Still from Air musical shot by Through A Glass Jeremy Osbern Lawrence Kansas

Some very talented filmmakers (who I’m proud to say I know) from my hometown are making feature-length musical on film for a $100,000 budget. Here’s some news coverage about the project, titled ‘Air’. And a t.v. news report that goes behind the scenes of the production here.

The musical is an interesting genre. It seems to have faded along with the western, but every once and a while there’s the hint it could come back in a big way. I think Jeremy Osbern and crew are onto something with their approach, an emphasis on the music and dancing rather than frenetic editing (cough Moulin Rouge cough). If you look at some of the great movie-musical sequences (to wit: ‘Mary’ from Yankee Doodle Dandy, ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ from Wizard of Oz and the eponymous ‘Singin’ in the Rain’), they happen to be long takes that put the focus on the yearnings and desires of the characters. Movies like Chicago and Phantom of the Opera may turn out to be brilliant adaptations — but for something truly cinematic, the movie musical has to be planned specifically for film.

Osbern has worked with MTV and knows his way around the music video. In a lot of ways, the musical never went away — it just morphed into the music video. While music videos can get away with pure concept (Cf. the music video work of Spike Jonez and Michel Gondry), to sustain interest for a feature you need a story. Part of the dearth of musicals on film may be a fear to tackle stories so passionate and emotional that they are appropriate for such a surreal device as characters repeatedly breaking into song and dance. Even Magnolia, a torqued-up drama if there ever was one, lost me when the whole cast broke out into song, singing ‘It’s not going to stop till you wise up’. (My friend Ethan maintains that they all just happened to be singing along to the radio.)

Osbern’s production company, Through A Glass Productions, has its proverbial stuff together. You can request a complete investor prospectus on their website. They still need funds — so act now!

UPDATE: The story of the making of the movie musical Air has been picked up by the Kansas City Star [free registration required].

RELATED: Making Z – a zombie musical.

UPDATE 2008: Here’s a very positive review of the finished project. Word is the movie and soundtrack will soon be available.