The Movie Waffler Modern-Day "Freed Unit" Musical Being Produced | The Movie Waffler

Modern-Day "Freed Unit" Musical Being Produced

Pre-production is underway on Imagination, a modern-day musical in the style of MGM's legendary Freed unit.

Screenwriter Dean Ward (currently a writer on Chelsea Handler’s latenight talk show Chelsea Lately) idolized Gene Kelly as a kid and even learned to tap dance, eventually taking lessons from legendary hoofers including Gregory Hines, Savion Glover and Charles ‘Honi’ Coles. Now he is teaming with choreographer Michael Rooney (500 Days of Summer, The Muppets) to produce an original film musical in the style and tradition of MGM’s legendary Freed Unit, named for unparalleled movie musical producer Arthur Freed (Singin’ In The Rain, The Bandwagon, An American In Paris). Coincidentally, and very appropriately, Michael Rooney is the son of Freed Unit icon Mickey Rooney.
Ward’s admiration for Gene Kelly led him to begin a correspondence with Kelly while attending film school at NYU in the early 1990’s. Kelly watched Ward’s thesis film and wrote Ward a note, concluding with the encouraging salvo, “You must keep working!” Ward’s admiration for Kelly never faded and in 2012, after attending a tribute to Kelly at the Motion Picture Academy, he set out to write a passion project paying homage to his celluloid hero and other Freed Unit legends including Fred Astaire, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. Ward recounts, “In the last few years I’ve noticed a ‘Vaudeville Spirit’ creeping back into pop culture. Musically-inclined stars like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Seth MacFarlane, Emmy Rossum, Daniel Radcliffe and Jimmy Fallon have proven that it’s cool to be more than just an “actor” or “actress” or “comedian”... thankfully, it’s suddenly back in vogue to be an “entertainer.” Amy Adams is a terrific singer and loves musicals, Ansel Elgort, who starred in the Summer’s sleeper hit Fault In Our Stars, is an accomplished tap dancer, Emma Stone is a gifted singer. The list goes on and on. I decided the timing was finally right, and the pieces were in place, to write the kind of original film musical I loved as a kid... a contemporary love story – usually about a pair of entertainers – that’s punctuated with song, dance and show-business satire.” Imagination’s storyline is totally contemporary in terms of setting, tone and humor, but harkens back to the heyday of the genre by aesthetically capturing the look and feel of a Freed Unit musical, using classic film clips to propel the narrative, and featuring more than a dozen beloved song standards from classic musicals and The Great American Songbook.
Acclaimed choreographer Michael Rooney has come on board to handle the film’s numerous dance numbers and every effort will be made to photograph the musical numbers according to principles established by Gene Kelly, in which the relationship between camera and choreography was of paramount importance. According to Ward, “In modern musicals, too often the dance seems to be there to serve the camerawork and the editing. In Gene Kelly’s day, the camera and the editing were there to serve the dance. Kelly was just as talented behind the camera as he was in front of it and nobody, before or since, has done a better job of putting dance on film.” In addition to his film and television work, Rooney has also choreographed music videos for artists and directors including Spike Jonze, Fiona Apple, Bjork, Sara Bareilles, Marc Webb and Paul Thomas Anderson. Ward’s previous credits include the acclaimed HBO documentary Let Me In, I Hear Laughter – A Salute To The Friars Club, which also celebrated classic entertainers and entertainment.