“I was very scared going in to this, if I was going to ruin a lot of kids’ childhoods,” Will Gluck, director, producer and screenwriter of the new Annie remake told an audience at the Billboard and Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Conference on Thursday (Nov. 6). “A lot of people who love Annie were Annie, their sisters were Annie, their moms were Annie, they have this memory of being Annie when they put it on stage in middle school. So we didn’t want to touch that memory, we wanted to create our own. And I hope we did it.”
Alongside the film’s musical director, Matt Sullivan, Gluck spoke with Billboard correspondent Megan Buerger about updating the classic film and stage musical for modern times, most notably reworking the classic songs with Sia and producer Greg Kurstin.
“There are songs that people love in the show,” said Sullivan, who’s become Hollywood’s go-to guy on music films, including recently Saving Mr. Banks, Begin Again and Dreamgirls. “So we knew there were a couple that really needed to stay pretty close to what they were, like ‘Tomorrow,’ ‘Maybe,’ ‘Hard Knock Life,’ so those we kept pretty close to the original but with the updated 2014-pop-really-energetic-percussive vibe to them, but still treating the melodies the same so when kids are singing along it doesn’t take a left turn on them. And some of the other songs we took a little more liberty with, with the melody and some of the lyrics to make it fit into our story and tell a dialogue.”
“Annie is about Depression-era, FDR and Herbert Hoover — not too interesting for the kids these days,” added Gluck. “So we decided to get rid of all that and make it take place in 2014. And with the story, the lyrics had to change. And when we changed the lyrics, then the melodies changed along with it. So it’s a much different movie, but it’s all rooted in the same story.”
Gluck and Sullvian spoke to how amazingly quick Sia and Kurstin were in writing the songs for the movie, comparing the process to magic, where they would send over a new, updated version in a matter of hours. Once they heard their take on the song “Little Girls,” Sullivan said they knew it was the right fit, exclaiming, “That’s the sound of the movie.”
The conference session included early looks at the film, including notably a clip of the fan-favorite track “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” which Gluck and Sullivan used as an example of how they were committed to making the music fit relatively seamlessly into the film without abrupt starts and stops of songs. “No one ever breaks out into a song and dances in this movie,” said Gluck. “There’s no breaking out into singing. And if someone sings and dances in this movie, someone else is going to comment on it.”
For “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” the song stays fairly true to the original, only the rhythm is emphasized to make an almost hip-hop beat, using natural sounds to the scene, including mops, foot stomping and hand clapping as the orphan girls clean their bedroom in the film. “It’s not too different from what you’ve heard of, but it’s our interpretation of it,” said Gluck.
Despite their undertaking of making this Annie different from the original musical and 1982’s beloved film adaptation, Gluck and Sullivan were ready to praise their source material.
“Because of the original Annie, we kind of started on third base with the great melodies and the lyrics, so we just kind of took it home,” said Gluck. “But when you start with such a good base, it’s easier than having to start from scratch.”