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Disney

Disney Songwriting Legends Reflect on Their Careers

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Disney

Every Disney fan knows Richard Sherman and Alan Menken. Even non-fans can’t help but know their songs practically through osmosis. You don’t have to be a Disneyphile to know the earworm “It’s a Small World” (Sherman) or hum along to “A Whole New World” (Menken).

The two songwriting legends are teaming up for a once-in-a-lifetime concert on Saturday as part of the D23 Expo in Anaheim. The show will consist of some greatest hits, a couple of lesser-known pieces, and a bit of conversation about their careers and friendship. Here’s a little taste of the kind of conversation we can expect. Check back next week for clips from what’s sure to be an amazing performance.

What’s your favorite song written by one another?

Alan Menken: You look at “Supercalifragilistic” and I know that’s so known, but that’s really—there could not have been an “Under the Sea” without a “Supercalifragilistic.” It’s a combination of the exuberance, the rhythm, the cleverness of the lyrics and the catchiness of it—it just gets into your system. It set the standard, set the bar for what Howard [Ashman, Menken’s songwriting partner] and I did.

Richard Sherman: [He has] so many gorgeous, gorgeous songs. He’s a great melody writer, wonderful harmonies. I fell in love with a song called “Suddenly Seymour,” [from Little Shop of Horrors] ... it's such a passionate song, a wonderful explosion of emotion. "Part of Your World” gets to me. It just does it. I just love that song. But if you try to pick one, it’s just impossible. We’re both fans of each other and I think that makes it kind of fun.

How did you choose which songs to perform together at the D23 Expo?

AM: It’s always a challenge picking out just the right material for an audience. We did have some requests from our hosts, and the way they've structured it made it somewhat easy to decide on songs.

RS: We try to do a potpourri, not a complete rundown of anything in one particular film, but kind of a sampling of things over the years. It was kind of a fun thing, looking at all my children and saying, "Which one am I going to take on the outing?"

Are there any songs that unexpectedly became hits?

RS: It’s a funny thing about when we did Poppins, I remember that Bob and I wondered which is the [song] that’s going to happen. Robert said, "I'm absolutely sure it's was going to be 'Stay Awake.'" It was just a little lullaby and he loved it, but it never stood out on its own. And I said “Chim Chim Cheree” will never be popular, it’s just a minor thing, you know, and it's about about a chimney sweep, and that became a giant thing.

AM: I had a similar thing with Little Mermaid: "Kiss the Girl" was really our single, and of course "Under the Sea" is the song that really emerged. "Part of Your World" was one we almost lost entirely. It wasn’t necessarily working at one point during the film.

What’s it like to perform for people who live and breathe Disney?

AM: It’s fun, it really is fun. It’s a really powerful, shared experience. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it wasn’t kind of a pleasant ego trip, because everything I’m doing up there, they’re reacting so exuberantly to. It’s just great fun, really.

Are there any Disney films you’re dying to have made into a theatrical production?

RS: Alan has certainly the record in this by far, but there’s a couple of things I’m kind of looking forward to seeing. The Jungle Book is now on its feet. And I have another couple of things, but I don’t want to talk too much.

AM: It will be neat to see Hercules. We’re working on a cruise ship version of Tangled. Who knows if it will find its way to the stage?

RS: So many factors have to take place before it’s a reality, so I don’t like to talk about too many things unless they’re really on the road to reality.

AM: I tend to be more of a blabbermouth.

On their Disney songwriting processes:

AM: The process for me is very much the process of writing a musical. Disney has been the studio that has been—especially in our lifetime—the most supportive of writing songs in that way. Where the difference comes in, in it being Disney, is a sense of responsibility, a sense of the message of the song and the approach to storytelling. You know that this is an audience that will embrace what you do and take it to heart entirely, so you have to cherish the audience as you write these songs. The Disney tradition—number one, it’s a great American classic tradition—and it’s something where you don’t want to go over certain lines. You want to poke fun but you don’t want to poke fun in a way that’s hurtful. The company is very sensitive to that, and once you've been associated with the company for a long time,  you become very sensitive to that. But you definitely want to skate as close to that line as possible because that’s where all the fun is.

RS: You have to either write for a character or the character of an experience like “Small World” or “Carousel of Progress.” When we first saw audio animatronic figures being featured in the Tiki room and we came up with a little calypso song called “The Tiki Tiki Room,” we weren’t writing for a person or a character or anything else. Everything is its own challenge, whether it be a building or a fictional character or a marvelous make-believe lady like Mary Poppins.

On meeting each other and developing a friendship:


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RS: I didn’t know Alan at all, but I felt I knew him in a sense through his wonderful songs and his melodies and I realized that this guy likes to write the way I like to write; this man can carry on a wonderful tradition.

AM: [There is a] graciousness and generosity in Richard that’s unique in our business. Truly unique. It’s something to my dying day that I will always appreciate, and it’s a very rare quality. You can sense that in his songs but it’s there in the man. The way he and his wife have treated me has been so generous—it’s had an immense effect.

What are you looking forward to seeing at the D23 Expo?

AM: There will be a lot of friends there. I think it’s mostly an experience that’s oriented toward being with people rather than exhibits for us.

RS: I think it's just experiencing the joy that's being exuberated by all of these people—

AM: Exuberated! I like that!

RS: You like that? I just made that up.

AM: I like that, I do! You just witnessed where the Sherman Brothers brilliance comes from.

RS: Make the word work for you.

On working with Walt:

RS: I always felt honored that I was working for his company, and for him, when he was with us ... Walt set a high standard for the both of us when he had these great songwriters of the past, who wrote the great scores for Pinocchio and all of these wonderful, wonderful pictures that came before our time. [They are] wholesome, beautiful entertainments that uplift the spirits. They're not depressing; they're uplifting. We’re lucky to have done that kind of work.

On his brother and songwriting partner Robert Sherman, who passed away last year:

RS: Bob never was much of a performer. He was always little bit on the shy side. But he would have joined me [at the D23 Expo] on a couple of little choruses and stuff. But I’m representing the both of us—that’s what I do.

Which of your songs was the most challenging to develop?

RS: We were trying to top a very pretty song we had written [for Mary Poppins] and we were told, "We want something with a little more pep in it." Say the same thing but say it in a very "up" way as opposed to this ballad we had just written. We wanted . . . kind of a little slogan that Mary Poppins could sing that would give the children the idea that if you have a happy attitude, a hard job becomes easier. My brother’s son Jeff came home from school one day and he had the Salk vaccine, and Bob said “Did it hurt?” And the little guy said, “No, they put the medicine on a cube of sugar, and then we took it like candy, it was easy.”
Bob came in the next day and said, "I got a title for us: 'A Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down.'”

And I said, “Oh my god, it’s terrible. No, wait, it’s wonderful!” It became a really big smash hit for us, but that was a tough one.

On the secret to longevity:

RS: I have a good time. I never feel like I’m working. I was blessed from the time early on with doing my hobby, my hobby was writing songs. I’d be happy to do it without getting any money for it. I love writing songs and the challenge of writing different kinds of things, so it was always a fun thing for me. If I didn’t [have fun], I would have retired years ago. I’m 85, but I don’t feel it. I have my health and I have my enthusiasm.

On their favorite “obscure” songs:

AM: I’m very proud of “Will the Sun Ever Shine Again.” That was a song written very close to the 9/11 event. We were all, especially in New York, in a real state of trauma, and that was a song that very much captured the emotion of everyone at the studio.

You know, I love “The Gospel Truth,” the song that opened up Hercules. I thought that song was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed producing that and writing that. "If I Never Knew You” from Pocahontas. We lost it the first time around; we got it back when it was re-released. I think it was a very emotional song that I'm very proud of.

RS: [At the D23 Expo] I’m going to sing something that’s not thought of as one of my big hits, but I personally have a great deal of attachment to it. I don’t want to tell you because that’s going to be a surprise for everybody.

Is there a main message you’d like to get across to Disney fans?

Getty Images

RS: Disney fans already know, but I’ll just say it: There’s a wonderful thing called being positive in your life as opposed to being negative—being on the upside of the coin. Both Alan and myself have been blessed with the "chore" of writing things for very upbeat ideas. They’re not depressing. They’re not cynical. They’re positive; there are strong feelings of goodwill in them. And I think all of the Disney fans will recognize that immediately.

There’s nothing cynical about our work, none of us.

The biggest, wonderful gratification I get is the fact that people get joy out of my work. That they feel good about it and they have a good time and they feel happy about it, and that’s truly my reward.

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Move Over, MoviePass: AMC Is Launching a $20 Per Month Subscription
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Attention serial movie-watchers: There's a new subscription service vying for your attention. Nearly a year after MoviePass brought its fee down to less than $10 a month to see one movie a day, AMC Theatres is rolling out its own monthly plan as an alternative. As Variety reports, you can now see three movies per week at any AMC cinema if you pay $19.95 a month.

The new program, called AMC Stubs A-List, has some clear disadvantages compared to MoviePass. AMC's monthly fee is nearly twice as high and it's good for less than half the amount of movie tickets. And while AMC Stubs A-List only works at AMC locations, MoviePass can be used at pretty much any movie theater that accepts Mastercard.

But once you look at the fine print of both deals, AMC's selling points start to emerge. A subscription through AMC gets you access to films shown in 3D, IMAX, Dolby Cinema, and RealD—none of which are covered by MoviePass. And unlike MoviePass subscribers, people with AMC can watch multiple movies in a single day, watch the same movie more than once, and book tickets in advance online. (That means actually getting to see a big movie on opening weekend before it's been spoiled for you).

There's another reason MoviePass users may have to jump ship: Its critics say its business model is unsustainable. For every movie ticket that's purchased with MoviePass, the company has to pay the full price. That means MoviePass actually loses money as more people sign up.

This has led some people to speculate the service is on its way to collapse, but MoviePass insists it has a strategy to stay afloat. Instead of relying on money from subscriptions, it wants to use the consumer data it has collected from its millions of customers to turn a profit. It's also investing in movies through its MoviePass Ventures arm (the company helped fund the new movie Gotti, which is currently making headlines for its zero percent Rotten Tomatoes rating). But if those plans aren't enough to quiet the hesitations you have about the company, you'll have the chance to make the switch to AMC on June 26.

[h/t Variety]

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25 Incisive Facts About Jaws
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Daah dun, daah dun, daah dun, dun dun, dun dun, dun dun. Today is the 43rd anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s original blockbuster, Jaws. Here are 25 fascinating facts you may not have known about the Oscar-winning shark flick.

1. THE BOOK COULD HAVE BEEN CALLED SOMETHING ELSE.

The film is adapted from author Peter Benchley’s bestselling novel of the same name, which Benchley based on a series of shark attacks that occurred off the coast of New Jersey in 1916 and after an incident where a New York fisherman named Frank Mundus caught a 4,500-pound shark off the coast of Montauk in 1964. Other title ideas Benchley had before settling on Jaws were “The Stillness in the Water,” “The Silence of the Deep,” “Leviathan Rising,” and “The Jaws of Death."

2. THE BOOK’S AUTHOR MAKES A CAMEO IN THE MOVIE.

Benchley himself can be seen in a cameo in the film as the news reporter who addresses the camera on the beach. Benchley had previously worked as a news reporter for the Washington Post before penning Jaws.

Steven Spielberg also makes a cameo in the movie: His voice is the Amity Island dispatcher who calls Quint’s boat, the Orca, with Sheriff Brody’s wife on the line.

3. STEVEN SPIELBERG GOT THE DIRECTING JOB BECAUSE OF DUEL.

Spielberg was chosen to direct Jaws by producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown (who had also worked with the then-28-year-old director on his 1974 film The Sugarland Express) because of his film Duel, which featured a maniacal trucker terrorizing a mild-mannered driver. The producers thought the movie was thematically similar to the story for Jaws, making Spielberg a great fit.

4. THERE’S NOT A LOT OF JAWS IN JAWS.


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The shark doesn’t fully appear in a shot until one hour and 21 minutes into the two-hour film. The reason it isn’t shown is because the mechanical shark that was built rarely worked during filming, so Spielberg had to create inventive ways (like Quint’s yellow barrels) to shoot around the non-functional shark.

5. IT TOOK A VERY LONG TIME TO MAKE.

Jaws was marred with so many technical problems (including the shark not working and shooting in the Atlantic Ocean) that the originally scheduled 65-day shoot ballooned into 159 days, not counting post-production.

6. AMITY ISLAND WAS ACTUALLY MARTHA’S VINEYARD.

To create the fictional town of Amity, the production shot on location in Edgartown and Menemsha on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Strict land ordinances kept the production from building anywhere—Quint’s shack was the one and only set built for the movie, while the defaced Amity Island billboard had to be constructed and taken down all in one day.

7. THE SHARK WEIGHED MORE THAN A TON.

The pneumatically-powered shark, designed and built by production designer Joe Alves, weighed in at 1.2 tons and measured 25 feet in length. Part of the reason that Martha’s Vineyard was chosen as a location was because the surrounding ocean bed had a depth of 35 feet for up to 12 miles offshore, which was perfect for scenes that required the mechanical shark rig to be rested on the shallow ocean floor.

8. SPIELBERG TOOK INSPIRATION FROM HIS LEGAL COUNSEL.

The director nicknamed the shark “Bruce” after his lawyer, Bruce Ramer, who also currently represents other celebrities like Demi Moore, Ben Stiller, and Clint Eastwood.

9. SOME GOOD, OLD-FASHIONED ELBOW GREASE HELPED CREATE THE OPENING SCENE.

The opening scene took three days to shoot. To achieve the jolting motions of the shark attacking the swimmer in the opening sequence, a harness with cables was attached to actress Susan Backlinie’s legs and was pulled by crewmembers back and forth along the shoreline. Spielberg told the crew not to let Backlinie know when she would be yanked back and forth, so her terrified reaction is genuine.

Spielberg went on to spoof his own opening scene for Jaws in his 1979 World War II comedy 1941. The scene features Backlinie once again taking a skinny dip at the beach, but instead of being attacked by a shark she’s scooped up by a passing Japanese submarine.

10. SOME EAVESDROPPING GOT ROY SCHEIDER THE LEAD.

Scheider got the part of Chief Martin Brody after overhearing Spielberg talking to a friend at a Hollywood party about the scene where the shark leaps out of the water and onto Quint’s boat. Scheider was instantly enthralled, and asked Spielberg if he could be in the film. Spielberg loved Scheider from his role in The French Connection, and later offered the actor the part.

11. RICHARD DREYFUSS WASN’T THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY HOOPER.

Spielberg initially approached Jon Voight, Timothy Bottoms, and Jeff Bridges to play oceanographer Matt Hooper. When none of them could commit to the role, Spielberg’s friend George Lucas suggested Richard Dreyfuss, whom Lucas has directed in American Graffiti. Dreyfuss would later accept the part because he thought he was terrible in the title role of the film The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz a year earlier.

12. ROBERT SHAW WASN’T THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY QUINT.

When actors Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden—the first and second choices to play the grizzled fisherman Quint, respectively—both turned Spielberg down, producers Zanuck and Brown recommended English actor Robert Shaw, whom they had previously worked with on 1973's The Sting.

13. A LOCAL MARTHA’S VINEYARD FISHERMAN WAS THE REAL QUINT.

Shaw based his performance of Quint on Martha’s Vineyard native and fisherman Craig Kingsbury, a non-actor who appears in the film as Ben Gardner. Kingsbury helped Shaw with his accent and allegedly told Shaw old sea stories that the actor incorporated into his improvised dialogue as Quint.

14. GREGORY PECK FORCED A SCENE TO BE CUT FROM THE MOVIE.

In early drafts of the screenplay, Quint was originally introduced while causing a disturbance in a movie theater while watching John Huston’s 1958 adaptation of Moby Dick. The scene was shot, but actor Gregory Peck—who plays Captain Ahab in that movie—owned the rights to the film version of Moby Dick and wouldn’t let the filmmakers on Jaws use the footage, so the sequence was cut.

15. THE BOOK WAS VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE MOVIE.

Early drafts of the screenplay featured a subplot where Hooper has an affair with Chief Brody’s wife, which was carted over from the book. Another detail left out of the movie from the book was that Mayor Vaughn was under pressure from the mafia, not local business owners, to keep Amity’s beaches open because of their real estate investments on the island.

16. SPIELBERG ADDED AN OFFSCREEN IMPROV MOMENT.

The scene where Brody’s son Sean mimics his father’s movements at the dinner table was based on a real thing that happened between Scheider and child actor Jay Mello in between takes. Spielberg loved the off-the-cuff moment so much that he re-staged it and put it in the movie.

Another iconic moment was also a spontaneous one: Brody’s famous “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” line was entirely improvised by Scheider on the day of shooting.

17.  ROBERT SHAW PUT HIS OWN SPIN ON THE INDIANAPOLIS SPEECH.


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Quint’s U.S.S. Indianapolis speech wasn’t in the novel, and the backstory of Quint being a sailor on the ship first appeared in an uncredited rewrite of the script by playwright Howard Sackler. Later, writer-director (and Spielberg’s friend) John Milius expanded the characteristic into a multi-page monologue, which was then whittled down and spruced up by actor Robert Shaw (himself a playwright) on the day of shooting.

18. SOME REAL SHARK FOOTAGE WAS USED.

Zanuck demanded that real shark footage be used in the movie, and Spielberg used it sparingly. He hired experts Ron and Valerie Taylor to shoot underwater footage of 14-foot sharks off the coast of Australia. For scale, they hired a little person actor named Carl Rizzo to appear as Hooper in a mini shark cage in hopes that they could create the illusion of a shark attacking the character. After trying to get the right shot for about a week, the sharks would only swim around the cage. Then, during a take when Rizzo wasn’t in the cage, a shark became entangled in the cage’s bridle, causing it to thrash and roll around. This footage was included in the final film.

19. DESPITE ALL THE BLOODY SHARK ATTACKS, THE MOVIE IS RATED PG.

Jaws was initially rated R by the MPAA. But after some of the more gruesome frames of the shot showing the severed leg of the man attacked by the shark in the estuary were trimmed down, the film was given a PG-rating (the PG-13-rating wasn’t created until after Spielberg’s own film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, caused the MPAA to change the system in 1984). The poster for the film still reads that the movie “MAY BE TOO INTENSE FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN.”

20. SPIELBERG DIDN’T DIRECT SOME OF THE FINAL SCENES.

Spielberg didn’t direct the shot of the shark exploding. In fact, he had already returned to Los Angeles to begin post-production on the film after the film’s grueling shooting schedule and left the shot up to the production’s second unit.

21. THE POSTER IMAGE CAME ABOUT BY CHANCE.

The film’s iconic poster image was designed by artist Roger Kastel for the paperback edition of Benchley’s book. Kastel modeled the image of the massive shark emerging from the bottom of the frame after a great white shark diorama at the American Museum of Natural History. The female swimmer at the top was actually a model that Kastel was sketching at his studio for an ad in Good Housekeeping. He asked her to stay an extra half-hour and had her pose for the image by standing on a stool and pretending to swim.

22. JAWS WAS HUGE.

Jaws was the first movie released in more than 400 theaters in the United States, and the first movie to gross over $100 million at the box office. It was the highest grossing movie of all time until Star Wars was released two years later.

23. SPIELBERG INCLUDED A NOD TO HIS PREVIOUS MOVIE.

The faint roaring sound that is heard after the shark is blown up was also used by Spielberg in Duel, when that film’s villainous truck falls off a cliff.

24. IT ORIGINALLY ENDED JUST LIKE MOBY DICK.

The original ending in the script had the shark dying of harpoon injuries inflicted by Quint and Brody à la Moby Dick, but Spielberg thought the movie needed a crowd-pleasing finale and came up with the exploding tank as seen in the final film. The dialogue and foreshadowing of the tank were then dropped in as they shot the movie.

25. THE MAIN THEME MUSIC IS EASY TO PLAY.

The sole music notes played for composer John Williams’s Jaws theme are E and F. Jaws marked the second time Williams worked with Spielberg after his film The Sugarland Express, and Williams has composed the music for every Spielberg movie since with the exception of 1985's The Color Purple and 2015's Bridge of Spies.

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