Sean Anders is the musician turned screenwriter and director behind We’re the Millers, Horrible Bosses 2 and Daddy’s Home. This winter, he’s turned his hand to the festive movie musical with Spirited, a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds. We spoke to Anders about making a Broadway musical for the big screen, bringing back tap dancing and sending Deadpool to Theatre Camp.
We’ve seen a fair few Christmas Carol adaptions over the years, what made you want to put your spin on the story?
It was an idea that came up when my writing partner, John Morris, and I were just talking about the book for some reason. And it came up that the ghosts are arguably the protagonists of A Christmas Carol, because they’re the ones that have a mission in the story. That led to a conversation about all the prep and all the work that must go in behind the scenes of the ghosts, and that’s really where it all started. And it got us very excited, because we thought, well, somebody must have done this, right? But we dug into it, and nobody really had. So that became a really fun world to discover.
It must have been a pretty big writing challenge, taking that classic story and fitting two protagonists into it. How did you approach that?
Well, first of all, thank you for noticing that, because one of the most difficult parts of this script was that the Ghost of Christmas Present (Ferrell) is the protagonist of the film, but Clint Briggs (Reynolds) becomes the protagonist of Act Three. And it definitely was tricky, trying to pull that off and still keep the audience with Will Ferrell when we needed them to.
You’re a musician, as well as a director and screenwriter, and Spirited feels a lot like a Broadway show at times. Was that always part of your vision for the film?
Yeah, it absolutely was. What I wanted to do was make a kind of a hybrid between a movie musical and a Broadway show. And that’s why you can see the light rigs. Normally in a movie musical, you would hide all of that. You might see the results of the lighting, but you wouldn’t see the gear itself.
We also have our equivalent of a chorus in the movie: there’s a crew of dancers who show up in the background, sometimes even when they’re not dancing. People don’t notice that they’re seeing a lot of the same people over and over again in the background of the shots, but I think it’s a lot of fun and gives it a bit more of that theatrical experience.
You’ve also brought tap back in a big way—how did that happen?
You’re noticing all my favourite things! Tap was a big deal for me because that’s how we found Chloe Arnold, our choreographer. I wanted to have some kind of special sauce for the movie, something that that was gonna make it stand out as a musical. I thought it would be something more modern—and it turns out it is modern, in the sense that Chloe has a very modern take on classic tap—but when I discovered what she’s able to do with her feet and the work she does with this team called Syncopated Ladies, that’s what led me to hire Chloe as our choreographer. After that, the two of us together very much wanted to invigorate the movie with tap.
This is Ryan Reynolds’ first musical: how did you convince him to get involved, and how was it rehearsing with so many performers new to the form?
We pitched the idea to George [Dewey], who is Ryan’s producing partner, and when we finished pitching, George said that Ryan had been looking for a Christmas movie, a Will Ferrell movie, and a musical. We’d pitched all three in one go without knowing, so it wasn’t too tough to get him involved.
As for rehearsals, the sense that we got was that it was an incredibly difficult but wonderful experience for the guys. They really got to go to Broadway show camp for six or seven weeks. They were working really hard, they were sweating a lot, they were falling down, they were laughing. And then they were singing, and the guys seem to have a blast doing that. They seemed to have a wonderful time.
What’s the one part of the film you’re most proud of?
Oh, wow. There’re so many things that I love about the movie, but I would say the choreography and the dance are my favourites. We did some things traditionally and some things very untraditionally, and the work that Chloe did, I think that is going to be remembered for a while.
Spirited will be in UK cinemas and on Apple TV+ from 18th November