We received so many questions for Austin Shaw, Executive Producer of The Phantom of the Opera, that we have had to post the interview in two instalments… here’s the second part.
To avoid repetition, we have grouped questions covering similar themes together…
When the phantom cried on the rooftop, he was very sad but shed no tears. Someone said he could only shed tears after Christine redeemed him with her kisses. Is that true? Did the Directors tell Gerry not to shed tears on the rooftop for some special reason, or did it just happen to be the way it is?
I think if you look carefully when Gerry crushes the rose his eyes are absolutely full of tears. It was an immensely emotional day of filming. It was a incredibly hard scene for him, because he was on his own on the rooftop and had to sustain the interest of the camera for a very long time and he did genuinely cry in those scenes and those of us watching on set were very moved that day.
What made you go with the more swash-buckling hero side of Raoul’s character rather than the more romantic version in the stage show?
Two real reasons. Firstly, in the film version we deliberately chose to pump up the character of Raoul because the love triangle has to be more credible. You need to make Raoul a more realistic competitor for Christine’s love. Secondly, actors will always want to play more realistic heroes on screen than stage so Patrick was very keen that his character had more action scenes and everytime that Joel would ask for something more physically demanding Patrick was always up to that task.
Many people say the movie is full of symbolism – for example what is the relevance of the stag old Raoul saw on his way to the cemetery? Is there any symbolism in the sculptures in the cemetery, or in other scenes in the film?
There is a lot of symbolism in the movie. Joel was very adamant in working with Tony Pratt, our Production Designer, that – for instance – the theatre should be a very feminine and very sexual design so there are a lot of nude statues. It is a highly romantic story so there has to be a sort of voluptousness to the set. Some of the props we used do have a certain symbolism. In terms of the stag, that was a very fortuitous day – as we were filming the scene in Windsor Great Park – the stag, of its own accord, ran alongside the camera truck. So we shot that and it was a great piece of luck. It certainly wasn’t scripted.
Why does the Phantom have so many mirrors in his lair yet keep them covered? Why did he break them at the end?
He breaks them at the end because the darker human side of him is taking over. He realises he has gone too far. He has now murdered, kidnapped and destroyed the very world that he lives for. So I think breaking the mirrors at the end is easier to answer than the first part of the question!
I noticed that there was a scene in the trailer that I didn’t recall seeing in the movie.
Obviously trailers have to be cut before a film is finished, and essentially what happens when you are actually shooting the film you are shooting an awful lot of material which never makes it into the final cut of the movie and it is entirely possible that certain shoots which people who assemble the trailer choose to select are then not in the final film.
What do you believe Christine was thinking during Point of No Return?
I believe that at the start of Point of No Return she is the bait in the trap they have set. But no-one realises that the Phantom will actually appear as Don Juan and when he does and he starts to sing to her she becomes seduced again. It is a very highly charged, erotic number. But then, up on the bridge, when she pulls his mask off, she is revealing him to the world.
Did Gerry start later than the others because he needed more training with his singing?
Gerry started later because he was finishing another movie which was shooting in Brazil, so he didn’t join us until three weeks into the process and we had to schedule around this.
I read that Gerry’s first scene was “The Point of No Return”, why did he start with such a difficult scene?
Again, when you schedule a film there are hundreds of factors which have to be taken into account, not only actors availability but set construction, technical requirements, etc. Sometimes actors do have to film finales and climaxes before they have been able to film the scenes which lead up to these. You try and avoid that so there is a more emotional journey through the production process, but sometimes it is inevitable that one, or two of the actors will have to film very difficult scenes out of sequence and very early on in the schedule.
Why were Christine’s stockings missing when she woke up on the swan bed?
Someone else has said this to me and I haven’t actually looked at the scene in that detail, because as far as I am aware they are not! Have a look on the DVD and see if it is there!
Why is Mme. Giry the only one with a French accent?
The Paris Opera House of the day would have been peopled with Italians, French, English, all sorts of different nationalities working under the same roof. Miranda was very keen that she had a more authentic accent and felt that, because Mme Giry had actually grown up in the Opera House from a very early age as a ballet girl, she would have a french accent. And, frankly, her French accent is wonderful.
You have a “dialect coach” in the list of crew. What was her job?
Jill worked with all of the actors. We didn’t get too hung up on individual accents, but having chosen the appropriate accent she would work with all of the cast to ensure they were consistent throughout.
Why did the Phantom give Christine the ring Raoul gave her instead of his ring?
I think there is a symbolism to the ring, in that it is the one ring both men long to put on her finger. He rips it away from her at the end of the Masquerade scene, which means that now it is in his possession it is the ring HE wants to give to her.
Why did we see Mme. Giry fixing her hair before Christine woke up and went to the cemetery? What does it mean?
It was purely used to add atmosphere – showing the Opera House “waking up”. We showed a man walking across the square in front of the theatre to set the scene of the morning and the Opera House coming to life.
Why did Christine see the tunnel as beautiful, rather than seeing the filth and rats?
Again, because she is being seduced by the Phantom. She is so seduced by him that she enters a trance-like state and only sees the beauty of him at that stage.
Many of our questions have come from fans who have seen the movie from several times to more than thirty times… did you have any idea how this movie was going to affect the people that were going to see it?
When producing a subject as highly loved and respected as The Phantom the hope is always that you are going to make the film work for the fans of the show and aim to produce a good representation of the stage show and actually add something extra through using the media of film. It is wonderful to hear that people feel that the film is strong enough to see it more than once. One of the things we were all aware off as we filmed it was that there is so much of a visual feast to see that actually the film does bear viewing more than once because you can see so much more on repeat viewings. And I think the DVD will obviously provide people even more opportunity to go back through favourite sequences. A lot of people can’t afford $100 or have no access to a theatre to see the stage show, but to allow people to see and hear a film like Phantom for a few dollars is wonderful.
Why do you think American movie critics were so negative about The Phantom movie?
The critics were not entirely negative. We did have a lot of mixed reviews, some very good and some very poor. I think it is a brave critic who will write up a film like Phantom which is tough to review and some critics do not like the “sung through” musical genre so sometimes it is very difficult to get even a fair review. That said, the critics who DO love musicals produced some very good reviews. But as Joel says, we don’t make films for critics, we make them for the audience and it matters far more to us what the audience think of the film than the critics.
People have been talking about biblical references in this movie. In particular that the Phantom represents Satan and Christine Jesus, his redemption. Is that true? Is that what Sir Andrew, Mr. Hart and Mr. Stilgoe had in mind when they wrote this play?
I think that is a question better directed to Andrew and Richard Stilgoe who originally adapted the book. I personally don’t believe that there is any deliberate intention to make the Phantom appear to be the Devil and Christine Jesus.
“Music of the Night” and “The Point of No Return” are, in my opinion, the most sensuous and erotic scenes from any movie in movie history. Are you, JS, and ALW aware of the enormous passion felt for this movie by so many people, in particular women?
It is a very erotic tale, about a young girl having a sexual desire for the Phantom and a romantic love for Raoul and her confusions and subsequent choices she has to make. The Point of No Return is an incredibly charged erotic scene and the chemistry between Gerry and Emmy was fantastic throughout that filming period. I think we were all aware on set how well it was working.
I don’t know if I am right but it seems to me that 90% of the fans are women (and I am one of them). Is that an expected outcome? Did you set out to make a movie that attracts women? Are you disappointed that guys don’t seem to appreciate the movie as much as women do?
I think romance has traditionally always appealed to a female, rather than a male, audience. One of the recurring comments we have received about the film is where a woman takes her boyfriend or husband to see the film – he has gone along initially somewhat reluctantly, only to find that he really enjoyed it. That’s always good to hear, that you have manage to entertain everyone in the auditiorium. But I think, by its very nature, Phantom does appeal to women and certainly the romance of the score adds to this attraction.
Did you ever consider keeping “No One Would Listen” in the movie?
Yes, we filmed it (it’s an extra on the DVD) but in the editing process it became very clear to us that that song didn’t work in a filmic way.
If there is anything concerning the film that you would go back in time and change – what would it be?
When you are actually producing a film from start to finish you end up seeing the film probably in excess of 60 times – there are always individual, specific technical aspects that you feel you would like to change, but in terms of the overall story telling and the visual beauty of the film I really am very proud of it and there is nothing I would want to change.
Why do you think now is the right time for this movie?
Well the movie has been talked about since 1989 although I think that date was probably premature in that the stage show has had such phenomenal success subsequent to then. Andrew has always been passionate about making this into a film. The original 1925 Lon Chaney movie was the most successful silent film of it’s time. So I think the Phantom is a naturally filmic subject. In many respects it has taken too long to make it due to a variety of reasons regarding complications on the rights and of course bringing Joel back into the frame took a while because he was committed to other projects. So I wouldn’t say that now was the right time but it was as good a time as any. Sometimes films take years to develop and then one lucky break allows you to produce the film very quickly.
If there’s one thing that you want the audience to walk away with from this movie, what is it?
I think all filmakers would like to think that they have entertained and given an audience a journey and an escape for the two and a half hours or so that they spend in the movie theatre, so if people can come out with an affection for the film and having enjoyed their time that is all we can really ask.
Will Butler and Rossum do their performance in Broadway or a US tour live?
One of the immense difficulties in theatre is securing stars for theatre productions. Film stars tend to be steered away from live theatre because it is very consuming in terms of time. Generally speaking film actors tend to want to remain in film and continue with more film projects.
At any time, did plans go wrong and you regretted ever taking on this project?
I certainly don’t regret being part of the project. It has been an amazing journey for two years. Yes, there were moments where it was a little tough. All creative processes get difficult at some stage but you always have to look to the long term and think that it is not worth jumping ship! You have to focus on delivering a finished film and something that you are proud of.
The film is coming to the end of it’s international cinema release. Do you think it will ever come back out on the big screen in the future?
Occasionally films are re-released – these are generally cult films – I am not sure Phantom will ever be re-released on the big screen, but who knows? With digital projection and cinema making such inroads it might be that it is still possible and worthwhile to present big screen versions of Phantom long into the future.
I understand that the final shooting script was released in the Phantom Companion Book. Are there any current plans to release (in full or in part) any of the unused versions, such as the 2000 draft by Ben Elton or the 1990 Chabanne draft?
No. Most films go through several versions or drafts of the final script and I think it would be unfair on the writers to publish unused or unfinished material.
I just would like to ask, if there is any thought to a sequel showing what happened after the Opera House fire and how our beloved characters continued on with their lives?
No. Andrew did think about a sequel to Phantom and, in fact, he worked with Frederick Forsyth to put a story together. Frederick Forsyth subsequently published the book The Phantom of Manhattan. However these plans didn’t come to fruition. When you have such a phenomenally successful stage show there is an inherent fear that whatever you do could never be as successful as the original. Similarly in film, it would be hard to imagine a Titanic 2!!!
I also wondered what happened to the 50 Phantom masks which were produced for use in the film? Is there any possibility of them coming on the market for sale? Or for that matter, is any thing else from the film for sale as memorabilia?
We made a very conscious decision that at the end of the film we would release a certain number of costumes to fans by way of an eBay auction. So many times these get dumped or sold off in one job lot to a costume house. The sheer quality and the uniqueness of some of the items made for the film deserve more than that and we have such a wonderful fan base out there we wanted to give those fans the opportunity to own a piece of the film.
What extra features can we expect on The Phantom movie DVD and will we – the fans – be getting the definitive version straight away?
Because the Phantom was an independent film we have over 40 different distributors around the world and each distributor makes their own decision as to what extras are included on the DVD. We, as a production company, have offered up two in-depth documentaries, plus a host of other extra features, but ultimately it is up to the individual distributor in each territory to decide what they want to include on the DVD. We have encouraged them to put as much on the DVD as possible and in fact in the UK and the US I know each DVD will contain both of the in depth documentaries, plus a whole host of other goodies. I’m afraid as a production company we don’t control the ultimate decision making on this. If you are a fan whose country chooses not to use some of the extras I can only apologise.
Will you put “Learn To Be Lonely” performed by Gerald Butler in the DVD as a bonus cut? I really, really want to see the Phantom singing that song!
Again, it is up to the individual distributors, but it has been offered to all of them.
And finally, what information or guidance could you give for people who want to become involved in the film industry?
There are lots of routes into the huge variety of jobs within the industry. I would say to someone who is keen to work in film or theatre you have to be very passionate and very patient. You have to serve your time and everyone has to start at the bottom and work their way up. There is no easy way but, when you do get to a better position within the industry you realise that all the experience, no matter how tough it was at the time, is invaluable!
Austin, thank you on behalf of all our visitors for your time. Best wishes for your next project.
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