Fifteen Years in the Making, Sia’s Directorial Debut Is Sweet Music to the Ears

Shirley Halperin and Jazz Tangcay
·3-min read

As a performer, Sia has long been known for her dazzling visuals — from the fantastical wigs she wears to her sublime music videos — ideas she comes up with both in her waking hours watching television and in her dreams. One of those visions, Sia’s first movie, “Music,” was 15 years in the making. Looking to be released in 2021, her directorial debut will be brought to the American Film Market.

Speaking at Variety’s Power of Women event in October, the Grammy-nominated artist said the tale of Music, a teenager with special abilities — specifically nonvocal autism — started as a short story. “Over the years, I had this fantasy of making it,” said Sia, adding that she didn’t have the confidence to helm a movie.

While Sia had dabbled in directing — she was a co-director on her 2014 hit music video “Chandelier” alongside Daniel Askill — but her uncertainty nagged as she questioned, “Am I just a singer with good ideas, or am I a good director?”

Sia kept Askill near as they collaborated on more videos together. Then fellow screenwriter Dallas Clayton took up the cause of cheering her on and encouraging Sia to pursue “Music.” At the time, the singer had just gone through a divorce and was down on herself, but Askill told her, “You can do this.” Said Sia: “I thought, ‘How hard could this be, it’s like making a music video but every day for 40 days?’”

“Music” stars Kate Hudson and co-stars Leslie Odom Jr. alongside Sia protégé and breakout star Maddie Ziegler.

Hudson plays the free-spirited Zu, an addict estranged from her family who suddenly finds herself the sole guardian of her half-sister, played by Ziegler, a teenager on the autism spectrum. Ziegler’s special abilities challenge Zu and she learns to overcome life’s obstacles with help from Music’s neighbor, Ebo (Odom Jr.).

The singer took casting into her own hands by using social media for outreach. With Odom Jr., she tweeted the actor after seeing him on Broadway and asked him if he wanted to be in her movie.

For Hudson, Sia saw an Instagram post in which Hudson was singing and said she immediately thought: “‘Oh my God, she doesn’t sound like every white person who was trained on Broadway songs.’”

When it came to the film’s star, Ziegler, the two had previously worked together on the “Chandelier” video and the “Dance Moms” alum has accompanied Sia to events and other performances. “I want to work with her until the day I die,” Sia declared of the 18-year-old. “She’s the most professional person I’ve ever worked with.”

Indeed, Ziegler takes center stage in 10 musical interstitials, resplendent in Sia’s interpretation of what Music saw and felt.

The film cost $16 million to make and even in post-production while editing, Sia admitted she was sick with fear in wanting the end product to be perfect. The pressure was on. “I’m Sia!,” she said with no hint of irony. “I have to make something really good. I can’t do something mediocre and it was mediocre for a couple of years.”

“Exceptional” is the word Sia used to describe her goal in making “Music” — nothing else would do. Check off the box on her already-impressive resume because the journey was well worth the wait. “Music” is indeed an exceptional film, one filled with music and visual splendor with heart at its core.

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