David Dobkin had no idea the Eurovision Song Contest even existed until the script by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele landed on his desk. But the director of “The Judge” and “Wedding Crashers” fell in love with both the comedy about the international music competition — “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” — and the contest itself, founded in 1956.
The movie stars Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as aspiring Icelandic musicians Lars and Sigrit, who see the contest as their big break. Dan Stevens, Demi Lovato and Pierce Brosnan also appear in the film, which bowed June 26 on Netflix.
To put together what Dobkin calls a love letter to the competition, albeit one with an off-kilter spin, he assembled a below-the-line team that included production designer Paul Inglis (art director for “Blade Runner 2049” and “Skyfall”), costume designer Anna B. Sheppard (“Spider-Man: Far From Home,” “Inglourious Basterds”), editor Greg Hayden (“Tropic Thunder,” “Zoolander 2”) and music producer Savan Koetcha, who has worked with Lovato, Ariana Grande, Usher, The Weeknd and Britney Spears. Here’s what they had to say about putting the movie together.
Paul Inglis, Production designer
“There was a danger of the Eurovision contest itself overtaking everything. We needed to have a visual arc where you build to it. The elimination contests for Iceland were set in Reykjavik, but our main priority was finding a small town. We scouted small towns and shortlisted two. We looked at how they played in the context of our other visual decisions and ended up shooting in Húsavík [along the northern coast], because it flowed with the idea of the place where Lars grew up and had to return to. The emotional central arc is: There’s no place like home. It’s a ‘Wizard of Oz’ journey in a way.
We also shot in various parts of the U.K., including Warner Studios in Watford, England. That’s where our stage for the final contest, which takes place in Edinburgh, was built. It was huge — 250 feet long. The dominant feature was the video wall, which was 80 feet wide and 24 feet high. We used VFX to add in the rest of the seating arena and expansive field, but we still built a large part of that.
We also had to create animations for each act that you see on the video wall. We worked with Territory Studio in the U.K., which provided those animations. Although you only see snippets of the songs in the movie, we shot them in their entirety and had full light and video shows timed to each song.”
Anna B. Sheppard, Costume designer
“There was a lot of back and forth because I’ve never made that many costumes before. With Demi Lovato’s costume for the Icelandic elimination contest — an art deco liquid-gold dress — I made adjustments right until she arrived in London because I wasn’t satisfied with the design. I wasn’t sure how she would react to it after I had been showing her fabric samples and previous designs, but she ended up loving it.
Choreography was also a big influence on my designs. I had to change things and add secret openings so actors could bend and jump — or find things for them to remove. I had never had to do that before.
Dan Stevens plays Russian competitor Alexander Lemtov. There’s a scene where Dan’s shirt is ripped off, so his jacket needed to come off easily and needed to [look] ripped. There were a few hairy moments when it came to designing that outfit.”
Greg Hayden, Editor
“[The pacing] was all about how much of each contestant we needed to show to build up to Lars and Sigrid. We had to find a balance in how long each song needed to be and how much of each act we had to show. Two acts didn’t make the cut because we needed to get to our main characters faster. We ended up creating a montage and finding the best part of each song to segue between pieces.”
Savan Koetcha, Music producer
“The most important thing I stressed was that with the actual Eurovision Song Contest, the melodies are really good. If you take the lyrics away, the melody had to be fantastic.
With ‘Lion of Love’ [sung by Stevens’ Alexander], it was about knowing who the character was and understanding them. It’s what I do when I work with any artist — I try to understand who they are. With this song, he’s this overly macho guy, and that was so much fun. We tried to put some Russian influence in the melody. Lyrically, we went over-the-top. For me, writing some of the lyrics felt like they were put into Google Translate for English. It’s not really how you would say it, and that was very much the idea.”