Director/co-writer Craig Brewer decided to take on the remake of the classic ‘80s film Footloose because the original had such an impact on his own life. The story itself has a timelessness that still makes it relevant and significant for today’s audiences and, with his distinct aesthetic and vision, this new version has the realism, grit and passion found in all of Brewer’s work.
At the film’s press day, Brewer talked about what it was that grabbed him, when he first saw the film at 13, how he ended up sharing screenwriting credit with the original film’s writer Dean Pitchford, what made Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough his perfect lead actors, and holding the “angry dance” sequence for the last three days of shooting, in case any injuries occurred. He also talked about his desire to keep his Tarzan film grounded in the period of the original books. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Here’s the film’s synopsis:
When Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) is transplanted from Boston to the small southern town of Bomont, he experiences a heavy dose of culture shock. A few years prior to his arrival, the community was rocked by a tragic accident that killed five teenagers after a night out and the local councilmen, along with Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid), responded by implementing ordinances that prohibit loud music and dancing. Willing to fight for what he believes in, Ren challenges the ban, revitalizing the town and falling in love with the minister’s troubled daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough), in the process.
Click here for the audio of this interview
Question: When you first saw Footloose, what was it that grabbed you?
CRAIG BREWER: Up until that time, my idea of a hero was very different. My heroes had lightsabers and bullwhips and were running after lost arks. But, when I looked at myself, at 13, I came from an athletic family. My granddad was this famous ballplayer, named Marvelous Marvin Throneberry, who played for the Yankees and the Mets, so everybody assumed that I was going to be athletic, but I was anything but. I was chubby and awkward, and the only way I could really meet girls was to join children’s theater, so that’s what I did.
I can track my experience with different characters I’ve played in “A Christmas Carol.” I got my first kiss from Bob Cratchit’s daughter. Later, I got my first french kiss when I was a Fezziwig party-goer. It just went up the line there. But, when I saw Footloose, I was 13, and that’s a very magical time for any movie-goer. It’s the first time that you really claim a movie. It was like, “That is my movie!” When I saw Kevin Bacon in that skinny tie with the big hair, and he was defiantly walking through that small town high school, I felt something very familiar.
My family comes from a very small town in Tennessee, but my parents tried to get away from that, so we were constantly moving into big cities. We lived in Chicago, and we lived in Northern California and Southern California, but my summers were spent back home in the South. So, in the ‘80s, I was wearing cheap leather jackets that I’d buy, and go home with mousse in my hair and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” jacket with all the zippers. I really felt like Ren.
The one thing that I did get out of it was that I wanted to be part of that small town. All my family was there, and all my people were buried there. Even though they made me feel like I was different, at times, they also embraced me and they would defend me. I was their family, I was their blood, I was their dog – only they got to kick it. And, when I saw Footloose, I saw that on the screen. It wasn’t just the music and the dancing. It was the whole story and the attitude. It was just different from any movie I had seen, up until that point. To be honest, that’s what ultimately made me decide to remake it.
BREWER: I don’t want to diminish that. I’m very proud of that. But, what I did was ask to have the original script sent to me. I told Paramount that I wouldn’t do Footloose, unless I was able to be given permission to essentially do the original Footloose. There was another Footloose that Paramount was down the road with. They were doing a version with Kenny Ortega, that as more of a dance celebration, and it just wasn’t something that I was interested in. When they parted ways with Kenny, they came to me twice and I kept passing. I was like, “No, Footloose can’t be remade. It’s a classic. I can’t really do it.” And then, they said to me, “Well, when was the last teenager movie you saw that really had those ideals and morals and energy that Footloose gave you, when you were 13?” And, the more I thought about it, I really couldn’t think of any. I even thought of some of the dance movies, and it just wasn’t there.
So, I asked them, “Can I do Footloose?” And they were like, “That’s what we’re asking you to do?” I was like, “No, can I really do Footloose? Can I take the original script?” They were like, “Well, we would want you to update it.” And, I was like, “Yeah, but let’s say I chose not to do that. Could I do that Footloose?” They were like, “Well, why are you asking if we would have a problem with that?” I was like, “Okay, you’re fine with me doing a movie for 13-year-olds, that has kids smoking pot, that has kids drinking, that has Ariel pulling up her pants having just had premarital sex with a boy two or three years older than her? You’re fine with me doing a scene where Ariel’s boyfriend beats her until her mouth bleeds? Are you sure you’re cool with this?” They were like, “What are you talking about?” I was like, “It’s in Footloose.”
All of those things are in Footloose, and I think everybody has forgotten about that because they just remember Footloose from these VH-1 “Remember the ‘80s” specials, and they think that it’s just all bubblegum and pop. I just wanted to make sure that they wanted to make this movie, and they did. So, I got the original script and I read through scenes that had been cut out of the original movie, and I went through and made my own version, changing the structure a little bit and rewriting scenes, and keeping some scenes verbatim. So, it went through an arbitration process and the Writer’s Guild decided that we would share screenplay credit, which I was incredibly proud to do. Dean read my script, before I started shooting it. I didn’t want to make the movie unless I got Dean, not only to sign off on it, but support it. He’s been a great friend and a wonderful collaborator with me.
What made you decide to set this in the South?
BREWER: Once I saw the need to start the movie with the accident, it made sense to me to set it in the South, in a place that I have a context to, especially with what’s going on in the country. There’s this red state/blue state divide that is played up more than is really there. That idea is, in an odd way, parallel to the very simplistic plot of Footloose. I think that those parents had tragedy happen in their life and, like Americans, they over-reacted. They started putting all these laws on the books, and they didn’t realize that one or two of those may have caused more harm than good. When I see that plot device in Footloose, I think of America. I have that at my Thanksgiving dinner with uncles who are for the NRA and me, who’s not, and we get into arguments, but then it’s all gone. To some extent, I think that happens in Footloose. It’s two sides arguing, and then they settle down and realize that they’re all after the same things, and everybody goes to the dance and nobody dies.
BREWER: I think that Footloose really worked in the South. When I first saw it, when I was 13, I assumed it was the South. I didn’t know the difference between the Midwest and the South. The only thing that I knew, that tipped me off that it wasn’t the South, was that there was not one face of color in that movie – not in the background, nothing. That was one of the first things where I said, “That will be the one thing I change in my movie. I’d like it to be a little more indicative of the South that I know.”
What was it about Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough that led you to cast them, as your leads?
BREWER: There were a couple other actors attached to the earlier versions, but I wouldn’t take on the project unless I could have complete creative control in casting, and that meant completely shaking the Etch-a-Sketch and saying, “If I want to cast an unknown, then I’m able to cast an unknown.” Luckily, the studio was really behind that idea. When I think back on my experience watching Footloose the first time, when I was 13, I did not know who Kevin Bacon was, or Sarah Jessica Parker, or Chris Penn. There’s something really special for a young person to sit in an audience and discover somebody, and it’s rare to do because so much of a movie’s economics are based on pre-existing actors or actresses. That’s not what Footloose was for me, so I wanted to have somebody new. So, in the case of Ren, we looked everywhere – Australia, London, all over America – but it had to have some stipulations. Obviously, he needed to be able to somewhat dance, he needed to be able to act, and he needed to be an unknown. I’ve done movies where I’ve had to cast actors and teach them to rap, and cast rappers and teach them to act. Really, we had those two categories, for the dancing part of it, but the more we started doing the acting side of things, one name kept popping up to the top, and that was Kenny, who was in our dancer category. Finally, we were down to the wire, and it was between Kenny and one other person. I was watching Kenny do the scene with Miles Teller, who plays Willard, and I called, “Cut!,” and they just started joking with each other. I was like, “Why is it that when I call cut, I see Ren McCormack, but when I call action, something goes away?” I realized what it was, was that Kenny was hiding his Boston accent. You live your life trying to get rid of a thick accent because it limits you as a performer, but I told Kenny, “I want you to be from Boston. I’m going to have this movie really be about North and South. I want you to be you, under this set of circumstances.” And, he did great.
Julianne was attached to the version of Footloose that Kenny Ortega was doing. It was my guess that Julianne was hired because she could dance and she looked great. I didn’t think they were necessarily hiring her for her acting because I hadn’t seen her act in anything. So, when I came onto the project, I told the studio that I didn’t want to just assume that Julianne would be Ariel. I said, “I need to be empowered to find somebody else,” and they were like, “Well, would you meet with her.” So, she lives in Tennessee and I live in Tennessee, so I drove from Memphis over to Nashville and had lunch with her. She was not only delightful, but she was downright passionate. She was telling me that, because of having to go abroad so early, for her career in dance and the arts, she wanted to grow up faster than she was ready for, and I had an understanding of that. That’s something that happens, when you’re in theater. So, that day, we went over to my casting director’s house and I worked her to death. We read every scene, and she had tears, and she was just fighting for the role. She did such a great job, and I’m very happy that I got her.
Is it true that Justin Timberlake recommended Kenny Wormald for the role?
BREWER: Kenny was already auditioning and in the mix. My casting director on Footloose also cast a lot of David Fincher’s movies, so she talked to Justin about it. And then, after I’d cast Kenny, I showed Justin some of the footage.
Why did you end up making the changes that you decided to make?
BREWER: Well, the one thing that I never really liked in the first movie was the mother character. I know that’s a little bit sacrilege because I’m a big fan of Footloose, but I always felt that Ren should have a greater obstacle to overcome, in terms of his own experience. And, the idea that he watched his mother go through this really painful and horrible death with leukemia, at the end of the movie, when he’s facing Reverend Moore, it’s a child who’s lost a parent, coming to terms with a parent who’s lost a child. That is something I would much rather see explored than a guy who is basically upset with a dead-beat dad. Divorce was a big deal, back in the ‘80s. It’s not so much a big deal, these days, to have a single parent.
BREWER: Busted! Yeah. It was a three-day shoot. Everything else we pretty much did in a day. I remember us saying, “We are moving the angry dance to the end of the shoot because what if we kill the kid? We need to have a movie in the can!” I’m joking about that. But, as a matter of fact, there was this moment when Kenny was in this harness, hanging from a chain, and we were about to have him do that big scene where he’s flying on the chain, and I was like, “This is why we put this off to the end. If you fall and die, we can just paste it together.”
For Tarzan, would you want to incorporate any of the more sci-fi aspects that haven’t really been done on film before?
BREWER: Just like with Footloose, I’m a purist. Edgar Rice Burroughs didn’t get too much into the sci-fi part of the books, until after Tarzan the Untamed. So, maybe about seven movies into Tarzan, I might start thinking about space aliens, and some of those other things. I’m going to keep Tarzan grounded in the period of the original books.