Flora And Son Director John Carney On His ‘Stealth Musicals’ And His Approach On Set [Exclusive Interview]


I love this genre that you’ve carved out for yourself. Do you have a name for the types of movies that you like to make where they’re not traditional full-blown musicals, but they heavily feature music?

Stealth musicals. Gateway musicals. [laughs] They’re musicals that you don’t realize you’ve sat down and actually watched an old MGM Hollywood musical. They’re the movies that I love, I loved watching them, but I don’t literally want to watch them, and I don’t literally want to make them, because they get too parody-ish, so I’ve been trying to hide them from people.

So for “Sing Street,” I remember you saying that you made that film a period piece because you started a band in the ’80s and could relate to what it felt like to do that. And now, years later, you have “Flora and Son,” which is a modern story and features the Max character making these beats on his computer. I’m curious about the differences in mentality between those two projects. Did you become more comfortable with the idea of depicting the modern aspect of what it’s like for people making music now?

I think when you’re making a film, particularly films with music or fashion or films that represent those kind of forms, you’ve got to make one big decision at the very beginning, which is, “Am I going to lead the conversation, or am I going to follow the conversation?” And it’s very hard to follow the conversation of what people are up to musically, because it’s changing so quickly. So you think you’re following the conversation on Tuesday, it’s finished and it’s out of fashion on Wednesday. It’s moving at such speed. In the ’80s, it didn’t move like that. It took a few years for ideas to percolate and for forms to change. Nowadays, it’s like bang, bang, bang, and the Internet is obviously feeding that.

So I, on “Sing Street,” decided I’m not going to try and lead a conversation of what music I like and set the film now. So once I set it in the ’80s, I know the parameters of the sound of the music, and I’m not interested in whether it seems plausible or not, because it was plausible for the ’80s. This is different, because it’s a film that’s set now, so people have to feel like, “Yeah, that sounds accurate.” But I decided to try and lead the conversation as opposed to follow just what people are doing now. Because I find what people are doing now a little bit … what’s the word? How to be delicate. I find, for example, drill music to be very angry and very repetitive and there to be very little love in it. I find there’s a lot of angry young men who have spent two years of Covid at home, getting angrier and getting more resentful.

And I think that there’s a tendency — anytime music doesn’t have love in it, I’m done. I don’t care. And I think that what I tried to do with this is to try and make our own sound, try and make it sound plausible, and fill it full of love. And the way you start to do that is with melody, and beautiful melodies, and that’s what we tried to do. We said, “Okay, Flora and Max aren’t huge musicians or something like that, but let’s say that they create a beautiful sound together.”

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