiered on London’s West End. In 1979 it debuted on Broadway and an album was released that went platinum in the U.S. before Madonna got to it.

        Honorable Mention: Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

        Certified units: 5 million

        Whether a Broadway cast recording counts as a soundtrack or not is debatable, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s cultural powerhouse managed to shift as many units as Madonna and Neil Diamond, according to the RIAA .

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