Bruce Leddy‘s debut feature, “Sing Now or Forever Hold Your Peace“, could be described as the a cappella version of “The Big Chill.” The ensemble comedy is about a male a capella group that reunites years later for a long, lost weekend of rehearsal before performing at their friend’s wedding. The experience forces them to reassess how their lives have progressed, or regressed, since their college days. The film was an audience award winner at the HBO Aspen Comedy Festival and numerous others before being picked up by Strand Releasing. “Sing Now” opened April 27th.
Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Columbus, Ohio and Montclair, NJ and then attended Williams College in Massachusetts. Out of college I crashed and burned trying to be an actor in NYC but luckily got into writing, then directing for TV and film. Currently, I live in Santa Monica, CA with my wife and two kids, drive an all-electric car, and spend my days confused about what season it actually is.
How did you get involved in filmmaking?
I had done a great deal of acting in high school and college and thought I would do that for a living. But I was far too thin-skinned for the constant rejection of the audition process and soon turned my attention to writing. I got a lucky break getting a writer job at VH1 early in the channel’s history and from there moved over to MTV as a Senior Producer/Writer working on everything from Rockumentaries to MTV Unplugged, to short films for the MTV Movie Awards and Video Music Awards. MTV was kind of my version of film school. If you applied yourself there, you could learn every facet and every style of production, from live music shows, to sketch comedy, to news and documentaries. It was a fantastic experience, not only because of the creative freedom but also being part of a cultural phenomenon along with scores of other young urban professionals who were passionate about music and pop culture.
How did you break into feature films?
After 7 years at MTV I went freelance as a director and producer – still often doing shows for MTV – and moved out to Los Angeles where I’ve spent the last 7 years as the Director/Supervising producer of MADtv, the late night sketch comedy series on Fox. But all along I’ve wanted to break into the feature world and had nothing but rotten luck: I’ve been attached to numerous films that went to the brink of production only to fall apart at the last minute; I’ve sold scripts to studios where they do nothing but gather dust on the shelf, etc. Finally, when I wrote the script for “Sing Now” I decided not to take it out as a spec script – for fear that a studio exec at some point would say “Could they be a hip-hop group instead of an a cappella group?” I produced the movie myself, raising money the old fashion way through begging friends and family, and even taking out a home equity loan (which I don’t recommend to ANYONE, btw).
What was the inspiration behind “Sing Now”? And how did the project develop?
The original inspiration for the script was my experience singing with the a cappella group The Williams Octet and then later an alumni group in NYC called The Lemmings. I found the bonds created through that experience to be unique and long lasting (some of my best friends today are still from those groups). And a cappella had never really been featured in a film before – except perhaps as the butt of a joke – so I thought it would make a great texture for a film about friendships. The script was one of those projects that I worked on for years, dropping ideas, lines, characters, and scenes into a file whenever inspiration struck, until finally I had a bloated pile of material that needed to be winnowed and structured.
When the script was in shape I knew the first challenge was going to be casting: I needed guys who could handle the comedy and the drama, be able to sing well, and of course work for next-to-nothing in New York. That’s a tall order. But luckily one of the pre-eminent casting directors in the business, Avy Kaufman (“Brokeback Mountain“, “Capote“, “Cinderella Man“, “Syriana“), read and loved the script and agreed to cast the film. Once I had her on board I knew it was all going to work out and I went forward with financing and pre-production. In addition to casting well known actors like Molly Shannon and Mark Feuerstein, Avy knew the New York acting community and recommended outstanding actors like David Harbour and Reg Rogers who are big Broadway stars but not yet well known to the film and TV world. And she knew how to find a combination of actors who would be believable as long time friends which was critical to the authenticity of the film.
The next big hurdle was the music which had to be pre-cleared and pre-recorded because much of it would be shot on camera. I secured the use of several college a cappella recordings that had amazed me when I was researching the film but the trick was getting the original artists and their publishers to agree to license the songs, and at a rate we could afford on our very limited budget. Luckily, groups like Coldplay loved hearing their music in a new genre and gave their permission, and my music supervisors (Patrick Houlihan and Joe Rudge) did a phenomenal job of negotiating rates we could afford. With the help of legendary a cappella guru Sean Altman (Rockapella) we pre-recorded the rest of the tracks with a super-group of singers in NYC and then had the actors each record their solos. Sean also put the actors through a week of “a Cappella boot camp” so they would be able to perform the songs on camera believably.
What other filmmakers inspire you and why?
I have always loved smart comedies by filmmakers like Billy Wilder, Woody Allen, Rob Reiner, and Alexander Payne. I’m interested in character more than anything, and in a film’s ability to provide pure entertainment as well as a chance to reflect on one’s real life. I think a film is successful if people have a great time but also come out appreciating what is good and important about their own lives just a little more than when they went into the theater.