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‘Wonderstruck’ Director Todd Haynes Emphasizes Importance of Film’s Score: It’s ‘Almost a Character’

Todd Haynes’ latest film “Wonderstruck” opened at the Los Angeles Theatre in Downtown L.A. Tuesday. The unusually warm October evening was graced by director Haynes, as well as stars Oakes Fegley and Jaden Michael, screenwriter Brian Selznick, executive producer and costume designer Sandy Powell, and composer Carter Burwell. Julianne Moore and newcomer Millicent Simmonds, who also star in the film, were unable to attend.

Based on the novel also written by Selznick, “Wonderstruck” flips between two narratives in separate eras — the 1920s and 1970s. Simmonds and Fegley portray Rose and Ben (respectively), two deaf children who embark on distinctive, personal journeys in New York City. The Los Angeles Theatre was decorated to reflect both eras, with ushers dressed as either flappers or ‘70s socialites. Kettle corn and old fashioned sodas were also served during the screening.

Seldom does Hollywood see screenplays adapted from a novel written by the novelist himself. However, Selznick got the ball rolling on the project, noting that he wrote the screenplay after Powell urged him to pitch it to Haynes, whom she worked with on Haynes’ “Carol” in 2015. The New Jersey-born writer described the process of adapting the story from page to screen as a good exercise in confinement.

“When I’m making books, it’s all about the interaction between the words and the pictures,” Selznick explained to Variety. “When it’s time to turn it into a movie — and this is the first screenplay I’ve ever written — it’s was more about condensing and cutting things out and figuring out what was absolutely necessary in order to tell the story.”

“Wonderstruck” marks the first collaboration between Haynes and Selznick, though Selznick had been a fan of the director’s work for years. Haynes noted his admiration for the whimsical nature of the screenplay, saying that the film speaks to both children and adults, particularly those who are deaf themselves.

“I wanted it to be a very special and unique film for films,” he said. “That kids could discover and feel like they found something unique and rare, and that their parents could also dig.”

Haynes also discussed the challenges of directing a film that so starkly switches between two eras, adding that directing “Wonderstruck” “required faith in cinema at its most basic language, which is its visual language, editorial language, and the score.” Haynes emphasized the importance that music plays in the film. Haynes worked with composer Burwell to come up with a way to play down the emphasis on the dialogue, placing it instead on the score.

“The music is almost a character [in the film],” said Haynes. “I sometimes found myself thinking that the music plays the role that dialogue usually plays in a film, and the roles are reverted. You’re not supposed to really notice the score in a film, but you notice the dialogue and it carries you through emotionally. This film you don’t really notice the dialogue, but you notice the music, and it really tells the story.”

“Wonderstruck” opens in theaters nationwide Friday, Oct. 20.

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