Producers, The: Mel Brooks

First it was a movie, then it was a Broadway musical. Now it’s going to be a Broadway musical movie. I think next thing will probably be claymation.

In 1968, Mel Brooks was already a TV veteran when he made his feature directorial and writing debut with “The Producers.” The modestly budgeted comedy, starring Broadway favorite Zero Mostel and a newcomer named Gene Wilder, became a sleeper hit and earned Brooks an Oscar for Original Screenplay.

In 2001, Susan Stroman directed a hit Broadway musical of the movie. Twelve Tony Awards, two national touring companies, and three international productions later, “The Producers” has become a movie musical, starring the original players, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and some new ones, like Uma Thurman.

The Concept

The concept is simple. They’ve got to raise a lot more money than they need to put on a show. Then they’ve got to produce the worst play ever written. So they’ll put on a show called “springtime for Hitler,” which will close the same night, and they can run off to Rio with the rest of the investors’ money.

Hiring Stroman for the Movie

I asked Stroman, ‘If we were to make this show into a movie, what movie would you want to make it like’ When she answered “Singin’ in the Rain,” I told her, ‘You’ve got the job!”

Singin’ in the Rain

To me, “Singin’ in the Rain is the classic of what we call a head-tote musical, where you see the dancers, not just quick cuts to faces or eyes or ears, but you see a beautiful body on motion.

Advice on Directing

When it came to directing advice, I told Susan, you must say ‘Action’ and then you say ‘Cut.’ If you say ‘Cut’ first and then ‘Action,’ there’ll be no film. I had to explain the rudiments. No, I’m kidding. I knew immediately that she would take to this. She had an incredible visual gift.

New Songs

For the movie, I wrote two original songs that were not in the Broadway play: “You’ll Find Your Happiness in Rio,” which is briefly heard as background music during the brief glimpses of Leo and Ulla frolicking together in paradise as Max sits in his jail cell; and “There’s Nothing Like a Show on Broadway,” performed by Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane and heard over the end credits, with the actors still very much in their characters of Leo and Max. The former is full of unabashed excitement and joy at his newfound career in show business, while the latter, hilariously acidic and world-weary after having to weather decades of the theater’s ups and downs.

Shooting in New York City

We are a Broadway story! It would have been heartbreaking not to shoot this movie in New York. And here we are in Brooklyn, only eleven and a half blocks away from where I was born and bred. Mostly bred. We were so poor the neighbors had to give birth to me.

Favorite Film of All Time

My favorite film of all time is the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical, “Top Hat.” With Astaire, there was no cutting. The number starts, two people are dancing. The camera can move in a little bit and move back, but there’s no cutting. We want to think it’s a dream, a fantasy, and Stroman knows that.

On the Movie’s Sets

When I took one of the first strolls on the set, I was taken by surprise. When I first walked onto Stage 3, I said, “Oh my God, this is incredible! This is “Singin’ in the Rain,” “The Band Wagon,” “Royal Wedding,” and “Cover Girl.” It’s all the great Hollywood musicals come to life. I needed a Kleenex, I had to blow my nose, it was so thrilling.

The Movie as Escapism

Life is often very difficult and very hard to live through. But for two hours, you really can forget your worries. You really can live in this delicious cloud of musical comedy.