The Moose is Loose: Director Scott Speer on Step Up Revolution
Scott Speer has a tough gig, following up on Step Up 2 The Streets and Step Up 3D, two of the most entertaining dance movies ever made. [Editor's Note: Yes, we stand by that.] When we learned that he wasn't on the docket for the Step Up Revolution junket in Los Angeles, we basically begged to get him on the phone to talk about the sequel's incredible dance sequences, the film's heist movie mentality, and the plans for the sequel. We think he's only half-joking that Step Up 5 could be Step Up in Space or Swim Up: Synchronized Swimming. With a franchise like this, literally anything could happen.
CraveOnline: You will not talk to a bigger fan of the Step Up franchise, I promise you.
Scott Speer: Oh, I like you already! You rock, man. No, seriously. Thank you for taking the time, thank you for looking me up. I really appreciate your interest in the movie.
When Step Up 3 came out I hadn’t seen any of the movies, and I thought it would be funny to review what were supposedly these kind of stupid dance movies, and I reviewed each of them leading up to Step Up 3. And I discovered, to my pleasant surprise, that the first one was pretty good, the second one was great, and the third one was even better.
[Laughs] Love it. I love it.
What do you think of the films that preceded your Step Up? Because you have a lot to live up to.
I was actually gunning for the opportunity to make a Step Up movie. I was always pestering Adam Shankman and Jennifer Gibgot. It was sort of a perfect first film for me. And I didn’t come at it so much as intimidation as much as just a great opportunity. Because I think what’s so great about these movies from a filmmaking point of view is you have such a wide palette. It’s one of these movies that can stand on its own as a real creative expression, so it was really […] continuing this tradition of always doing something different and really interesting.
For this one, you have a heist movie mentality to a lot of it.
That’s right. I’m so glad you picked up on that. That was a big part of what we wanted to do. What I was really excited about was, can I now mix other genres. So I really felt like I wanted to take the dance movie and mix it with a heist movie, and mix it with an action movie. Can we have suspense? Can we have all these other aspects? So that’s really where the idea for Revolution came from, can we switch the format. There were so many battles in 2 and 3, they were so battle-heavy, a lot of dancers posing and posturing. It just felt like with flash mobs we would have all kinds of opportunities we had never had before.
Was the flash mob idea handed to you?
Flash mobs were already on the table when I came to the project, but what I feel like I brought to it was a sense thinking of them in terms of heists, instead of… Flash mobs in reality are a little bit silly. A bunch of people just sort of converge and do a little dance and run off. As you see in the movie, I actually get away from a lot of, I feel, the really classic examples of flash mobs. What I wanted to do in the movie was basically turn flash mobs into heist spectacles. Dance takeovers that you’d never see, doing incredible things. Cars are bouncing, pyrotechnics and wirework, basically everything.
Do you have a background in choreography yourself, or did you have to be very trusting?
No, my background comes from directing music videos and commercials. So really, for me, it was very comfortable because I’ve shot so many dance videos, and I’ve worked with so many choreographers that that relationship was pre-existing. So that’s something that I felt very at home at. This was the opportunity to take it to the next level, but I really came to dance from an admirer’s perspective. So probably a lot like you, actually. I really think there is a different texture looking outside-in than inside-out. It’s always been that way for me, feeling like I wish I could move like that, and just being a photographer. I want to puts my lens on it. Just being fascinated by this universal language. The language doesn’t use words, the language crosses all borders and boundaries. When you’re communicating through dance, for me there’s something that’s just more vivid and more immediate than words can ever be.
I was talking to Kathryn McCormick, and she was impressed with all the different kinds of dance styles you were able to fit into one film. Were there any ideas you had to cut out?
Yeah, there’s always ideas that don’t quite make it through, and there were a couple flash mob ideas that I wanted to do that we just didn’t have the time and money for at the end of the day. But in terms of the different styles of dance, that was a conscious decision. Even back to casting someone like Kathryn, we just didn’t want to keep battling. I wanted to bring in every style of dance, every kind of dancer. The crew in the movie, The Mob, truly can do every kind of dance out there. It’s just awesome. The girls are doing ballet and everything else. It really was the opportunity to bring all these styles together in one sort of Revolution, if you will.
Are you saving some of those ideas that didn’t make it for another film, or would you be able to share some of those with us?
[Laughs] I guess I’d better save them, because there’s already a lot of talk about [Step Up] 5. But you know, that’s the fun of doing this. It’s always where can we take dance that we haven’t yet? Adam Shankman and I like to joke about Step Up in Space. It’s the only thing we can really do at this point that we haven’t done.
I would love to see that.
[Laughs] Well, let me ask you this… Would you rather see Step Up in Space, or would you rather see Swim Up: Synchronized Swimming?
[Laughs] Step Up in Space.
Yes! Okay, good. Another vote for Step Up in Space, because those are the two ideas competing between Adam and me right now.
Are you actually serious about that? Are you actually considering a synchronized swimming movie?
[Laughs] I don’t know how serious it is, in terms of reality versus just us sitting there, interview after interview, trying to spitball the best pitch idea. But, look, you can joke about those things, but really, synchronized swimming is something that a Step Up movie would love to reinvent. I feel that was the fun that we had with ballet, because the ballet number in the museum was not your grandma’s ballet. I feel like a choreographer like Travis Wall, who choreographed that moment, really understands that. Understands how to make it relevant for the kids, not just kids but everyone. Dance is living, dance is alive. Dance is constantly innovating.
One of the things this movie does is go back to the original movie in some respects, with a very simple, melodramatic storyline, with the evil corporate guy who wants to raze up everybody’s homes. It reminds me of an 80’s movie in a way, where they have to put on a show to save the youth center.
Yeah, I’m glad you’re related it back to [Step Up] 1 and these storylines from the 80’s that really are sort of bare knuckle, and they work, because that was the goal, to return to some of the storytelling, and keeping it grounded in terms of the characters and their goals. I think that that’s why so many people responded to the first film, because you had a great romance. Obviously Channing Tatum was just exploding out of the gate, obviously it helped, but I think also Anne [Fletcher, the director of Step Up] did a great job of telling this simple, effective romance. So I really wanted to get back to that too, because at the end of the days these movies are about joy. These movies are about triumph. These movies are about dreams, and going after dreams, and about the underdogs. These are very clean, aspirational movies. I love carrying that kind of joyful message out. I love presenting a movie that people can go the theater and have a great time and laugh and get up out of their chairs. That’s always our goal with these movies.
My biggest joy this year I think was watching the trailer for Step Up Revolution and seeing that Moose back.
The Moose is loose, right?
That was at the end of the trailer. “The Moose is loose.” We thought about ending with that. That tag.
I wish you had!
So you’re a fan of Moose?
I describe this movie as “The time Moose saved Miami and the events that preceded it.”
[Laughs] So I should be asking you now, interviewing you. What is it that is so persevering about the character of Moose? What is so captivating?
Obviously in the first film he was a very lovable underdog, could dance like a motherf*cker, but I fell in love with Moose in Step Up 3, because that film played him off as a superhero. He comes to New York, he fights a samurai, he gets locked into Professor X’s team of extraordinary dancers in this danger room above a dance club, he fights to keep his identity secret from his love interest. It was just such a pure way of doing this kind of movie that I fell in love with the character, fell in love with his optimism, and again, he can dance like a son of a bitch. He looks like he can, because he’s lithe, but he also has this unassuming quality to him. I just think that makes him a great character.
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. A lot of us in the Step Up camp always refer to Moose as the ultimate underdog. That’s what he is to fans all over the world, and I feel like you can look at that guy and never think that he can dance almost as good as [Michael Jackson]. You just don’t think [that], you know? And then he busts it out, and it’s such a win. It’s a win for the little kid inside of all of us. [Laughs]
The robot [in the franchise], he’s a real robot, right?
Yes, he is.
Good! I’ve been arguing about that for forever. Good. Next question: the ending of the film, with the Nike thing, isn't that a little ironic?
I don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why. I think, judging by your tone, I know where you’re coming at it, but let me tell you where dancers come at it.
And this is the reason why it became Nike, interestingly enough. I knew going into it that I was going to take this question, of having it be Nike, and having people go, oh, the crew just signs up for a contract and then the movie ends, right? I was talking to Jamal Sims, he’s my choreographer, when I first brought him on in the script stage and we were talking about the script. I said, “What do all dancers really, really want at the end of the day? When you’re a dancer, and you’re getting into this business, what is it that you really want?” And obviously you want a job and everything else, but one thing that Jamal really talked about that caught my attention was he said, “Dancers feel like they are not given the same respect as athletes, and yet what they do is as difficult as what an athlete does.” And I believe that’s true. If you look at what my dancers are doing in this film, or what the dancers in [Step Up] 3 did, it is every bit as difficult and physical, and takes as much talent as any of the pro athletes out there, and yet there’s nowhere near the same recognition. You don’t see dancers on [cereal] boxes, you don’t see any of that. And so Jamal just said to me, “You know what would be great? If dancers could achieve the respect that they are athletes. That they are professional athletes.” And we kind of just went from there. To me, it’s really touching on that theme more than the theme of materialistic anything, if that makes sense.
You’re going to do Step Up 5? You’re going to do Step Up 5, right?
We shall see. [Laughs]