A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST
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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