Step Up All In takes one of the most popular dance franchises in film history to all new heights, following Miami street dancer Sean Asa (Ryan Guzman) as he tries to make it in Hollywood, only to discover the almost insurmountable odds of making it in the professional dance world. When he meets the headstrong Andie West (Briana Evigan), they form a new dance crew that reaches the final rounds of a high-stakes reality TV competition that will make their dreams come true.
At the film’s press day, Step Up franchise producer Adam Shankman (who produces the film with his sister, Jennifer Gibgot) spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about whether he ever imagined they’d get to a fifth film, how long he realistically sees this franchise continuing for, his advice for dancers considering a professional career, continuing to push the boundaries of dance, why they wanted Ryan Guzman and Briana Evigan for the leads of this story, that they’d never economically be able to get Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan-Tatum to return, why he never considered directing one of the films himself, and what he’s looking to direct next. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
ADAM SHANKMAN: Above anything else, it’s incredibly flattering. This never started out with any kind of intention of being this. The first one was really a stand-alone drama with some dancing in it. The second one was originally conceived to be this fun straight-to-video thing, and then Jon Chu had such an advanced vision of it, and Summit agreed to do a second one for theatrical release. And then, it just kept snowballing, and here we are. I’m thrilled and stunned, and I’m just happy that audiences still want to see these films.
How many films do you realistically see in this franchise, before they have to be dancing in space?
SHANKMAN: I said, after the third one, that they were going to be dancing in space, and they’re still not dancing in space. We still haven’t done the underwater and we still haven’t done space, so that will be 6 and 7. I said 6 should be Step Up 666, and it should be God and the Devil, dance battling over all the souls in the world. That would be Step Up: Apocalypse. I have no idea. Each one is supposed to be the last one, so I don’t know.
There’s a magic that happens with dance that’s hard to get non-dancers to understand, but these movies come close to giving that feeling to audiences.
SHANKMAN: Well, it’s very, very clear that our cast is doing what it is that they appear to be doing. We tend to not do a lot of music video tricks with them, so that you’re super aware that they’re really doing it, in real time. There’s the occasional slow-down, but very seldom.
Do you think that these films are so successful because they do give audiences that feeling?
SHANKMAN: I think that people leave with an extraordinary feeling of exuberance and joy and fun. It’s that synergy between the music and watching the physical excellence, the showmanship and the passion. That all ends up really getting on screen.
More than just as a producer and director, you understand the struggle of being a dancer and a choreographer.
SHANKMAN: Yeah, very much so.
SHANKMAN: I’d say a couple of things. If you don’t feel like you have to do it, don’t do it. It’s too hard, it’s too full of rejection, and it’s too much for our fragile egos to handle. If you are gonna do it, get really good at it, meaning don’t sit and wait for it to fall into your lap and don’t think that just being okay is good enough. You have to really shoot for your best self, whatever that looks like. You have to be firing on all cylinders. There’s no half-assing this. Too much has been written about reality television and docu-soaps, and how that has lowered the bar for talent because you don’t need talent, particularly, to be famous now. But as a dancer, you do. What is strange now is that, because of shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars, dancers are, in fact, household names in certain households. They have faces and they have personalities and they have fan bases. What they don’t have is money. They are out there hustling jobs, just like the rest of us, when they win these shows. I love the Step Up movies because I get to use them as hiring grounds for those shows.
Do you feel like a show like So You Think You Can Dance has given general audiences, who are not familiar with the dance world, a glimpse into just what it takes?
SHANKMAN: Yeah, they see how hard the dancers work, and they see the injuries that you suffer, and they see what goes into it behind the art, and they see that it takes an unbelievable amount of effort. They are both athletes and artists. It’s really exciting to watch ‘cause you also get music involved in it, too. It’s a much more complete experience than just watching somebody compete in a vacuum.
The body has certain physical limitations, but the dancers in the Step Up movies seem to have fewer limitations than others. How difficult is it to push the dancing each time, so that you’re giving your audience something new to see, but you’re not killing your talent?
SHANKMAN: It’s not something that we’re doing to them. When we see what they can do, we just lift it up and showcase it properly. In terms of danger, we don’t put anybody in any more danger than they put themselves in, anyway. The dancers are, more often than not, the ones who want to push the limits further than the choreographers. But for the sake of people’s health, we pull it back, more often than not. It’s ridiculous! They don’t need to be doing this stuff, all the time. The truth of the matter is that we see it on YouTube and we see it online, all the time. You get really burned out by seeing people doing these theoretically impossible things. So, what it is about these movies is that you put it in a context and shoot it in a way that elevates things beyond the physical feat. That gives it that something special. You don’t have to be killing somebody, if you put them in the right environment.
How did everybody come to decide on Ryan Guzman and Briana Evigan for the leads in this?
SHANKMAN: We have this long tradition with this movies, which I barely remember how it started. I think when we were coming up with Step Up 2, we decided that it was a good idea for Channing [Tatum] to pass the baton to Briana. Once that happened, then it kept happening, from movie to movie. It became clear that the characters, in and of themselves, were getting fan bases. It’s a little head-scratching to me, but the fans really love it. It was very important to me that this new one somehow address the notion that these kids want a professional life as dancers. They’re no longer in high school. They’re no longer just out of high school. They do have to make money. And if they want to make money doing this, what does their life look like, in doing that. So, it felt like a natural thing to use Ryan. And then, Briana is arguably our most popular girl from the franchise. Since we were going to do an all-star version, my sister, who’s my producing partner, said, “Let’s go after Briana and see if she’d do it.”
SHANKMAN: That whole actor who can dance tradition started with Channing. We thought we’d never find another person like him, and then Ryan came along. Ryan is a cage fighter, and he had never danced before. He’s a bit of a miracle. Briana had a lot of dance training. It just felt like another right fit. Certainly, neither Ryan nor Channing would have been able to do the things that they did, had they not been surrounded by dancers, the whole time that they were working.
Is there anyone you’ve ever wanted to or tried to get back, but they weren’t able to return because of scheduling?
SHANKMAN: No. More often than not, we get a lot of questions about Channing and Jenna [Dewan-Tatum], but they’re leading very busy and very expensive lives, and they’re producing their own movies now. These movies are made a certain way that couldn’t economically justify what that might look like. And that’s now almost a decade ago. This franchise has made it possible for my sister and I, as a company, and me, as a person, to launch new directing talent, and to take dancing talent and give them exposure and options out in the workplace that otherwise didn’t exist to them. I get to hire hundreds of dancers for each movie. It’s just been an amazing blessing in my life, for sure.
Have you ever considered directing one of these movies yourself?
SHANKMAN: It was never a consideration, mostly because it was just always this place where it was so exciting for us, as a production company, to find new talent to foster and encourage. That became something that was very special and precious to me, and was much more interesting than me going, “Get out of here, I want to direct this one!” That’s not how I operate.
Do you know what you’ll be doing next, as a director?
SHANKMAN: I have so much on my plate right now, as a director. I have two projects at HBO. One is a movie, and one is a TV series. I have a movie in front of me that we’re looking at. I had a movie that fell apart. There are things all over the place.
Step Up All In opens in theaters on August 8th.