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Choreography and Music
For the sounds of his comedy, MacFarlane would select Emmy Award winner Joel McNeely to compose the film and RICH BREEN to mix it expertly. The director had worked with both men on "Music Is Better Than Words," an album of orchestral jazz standards, and deeply respected their work. He shares his reaction to listening to the 95-piece orchestra conducted by McNeely: "I was beyond elated upon first hearing the music that Joel had composed for A Million Ways to Die in the West. Here Joel brings us a classic, Elmer Bernstein-style Western score that presents itself as a key element in the overall tone of the movie." Anna knows how to take care of herself.

MacFarlane knew that his collaborators were quite serious about the assignment at hand and had nailed their work: "The score adheres to a philosophy perhaps first set forth by the Zucker brothers: Let the music ignore the comedy, and play it straight and earnest. Joel's score is at once sincere, dramatic, playful, detailed, energetic, beautiful and thematic."

Discussing his inspiration for the score, McNeely offers: "Composing the music for A Million Ways to Die in the West has been a creatively rewarding experience. Seth is a director with all of the sensibilities and ideas of a trained composer, whose insights and ideas flow through the score. I was inspired to write an original score that harkens back to the glory days of the great Westerns- one that is big, bold and thematic."

Getting into the song and dance of it all, MacFarlane has long felt that there should be a song or production number of some kind in every movie. The production number utilized in A Million Ways to Die in the West was actually a reimagining of a Stephen Foster song called "The Moustache Song," based on a song by Foster with additional lyrics by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild.

MacFarlane offers: "'The Moustache Song' is an old Stephen Foster song from the 1860s, and it's ridiculous. It's exactly what it sounds like: You will get laid more if you have a moustache. Not to second-guess Stephen Foster, but we messed with the lyrics a bit and turned it into this big production number.

That's something that, once we got into the filming of it all, occurred to me. I thought, 'My God, what would we have done without Neil Patrick Harris?'" To put together the choreography for the reimagined song,

"If You've Only Got a Moustache," MacFarlane relied upon friend and seasoned choreographer ROB ASHFORD (86th Academy Awards, upcoming Cinderella). Ashford and MacFarlane first worked together when MacFarlane hosted the 2013 Academy Awards, where the duo developed terrific shorthand.

Emmy Award winner Ashford shares: "When Seth told me that he might be having a barn dance in this movie and asked if I would be interested, I said, 'Absolutely.' I love working with Seth, plus there was Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried, who I had also worked with on the Oscars, and I've worked with Neil Patrick Harris many times. You can't say no to all that."

MacFarlane knew exactly what he wanted the dance to look like. Ashford explains: "He had a real vision in his head. This is not a person who has danced all his life and is not a choreographer. But he could describe what he envisioned for the numbers in the movie."

The number featured 16 couples in the movie, including MacFarlane and Theron, Seyfried and Harris and Ribisi and Silverman. The other couples were hired locally in New Mexico, along with five dancers from New York. Of the rehearsal process, Theron shares: "We started rehearsing maybe two or three weeks before we shot it. I think everyone had a great time with it; it was so out of the ordinary. I have never been asked to do that in a film before and I am not sure if anyone else had either, so we all just embraced it. We just became kids. And, you can tell everyone loved it."

No stranger to the bright lights of performing multiple song and dance numbers on Broadway, Harris enjoyed having Ashford and associate dance choreographers CHRIS BAILEY & SARAH O'GLEBY (Beyond the Sea, West End's Guys and Dolls) on set. But it didn't all come easy to the performer. Harris explains: "We had to rehearse it for multiple days and sessions. Rob and Chris are people I've worked with on the Tonys, so they really know what they're doing and made it fun to learn. The hardest part was the second half where all the guys end up in one corner of the barn and they're doing a dance toward Albert. It was physically grueling, and we filmed it for four days in a row overnight in a barn-an actual barn filled with dust."

Ashford explains that, in the end, it was all worth it: "The number tells a story. It's like a number from a musical. So you have that information on the page, which is very exciting for a choreographer. It's also exciting to try and mold something, which is more like doing the opening number for the Oscars. It's always a great challenge to use the characters to tell the story and move the film along with the dancing."

With a title song for the film performed by none other than country superstar and two-time Grammy Award winner Alan Jackson, who has sold more than 60 million albums, as well as with music by McNeely and lyrics by MacFarlane, A Million Ways to Die in the West was ready to ride into theaters.

MacFarlane concludes with his hopes for the project: "I wanted to find a way to make this period accessible to the modern day, and that's what I hope this will be and what people take away from this. If there's one thing I can say it is that we're really proud of this, and I hope that we managed to crack the period comedy puzzle."


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