IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Craig Brewer talks 'Footloose'
Mon, 01 Aug 2011 10:45:25
The Hollywood trend of remaking classic films is nothing new but recently we’ve seen the industry begin to tap into the plethora of exciting movies that were produced in the ‘1980s. It began with remakes of classic ‘80s horror films like Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and will continue with next month’s Fright Night, not to mention the recently announced remake of The Evil Dead that Oscar winner Diablo Cody is currently writing. The trend has also spilled over to other genres as we saw with last summer’s mega-hit The Karate Kid, and we can expect more ‘80s remakes in the near future with films like Red Dawn, Highlander, and Escape from New York in various stages of production. But one ‘80s remake that has already caused a lot of controversy among fans is Footloose, which doesn’t even open until October 14th.
The original film is of course what launched Kevin Bacon’s illustrious career and many fans thought it was blasphemy to recast the role and remake the film. Director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) had the difficult job of helming the remake and casting a new actor to play the iconic role of Ren McCormack. The new film takes a similar path to the original, telling the story of a smart city kid who moves to an old-fashioned uptight southern town and rebels against their laws forbidding dancing and rock music. The film stars newcomer Kenny Wormald who gives a powerhouse performance and just like Kevin Bacon before him, this role will undoubtedly make him into a household name. I’ve had a chance to see the film already and I can assure fans of the original that this movie is one of the most faithful, loving remakes ever made, and incorporates much of the classic music that you remember from its predecessor. If you loved the first movie than you are going to adore this version of Footloose, which updates the story but retains everything you remember about the original.
I recently had a chance to speak with Craig Brewer, the director of Footloose about his new film. We spoke about remaking a beloved movie like this, retelling the classic story but updating it for a modern audience, the importance of retaining the original soundtrack, and the incredible challenge of recasting Ren McCormack. Here is what he had to say:
To begin with, I recently had a chance to see an advanced screening of this film and I have to say that I was very impressed with your work. I was skeptical when I heard that there was going to be a remake of Footloose but you really pulled it off and made a terrific film.
Brewer: You know I'm never going to get tired of hearing that. It's something that's been difficult for me in the last couple of weeks, but I knew it was going to happen. I knew that there was going to be an initial reaction to a Footloose remake being done. I'm probably like a lot of people out there in the world, I think that you hear something like that and you immediately assume the worst. Or you've take the other side of it, which is some people think Footloose was a dumb movie to begin with. So if you're going to remake it, it's just going to be dumb on top of dumb. I’m not one of those people. I love Footloose. I love the original Footloose. I was very honored to take it on. I was just also very aware that there's going to be a time where people who haven't seen it are going to be making a lot of snarky comments about it. But now that people are going to see it I want to have conversations with them about it. There were things about the original Footloose that I think were very important in the making of myself as a filmmaker, and as a man. I wanted those same things, the same elements, the same heart and spirit to be in the remake. Otherwise, why remake it?
I want to ask you about the music in the film. I was about eight years old when the original movie came out and what I remember most about it is the soundtrack. It featured several hit songs including “Almost Paradise,” “Let’s hear it for the Boy,” “Holding Out for a Hero” and of course, "Footloose." It seems to me that in remaking the movie you are really damned if you do and damned if you don’t. On the one hand if you don’t incorporate the music from the original you’ll have fans of the first one saying, “Where’s the music? This isn’t Footloose!” But on the other hand it must be hard as a director in 2011 to justify to a major studio using a Kenny Loggins song to open a mainstream film. But you did decide to incorporate the first film’s soundtrack and you used all of the songs that I just mentioned, so can you talk about making that choice to embrace the music from the original? Did you have to convince the studio that this was the right way to make the movie or did they support you from the very beginning?
Brewer: What's really great about what Paramount allowed me to do, and I really have to give them credit, is that they really had a lot of trust in me. They knew that I would know the gauge. That gauge that you're talking about where it's kind of like you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Like how much of the original do you put into it? How much do you re-imagine it? I think for a lot of people and I've think studios sometimes fall victim to this, they feel like they got to update it. “We've got to update it in the way the kids are going to like it." Well, but there's a lot of core plots and feelings in the original movie that I think is just as transferable today. So when it comes to the music too, yes I know you can say like how can a movie in 2011 begins with Kenny Loggins? But damn doesn't it sound great when it begins. It's a electrifying. I mean it's so great to be in the back of a theater and you hear those first few beats. I would say that the drums in Footloose and the beginning drums in Billy Jean might be the most magical drums in music because you hear that and you know exactly what's coming next. You can hear those drums and you're like, “Footloose is about to come on!” You can do the same thing with Billy Jean and you just know what’s coming. It' a wonderful feeling, so for me it was like I want to mess with people. I really want this to be a movie that's got kind of my grind to it a little bit, but damn I'm going to put Let’s Hear It for the boy in here and I'm not even going to update it. Like I want that same Let's hear it for the boy that I had in my Walkman, on the way to school, junior high and it's going to work. So I'm really happy that I now have a soundtrack that has rap, country, The White Stripes, and Kenny Loggins all on one disk.
As I mentioned, I was just a kid when the original was released but I remember even then thinking that the premise was kind of silly. The idea that a town in the United States in 1984 could band their kids from dancing just seemed ridiculous back then. But somehow you found a way in your film to make that basic premise not only realistic but also believable to a modern audience. Can you talk about the challenge of making the Footloose premise work in 2011?
Brewer: I think it was THE challenge. As a matter of fact I passed on Footloose twice. They said do you want to do it and I said no twice. Finally Adam Goodman at Paramount said, “Well just take the weekend and really think about it,” because I couldn't get past the whole band on dancing thing. Then I went down to a bachelor party, a friend of mine was getting married. I went down to New Orleans from Memphis and in New Orleans there's this bridge. I think it's the longest bridge in America. I can't remember the name of it, but it just goes over miles of swampland. I'd rented a car and I didn't have any wiper fluid in it. You know it's like the sun is going down and all these bugs are coming out and getting killed on my windshield. So I hit the windshield wipers, but there's no fluid in the windshield wipers, so it just smeared bug guts across my windshield. All these headlights are coming right at me and I'm really stressed out because I'm trying to get down there and I can barely see. When I got with my friends and we started drinking and feeling a little tipsy, I was like man, it's a good thing that I'm not driving because if I was on that bridge and I was feeling this way with those lights coming at me, I would've gone right into oncoming traffic or right off the bridge. It was right then and there that I was like, oh my God I think I know how to do Footloose. Because the thing about the original Footloose is that they only explain why the laws started happening about an hour into the movie, but up until then you just think it's about religion. You just think that everybody's banning dancing because they don't want their kids to go to hell. We don't live in that time anymore. We don't necessarily live in a time where across America people are concerned about their children going to heaven or hell and that's why they shouldn't be listening to Lady Gaga. That's not really happening. It may happen here and there, but it's not really an epidemic necessarily. But what is today is worrying about our kid’s safety, worrying about our own safety and overreacting. Sometimes overreaction could be construed as good parenting or being a good civic leader, but then later you realize that maybe the very thing that you did may actually be causing more harm than good. Because in the end of Footloose everybody just wants to see that their kids can go to a dance, dance their ass off, act silly and come home safe. But the difference between me then, when I first saw the 1984, and me now is that I've got two kids and I fall victim to it. I feel if there's some danger that I can advert by making some laws and having them pass, I don't necessarily think that I would be out there protesting against them.
Another choice you made with this film was to use similar costumes, similar shots and even specific scenes that are similar to the original movie, such as the "angry dance." Can you talk about your decision to really embrace the first film and find away to pay homage to it without falling into the trap of making a shot-to-shot remake?
Brewer: Well you’ve got to understand that basically what Footloose is, is like a twenty-five million dollar fan film. I love it. I'm a huge fan of Footloose. It makes this time kind of a little bit difficult because there's a lot of Footloose fans out there that are swearing that they'll ever see my movie. They think how could it be any better than the original? I'm not here to replace that movie. I'm here to celebrate it. I think I'm a better man because Footloose is one of my favorite movies. I'm more respectful to other people's views. Religion is not something that's demonized in my family. We're respectful to that. I look at those iconic moments as special eggs like little Easter eggs for our fans. It's not throughout the whole movie. But man when they hit, you need to see them. If I stand at the back of the theater … like the first time we revealed the VW Bug, it's great to see mothers lean down to their thirteen year old daughters and whisper. I see it every time because I know what they're saying. "That's the car from the original." I felt that way watching Star Trek. J.J. Abrams' Star Trek was a movie that I felt was a completely new, relevant adventure, but I've watched every Star Trek movie. I've watched every Star Trek episode. When they got to the moment when they were going to go into the Kobayashi Maru test, you should've seen me. I was like bumping into everybody around me. I was like I'm going to see the Kobayashi Maru test. This is where Kirk cheated. Am I right? Anybody? Anybody? And nobody around me knew what I was talking about but the fans knew what I was talking about. That's what we wanted to do with Footloose. It’s a celebration because Kenny Wormald is wearing some of the same outfits from the original. That's what we wanted it to be, but we're also very particular. Let me give you an example. Ren McCormick gets pulled over by a cop. I turn to my DP, to my director of photography, and I said in the original movie when Ren McCormick and Willard get pulled over by cops, they did this in four setups. I know the shots in my head. If we can't do this in four setups we're going home. So we would do that. We'd figure out a way to do it in four setups. I know every frame of Footloose. You know the first line of the original Footloose? “He is testing us.” It's the first line of my Footloose too. I view it as a much more grand movie than most people I think. I put Footloose up there with The Godfather. I'm not even going to flinch by saying that because I mean it.
Obviously Kevin Bacon is an iconic actor and Ren McCormack is the iconic role that made him a household name. In fact, to this day most people still mention Footloose first when referring to Bacon’s body of work. So it must have been a daunting challenge to cast that role because if you can’t find the right actor you’re kind of screwed, right? But you really hit the jackpot with Kenny Wormald because he just nailed the part and is clearly on his way to becoming a major movie star. Can you talk about the challenge of casting this role and the process of discovering the right actor for the part?
Brewer: Yeah it's a tough one because that's what everyone goes to. They're like how can you possibly be replacing Kevin Bacon? The only thing I will say that is I think Kevin Bacon did a lot for that role. He really did and I love Kevin Bacon. I mean I would love to work with Kevin Bacon. He's a fantastic actor and that movie launched him. He did a lot for the role but the role did a lot for him. I think that's something that a lot of people don't think about. They don't think about the fact that Dean Pitchford, back in '83, wrote a great role and made a great character. So we just knew that we needed to find somebody that could be his own Ren McCormick without completely reinventing the character. The thing that I always loved about the character of Ren McCormick is that in this town, he's actually the most moral man there. People offer him drugs, he says no. Ariel says hey, “You want to kiss me?” He says, “Someday.” When he comes to the city council he's not protesting, he wants to come at them with respect. He wants to take Ariel to the dance so he comes and asks the father. This is something that you got to have a sincere person, and you got to have the right soul. When Kenny came in, he was just this Boston guy and he just read sincere. It's like I said, “Just be yourself. Be a guy from Boston, be who you are because when I'm just talking to you I see the guy. So just try your best to just be yourself under these sets of given circumstances.” It's the only thing we can hold to. I remember where there'd be times on set I'd put my arm around Kenny and be like, “You know, if we mess this up it's you and me buddy” It's like if this movie doesn't work guess who's fault it is, yours and mine. Nobody else. They're going to think you and me. They're going to be saying, “That's not Footloose and that’s not Kevin Bacon.” Well the good news is that I think we did make Footloose. I think we did make a movie that captured the spirit of Footloose. I think what's even more exciting is that Kenny Wormald managed to take the same character, make it his and make it honest. The good thing that people forget about Kevin Bacon from back in the day is, because I went and saw it when I was thirteen years old, and I had never seen Kevin Bacon before. “Who the hell was this guy?” He wasn't a star. He was a no body. He was a new, strange, big-haired kid coming into a small town and Kenny can be that same thing. Nobody knows who he is, so they get to discover him. That's a great opportunity in a movie franchise right now. The good news about something being a franchise is that you don't necessarily have to have a star in it. The biggest star in Footloose is Footloose! So we can cast the right people and now people can discover them, and when you discover somebody they're more special to you. It’s not like your seeing the same movie star that you’ve seen in eight other films and now he’s going to be Ren McCormick. No. Now Kevin Bacon is known as Ren McCormick just like Kenny Wormald will now be known as Ren McCormick because it was his first film really.
Finally, there is a shot in the movie where Ren and Ariel (Julianne Hough) kiss for the fist time and the sun is setting perfectly behind them shooting light right between their faces just as they touch. It’s a beautifully shot sequence. Can you talk about filming that scene?
Brewer: I know exactly what you're talking about. It's like a special effect. It's like I put them up against a blue screen and said I want your faces to look like a heart with the sun coming through it. But no, you know what happened? We got rained out, and I couldn't film what I wanted to do. I was like, look at the sky man. If only we could maybe move that scene in front of the sky. I was told I could but I had an hour to film it. So I went running out there and I said to Julianne and Kenny, “I'm so sorry we can't even rehearse this, we're just going to shoot. So please I can't coach you on a kiss, just make it sincere, make it real, and make it soft.” Then we filmed it and I'm looking at it and just thinking, oh my God, I'm capturing one of the greatest things I've ever filmed in my career. Look at this. I just see people watching it and they just melt. It's my favorite shot. If we don't win MTV's best kiss, then it's rigged.
That’s an incredible story. So you only had one take and that is the shot we see in the movie?
Brewer: That's all we had. We could do two cameras and we had time to do one wide and do two over-the-shoulders with two cameras running at the same time.
Footloose is scheduled to dance into theaters on October 14th.