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Music Man

  • interview by Joan Brasher Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 4 Oct
Music Man
Director Sean McNamara, known for his work on such kid-friendly TV fare as Even Stevens and That's So Raven, recently helmed the feature film, Raise Your Voice, which opens on Friday and stars tween queen Hilary Duff (The Lizzy McGuire Movie) as a small-town girl who loves to sing. When personal tragedy strikes, this confirmed good-girl defies her strict father and sets out for a Los Angeles performing arts school to follow her dream. But when she arrives, she finds more challenges than she bargained for. McNamara, a Christian who regularly attends St. Agatha's Catholic Church in Los Angeles, ensured that Duff's character turned to her faith when times got tough. A musician himself, McNamara even featured his own church choir on the soundtrack. We recently caught up with McNamara in Beverly Hills to talk about the film.Most of the projects you've done are very family-friendly. Is that a conscious decision on your part?Sean McNamara: I guess those are the ones that I gravitate toward. I mean, I just love movies that are feel-good movies and I love putting something good out there. When I read this script, I felt it was a good solid movie. I understand this film was written long before Hilary Duff came on board.McNamara: I read the script and I liked it. I remember thinking, "I can't believe they are really going to make this," because it's not like the Hollywood films that you see today. Usually coming-of-age films are far more explicit. I went in and met with [the production company] and said, "I love the script." They said, "Who would you have in mind to play [the lead] part?" I said, "What about Hilary?" I had actually cast her in Casper Meets Wendy when she was 10 years old. I thought she would be really good for this. She can sing, and she would bring in a good audience.You did a great job of portraying the musicians in the movie.McNamara: I'm a musician, so it was important to me to get musician-actors. I played in church when I was a little kid; I played in high school. I went to 16 years of Catholic school, so I played a lot of religious music. My mom played piano and she was the one who got me interested in music. While I was prepping this film, my mom passed away. She was the one who brought me to [many of the locations used in the film]. She had been sick for a long time. It was really cool that New Line let me put those in, because the reason I was able to make this film was because of her. To me this was something of an homage to the old TV series Fame. Intentionally so?McNamara: Yeah. I mean, I love Fame. I grew up on Fame, which came out in something like '81 or '82. Since then, the market has gotten very segmented. When we made this, and obviously picking Hilary Duff, I was looking for the tween audience. But I also wanted to get the audience that made her famous three years ago. So we're aiming at an audience from tween to up to 16, 17 years old. I wanted to get the PG rating, and it was written with that in mind, so that would feel safe bringing their kids to a Hilary Duff movie.There are several sacred and contemporary Christian songs in the film. The cross is a key element, and she prays and goes to church. Did you get any flack for so much religious imagery?McNamara: It was just there in the script, and I felt completely comfortable putting those things in. I chose to put in songs that are spiritual without excluding anybody. I looked first and foremost at the lyrics, and how those would drive the story forward. I don't think I overkilled it [with religious imagery]. When somebody is in pain, they go somewhere, be it synagogue, evangelical church or whatever. I'm Catholic, so that [was my frame of reference].The necklace that Hilary's brother gave her was a Celtic cross. Why that particular cross? McNamara: Sean Patrick Michael McNamara. Enough said. I'm Irish and my dad bought me my first camera in Ireland when I was 12. I think anything Irish is kind of cool.How do you respond to people who say your film advocates kids lying to their parents?McNamara: I ultimately think that in drama, you have to have people make mistakes; if you didn't, there would be no movie. Even in The Lion King, they did what they weren't supposed to do. If you went to see a movie where everybody did what they were supposed to do, there would be no drama. You couldn't learn from it. In this case a lie leads to dire circumstances. I think that's why, even if you don't necessarily agree with it, you might say, "See what could happen if you do that?" You could use it as a life lesson.Raise Your Voice (New Line Cinema), rated PG, opens October 8.Joan Brasher is the editor-in-chief for the Vanderbilt Register in Nashville, Tennessee.Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.