Tom Cruise is standing in the center of the stage. He’s shirtless, wearing black jeans with long black hair and painted black nails. His back has a huge bird like tattoo with longs wings that stretch from shoulder to shoulder. Along his midsection and sides, he’s got a number of smaller tattoos. In front of him are 1,500 screaming fans. As the camera zooms in closer to the stage, the music starts and the crowd erupts in to cheers. All of a sudden, I realize he’s singing “Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard, and he’s moving around the stage like he’s been there for years. In only a few moments, I believe Tom Cruise is a rock star, and I’m completely sold on director Adam Shankman‘s Rock of Ages.
Let me back up a second.
As I type these words, it’s August 13, 2011 and I spent last night on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip in 1987. However, since that’s filming on the real strip and dressing it up in 1987 culture would be beyond expensive and impractical for a huge movie, Warner Bros. recreated the strip on a few streets in Miami. And based on what I got to see and hear last night, Rock of Ages looks like it’s absolutely captured the 80s in a really fun way. Hit the jump for so much more.
Before going any further, if you haven’t seen the recent trailer, I’d watch that first:
Shortly after getting back to the hotel last night, I recorded a video blog about the set visit with Amy from Myspace and Jamie from IAmRogue. We talked about the amazing sets, the interviews, what we thought, how excited Adam Shankman was, and so much more. All three of us were very impressed when we left the set. Further down is more.
- Rock of Ages takes place in 1987
- The movie isn’t making fun of the era. They’re playing it straight.
- They filmed in Florida.
- Shankman said he wanted to make a musical that straight men would want to see.
- Shankman said the Rock of Ages budget was the same budget as Hairspray. He had to cut 40 million to get it made.
- Alec Baldwin is the reason Rock of Ages got in front of cameras. Apparently, Baldwin is known as “Dr. No” because he always says no to everything. When he said yes to the project, WB told Shankman to make it work, and then Shankman rushed to get it in front of the cameras.
- The Sunset Strip set they built in Miami was amazing. It was truly like being transported back in time. When though it looks like it must have taken four months to bring it to life, we learned it only took half that time.
- It was a huge undertaking to get all the legal clearances for the movie. Anything that couldn’t get cleared, the production would build something similar but different enough so they could use it. An example is the Marlboro Man: His billboard used to be on the strip. However you can’t advertise cigarettes in a movie, so they built a billboard featuring a guy that looks like him, but he’s advertising being a cowboy or something like that.
- There are 23 songs in the movie, a few of them are originals, and some are medleys of two songs mixed together. Desmond Child, who wrote many of the big songs of the 80’s, wrote or co-wrote the original songs.
- There are three primary locations in the movie: the Sunset Strip, The Bourbon Room and the Venus Club.
- They have over 70 “picture cars.”, i.e. era-appropriate cars being used in the movie.
- All the singers in the movie are using their own voices. Even Tom Cruise.
- On the vintage bus they have old movie banner ads. One side of the bus had The Lost Boys while the other had Little Shop of Horrors.
- They’re shooting using digital cameras, specifically the ARRI Alexa. Shankman told us that while it was a learning curve for everyone, he’s been blown away by the ability of the camera to film at night with almost no light.
- Everything on the Strip has been moved closer together. The production made a list of every bar, nightclub, and real world location they wanted to use, and then put them next to one another. It’s like they took all the commercial buildings and restaurants off the strip, and what was left is the Rock of Ages strip. It worked; the set was amazing, and it captured the essence of the strip.
- The movie and the stage musical are different. Shankman decided to focus on the lead character rather than a side character, and instead of a club being sold, the movie is about censorship, which was a real issue back in the 80’s with Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center.
- Tom Cruise surprised everyone with the way he was able to learn his choreography, and also with how hard he worked. Shankman said he’s spend hours answering Cruise’s questions, and he was like a sponge always trying to learn. Also, Cruise never gets tired and never slows down.
- Most of the main cast did 5 weeks of intense rehearsals before shooting began. They called it “Rock Star College”. They did vocal, dance and guitar work.
- Shankman isn’t afraid to show visiting journalists unfinished footage in his trailer. After doing an extremely honest interview, he led us into his trailer and showed us Tom Cruise singing “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and another sequence with Mary J. Blige inside the Venus Club. Both sequences looked great, and even the unfinished Cruise sequence caused normally-jaded journalists to applause. Trust me, you won’t believe how Cruise looks and sounds in Rock of Ages. After seeing the footage, I wanted to watch the entire movie then and there.
- When we showed up on set last night, I wasn’t sure what we’d see. Would the production have built a theater, or converted a music venue into what they needed? Whatever I thought beforehand, the actual set was infinitely better.
- One of my favorite parts of the set was the Tower Records store. Until a few years ago when it went out of business, the Tower Records on the Strip was as much a part of Los Angeles as palm trees and the Coffee Bean. Getting to see the store come back to life, with vintage album covers by Kiss, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Cinderella, and many others on the outside of the building, was a lot of fun. Also, while the store wasn’t real on the inside, the front door was open and they had a basic setup that would look real for the camera. It was great to see albums and other vintage posters when the doors were open between takes.
- Of course the Tower Records wasn’t the only store on the set, and the production also built The Comedy Store, Guitar Center, The Body Shop, Frederick’s of Hollywood, Trashy Lingerie, Carney’s, the Rainbow Room, Filthy McNasty’s, and so many other places. In addition, with the movie taking place in ’87, they made sure to include another famous Angeleno: Angelyne (read about her here). The production actually built a massive billboard of the busty blond, and she overlooks the strip like she did back in the ’80’s. It’s the little touches like this that demonstrated how much love and care went into bringing the past to life.
- I really can’t say enough about the footage I saw of Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx. Trust me, it’s going to blow you away.
- In director Adam Shankman’s Rock of Ages, Cruise plays the biggest rock star on the planet and he’s about to start playing his farewell show with his band Arsenal before he does a solo project.
As you saw in the video blog, I’ve got a lot of enthusiasm for Rock of Ages. While I knew very little about the movie before the set visit, everything I saw and learned tells me this musical is going to be a big hit for Warner Bros. next year. It’s got an amazing cast and a soundtrack that I can’t wait to hear. I never thought I’d have written that last sentence before visiting the set. Wait until you see Cruise sing “Pour Some Sugar on Me”. You’ll be impressed.
For more on Rock of Ages, here’s my on set interviews with the cast and over twenty behind-the-scenes pictures I took while walking around set:
- Julianne Hough Talks Singing with Mary J. Blige, Giving Tom Cruise a Lap Dance and More on the Set of Rock of Ages
- Director Adam Shankman Talks Turning Tom Cruise into Stacee Jaxx, Choosing Songs, and Much More on the Set of Rock of Ages
- Diego Boneta Talks Jamming with Tom Cruise, Favorite Songs, Def Leppard, and More on the Set of Rock of Ages