Filmmakers urge musical revival

For at least one filmmaking branch, this year’s Oscar race isn’t wide open enough.

In December, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences decided not to revive its long-dormant original-musical Oscar category, claiming that despite the eligibility of five films — five being the minimum — the pool was still too narrow to select three nominees (Daily Variety, Dec. 16).

Now, a group of filmmakers calling themselves the Coalition of the Musical have called upon the indie community to produce more original musicals in hopes of reactivating the category in the future.

To be considered original under the Acad’s rule 16 governing music awards, pics must feature at least five original songs by the same songwriting team that are not only “substantively rendered, clearly audible (and) intelligible” but also “further the storyline.”

Given these requirements, such high-profile adaptations as Warner Bros.’ “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera” and MGM’s “De-Lovely” were ineligible; the five films that qualified in 2004 were Disney’s “Home on the Range,” Miramax’s French-lingo “The Chorus,” Paramount’s “Team America: World Police” and low-budget tuners “Open House” and “Big in Germany.”

Dan Mirvish, who wrote, directed and produced “Open House” and co-wrote and produced “Big in Germany,” is spearheading the coalition. He said he interprets the Acad’s shutdown of the category as a slight against independent filmmakers.

“If (the studios) are going to make a musical, it’s going to be based on a Broadway play or an Off Broadway play, or even, in the case of ‘Moulin Rouge,’ it’ll be based on previously released songs,” he said. “The chances that a Hollywood studio is going to make a truly original musical are next to none, so that only leaves a couple ways for this category to be truly filled, and that’s either an animated film or an indie film.”

Aside from encouraging directors to stretch their talents, the coalition plans to inform and assist directors on making and distributing their musicals cheaply yet in accordance with Academy rules.

Mirvish also said the restrictions pose an invigorating creative challenge to indie filmmakers and that digital video is especially well suited to the musical form in that it necessitates live singing.

Joining Mirvish are Brian Flemming, co-creator of Off Broadway tuner “Bat Boy: The Musical” (to be filmed by helmer John Landis), and Jason McHugh, who starred in and exec produced the 1996 underground pic “Cannibal! The Musical,” which has since experienced a second life as a hit stage play.

Coalition also is backed by “Team America” scribe-producer Matt Stone, who co-wrote “Cannibal!” with longtime partner Trey Parker, as well as digital-server company QuVIS, the Independent Feature Project, the Slamdance Film Festival, the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, FilmThreat and FilmCrash.

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