by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)
Michael Radford has brought some of the most celebrated stories in history to movie theaters, having adapted works ranging from George Orwell’s 1984 to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. For the first time, however, he’s recently brought the life of a living legend to the screen in his new film, The Music of Silence. The film covers the life of Andrea Bocelli, the world-famous opera singer who was born with poor eyesight and then completely blinded in an accident at the age of twelve.
The Oscar-nominated Radford, most noted for his film Il Postino, sat down with LA Screenwriter’s John Bucher to talk about bring Bocelli’s life to the screen.
John Bucher: What were the initial seeds of this project? How did things get started?
Michael Radford: Well, I was originally asked by an Italian producer named Roberto Cesta, who was a fan of my work. He asked me if I would do this film about two years before I actually did it, and I said no because I really did not want to do a biopic about somebody who’s still alive. I felt like you would be asking for trouble. But it wasn’t like that.
I suggested to him that he work with my screenwriter, Anna Pavignano, who I’ve co-written a lot of movies, including Il Postino, with. She wrote the first draft of the screenplay, and then I climbed in and did some work as well. After having refused it, as I said, for about two years, I came back and I thought, well why not? Bocelli’s got a vast public out there, maybe some people will come and watch it.
John Bucher: How did you navigate the pitfalls that can accompany doing a biopic? What moments are the important moments when trying to organically tell someone’s life story?
Michael Radford: Obviously his blindness is significant, and the double blindness. That is the thing that is so unusual. Obviously, we have to touch on those moments of crisis in his life. I think the important thing is when you are creating a screenplay, and this is one of the things I brought to the final version of the script — you always have to have conflict. You’ve got to keep the conflict going. You’ve got to keep problems in his way. So I searched his life for all the problems that he had. And that’s how we did it basically.
John Bucher: Obviously, Bocelli can’t watch the film. He can certainly listen, but how do you establish that trust with an artist that won’t be able to see exactly how you’ve executed his story?
Michael Radford: I was kind of thankful in a way, in case he had more comments to make. But he had enough anyway. [Laughs.] He follows things in a different way. It’s really interesting. Obviously, you can’t tell a person’s whole life story, and the thing is, you try to choose those bits, which signify certain things. Like going blind or losing his voice or having doubts about himself and all that kind of stuff. And he was very interesting because he said to me he had lots of friends when he was a kid. He was a very gregarious guy. He was a tough kid. He came from a small village and he wasn’t afraid of very much. In the film he only has one friend when he is a teenager, and he said to me in the middle of the film, I understand that that guy represents all the friends I ever had. And in a sense, that’s what you do in a movie. You have to. You can’t tell everything.
John Bucher: Were there other things you had to make some creative decisions about in order to make the story work that were difficult decisions? How do you go about deciding what communicates the essence of what happened?
Michael Radford: Well it’s interesting you should ask, because I had a lot of trouble deciding. I had some fantastic scenes that we’d written, very funny scenes, but many got lost. Not because anybody objected to it, but just because we didn’t have time to indulge ourselves with that. We had to get through the story, and that was sometimes tough.
John Bucher: How do you go about piecing together the internal journey that he’s going on throughout this story?
Michael Radford: It’s a process. It’s hard to say, but I think that if you do things in a way where you feel it yourself, somehow or another it comes through in what you’re doing. I can only speak about it like that. The kind of imagery and moments that you choose. The moments that are emotional in many different ways. If you can get the audience on your side, they’ll travel on that journey with him and feel those emotions.
John Bucher: What are you hoping the audience can take away from this story that you’ve told?
Michael Radford: You know, without sounding sentimental — I don’t want people to feel that it’s a sentimental movie; I’d hate it if they felt manipulated — but there’s something very touching about the human spirit there, because this kid came from nowhere. He came from a village in Tuscany and had nothing really going for him, and yet he had this talent, which he discovered, which is extraordinary. And just that in itself, that journey to see this kid conquer all that stuff, it’s moving. And if I can move people, not in a sentimental way, but just say, “This is about life. This is for all of us.”
The Music of Silence is currently in theaters and on VOD / Digital HD.
John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S. Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.