The making of one of filmmaker Bob Fosse’s early triumphs, the sizzling “Big Spender” sequence from the 1969 musical “Sweet Charity,” kicks off the opening moments of the first episode of FX’s bio-limited series “Fosse/Verdon” in the same sultry style for which the legendary director-choreographer was known. It juxtaposes the film’s dancers in a sinuous, sexy lead-up to the memorable performance, intercutting with similar, rhythmic verve through the on-set process of the perfectionist Fosse (Sam Rockwell), bolstered by canny course corrections conjured by his wife and muse, actress-dancer Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams).
“We’re teasing the audience before we give them what they really want, which is the number, unvarnished and uncut. We started shooting the dance sequence first and just realized that these dancers, the set, hair, makeup, wardrobe were so on point that we ended up covering it from as many angles as possible because it was too wonderful to not really go and get. We wanted to put our camera in a position where they were getting a shot that we know was used in the final cut of ‘Sweet Charity’ to make sure that we had a recognizable moment, so there was a shot, or a couple of shots, in the real movie that have that exact angle. The verisimilitude of that, we thought, was also giving our audience a kind of grammar: that we’re going to take you behind the scenes, but we’re going to pay attention to those kinds of details.”
“One thing that I really loved was one of the long lens shots: All of a sudden there’s Gwen in the background saying the lines to herself. We were going to pick that up after that, but we saw the long lens through the girls and racked focus to her and it just wound up being spectacular. For me the moment that sticks out more than anything else is seeing Michelle through all of that, being the unheralded voice behind the whole thing.”
“The responsibility is actually to try to replicate in a way that is as clean as possible, in a way that has as much integrity as possible. I was trying to do justice to what was there. And then what we do is take this amazing choreography and break it into pieces, then between pieces tell an interesting story about two amazing people. He’s a perfectionist, so on the day when he’s filming ‘Charity’ he keeps stopping to figure out the composition or to figure out a costume piece or to figure out the makeup. We can break ‘Spender’ apart so the audience can learn about his incessant need to crack the detail. The dancing and the staging becomes a lens to tell an exciting story through, rather than the audience just getting ‘Big Spender’ from beginning to end.”
Supervising music producer
“It was my job to try to not only have my music tell the story but have it weave in and out of a song in a way that it felt like it could be part of ‘Big Spender.’ I have to find ways for the music to be funny and be really just sassy and brassy, just the way that number is, so it was really fun to be able to have all these different shades and colors throughout the scene. There’s all these little ‘Sweet Charity’ Easter eggs in there. That’s where the fun is, right? All the detail work, the other minor things that people would never really notice, but yet you feel it because it feels like a big, complete, very emotional piece of music.”