Step Up Revolution, the fourth installment of the wildly popular Step Up dance franchise, is now available on 3D Blu-ray and DVD. With themes of love, injustice, hope and family, this time the story is set in Miami and features a cast that stages cutting-edge flash mobs meant to really the locals to protest against planned commercial development that would destroy their homes and businesses. The film stars Ryan Guzman, Kathryn McCormick, Misha Gabriel, Stephen “tWitch” Boss and Peter Gallagher.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Adam Shankman – who produces the Step Up films with his sister, Jennifer Gibgot – talked about the over two hours of exclusive and behind-the-scenes bonus features, why the Step Up films have been so successful, how it’s more difficult to teach actors to dance than it is to teach dancers to act, the challenge of finding directors for each film who have their own passion and enthusiasm for the art of dance, and that it’s likely there will continue to be more films in the franchise. He also talked about what fans can expect from the Glee Christmas episode he directed (in which he says Kurt and Blaine will sing together and share a lovely moment), what led him to part ways with This is Where I Leave You which he was scheduled to direct, that he hasn’t locked down his next project yet, and why he’s totally addicted to directing. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: So many dance movies have come before the Step Up films and some have tried since, but none have sustained as long and as successfully as this franchise has. What do you think it is about these films that sets them apart from so many other dance movies?
ADAM SHANKMAN: First of all, just for the record, I’m as stunned as anyone that they have become what they’ve become and that people love them so much. But, I think what sets them apart from a lot of the other ones is that we do maintain a real sense of joy inside of them. I think that we employ the greatest choreographers and that the dance sequences continue to deliver, in a really impactful way. And squeezing in as many different styles of dance as possible gives it some variety. People love seeing people trying to change stuff. They’re just not maudlin. The first one was really more of a drama with a dance element, and I think that the newest one tried to go back to that. I also think that going to the flash mobs, as opposed to the battles, really helped us. We find really talented people and we don’t double people, and people just keep coming back for more.
Everybody has seen a flash mob, but no one has seen them used in this way, especially incorporated with the art, which was so beautifully done.
SHANKMAN: I thought that was beautiful, too. I was very proud of that sequence, especially the use of all the different styles of dancing, just within one number. That’s not something that we’ve done before, so I was really happy about that.
SHANKMAN: There are a ton of features and you really get inside the creation of the numbers. You can see that this is not something that just happens. These are all totally great for the whole family. There are a couple of channels that have been running marathons of Step Up 1, 2 and 3, a lot, so they clearly really have a broader appeal. It is definitely for the whole family. It also has a great energy. These movies just make you happy. They do not bum you out. Frankly, you don’t have to think very much when you’re watching them. You don’t get trapped in that. You can just really sit back and enjoy them for what they were intended, which is to entertain. And they definitely make you want to dance. Between doing these films and being on So You Think You Can Dance, the word that we’re trying to spread is that you’re never too old. You can always get out there. I love that we have older people in this new one, doing all that salsa stuff. The discovery of dance has changed my life in unimaginable ways. When I see these movies, they make me want to dance, too.
Does it feel like So You Think You Can Dance is a season-long audition process now, for the movies that you make?
SHANKMAN: Yes! I have done great work in employing the kids coming off that show. It’s been a real joy to watch those journeys and, in this film, to see Kathryn [McCormick] in there as a lead, and to have Travis [Wall] and Chris Scott in there choreographing, it’s like my children are growing up.
SHANKMAN: That is an interesting question. I would have to say that it’s a case by case basis. But definitely, I think it is easier, with these movies for sure, to get dancers and teach them how to act because a lot of what motivates the characters is their love of dancing, and dancers just intuitively have that. They know how to talk about it and can deliver it with honesty. Actors who don’t know how to dance, or who are more compellingly uncomfortable dancing, really are resistant. If they don’t like it, they feel exposed and uncomfortable, by and large. But, it is a case by case basis.
With the Step Up films, you’re not just looking for stars, but you’re looking for directors who have a particular vision and a passion for dance. How challenging is that to find?
SHANKMAN: You have to have that level of enthusiasm to do these movies because you cannot phone it in. What we found, with Anne [Fletcher], Jon [M. Chu] and Scott [Speer], was that they are so in love with the dancing and the people who dance and why they dance and the families that are created. At the center of all of the movies is people finding families. They’re about disenfranchised people who find families through this shared experience, and the people who make these movies seem to understand that.
SHANKMAN: I think there’s probably more in the pipeline, without committing to anything. These movies just don’t cost very much and they end up making so much money, particularly internationally. It’s a bad business model to stop making them until they start not making money.
Is it getting more and more challenging to top yourselves, each time?
SHANKMAN: Oh, for sure! My sister (Jennifer Gibgot) is my partner and we’ll look at each other and go, “Oh, god, now what do we do?! Now where do we go?!” I know that Summit has a point of view about what they think is fresh and sexy, and what appeals to people. Because these movies are so internationally driven, they know what the international audience wants. They keep their thumb on the pulse of what they’re looking for.
What can you say to tease Glee fans about the Christmas episode that you directed, especially knowing how anxious they are to see Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Blaine (Darren Criss)?
SHANKMAN: I have become more aware than I ever wanted to be about the level of mania inside the fandom. What they can expect is a huge variety, in terms of the musical numbers, and they can expect emotional advancement for the characters. I can’t spoiler alert what happens, but everybody knows. Ryan Murphy was actually the one who originally Tweeted that for Christmas he was giving Blaine to Kurt, or something like that, but it’s not really like that. I wasn’t out of turn when I Instagramed those pictures. It’s not what everybody thinks, but they do get to sing together and they do have a lovely moment.
Is it crazy to direct a musical on a TV schedule, like you have to with Glee?
SHANKMAN: It is, but the great news is that I feel like it’s what I’ve been doing for 25 years now. When I was a choreographer and dancer, this is what I spent most of my time creating. They really have it down to a science on this show. It’s the greatest crew I’ve ever worked with and everybody knows what they’ve signed up for. And by the way, the producer/choreographer, Zach Woodlee, was my assistant, so we have a shorthand that is fantastic. What I love about the musical pallette of this particular episode is that it’s not all stuck in the choir room and on the stage in the auditorium. It’s all over the place. I hope the fans will really enjoy that.
Back at the Rock of Ages junket, you said that the next film you were going to direct would be This is Where I Leave You, but now you’ve moved on from that. What led you to part ways with that project?
SHANKMAN: It ended up being about some of the actors’ schedules and my schedule. I still loved it, but it didn’t work out this time. But, things bounce around a lot. They wanted to hire me on Hairspray, and then it didn’t happen, but I ended up doing it. So, who knows what will happen with that project. I’m certainly looking at a bunch of other stuff right now that is really fun.
Do you know what you’re next project will be?
SHANKMAN: I actually don’t. I don’t have it locked down.
What do you look for in a project, and how do you determine whether it’s something you’ll direct or something you’ll just produce?
SHANKMAN: Well, the producing part of it is really in my sister’s purview. Except for the stuff that I direct, she tells me what she’s looking at, work she’s doing with writers and ideas that are pitched to her, and then I weigh in about what I like. It’s a back and forth conversation. We generally like to do stuff that is uplifting and happy and commercially viable. We’re not in the indie business, but we’ve talked about it. I would like us to do more dramas and smaller films. I really loved making A Walk to Remember, so I’m not afraid of making smaller films. But for me, I just need to connect to the characters. I feel like a lot of my past career was going to film school, making a lot of different kinds of movies. I made a bunch of comedies, I made one drama and I made a couple musicals. I want to dig in a little deeper and have some more character content. That’s what I’m looking for now. Whether or not that happens right away, who knows. I’m friends with Jason Reitman and he’s like, “You’re the only person I know who’s addicted to directing.” I’m addicted to directing! That’s why I do Glee and I do commercials and I do live benefits. I just like making stuff. We’ll see what happens next, but as of right now, I’m very happy.
Where do you think that passion for directing comes from? Is it that collaboration with the people you’re working with?
SHANKMAN: Yep! It’s all about the collaborative process for me. When I put something into motion, the creativity starts to make other people want to jump in, and then a lot of people get employed. I’m just like a shark, in that way. If I stop swimming, I’ll die. But, it really is about that shared experience with people. I’m from theater, and that’s really what theater feels like.
Step Up: Revolution is now available on DVD/Blu-ray.