RICHARD KRAFT (Director)
RICHARD, A SHOW OF THIS MAGNITUDE MEANS THAT RESPONSIBILITIES MUST BE DELEGATED TO ABLE INDIVIDUALS. YOU HAVE A KNACK FOR PUTTING TOGETHER INCREDIBLE TEAMS, SO HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT CHOOSING THE WW TEAM?
For many of the key positions, I wanted to give new opportunities to new people.
In general, I tend to care less about resumes and experience than I do work ethics and attitudes.
For our orchestra, I made a point of requesting a fresh and diverse group of musicians who may not yet have had the opportunity to perform in our prior productions, and the show truly benefited from their enthusiasm and energy.
I also wanted to engage artists with disabilities in the production. One of our singers, Jennifer Kumiyama, made such a huge impression on me 14 years ago when I saw her perform in Disney’s California Adventure production of ALADDIN as a chorus member in a wheelchair. She was so radiant and memorable that I tracked her down to perform in WONKA.
An actor friend of mine, John Lawson, is also a double hand amputee. He kept reminding me that he was once an opera singer, so he made his Hollywood Bowl debut as a singing Oompa-Loompa.
Emily Locke, a fine photographer who also has Coffin-Siris syndrome (the same genetic disorder that my daughter Daisy has), joined our crew as our production photographer.
Our design team for costumes and sets/props, Linda Muggeridge and DeAnne Millais, came from 99-seat theatre backgrounds. I had loved working with them on a crazy, no-budget EVIL DEAD concert a year ago, brought them on to LA LA LAND AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL, and now use them on everything I do. I really love working with creative, hardworking, kick-ass women. Another ass-kicker on the team was Associate Producer Melissa Axel, who I initially noticed taking care of shit with kindness and determination when she worked with Bear McCreary. Super smart. Super hardworking. Super resourceful.
Another Associate Producer was Dan North, who started out as a receptionist at Kraft-Engel and moved up to become my assistant. Over the years, I just kept dumping more shit on his desk, and he learned and learned and learned. When I started directing shows, he kept stepping in and volunteering to do shit that he had zero background in or prior knowledge of. He is just brilliant—a quick learner with the greatest, calmest demeanor. I would pretty much trust him to take on anything and pull it off.
A while back, I saw an insane aerial dance performance on the side of Los Angeles City Hall to celebrate LA LA LAND and immediately tracked down its creator, Maximillian to co-produce and co-direct WONKA. Though he had never done a concert before, he is a crazy dreamer who figures out how to get shit done.
This Perspective Forum was great resource for staffing. I used it to get recommendations for animators. Camilla Uboldi, one of our animators who is from Italy and based in Mexico City, is also a composer. She reached out, did a free animation demo, and landed the gig creating some of our most breathtaking animations using illustrations by the artist Shag.
To find a film editor to create and format all of our film and animated assets, we also reached out on this forum and heard from Kenny Holmes, whom I knew as the producer, cinematographer, and editor of SCORE: A FILM MUSIC DOCUMENTARY. Though he had never done a live show before, he worked his ass off and has now added another facet to his incredible set of skills.
The great thing about doing these productions is that they are great opportunities to collaborate with wonderful people. Some are established pros, and others are folks just needing a new opportunity to shine. I love mixing up both.
WAS THERE A TIME THAT YOU FELT THAT MAYBE YOU PUT TOO MUCH ON YOUR PLATE? HOW DID YOU HANDLE THE INEVITABLE PRESSURE?
I always have too much on my plate, so I just get bigger plates. This one was particularly challenging, since I ended up hospitalized two weeks before the show. Internal bleeding. Ended up needing eleven blood transfusions.But the show must go on.
So, I held production meetings in my hospital room. And, my incredible team really stepped it up.
Got out of the hospital for the final week of rehearsals. I was quite weak, but the creative process and circus-like atmosphere of putting on a show really drove me and helped me soar.
DESPITE CASTING SOME ULTRA FAMOUS PEOPLE YOU ALSO INSISTED ON USING SOME ‘UNKNOWNS ‘ ESPECIALLY IN THE MUSIC DEPARTMENT. WAS THE RISK WORTH TAKING?
The day I stop taking risks, shoot me. I live for pushing myself and my visions and my expectations. I thrive on painting myself into impossible corners and finding my way out. I put Jeff Hoeppner in charge of the music of WONKA because he had done a bunch of amazing (and free) work for me on some oddball music video projects I had directed in the past.
The more we worked together, the more I was blown away by his brilliant musicianship, creativity, and monstrous work ethic. I started recommending him to a bunch of my clients, like Bear McCreary, and he ALWAYS delivered and made my recommendations look good. When it came time to look for a conductor, Jeff raised his hand.
For a moment, I hesitated, since he had NEVER conducted anything remotely this big and demanding in his life.
A second later, I laughed out loud. I loved the perverse idea of Jeff basically making his conducting debut at this small, out-of-the-way venue called the Hollywood Bowl!!!! It was way too perverse and risky for me NOT to jump in and want to do it. And, he knocked it out of the ballpark.
Doing things that haven’t been done before often involves risk-taking with relatively unknown talents. Disneyland was built by artists who had never built a theme park. Out of necessity, they approached things and solved problems from fresh perspectives.
ANIMATED PROJECTIONS PLAYED A HUGE PART IN THIS SHOW. WHY DO THEM?
You can get any movie on iTunes for $9.99. Why leave your house and pay top dollar to see that same movie at the Hollywood Bowl? What is unique to the Bowl? It is the Bowl itself.
With digital mapping that we created for LA LA LAND, we were able to project imagery onto the Bowl’s proscenium facade. This allowed us to expand the movie beyond the realm of what is designed for a movie theatre and reconceive it for a massive 18,000 seat outdoor amphitheater.
The interplay between film and proscenium projections is my new obsession. The possibilities there are fresh and endless.
YOU ONLY BECAME A DIRECTOR IN YOUR MID-’50S. WHY THIS NEW CAREER LATER IN LIFE?
One option heading into my fifties was to start winding down. I’ve had an amazing life as a talent agent and raising my son, who is now 27.
But, I had a nagging feeling I wasn’t ready for golf and rocking chairs. And, the Universe agreed.
I unexpectedly became a father again at 52, and around the same time, I got bitten by the live concert bug by co-producing DANNY ELFMAN’S MUSIC FROM THE FILMS OF TIM BURTON and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS LIVE IN CONCERT.
When THE LITTLE MERMAID LIVE IN CONCERT AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL came up, it needed a director. There was no budget for one, so I volunteered to do it for free (truth is, I would have paid to have done it).
I couldn’t believe Disney and the Hollywood Bowl allowed me, who had NEVER directed ANY live show before, to carve my teeth on this massive production at this world-famous venue.
I just rolled up my sleeves and dove in, assuming I would just keep plowing forward until someone noticed I had zero experience at doing this, or until I fucked it up and got fired.
I now love my new life, both representing talent and being the talent. One really informs the other.
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF LIVE PERFORMANCE OF MEDIA MUSIC?
For me, there are limits on just showing a film and performing the score live. I believe the novelty will wear off, and audiences will eventually tire of these by the time they get done with just the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter series.
Also, many qualified people can screen a movie and perform the score live. I’m not needed to put something like that together. I want to keep raising the bar of what is possible in celebrating film and film music. I want to keep pushing the envelope, because I believe we are still in the nickelodeon days of this art form, and there is so much further for live media music events to go.
The pioneers of turning this into an art form are folks like John Williams, whose Evening at Pops concerts on PBS broadcasted film music performance into our homes. With the Hollywood Bowl orchestra, conductor John Mauceri kept pushing film music into the mainstream, often played to picture. Tommy Tallarico did the same with game music. Howard Shore paved the way for even more with the enormous popularity of THE LORD OF THE RINGS SYMPHONY. Robert Townson has been pushing for wider and unexpected repertoire, and David David L Newman has brought the quality of performance to extraordinary heights.
Danny Elfman pushed things even further with his DANNY ELFMAN’S MUSIC FROM THE FILMS OF TIM BURTON concerts, which combined film, illustration, instrumental soloists, and singing done live to picture. Ramin Djawadi created an arena concert experience for GAME OF THRONES, and Hans Zimmer made quantum leaps into this art form by creating a rock show with HANS ZIMMER REVEALED, headlining at Coachella.
In the past, the word “concert” could conjure up images of a formal orchestra on a stage, reading from their scores with a minimum of bells or whistles. Or, it could be a Taylor Swift show, with state-of-the-art lighting, staging, design, choreography, and spectacle.
I want the assumption about media concerts to be that they are going to deliver on the high end of performance, production and creativity.
Really looking forward to discovering and experiencing where the world of “concerts” is going for media music.
JEFF HOEPPNER (Orchestrator/arranger/conductor)
JEFF WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES OF A SHOW OF THIS MAGNITUDE, AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
Anyone who’s ever chatted with Richard Kraft knows that the conversations are very quickly paced, and can last almost as long as 45 seconds (if you’re lucky), so here’s basically his pitch to me over the phone:
“Jeff, will you adapt the music from one of the most beloved films of all time, a film so notorious for it’s perfect music… and then will you make sure it sounds good for 15 people to play it live at the Hollywood Bowl, *OH* and you have to transcribe the ENTIRE score because NOBODY KNOWS WHERE THE ORIGINAL MUSIC IS. Will you do it??”
“Sure!” I said.
“Great! By the way, It needs to be done in about 4 weeks so we can make sure everyone is happy with the arrangements and the guest stars have ample time to rehearse. Get started!”
The pitch worked, obviously. I mean, THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL?!? WILLY WONKA?!?
(Cue, existential dread.)
When considering how to work with something that’s time honored, cherished, and deeply ingrained into the very genetics we all carry with us as we mark our time on this planet, I encountered a handful of strange moments where I wasn’t sure if I was experiencing a magnificent triumph or a blistering defeat. Unraveling beloved music thread by thread, ascertaining its soul, then reassembling it to capture an essence, it’s a tough gig. However, for me, that’s not the *real* gig…
About half of what mattered to me was that we were honoring the past properly by doing the musical material justice given our limitations with the size of the ensemble, and allowing that sound to fill an 18,000(ish) seat venue. When considering the desire of the audience, I realized that I would still do all this work even if it were only to be performed for 5 people. When I thought of how powerful and personal music had become over my own life, I immediately began to consider how I could spread the profound mystery that I felt, and pass it along to a mass of people with varying degrees of appreciation for musical entertainment.
I’m a “heart guy.” Meaning, I care about the hearts of everyone who gets near me or my work environment. Music is (as far as I can figure) the literal ONLY thing that can connect us and transform our griefs, anxieties, depressions – even those of us who live with chronic disease – and bring us all to our feet, uniting us all in Joy!
You offer me the opportunity to create music in an arena where nearly 18,000 people can collectively join in a singular emotion… That kind of emotional potential could change the world. It became my sacred duty to manage hearts in that space. You want to talk about “magnitude,” I think this is it. The hardest aspect of doing a show like this is opening yourself to working with people’s hearts, where THEY need to be seen. Hearts of those who you will never physically meet. Hearts of people who want to experience their childhood again, to release their current hangups about life. Everyone deserves to have their souls lifted into a positive focus. Music does it. It’s the ultimate pathway to/of the sublime.
The only way to overcome the limits of managing hearts is by remaining vulnerable. Asking for help with blind spots, giving thanks for those who catch you in your less excellent moments, and making it ok to have everyone’s mistakes integrated as part of the overall experience. The give-and-take of being human absolutely gets to be experimented with in this environment. A mentor always reminded my stubborn and determined younger self that “we all walk on feet of clay.” Not a day goes by that I don’t get to re-learn that lesson. I’m grateful to have had profoundly uplifting people surrounding me thru the entire process. Even after the show was wrapped. I am bonded for life with some of these people who allowed me to be seen as much as I saw them.
THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL IS A LIFELONG ASPIRATION FOR MOST COMPOSERS. HOW DID YOU LAND SUCH A PRESTIGIOUS GIG?
When I was growing up, I had dreams of being on a stage… in fact, one of my earlier memories of watching musicians on tv involved an episode of the 80s tv show, THAT’S INCREDIBLE! where they highlighted a 6 year old kid who could conduct an orchestra. I was fascinated. A tiny 6 year old, in a white tux. I had to do it! HAHA.
After my parents separated when I was 10, I poured my soul into the piano to learn every song that brought me some kind of spontaneous positivity, a tool that helped me to ultimately express my emotional self. It was difficult for me to make friends growing up. Music gave some something monolithic to hold onto, something that gave me the power to overcome my personal shortcomings and insecurities.
I was “that” kid – you know the kind: strange, quiet, nobody would get what I was trying to talk about (who says theoretical physics can’t be playground conversation??), could NOT make a friend to save my life… Ultimately wound up being bullied and picked on all thru school until one day the kids who were my main antagonists heard me playing piano. Bracing myself for the inevitable beating, I was surprised when they sat down and asked me to keep playing. In that moment, I realized that I needed to make music until I died. If it could spare even one person from the terror I felt from being alive on this planet, it would be SO worth spending my life to learn everything I could possibly learn about music. From that point, I sold myself out to anything I could do that would advance my understanding.
For the past 2 &1/2 years, I’ve been working with Richard Kraft on various projects. He had initially approached me about creating an arrangement for Nightmare Before Christmas, upon its first iteration the Bowl. I was recommended to him by my favorite twins Jason and Nolan Livesay. They had initially been approached to create the arrangement, but were busy with their gigs at the time, orchestrating and whatnot for a bunch of super hero movies… So they asked Richard to call me.
I wound up working for a couple days on the arrangement for Nightmare, but they decided to take the music in another direction, allowing the ever brilliant Sandy Cameron to make her own rendition of the piece shine in a way like nobody else could do. A couple months went by and I got a call from Richard again to do a parody youtube video, making Gilbert & Sullivan into a Bluegrass fantasy. How could I resist!! I think we’ve been connected at the creative hip ever since then, really… 2 youtube vids, an arrangement for Little Mermaid at the Bowl last year, 8 songs for the Evil Dead Live to Music at the ACE Hotel last halloween, with a few random things peppered in as certain opportunities working with Bear McCreary, Christopher Lennertz, and Alan Menken popped up between larger gigs.
Honestly, I’m surprised to look back and think of how quickly this all seems to have happened. My main gig has always been pop music production, and somehow doing that work has given me the access to being a chameleon of all styles of music, so a show like Wonka was great to be able to tackle a diverse scope of arranging. Richard is always looking for people who can tackle things inventively, and I’m just glad we click so well when it come to kitschy, fun stuff! It’s a great synergy. Richard is quite skilled at being a lighthouse in the storm of getting from one shore to the next, creatively and emotionally. Very blessed by his involvement in my life.
CAN YOU PLEASE RUN US THROUGH YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS/INPUT FOR THE SHOW?
Sure! So basically, everything had to be created and realized from scratch. We had the film from Warner Bros. and along with that, came separated Dialogue, Music, & Fx. That was a huge blessing. Process-wise I would up doing this:
1. Pull the film into Logic
2. Find the cue
3. Align the start of the cue and then beat map the dang thing
4. Transcribe the orchestration, reducing and arranging for our ensemble to remain full
5. Demo the cues for the Producers and Directors to approve
6. Address notes
7. Move on
Really it was like a scoring gig except that I didn’t need to figure out how to land any stings or emotional beats, as the material had already done it so masterfully in the original film. Knowing that I would be conducting also helped me to make meter and tempo choices that made sense to my own brains. Making certain measures into 5 or 6, adding a bank bar for tempo changes to be more clear in the midst of a pause in the film score… Things that would set me up to be more involved on the stage for the performing aspect, rather than managing details and falling prey to learning someone else’s roadmap, if that makes any sense.
As far as schedule, I think I wrote nearly all of the show in about 5 very fast and sleepless weeks! I arranged the entire film score in 9 days, and spent about 3 weeks writing the music for the guest stars. I did have some absolutely fabulous assistance from Daniel Semsen, Michael A. Lee, Fabrizio Mancinelli, and Michael John Mollo. They brought their A Game in making sure everything was of superior quality and class. Could not have done any of this without their consultation and expertise.
Christopher Tin and Sandy Cameron co-arranged our overture and REALLY took the skeleton I had provided and made it into my most favorite piece of the whole show. Sandy’s instincts are really mesmerizing and engaging… alternating from fairy-like to down right impish with her ability to play the dark and light against each other with her playing. So glad we got to work together. And Chris Tin… well, he’s a dang legend in several circles. I owe him big time.
Our music editor, Michael Ryan really saved me on multiple levels. Of all the new people I met during this process, I think the highest praise of his abilities as not only a musician but as a human being. He is an outstanding person, and so excellent at what he does. Can’t say enough positive things about working with him.
SO many people did excellent work on pulling this show off. Nick Urata wrote beautiful music, Devotchka played their hearts and hands off to make it sound so magical, the orchestra that Peter and Marisa assembled – WOW so humbled by their talent and their hearts to give so much more than what was asked of them on the pages of the music. Totally floored by how sweet and generous they were during the stressful moments. The singers and dancers rolled with a lot of changes, and did it without even flinching. I was a kid in a candy store. literally. never in my life have I done something like this. I hope there’s more, but even if there’s not… I consider that I’ve lived the experience of a lifetime, one that i would repeat 1,000 times over again without even pausing to ask, “should I?” “what’s it worth to me?” “what does this say about me?” etc.
To wrap it all up, I would say that my life has taught me this so far: The only way to find yourself among the finest and most lovable people in life is by remaining open to new things, and by suspending your own perceived needs for even one fraction of a second longer than makes you comfortable. That’s it. If you can manage that, then you can do anything.
DAN NORTH (Associate Producer)
DAN, CAN YOU PLEASE ELABORATE ON YOUR INVOLVEMENT?
I knew from the beginning of production on Wonka that I wanted to dive in head first, take on as much responsibility as I could, and learn about every facet of producing a show at The Hollywood Bowl. I had worked on Richard Kraft’s previous shows at the Bowl as his assistant and production coordinator but Wonka was the first one where I went in wanting to really take ownership of it and see how much I could take on.
I knew the only way to do that would be to know the movie and the show backwards and forwards so that I would have to be a part of every meeting and conversation. As a result of being on every phone call and in on every meeting I ended up being responsible for creating and maintaining the run of show, which meant keeping up with every creative twist and turn that took place as the show developed. My persistence and passion for the project paid off as Richard kindly promoted me to be his associate producer, and I couldn’t be more grateful to him for having faith in me.
Going into Wonka, I’d had limited exposure to what it meant to produce a concert at the Bowl but nothing that fully prepared me for what I was about to be thrown into. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times where I felt in over my head and overwhelmed at the enormity of the task in front of me. I’d never done anything like this before in my life!
On top of the enormity of pulling off a show of this magnitude there were 2 weeks late in production when Richard was hospitalized and this was an extremely difficult emotional hurdle to overcome. We were 2 weeks away from putting on a show at the Bowl and 1 week from rehearsals and we weren’t sure how we were going to make it on schedule.
However, if I’ve learned anything from assisting Richard over the years and working on these shows, you always have to remain calm in the face of a challenge and take things one step at a time; put out one fire at a time. The entire team banded together, we all put on multiple hats, and we kept plugging along. The show must go on!
In the end this experience really made us bond together in support of each other and I’m so thankful for all the great friends and colleagues that I made as a result. This show never would have come together without the fearless leadership & vision of our directors Richard Kraft & Maximillian, our producers Laura Engel & Alison Williams, our associate producer Melissa Axel, the incomparable musical genius that is Jeff Hoeppner and our general manager of production John Kinsner, in addition to so many other folks that we couldn’t have pulled this off without.
Working on Wonka and with Richard has taught me that you can never let fear keep you from taking advantage of a great opportunity that’s in front of you. I knew when I first started as the receptionist at Kraft-Engel Management answering phones 6 years ago that if I just worked hard, made a good impression and kept an open mind that it could lead to so many great avenues. Little did I know I would shortly be assisting Richard Kraft, and that we would go on to be making beloved shows at The Hollywood Bowl! Over the years I’ve learned that you never know what that next opportunity will lead to or who you’ll meet along the way. It never hurts to dive in head first and see where the adventure might lead!
MELISSA AXEL (Associate producer)
MELISSA, CAN YOU PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR ROLE AS ASSOCIATE PRODUCER?
It was a such a thrill to be an associate producer of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory in Concert! A new challenge that I loved taking on for this show was overseeing the creation of over 20 different animated sequences that were projected onto the Hollywood Bowl proscenium arc throughout the performance. Some animations played along with key moments in the film, while others accompanied live performances, and a number of animated items even appeared at the moments the vocalist mentioned them in the song!
The projected imagery and lighting design were programmed to synchronize with each beat of the music as the musicians played to picture, resulting in an absolutely stunning live-to-film concert experience. It was exhilarating to see the original ideas that were envisioned in our early development meetings brought to life throughout the animation process and then fully realized during rehearsals. Even though I already knew every element in the show, seeing it all come together at the performance took my breath away. I loved working with directors Richard Kraft and Maximillian, and I’m so grateful to them and everyone on our team who worked so hard to create such a beautiful celebration of this nostalgic childhood classic!