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HomeAwards10 Years, 3 Directors, 1 Vision: Inside Writer Josh Singer’s Long Journey...

10 Years, 3 Directors, 1 Vision: Inside Writer Josh Singer’s Long Journey to Make ‘Maestro’

Josh Singer takes a variety of notes. For an in-demand screenwriter like him (to wit: “Highlight,” “The Submit,” “First Man,” and people are simply his best-known produced works) that is sensible, however Singer’s newest venture, Bradley Cooper’s Leonard Bernstein biopic “Maestro,” required much more copious recordsdata and neat notes. In spite of everything, Singer has been engaged on it for over a decade.

Over a current Zoom interview with IndieWire, Singer narrated a little bit little bit of his typical notes-finding expertise: “Maintain on, let me go into recordsdata. I’m going into my Bernstein file, which may be very lengthy, after which I’m going into, OK, right here: Basically, in 2008 [producers] Fred Berner and Amy Durning approached the Bernstein household, they usually wound up, over the following two years, negotiating life rights.”

That is simply the beginning of the odyssey. By 2010, the producers began in search of a director. Someday round 2013, they locked in Martin Scorsese to direct. Quickly after, they got here knocking at Singer’s door.

STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, Starship Enterprise, 1979
OPPENHEIMER, Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, 2023. © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Extra notes from Singer: “The story of my odyssey with this venture is informed in playlists,” he stated. “I’ve a few dozen playlists, which finish with the playlist, now on Spotify, which I really like, which is the precise album of the film, which has all of the recordings which are from the film. However actually, I made a playlist for Marty for that very first pitch, which was in spring of 2013. I wished to pitch him and do the music cues as I pitch. And he was like, ‘No, no, no, no, that’ll confuse me. I do know all of them anyway.’ Which he did.”

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As Singer remembers it, the assembly with Scorsese and then-studio Paramount Footage was nice. “It was a kind of like, ‘Oh, wow, I simply met Marty Scorsese’ [meetings], and he liked the pitch,” the author stated. “They purchased it within the room, but it surely took them two years to make the deal.”

But when you realize something about Singer’s profession, two years would take us to 2015, when he was a little bit busy with the approaching launch of Tom McCarthy’s “Highlight,” which might finally go on to win each Finest Image and Finest Authentic Screenplay (an award he shared with McCarthy). And he was additionally engaged on Damien Chazelle’s “First Man,” which might be launched in 2018. Lengthy story quick: He didn’t get began on “Maestro” till about 2016, three years into the method.

By the autumn of 2017, Singer, Berner, and Durning have been able to share their script with Scorsese. “The script was very totally different [than the final version],” Singer stated. “There’s nearly nothing that’s the identical, a few strains, possibly. I solely actually centered on the ascent of Lenny, going from his debut to when he takes over the Philharmonic in ’57. I used to be fearful of what occurred later in his life, I simply was afraid to go there.”

Largely, Singer stated, his first script was about Bernstein’s skilled issues. “Is he going to be a musical theater composer or is he going to be a conductor of orchestras? These form of questions,” Singer stated. He re-read that draft just lately, he stated, and whereas he nonetheless discovered it “intelligent,” he was struck by what was lurking beneath all of that, his preliminary B story, which was all about Bernstein’s relationship together with his spouse, Felicia Montealegre. 

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“The B story was Felicia, that she was the one who supplied the grounding that enabled him to flourish,” Singer stated. “However it was very a lot only a comfortable story. The A narrative was way more a ‘Nice Males of Historical past’ factor. I used to be younger, youthful, and once more, it was intelligent. I used to be making an attempt to do some little bit of ‘8 1/2,’ like Fellini.” 

MAESTRO, Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (left), 2023. ph: Jason McDonald / © Netflix /Courtesy Everett Collection
“Maestro”©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Assortment

By then, nevertheless, they’d misplaced Scorsese, who was out the door to direct “The Irishman” (as Singer recalled, “Marty learn it and was like, ‘I really like the venture, however this isn’t for me to direct’”). One other director, nevertheless, was : Steven Spielberg, who got here on board in 2018, one yr after Singer helped him with a fast re-write on “The Submit.” Singer stated the pair labored on the script for about six months, throughout which Cooper heard concerning the venture and expressed curiosity in starring in it.  

“We wound up sending the script to Bradley, who learn it instantly, like he actually was vacationing in Fiji and but he learn it instantly, that very same day. Steven and I have been each staggered by how briskly he learn it,” Singer stated. “Inside 24 hours he was like, ‘I’m in, I’ve a variety of ideas, however I’m in.’ After which for the subsequent 24 hours, I had Steven directing Bradley from my script.”

As Singer remembers now, one other 24 hours or so handed earlier than Spielberg pulled the set off (he could also be taking a little bit of inventive license with this timeline): He couldn’t do “Maestro,” he wished to do his “West Aspect Story,” which lastly gave the impression to be coming collectively. Cooper, he stated, was fast on the draw: He wished to direct it. However he understood if anybody was feeling gunshy, and he requested Singer and Spielberg to look at his “A Star Is Born,” which he’d just lately accomplished filming. 

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Singer laughed, as a result of he is aware of everybody has heard this story already, however it’s a good one. “All of us went to see ‘A Star Is Born,’ and we have been all blown away,” Singer stated. “You’ve heard this story: Within the first 10 minutes, Steven leans over to Bradley and says, ‘You’re fucking directing “Maestro.”’ It was this wonderful factor.” (Each Spielberg and Scorsese produced the movie, together with Cooper, Berner, Durning, and Kristie Macosko Krieger; Singer is an govt producer on the venture.)

Nonetheless, Singer is trustworthy about feeling some stress over the scenario, or a minimum of over his seemingly dueling tasks. “That have was very combined for me as a result of, on the one hand, I used to be thrilled as a result of Bradley Cooper’s an actual director,” he stated. “I watched that movie, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, he’s a actual director and he desires to direct this film and it’s unbelievable that he desires to try this and star and now I’ve acquired one of many biggest stars on the planet in addition to one of many biggest administrators on the planet directing my film.’ However, I’ve acquired ‘First Man’ popping out every week after ‘A Star Is Born’ and I’m actually not comfortable about that. I believe I referred to as and left Damien a message and stated, ‘I’ve excellent news and dangerous information. Sadly, the excellent news is only for me.’”

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“First Man”

And whereas Singer was thrilled about Cooper’s involvement — he had such a powerful imaginative and prescient that he nearly instantly met with the Bernstein kids, who liked his concepts — just a few weeks into the brand new partnership, he started to fret about his personal place throughout the venture. “I begin listening to these phrases: ‘Web page one rewrite,’ which, as a author, you by no means need to hear,” Singer stated. “I knew we have been going to do some work. I knew he was actually fascinated with when Lenny acquired older, however you don’t need to hear ‘web page one rewrite.’ Usually once you hear that, the following set of phrases is, ‘And I’m bringing in my very own author.’”

That’s not what occurred. Singer stated whereas Cooper was trustworthy about eager to, in some ways, “begin from scratch,” the filmmaker and star was effusive concerning the nice work Singer had already carried out — and eager to proceed that nice work, collectively. They shortly set to work.

The pair pored over all kinds of fabric, particuarly John Gruen’s guide “The Personal Lifetime of Leonard Bernstein,” which chronicled a summer season in Italy with the household and provided each “unbelievable, stunning photos of all the youngsters and Lenny and Felicia” and a sequence of “unimaginable, in depth interviews” of which in addition they had entry to audio variations. “It was laborious to maintain up with him listening to all these interviews,” Singer stated. “He was like, ‘That is fascinating. This marriage, this household is fascinating.’ Although it is vitally particular — this can be a queer man — it’s manner forward of its time. Lenny and Felicia’s pact was, in some methods, one thing that was carried out again then, but additionally one thing, the best way they did it, was I believe very trendy.”

Cooper, Singer stated, “was actually struck by that and actually struck by these individuals and the way they associated to one another. The way in which they talked was so hyper-intellectual and verbal, and but on the identical time was considerably emotionally obtuse. They simply have been considerably disconnected.” That’s what he wished the pair to comply with for his or her script. 

“It grew to become clear, that’s our story, that marriage is our story,” Singer stated. “As soon as we discovered that and began transferring ahead, it was unimaginable. I used to be surprised by how a lot Bradley was centered on the analysis, how deep he went. This was him rolling up his sleeves and, similar to my partnership with Tommy [McCarthy], I’d write some scenes, he’d write some scenes, he’d rewrite my scenes, I’d make notes on his scenes. It was very a lot built-in in that vogue.”

Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer - Original Screenplay, Spotlight88th Annual Academy Awards, Press Room, Los Angeles, America - 28 Feb 2016
“Highlight” writers Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer with their Finest Authentic Screenplay Oscars in 2016David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

This went on for years, partially due to the pandemic. “We have been going to shoot this two years in the past, and we couldn’t do it, as a result of we wished to shoot dwell orchestra, and also you couldn’t do this throughout the pandemic,” Singer stated. “We’d wind up placing the script down and coming again to it three months later. It’s the best factor for a script, as a result of you possibly can see what doesn’t work with extra goal eyes. We simply continuously have been at it and at it and at it, doing dozens and dozens of drafts. What we got here to was a narrative that’s way more emotional and way more common than something I actually had in my first draft.”

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The expertise with Cooper, that partnership, is a part of Singer’s secret sauce as a screenwriter. He’s somebody who doesn’t simply welcome collaboration, however who does his greatest work in tandem with different creators. “The good factor about being the screenwriter versus the director, once you work with the director, you have got your compass, your director is the true north,” Singer stated. “I’m not so good at being my very own true north, however I like to work laborious and I like to go deep, and all I actually need is somebody who’s going to push me to work laborious and go deep.”

The administrators Singer has thrived with — McCarthy and Chazelle and Cooper and Spielberg — are all, as he sees it, “severe individuals who do the work and who know the way a lot work it takes and the way deep it takes to go.” That pushes Singer in methods he finds vital. “The opposite factor you most likely have to work with Tommy or Damien or Bradley or Steven is endurance,” he stated. “You’ve acquired to have the ability to be versatile, as a result of one of many fantastic issues about all of them is that they’re all excellent at not solely blazing a path, however then standing again, taking a look at that path and saying, ‘Possibly not. Let’s go this manner. Let’s go that manner.’ You’ve acquired to have the ability to flip with them.”

Maestro. (L to R) Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer/Producer) in Maestro. Cr. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.
Behind the scenes on “Maestro”Jason McDonald/Netflix

Usually, Singer stated, he and Cooper would learn their script aloud to one another, one thing he’s by no means carried out with anybody else. “I discovered it extremely helpful, as a result of it’s a strategy to get a little bit extra goal once you hear the strains out loud,” he stated. “He’s not performing, he’s simply studying, as am I. I’m studying Felicia, he’s studying Lenny. I made a fairly good Felicia, I’ve to say, however I didn’t do an accent or something, however I believe I acquired the emotion of it. However we’re probably not performing. We’re simply studying the strains aloud and also you hear them on this actually good way.”

These readings finally discovered the area for one more collaborator. “The primary time he invited Carey [Mulligan] to hitch us, I used to be so nervous, I’m similar to, ‘I hope I don’t fuck up the strains,’” Singer stated. “I’m actually simply gazing my script, making an attempt to pay attention super-hard so I don’t screw something up. However simply listening to them, the chemistry was already obvious to me, and the best way Bradley and Carey have totally different energies that form of mirror Lenny and Felicia’s totally different energies.”

Even earlier than they shot a second of movie, Singer stated, he felt it, he knew, and he may cease taking a look at his notes. “It was realizing, ‘Oh, we’ve carried out good work, but it surely’s simply going to far surpass what’s on the web page,’” Singer stated. “And understanding how laborious we labored and all of the work we poured in and considering like, ‘Oh, it was value it.’”

“Maestro” is now streaming on Netflix.

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