Interview: Craig Brewer (director of Footloose, Hustle and Flow)

Interview: Craig Brewer (director of Footloose, Hustle and Flow). By Simon Miraudo.

Many were shocked when edgy, indie filmmaker Craig Brewer signed on to direct a remake of the much-loved 80’s flick Footloose, in which Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) takes on ‘the man’ in an effort to bring back dancing to a super-religious small town. Surely this was a job for someone like Adam Shankman or Kenny Ortega (the High School Musical helmer who was set to direct Footloose 2.0 before Brewer), and not the guy behind Hustle and Flow and Blake Snake Moan? Then again, perhaps he’s the perfect fit. Those movies were about sex, race, religion, America, and, above all, the unifying power of music. So is Footloose. Starring Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough as teens who rebel against their town’s ‘anti-dance’ laws, Brewer’s Footloose shares his previous films’ pulsating, electric vibrancy. He still has his doubters though; the filmmaker has taken to Twitter to convert haters one at a time. We spoke to Brewer about the “mathematical need” for a Footloose remake, dealing with the online snark, Kevin Bacon’s nixed cameo, The White Stripes, his upcoming Tarzan movie and the potential for Hustle and Flow 2.

Check out our review of Footloose here.

SM: I’ve been following you on Twitter. Are you sick of being asked: ‘Why Footloose?’

CB: No, it’s what I signed up for. It’s funny, the other day I was reminded by my wife: ‘Hey, you do these kinds of movies, you know? This is what you signed up for. You maybe have more explaining to do as to why you’re remaking Footloose, but you still had to explain why you wanted to do a movie about a rapping pimp and why you wanted to have Sam Jackson chain Christina Ricci to a radiator’. My movies kind of require, I guess [laughs] an explanation of what I was thinking. I understand; I don’t get too tired of it. The Twitter thing I find now oddly therapeutic. I see that there’s sometimes some skepticism and some hate, but I said to myself, ‘Well, I’m not gonna hide, I’m just going to do two things: I’m gonna engage people and always try to stay positive’. Because Twitter and the internet are the place for bleeding snark, and I don’t ever really want to judge people by what they jot down on Twitter. It’s just what you’re thinking at that time, and you might also change your mind. I’ve also found that when I engage people they sometimes crumble like a cookie [laughs], you know? Maybe I’ll get one more person going to the theatre, and at least I get a connection with them. I rather enjoy that.

SM: I think that’s a rather good approach. I guess some saw you a surprise choice for the film when your name was originally announced. But having seen the film – and all your films – there’s definitely a connection between the pictures.

CB: I think so. I knew that people were going to scratch their head when they heard that I was directing it, but I tell people how passionate I am about Footloose. Footloose is one of those movies that led me to making Hustle and Flow; that led to Black Snake Moan. All those movies of the 80’s, especially the movies of 1984. That was a perfect time for me; when you’re 13, it’s the time to fall in love. It’s when you get your first girlfriend type-of crush, and you usually find those movies that move you, that change you, and that aren’t necessarily Disney movies or Star Wars movies. There was something about me watching Footloose that I felt like I was entering a different world of teenagerdom. It wasn’t what I was used to. Part of that was to be entertained with music. It’s a very simple story, but at the same time there’s a hard edge to it. Teenagers smoke pot, drink, they’re having sex and beating each other up. I think that sometimes people forget about those elements that were in movies like Footloose; Purple Rain also came out that year. I’ve always gravitated to that kind of entertainment; entertainment that will shift tones radically at times, like Footloose would do. It would want you to take it seriously and then have moments that were undeniably corny. And you loved it! I think the original was part of the building blocks of the movies that I make.

SM: So you were a fan of the film, but when you were approached to take on the remake, did you see it as something that suited your sensibilities, or did you need a bit of convincing?

CB: I needed convincing. I told them ‘no’ twice, and Adam Goodman – who is the president of Paramount – he would not take no for an answer. He kept on saying, ‘You’re the guy to do this. I want you to do your version of it’. He also said something that resonated with me. He asked me to try to think of another movie that was made for teenagers recently that gave them the same feeling that I had when I was 13 and saw Footloose. And I really was hard-pressed to think of any. What is that movie? It’s not as simple as saying, ‘a Step Up movie’ or, just, pick a dance movie. There was something else going on in Footloose that I think was about being an individual and standing up for yourself. When it was positioned to me that way, I certainly thought that there was a need for Footloose; almost a mathematical need for it. I knew that people who would go see it were 13 years old, and their parents would probably go with them – just like my parents took me to see Footloos – and their parents would probably have been around 13 or 15 when they saw Footloose. This was the sweet spot for when this movie could be made for audiences today. But yeah, I turned it down a couple of times. I have to say I’m really glad he talked me into it.

SM: I understand that Kenny Ortega was originally attached to direct. Then you came on board and had a play with the script. What changes did you make?

CB: I guess the biggest change I made was deciding to go to Dean Pitchford’s original script as inspiration and source material, and actually incorporate a lot of the original dialogue, a lot of the original themes. But changing the structure; not reinventing characters, but maybe changing some of the objectives. I think in the original movie, by not showing the [car] accident [ed: in which local kids die, leading to the introduction of a town curfew], you just kind of assumed everyone was a religious nut; you just assumed they were clamping down on these kids out of the urgency of hell. They didn’t want their kids sinning. To be honest with you, I think some of the earlier versions of Footloose they were exploring banged that drum a little too loud for my tastes. I live in a part of the country where faith is important to a lot of people and I didn’t want to make faith an enemy when I really haven’t seen that in my life, in my surroundings. What I could relate to is that I’m a parent; fearing for your children, and their safety and lives. I thought that was an innately American theme right now; overreacting in the wake of a trauma. So, I took Dean’s original script and made my changes to it, and we share a screenplay credit on it because I used so much of his script. I’m very proud of that actually, and Dean has become a really good friend of mine and a really great support. But it wasn’t that I necessarily changed Kenny Ortega’s version; I just didn’t use it. I didn’t want to go in that director.

SM: You use Catch Hell Blues by The White Stripes for the ‘angry dance’ scene, which I think is a great choice. How did you come to that song?

CB: It was one of the first things on my mind. When I came in to pitch the whole movie, I brought in a boombox – like a stereo – and I had a long cord coming out the back of the boombox and the other end of the cord plugged into my iPod, just like I have Ren do in the movie. I kind of score my movie pitch; I have a playlist of songs, and I have the volume control and I just work it with my thumb as I start telling the story. I remember popping in Catch Hell Blues and dancing around the room and showing them all what that moment needed to be, and they loved it. I was so worried that we weren’t gonna get that song, but I think it really works. It’s very powerful. But it’s also very me. I think that Jack White is one of the most subversive blues artists of our time and he loves true, traditional blues, but he hides it in the pop sensibilities with Meg’s drum that just hit like an 808 beat in a rap song. Young people just lose their mind, like many people probably did with Led Zeppelin and The Stones and other artists that were more mainstream – could reach a lot more people – but were really inspired by people that were dirt poor in Mississippi and really feeling the blues.

SM: A question that will be on a lot of peoples lips is, ‘Does Kevin Bacon appear in the film?’ I understand you approached him, but he turned you down. Can you tell us a little about that?

CB: I think that turned into a bigger story than what it was. What it was, I had an earlier draft where there was this character that was sort of the deadbeat dad of Ren McCormack, and he was in this very small scene. When the studio asked me, ‘Look, is there anything in here for Kevin that we can give to him?’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t think he’s gonna want to do anything, and the only role that’s really available is this role.’ So they offered him the role and, you know, I thought he could do it if he wanted to, but he turned it down, and I think he was right to do that. I think I was right to remove it from the script. But Kevin’s always been very supportive; he’s a good guy, and I talked to him about 3-4 weeks ago. He’s just started a movie in Boston, but I told him whenever he wants to see the movie we’ll get it to him; I’m sure he’ll see it one day.

SM: I know Footloose isn’t even out yet – well, it’s coming out this weekend – but I read that you’re working on a trilogy of Tarzan films.

CB: Yeah, I don’t want to count my chickens before they’re hatched. I’ve turned in my script – I love my script – and we’ll see what happens over the next couple of weeks. I’m very inspired by the original story of Tarzan. I was a big fan of the books. I’m a kid from the 80’s, so I saw The Legend of Greystoke, after watching, on numerous Saturday mornings, the old black and white Weissmüller movies, as well as the colour movies, and I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between John Clayton – who is Tarzan – and Jane Porter. You know, I don’t know how that whole ‘trilogy’ thing got out there. I’m surprised to see that in the papers; I never really said anything about that. I did say to some people that I would like to see it serialised; I would like to be able to do not just one movie; that this would be something you could do more than once.

SM: Alright, well we’ll rectify that trilogy rumour now.

CB: For all I know they could turn into a trilogy.

SM: We’ll leak that it’ll be a quadrilogy then, how about that?

CB: [Laughs] Yeah, there you go.

SM: A few years ago, after Hustle and Flow came out and was really successful, Terrence Howard started talking about Hustle and Flow 2. I think he was even quoted at one point saying that it was going to start filming in 2006. Was there any actual weight to that rumour? Was that something that was actually going to happen?

CB: What it was, was that I had called Terrence and a few of the cast and asked if they would be interested in doing a second movie, and they all were very interested in it. Terrence was asked if there was going to be a sequel, and he said ‘yes’ just because I called. It’s something that’s on my mind; I have an outline of what it would be. I really liked how Hustle and Flow kind of explained the first part of the music business, which is creation; activity and creation. But then there’s that whole other part of the music scene that’s really about hustling it. I always felt that the characters of Hustle and Flow were a really good way to explore the good and the bad of the music scene in America, and the world, and that they would be a good family to follow through that journey. I kind of envisioned it that there’d be a second and third movie, but that’s just wishful thinking. We may end up doing it as well. I don’t know. It’s really great, because everyone’s a star from that movie; or they’re much bigger now, and I think people would be interested in seeing what happened to those guys.

Footloose is now showing in Australian cinemas.

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