Into the Woods: How Rob Marshall Directed the Stage Musical for the Big Screen

Director Rob Marshall and his team was to balance reality and fantasy in “Into the Woods,” the big-screen version of  the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine Broadway tuner.

Most films have a three-act structure, but the project’s stage origins dictated two distinct parts, which required different looks.

A lot of decisions were determined by the budget of $50 million and the schedule, which he said were modest for such an elaborate, complex musical. He gave a lot of credit to the crafts team, many of whom had collaborated on his previous films.

“He is a painter of light and motion — an artist of the highest degree. We shot in 55 days, a short schedule for something like this, so we had to come in prepared. He was there all during rehearsals. The first part (of the film) is all about individuals; the second part is about coming together in the community. We were looking to create a different world, a post-destruction world and we decided to do that with smoke, fog and haze. And in the first part, the pre-destruction woods, everything had a roundness. In the post-destruction woods, it was all sharp angles; we wanted it to look like a different world. Personally, Dion has the perfect dynamic: He does his work without fuss, and he uses a lot of humor.

Editing, Wyatt Smith

“Wyatt understands how to look like he was never there. That’s what a great editor does: He lets the story and the musicality come to life, so the audience is never aware of cutting. That’s the highest compliment, that it feels fluid. The opening number is 16 minutes long, a prologue; it was important to have a sense of fluidity, moving from song to dialog and back again, and the audience shouldn’t notice that. Wyatt comes from musicvideos so his music skills are extraordinary. When Wyatt, producer John DeLuca and I were in the editing room, Wyatt had the patience of God. I’m relentless about performance, I have to get the best take from each actor. I have to see everything, and you’re hunting for special moments. Many times I was aware when it was happening while filming and I would say ‘That’s the take.’ But many times it’s something you discover while editing, little mistakes and surprises.”

Costume design, Colleen Atwood

“She uses inspiration from everywhere. This is a cross-cutting of many different stories, so we wanted a potpourri of periods, times and places, which you can do with a piece like this. Jack’s costume was inspired by an African design; Cinderella is very medieval. Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, that’s all inspired by the ’40s; Johnny (Depp) was very involved in the look, and he was interested in Tex Avery cartoons, where the Wolf was in a zoot suit. What’s amazing about Colleen’s work is the layers of her pieces, and she finds and what catches the light. She worked closely with Dion Beebe to make sure everything was connected. She also understands movement. When John De Luca and I were are creating the staging, there’s a physicality that she understands.”

Production design, Dennis Gassner

“I wanted there to be a sense of fantasy, but rooted in reality. You are asked to care for them as the piece gets more real, and that only works if you believe them. So it was a wonderful balancing act. Our woods are a combination of real woods and stage woods. Granny’s tree is a real tree, for example, and we combined that with our sets. Our big set at Shepperton studios was our woods set, and then we also destroyed it (for the later scenes). The integration between real and stylized woods was a big challenge; a lot of that was bringing real elements into the fantasy space; that integration was really complicated. We tried to always give as much variety as possible, even to the woods. It would feel monotonous if the audience feels like they’re in the same space. We were lucky to find that waterfall for ‘Agony,’ for example. It was a man-made waterfall from the ’30s that I found online.”