Co-Writer/Director Craig Brewer, who is known for his distinct aesthetic and vision as seen in his critically acclaimed films “Hustle& Flow” and “Black Snake Moan,” delivers a new take on the beloved 1984 classic film, “Footloose.” With a reputation for being a filmmaker who infuses his work with realism, grit and passion, Brewer isn’t afraid to shed light on cultural nuances that are deemed taboo by some. Though not a seemingly obvious choice for a mainstream ‘80s classic, Brewer loved the idea of revisiting a film that had a significant impact on his own life.
MoviesOnline sat down with Brewer at a roundtable interview in Los Angeles where he explained why he felt this was truly a story that could be told today and still be relevant and entertaining. He told us how he was reluctant at first to remake the film and what changed his mind, why Paramount thought he was the right guy to direct it, and which elements of the script he chose to update for today’s audience. He also discussed the challenge of getting a good acting performance from someone who’s primarily a dancer and a good dance performance from someone who’s mainly an actor.
Q: You were a big fan of this film. Why was now the right time to remake it?
CB: Well I didn’t think it was. I resisted it twice. I turned down the studio twice to remake it.
Q: What made you change your mind?
CB: I had this interesting experience. I couldn’t figure out how to get into “Footloose.” I was like what town would ban dancing. Even in ’84, it was kind of dumb. And I say that with complete respect because I loved the original, and I think to some extent you’ve got to have a little bit of suspension of belief. I was on my way to a bachelor party in New Orleans by way of Memphis so I’m on this really long bridge. I think it’s the longest bridge in America. It’s over that swamp. Adam Goodman, the President of Paramount, calls me and I put him on speaker phone and he’s like “I refuse to accept your pass. Why do you keep passing on ‘Footloose’?” I was like “Adam, look, I love that movie. It’s a classic. We’re going to get crucified if we redo ‘Footloose.’” He was like “It’s not for you. It’s not for all these people that loved the original. When was the last teenager movie you saw that had the ideals that you loved in ‘Footloose’?” He was right. I’d really thought about it and I couldn’t think of any. I mean, you can’t necessarily just immediately think of the dance movies like “Step Up” or any of those movies and say okay, but did it have the kind of camaraderie like a Willard and a Ren. Did it have the harshness that was in the original “Footloose” where kids are smoking weed and girls are having pre-marital sex and feeling awful about it and then there’s that whole fight where her boyfriend beats her up. It’s like I hadn’t thought of any movie recently that really explored that for teenagers. All the bugs off of the swamp started coming up and killing themselves on the windshield and I got a rental and I hit the little windshield wiper fluid thing but it was empty so it just smeared bug guts. So it’s like these cars are going by me and I can barely see and I’m talking to the president of the studio. I’m like “Look, I’m going to this bachelor party. I haven’t gone in years. I just left my family behind. Can I talk to you on Monday?” And he’s like “Well think about it.” So I go out drinking with all my friends and they’re like “What are you doing?” “They asked me to do “Footloose,” but I’m not going to do it.” All night they gave me shit. We would go to different clubs and they were singing Let’s Hear It for the Boy. But then, I got a little bit too tipsy and I told them all “Guys, I am a father now. I cannot party like I used to. I’m going down and going to bed.” I lie in this bed and I started flashing back to the bridge. I could feel the car shaking and I could see the lights coming up against the windshield and suddenly it hit me. I gotta really entertain the audience for three minutes where they hear that Kenny Loggins music and they start bobbing their head and they think “Oh yeah!” like it’s this dance confection that we want it to be, and then I need to kill them and I need to show a horrible wreck. I need to have those headlights come right at me. And then, I had my human connection. Then it was like the difference between me now and me when I was 13 is I’m a dad. I got two kids. I got a 10-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl and they change you. They do. I think things I never thought before. I’m protective in ways I never thought I would be. I can see myself if some kid got killed crossing the street in front of the school, and then this big list of rules came home, I wouldn’t be even reading them. I’d be like “Of course, whatever is going to …” And once I got past that, once I got past the whole it’s not just banning dancing because they’re worried that you’re going to go to hell, it’s a dozen laws – curfew, dress code. It’s not so much dancing as much as dancing outside of parental control. Suddenly it became a much more relevant American movie to me. It almost became more relevant to do the original “Footloose” now than it would be when I saw it in ’84. Even though when I saw it in ’84, we had just bombed Libya. I was terrified we were going to die in a nuclear war. There was the rise of the Moral Majority. We’re kind of there again and it’s weird. I think there’s just a lot of people that are like me that are very protective of that movie being in kind of a rosy place in their life that they can’t view it in a new context and I understand that.
Q: Why do you think Paramount was convinced you were the guy and to go after you the way they did?
CB: I can only guess, but I think what it was, is they were down a particular road that I don’t think was working for them, and what they ultimately came to see was probably what I was reiterating with them. I said “Can I do Footloose?” and they were like “That’s what we want you to do.” I was like “Yeah, but can I do the original “Footloose”? Can I actually do Dean Pitchford’s script?” And they were like “Well, we’d want you to update it.” And I was like “Yes, but I’m trying to clarify what I mean by that. You’re fine with me having a teenager movie with kids smoking pot, kids drinking, premarital sex, a beat down with Ariel?” All of that’s in the original and I think that they hadn’t thought about that. I think they were thinking of it more in a “High School Musical” – “Glee” presentation and they weren’t thinking about it as I computed it when I was 13, which is this is some heavy stuff. I was 13. I was thinking this is what high school’s about. In the 80’s, there were a lot of those kind of movies. They entertained you. They were pop, but man, they knocked you over the head. In ’84, I had “Footloose” coming out I think it was like early in the year like February. Soon after that was “Purple Rain.” “Purple Rain” had those kinds of elements to it. It had entertainment, music, but man, suddenly Prince’s dad just shot himself in the head. It was heavy. I think that they had a relationship with me from “Hustle & Flow” and “Black Snake Moan.” They knew that I was trying to get movies made in the South done and Adam was like “Look, you know, the audiences right now aren’t coming. It’s hard to get them to come out to original content right now. You can be yourself and you can tell the kind of stories that you want to be telling and you can have the kind of musical flavor that you had in your other movies and that you wanted to have in a country music setting that you’ve been pitching to us, but you can do it in ‘Footloose’ and you can do it right now.” That was encouraging.
Q: Which elements were important for you to update? Was it preordained that you had to follow certain parts of the script?
CB: The great news about the situation going into “Footloose” was I had a tremendous amount of power and I’m not really used to that, meaning like I really had creative control over it. But I went in and did a very detailed pitch as to what I wanted to do. I bring in a boom box. I’m kind of like Ren. I have a long cord that connects into the back of this boom box and it plugs into my iPod and I score my pitch. I bring volume up with music and I click to the next cue and so they had a very good idea of what I wanted to do. But it wasn’t like there was some interference like we want this, we want this. I was the only guy doing that because I’m the only Footloose-ologist in the room. I knew everything about “Footloose” so I would look at the Angry Dance and say “Well we’re doing the Angry Dance because it’s ‘Footloose.’ If you didn’t do the Angry Dance, it’s not ‘Footloose.’” I saw “Footloose” in Northern California in Vallejo, California with a very integrated audience of White, Mexican, Filipino and Black people, and even then, the Angry Dance is, you know, you laugh at it a little bit. Nobody really goes off to a warehouse and gets out their anger by way of dance. But you have to because it’s “Footloose.” I come from the theater and remake is never a word you use. You use the word revival. So you do “Westside Story,” if you want to modernize it, you run the risk of it not working. What about “Westside Story” are you going to keep? What is it about “Death of a Salesman” that you’re going to change to make it more for today? But maybe you don’t need to change it. Maybe you just need to change the costumes. I tried to view “Footloose” more in a revival way. I didn’t want it to be too different from the original, but there were a couple things that I did want to change in some of the scenes, one of which is I didn’t want to demonize faith. I didn’t want to isolate the parents too much from audiences because I think that I understood the parents’ point of view more than I did when I was 13. And I wanted to bring the accident up front to get that kind of impact. And then, I wanted to change the way that – and it’s just my personal mission of the South, but when Ren came to stay with his uncle and his aunt, they were not really supportive of him in the original movie. They were almost kind of bad guys, to be honest with you. They were more on the side of the town. If I moved it to the South, I knew that people would just assume that I would go to that usual place. He’s going to go with his redneck uncle and he’s going to be against everything that he’s doing. I have redneck uncles and they’re nothing like me, but I’m their nephew. I’m their cousin. You better not talk bad about me because they’ll defend me. That’s that family theme that I think everybody in Hollywood is trying to connect with, but it’s really real in a lot of people’s lives and I wanted to see that. I wanted to see the family that he came to live with really helping him.
Q: Can you talk about getting an acting performance out of someone who’s primarily a dancer and a dancing performance out of someone who’s primarily an actor?
CB: I’ve been doing it for a while because I’ve had to work with rappers that I’ve needed to act and actors that I’ve needed to rap and ultimately what I’ve discovered is it’s all a little easier than I think people would think that it is. When you make a decision in your life that you’re going to be an artist or performer in any way, you find that it leads in almost all categories. Let’s get in a time machine and go back 27 years and tell everybody that Robin Williams and Jamie Foxx, they’re going to be Academy Award
winning actors one day and you’d go “What?” That doesn’t make any sense but it now makes sense because they obviously had this well of experience. I remember sitting down with Terence Howard and saying “Look, I know you’re an actor and you’re a great actor, but what do you have in common with this guy?” and he was like “Well, you know, I’m in all these movies and I’m usually a supporting character, like a bright, quick cameo, and people have been always saying you should be a lead and you should be in charge.” And that was his connection to it, of playing that character. I look at Kenny, pretty good-looking, masculine kid from Boston, all his life being called Ballet Boy and Priss because he’s going off to dance class. Kenny knew Ren McCormack. It was something that when we started doing the readings and the auditions, it just seemed so natural to him. Everybody else was doing this Kevin Bacon impersonation. Even when I told them not to do it, they couldn’t help but do it. I realized it was because they were just acting. They’re doing the best they can. They’re good actors but it’s not real to them. It’s real to Kenny and I think that because he relaxed into it, it came off very natural.
“Footloose” opens in theaters on October 14th.