Interview with Marc Platt of "A Christmas Story LIVE" on FOX - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite
 

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By Suzanne

Marc Platt 

Interview with Marc Platt, Executive Producer of "A Christmas Story LIVE" on FOX 12/13/17

Final Transcript FBC PUBLICITY: Conference Call with Marc Platt of A Christmas Story Live
December 13, 2017/10:45 a.m. PST
SPEAKERS Michael Roach Ė FBC Publicity
Marc Platt
PRESENTATION

Moderator Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the Conference Call with Marc Platt of A Christmas Story Live. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode, and shortly we will conduct a question and answer session. Instructions will be given at that time. [Operator instructions]. As a reminder, todayís conference is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the conference over to Mr. Michael Roach. Please go ahead.
Michael Thanks, everyone, for joining us today on this call with Marc Platt, Executive Producer of A Christmas Story Live, which will air this Sunday, December 17th at 7:00 p.m./6:00 p.m. Central on Fox. A Christmas Story Live stars Maya Rudolph, Matthew Broderick, Jane Krakowski, Chris Diamantopoulos, and it guest stars David Alan Grier, Ken Jeong and newcomer, Andy Walken, and pretty much we have a great cast.

I just wanted to get this started, so thanks, Keeley, weíre ready to begin the call.

Moderator Thank you. [Operator instructions]. Our first question will come from the line of Caryn Robbins with BroadwayWorld. Please go ahead.

Caryn Hi. How are you?

Marc Good. How are you doing?

Caryn Iím good. Thanks. Iím so looking forward to the broadcast on Sunday. I was wondering if you could give us any details on the new Pasek & Paul songs that were written for the show as far as how and when theyíll fit into the storylines.
Marc Well, some of it we want to save as a surprise, but Pasek & Paul have written some beautiful and exciting new music for our telecast. Some of the songs from the original Broadway version have been revised or actually completely rewritten. When a writer gets a second chance to look back on something, itís a great opportunity to say, this was really good, but we could even do it better.

There are a couple of those. For example, thereís a song in the original Broadway version called ďSticky SituationĒ which still exists in our telecast, but itís been completely redone as a new song. Although the first one was good, this is more exciting, it fits into the narrative and itís a bigger, more robust number, as an example.

The other thing that this telling of A Christmas Story has enabled us to do in a very exciting way is to elaborate upon the beloved film in a couple of different ways. Iím going to give you just one example, I donít want to reveal too much because I do want to sort of save it for fun, but in the film, there is a character of Schwartz, who is little Ralphie Parkerís best friend, and if you know the film when Ralphie ends up saying a very bad word his mom says where did you hear that from? And, he blames it on his friend, Schwartz.
What weíve done is weíve createdóand in the movie the mom then calls Schwartzís mother and you just hear her screaming on the phone when sheís been informed that her son was the one who taught Ralphie the bad word. In our storytelling, because we have the time to elaborate and to do it, weíve actually created the character of Schwartzís mother, Mrs. Schwartz, so Ralphie gets to go to the Schwartz house and apologize to his best friend Schwartz for blaming him, and in so doing he gets to meet Schwartzís mom and a new musical number ensues.

He goes to Mrs. Schwartz and she says, ďWhy do you look so glum?Ē And he tells her what heís been seeking for Christmas, which is sort of the essence of A Christmas Story, the one present, the one toy that the kid wants, and she sings a new song in there thatís been created just for the telecast. So, thatís an example of a new song.

Caryn Awesome. Can I ask a follow up question, or would you prefer I come around again?

Marc No, Iím good. Iím sure there are other questions, but go ahead and ask a quick follow up. Sure.

Caryn I was just wondering, when adapting a musical from stage to television, what are some of the biggest roadblocks youíve found in making sure it works on the smaller screen?

Marc Well, what weíve done here is we have a film, first and foremost, thatís beloved by people everywhere. Itís become such a classic. Many people can quote you scenes and lines like ďDonít shoot your eye out,Ē or they can remember the tongue sticking to the flagpole. And so we start with the film and we lean very much into the film.

Then you have this wonderful musical written by Pasek & Paul that was an adaptation of the film, and what a televised event, a live event allows us to do is to create a new genre, if you will. We take elements of the film, which we mean cinematic elements, we take elements of the stage production, which is the live theater and we combine them together.

What youíre going to see is something that very much resembles certainly a live film. Itís going to feel very cinematic, the environment is very immersive. Youíre going to feel like youíre in that town in Indiana and in that home of Parker, but it will also be live and youíll be very well aware of it.
I think the challenges of adapting something so beloved is to first make sure that you are respectful of the original material and that youíre delivering for an audience all the elements that people who loved the film need to see to be satisfied, and the same would stand with the musical. You want all those great musical moments and that beautiful score to land, but you also want to deliver an experience that is unique, that no one has ever experienced before by this new genre of a live television version.

I feel that fans of the film will be very satisfied and then some. Fans of the musical will be satisfied and then some. For those in the audience who donít know the film or the musical, theyíre going to be delighted with a very charming, nostalgic, funny and warm and witty entertainment.

Caryn Great. Thank you so much.

Marc You bet.

Moderator Thank you. Next, weíll go to the line of Mark Dawidziak with Cleveland Plain Dealer. Please go ahead.

Mark Hi, Marc. Greetings from the home of the Christmas Story house.
Marc Indeed. Iím well aware of that. I gather thereís a block party going on the night of the telecast.

Mark Yes. We kind of claim the film as our own because of how muchóI know itís set in Indiana but so much of it was filmed here.

And with that, you referenced how well-known the film is. In fact, it already is a television tradition because thereís a 24-hour marathon.
With that kind of recognition, where you can literally see peopleís mouths moving with the film sometimes, is that an advantage or a disadvantage for you, or both when youíre trying to do this new kind of incarnation, which is recalling the film but yet trying to be something very much on its own?

Marc Itís a challenge is what it is. Itís a challenge, as I alluded to earlier. Itís a challenge because our entertainment wants to satisfy all the expectations of all those millions of people who love the film, and I think those expectations will be satisfied. The Parkerís are there, the Parker home is there, all the iconic moments are delivered in a very respectful way. There are actually certain shots that are from the film, literally specific shots that will be recreated live, so that if youíre familiar with the film you will recognize moments, where, my gosh, thatís right out of the film.

All the elements that delight audiences, that they embrace from the film, that make them nostalgic, that make them enjoy the film as a family are all present in A Christmas Story Live. But it will also have an elaboration to it. First, thereís the music and the music both embraces the humor of the piece, the warmth of the piece, but it really underscores all the elements that people love about the film, which is the family, the tradition of Christmas, the things that go wrong on your Christmas Day, that you plan for but they just donít go quite right. All of those elements are elaborated upon. Then weíre able also to go into a couple of different storylines in a little bit more depth that I think the audience will feel delighted.

So, I look at it as a challenge and I think the test of it is its success will be, as I said earlier, how satisfied audiences are, and I really believe that if you love the movie youíre going to love A Christmas Story Live. If you love the musical, youíre going to love it.

And if youíre not familiar with it, youíre going to be introduced to the wonderful Parker family and that town in Indiana, and itís an event that the entire family, like the film, can watch together, enjoy together, laugh together and quite frankly, cry a little bit together. Itís very moving and it taps into the kind of nostalgia that feels, at this moment, at this particular moment in time with all thatís going on in the world, and itís such a complicated world that weíre living in, it feels like A Christmas Story Live is the kind of nostalgia that is comfort food for everyone.

I will also say that whatís really interesting about a live television event is that one recognizes the actual relevancy and power of network television to provide an in-the-moment collective experience thatís sort of unparalleled. So that while you might watch A Christmas Story Live with your family, the whole country will be watching, and whether youíre aware of that on social media or whether just aware that weíre all experiencing it in the same moment, thereís something very exciting and very powerful about that.

Mark Itís a tall order for your actors too because theyíre not only live, theyíre playing these roles which are iconically emblazoned in peopleís minds, like Darren McGavinís performance and such. So, talk a little bit about your cast and how you set about that because thatís obviously vital to this.
Marc Yes. We were very fortunate to have attracted a brilliant cast, many of whom, by the way, interestingly enough, have had tremendous experience on film, on live television and on stage, which is very, very unique to find so many actors who have all of those different experiences. Thatís number one.

Number two is they all share, interestingly enough, a love of the film as well. And I think that any adaptation when an actor walks into a role that has heretofore been indelibly imprinted on people from a past production or a past film, I think that the trick of it is to inhabit the essence of those original characters but then to make it very much your own, your own interpretation.

What is it that Maya Rudolph brings to the mom, that, like in the original film, will make moms everywhere feel like I know that mom. Thatís who I am. Thatís what I feel like. And Maya does it beautifully.

What is it about Matthew Broderick as a storyteller? In the musical version, for those of you who donít know it, the voice of Jean Shepherd, the reminiscences that he has as the grownup Ralphie, if you will, are told in voice-over, and itís a very, very significant part of the film.
In the stage version, which also exists in A Christmas Story Live, the storyteller becomes a character. The grownup Ralphie is actually a storyteller who takes the audience throughout the evening and tells us the story, much like the stage manager does in Our Town. Matthew Broderick is a great storyteller. He feels like he is Ralphie grownup and when he looks into the camera and tells us with irony and humor and warmth about his childhood and about all the things that happened to him on that particular Christmas, you canít help but be engaged, you canít help but relate to him.

As a sidebar, I find it interesting that the last time Matthew Broderick looked into a camera and spoke to the audience was a film called Ferris Bueller which was actually made right around the exact same time that A Christmas Story was. So, thereís a degree of familiarity to it and comfort as well, and thatís just the tip of the iceberg.

Jane Krakowski plays Miss Shields, the teacher, and weíre able to make a bit more of her character as well. Not only is she known for television, not only has she performed in film, but sheís also a great actress of the stage, an award-winning actress, so to have her perform musical numbers and to bring the comedy of that teacher to life is a gem and a real gift to everyone.

Ralphie is a wonderful discovery. Once you get past the fact that he looks so much like Peter Billingsley, the original Ralphie, he becomes his own Ralphie, with his wide blue eyes and his beautiful singing voice, and heís a real kid. I think what we tried to do in all the casting, which I think is one of the secrets of A Christmas Story casting, is to make all of our characters feel like real people, not like actors playing people, but like real people; that Ralphie is like the kid next door, or heís like all of us, and that Chris is like the dad whoís always trying hard to do stuff and you think isnít paying attention, but you know at the end of the day really is paying attention and was all along.

I think that audiences will not only appreciate the magnificence of the performances, but theyíll feel that they relate to these characters, which is one of the secrets of A Christmas Story, itís a relatable story. They feel like our family.

Mark Thanks, Marc.

Marc You bet.

Moderator Thanks. Weíll go next to the line of Clint OíConnor with the Akron Beacon. Please go ahead.

Clint Hi, Marc. How are you doing?

Marc Iím good. How are you?

Clint Iím great. Iím great. Thanks for taking some time. I was just wondering, a couple of great questions have already been asked, but I was wondering with your experience with Grease Live, I just wonder, what were your biggest takeaways from that in preparing for this? Oh, boy, this is the thing we need to definitely do. This is the thing we need to definitely avoid. Any lessons from that leading up to this production?

Marc Well, what I try and do is think about what kind of storytelling, what kind of grammar, is the word I use, to employ for each particular story. Grease was very much about celebration and exuberance. Itís a beloved film. Everybody knows every song, so it was like letís put on a party with like everyone, so there was a lot of deconstruction of the live musical. You saw what was going on backstage, you were a participant in the party, if you will, which suited Grease.

Of course I learned much from it, the complexity of the logistics of putting on a live production are amazing, if you think about it. We have 14 cameras at work, as we did on Grease on A Christmas Story Live and the way that I shoot it is like a film. It feels very cinematic. There are moments where youíre going to feel like youíre in the film, youíre going to almost forget that youíre live, so that means the cameras are cutting the different points of view within scenes frequently.

Now, think about it, how do you do that live? There are 14 camera guys in different positions. The choreography of how the cameramen move around so that you donít see a camera guy pointing a camera when youíre cutting around, is as intricate as the choreography you see onscreen when thereís a dance number. So, learning that was a big thing.

In A Christmas Story Live, the lean in is a different story, so what weíre leaning into is the nostalgia of the piece, of the warmth of the family, of the humor, of the period. Youíre going to see many different little surprises that will feel like youíre experiencing Christmas of a bygone era but itís still a Christmas of today. So, itís going to feel different. Itís still live and thereís still great tricks of, oh my God, how did we do that? How did that guy change into that costume in the two seconds when I wasnít looking, or how did this environment all of a sudden become a different environment, all the fun that you can have with a camera with a live event that an audience takes delight in.

But itís going to feel different from Grease in a way that this is more of what I call, as I said earlier, sort of a live film because the film is so beloved. So, the camera is going to move in a very cinematic way, in some ways even more so than Grease Live, and the world is going to feel like a real world, youíre going to feel very planted in a particular time and place. But like the film, A Christmas Story, itís going to feel very universal. As I said, youíre going to relate to the moments that we all have around this holiday season, or have had.

Clint Great. Thanks.

Marc You bet.

Moderator Thank you. Going forward, so we can get through as many questions as possible, please limit yourself to one question.

Our next question will come from the line of Ruthie Fierberg of Playbill. Please go ahead.

Ruthie Hi, Marc. Thanks so much for being here.

Marc Of course.

Ruthie You were talking about Grease Live and about this idea of it being more cinematic, but I wanted to know, is the audienceóone of the things Alex did for the first time with Grease Live was having this live audience be a part of the broadcast. Is that going to happen this time around?

Marc Yes. Itís going to happen. What we tried to do on Grease was make the audience characters in the scene, so you really felt and saw the audience in a gym, because a gym would have people in the bleachers. Similarly, there are opportunities here, which youíll have to tune in and see, where the scene calls for crowds of people and you will see a live audience there. So, there will be that action.
And Iíll also say, because I donít think itís been announced yet, I think itís [audio disruption] and this was one of the first questions asked, one of the new songs for the piece is a song called ďCount on Christmas,Ē which is a very contemporary song. Itís how the show opens and itís a song that will be performed by Bebe Rexha, which I donít think has been announced yet. I only reference that at this moment in time because from the very get-go you will feel and see the live audience and understand that this is happening in the moment, and that the theme of A Christmas Story, the film, which is the theme of A Christmas Story Live, is you that can count on Christmas, that everybody has A Christmas Story. Thatís what itís about.

Everybody has that time in the holiday season where you remember that toy that you wanted more than anything, the Christmas dinner that didnít go quite right, the gift you got that you didnít want, the love of a family, the dynamics of a family that sometimes go up and sometimes go down, but always seem, particularly at the holiday time, to come together in a way that reminds you of warmth and love and growing up and childhood.
All of that will be present as well, but the live audience, as in Grease, will be a character in our piece.

Ruthie Fantastic. Can you just repeat the name of that opening number that Bebe is singing?

Marc ďCount on Christmas.Ē

Ruthie Great. Thank you so much, Marc.

Marc You bet.

Moderator Weíll go next to the line of Melanie Votaw of Reel Life with Jane. Please go ahead.

Melanie Hi, Marc. Excuse me, Iím losing my voice here. Greetings from a very cold New York.

Marc Greetings and stay warm.

Melanie I wanted to ask you, you have quite a relationship with Pasek & Paul. Can you talk about that relationship and what you think it is about their music that is hitting the zeitgeist so much these days?

Marc Well, I first think theyíre very talented songwriters in addition to being themselves good fellows. Itís a long story, which is probably not for this conversation, how I sort of became part of their lives, but years ago, one of my kids would listen to some of their music that they wrote in college, and thatís how I was first introduced to their music and I thought there was a real voice to it.

Ironically, it turns out that that same kid went on to star in a Broadway show written by Pasek & Paul, and my professional journey with them is hanging around to where Iíve worked closely with them in La Land. I helped them and guided them a bit on their show Dear Evan Hansen. A Christmas Story was something that when I heard the score, I thought well this is really special and the movie is beloved and wouldnít this make a wonderful event for everybody at Christmastime. It felt to me like just what was the kind of entertainment, at this moment in time, that would really be particularly needed. And so as is our relationship, I sat down with them and said I would like you to dig in and even do better and write some new music, and we worked on that.

Itís a wonderful collaboration and itís one that weíll continue in the future. We have many more exciting things lined up together. They have an understanding of how music and narrative interact. They have a sense of how to write from character as much as just writing good music, and all of that for storytelling, myself, itís kind of a perfect marriage in that part. Music has always been a character in much of my work, even when Iím not producing a musical film like La La Land or a new stage musical like Wicked or a television musical like A Christmas Story.

If you look at a lot of my work, music is always a big character in them, so itís a natural and easy collaboration. Itís one that has had some great success and one that I look forward to continuing for years to come.

Melanie Alright. Thank you so much.

Marc You bet.

Moderator Thank you. Weíll go next to the line of Art Shrian with myNew Yorkeye. Please go ahead.

Art Thank you. Hi, Marc. How are you doing?

Marc Good. How are you?
Art Great. Thank you for taking the time. I just wanted to share that growing up in India as a non-Christian, we always loved Christmas and A Christmas Story, so Iím so excited for this to be coming soon.

As a storyteller, I know you talked a little bit about it, but if you could talk a little bit more about that, why do you think that A Christmas Story as a film and as a productionómany Christmas films have such a wide reach beyond boundaries worldwide and to everybody, and why these stories connect with people and how that was important for you as a storyteller to make sure that that essence remains and it speaks to everyone.

Marc Well, itís somewhat what I said, I donít celebrate Christmas either, by the way, but I celebrate the holiday season because itís a time of connectivity and connection and family and tradition, whatever your traditions are, it yields that feeling and that warmth and I think all people yearn for that. What makes A Christmas Story universal, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, is that feeling of I recognize that family. I recognize when the brothers donít get along but they really love each other, or when mom and dad have a fight and then they make up. Or when disaster strikes, and the dinner is ruined they find a way as a family to get through it. The one thing that I wanted the most and I get, and I always thought my dad wasnít listening, but he was. I think those are very universal, relatable ideas that are found in the movie that are centered around Christmas, which is why I think itís so beloved.

The other thing about A Christmas Story that distinguishes it from all the other beloved Christmas films is that itís not sentimental. Most Christmas films are wonderful, by the way, and I love so many of them, theyíre very sentimental and they wear that sentiment on their sleeve. If you think of Itís a Wonderful Life, which is just a magnificent film, it was very sentimental.

A Christmas Story sort of undercuts that and was the unsentimental Christmas Story. There is tremendous sentiment underneath it because ultimately it is about a family connecting, a family being glued together through the holiday season, parents who love their children, and a grownup remembering what it was like to be loved by his family and his parents.

But itís not done in a sentimental way, the film, and thatís what sort of made it so original, and itís funny, itís subversive. Just when you think itís the perfect holiday dinner, the dogs eat the turkey and you have to go out for Chinese food. It sort of undercuts and takes a left turn away from every Christmas movie, but the feeling is honestly exactly the same.

And what the musical did so brilliantly is it brought out the sentiment that was in the subtext and it put it in the music, and if you donít know the musical, thatís what youíll experience in the telecast. You will laugh, youíll see where itís funny, youíll see where it goes a left turn from every other Christmas movie, but at the end of the day youíre going to feel a warmth, and youíre going to feel a nostalgia and youíre going to feel comfort and a lot of that does come from the music.

Art Thank you. I also want to congratulate you on the wonderful casting and the diversity of cast as well with Maya and Ken and David, which people may not expect, but theyíre amazing performers and theyíre also part of this diverse cast. So, congratulations, Iím really excited.

Marc Well, thank you for that and of course they are. Like I said, A Christmas Story is a universal story, and although it takes place in a particular period, in the 1940s, itís a story and a family that feels like itís a family from today. So, we wanted to make sure that our world and our Christmas Story reflected the world that we live in.
Art Thank you.

Marc You bet.

Moderator Thank you. Weíll go next to the line of Suzanne Lanoue of the TV MegaSite. Please go ahead.

Suzanne Hi. Thanks for talking with us today.

Marc Sure.

Suzanne I know you talked about casting a little bit, was there any problem trying to find someone in Andyís age group that would be believable and look the part and could sing and dance and all those kinds of things?

Marc Well, I donít know if it was a problem, I would say it was a challenge and you sort of close your eyes and you hope. And we cast a very wide net, we had kids who we had auditions and many kids who are actors or who had agents who came in through the auditions, and then we also had an open call, which you can follow online because I think Fox put it out there, and if not you can get a hold of the Fox folks and they can send you all the press releases and all the hundreds of people who submitted themselves on tape over self-tapes.

We pored through every tape and we pored through every audition and every kid that came in, and whatís interesting to note is that Andy was one of the first group of kids that came in as an audition, and he grabbed us almost instantly. And so it was a wide search, it was a long search, but we went with one of our first discoveries, and happily so.

I guess the movie or the TV gods were with us so that we were able to find a kid who not only feels like Ralphie and is recognizable as Ralphie because from [audio disruption] that character, and like I said, most importantly he feels like a real kid, he doesnít feel like an actor kid. He is a real kid, heís just a kid, and thatís what Ralphie is. And thatís why Peter Billingsleyís performance as a kid was so fantastic, because it felt like the kid you knew next door, and Andy embodies that completely.

Suzanne Alight. Thanks. Weíre looking forward to it.

Marc Thank you so much.

Moderator Thank you. At this time there are no further questions in queue.

Michael Great. Thank you so much for joining us today on this call. As a reminder A Christmas Story Live will air this Sunday, December 17th at 7:00 p.m./6:00 p.m. Central on Fox.

Marc, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule today for this.

Marc My pleasure. Thank you, everybody. I appreciate all the questions. Thank you so much.

Moderator Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude your conference for today. Thank you for your participation and for using AT&T Executive TeleConference. You may now disconnect.

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