Craig Brewer is – from all accounts – one of the biggest fans of Footloose in the world. So in that way he seems like safe hands for the remake of the Kevin Bacon teen favorite from 1984. But for those who’ve seen his previous films (Hustle and Flow, Black Snake Moan) you might think he’d take it to darker places. And what’s surprising about his take is that it’s very faithful and PG in its approach. We talked to Brewer about the film. his film, and Kevin Bacon. Check it out.
I’m curious what was your writing relationship like with Dean Pitchford – he having written this so long ago – as you’re both credited. Was there anything he wanted to fix?
I didn’t meet Dean until after I finished my script. The only reason why we share screenplay credit is I did exactly what I told them I would do, I took his script and kept some things, and changed other things. When I write my scripts I have two corkboards that are filled with twenty-five index cards, so it’s fifty cards. So I write my movie across those cards. And I choose a color, Hustle and Flow was yellow, Black Snake Moan was Blue, and I just did Tarzan – Green.
They only make so many colored cards. I made a certain code, I was going to do Footloose in white, except the scenes I was going to keep and those were in blue, as in true blue. So if you looked at my boards you could see that it was white and blue and white and blue. Because there’d be something like “the angry dance” That’s a blue card. The city council scene, that’s a blue card, but this wreck at the beginning of the movie? That’s a white card following a blue card of the dancing feet. So even if there were a little bit different, there’d be a card.
At a certain point I didn’t want to move forward until Dean read the script. And he read it and he loved it, and he knew I was a huge fan of the original. I call myself a Footloose-ologist, I know everything there is, and he felt that. I came from theater. I was also very emotional about the whole thing. I know he gets it a lot but he made something that was so important to me. And now I’m a writer, and I don’t know if I’ll ever make something that is that important to somebody, but I needed Footloose when I was thirteen, I know there’s a lot of people who needed it at that age. And we’ve become really close, he’s a good guy. I think the world of him.
So when you’re looking at the board, with the blue and the white, did you ever look at the board and think “this is going blue, blue, blue” or white, white white, did you think about the patterns of it?
All I did was try to figure out what would make Footloose a little more relevant to today. And the first thing I thought about what’s the same different for me from when I was thirteen, because it wasn’t just the music and the dancing. There had to be something else that was working on me.
And I think it’s my experience, I’m from a small town in the South, my parents moved around a lot, and I was always in bigger cities, Chicago, Orange County. When I would go back home to the South I was a bit of a weirdo. I was listening to Prince on my Walkman, and had mousse in my hair. I had this one Michael Jackson zipper jacket from Beat it, which I bought at Merry-Go-Round, I don’t know if you guys know it but it’s a store that they had back in the eighties, where you’d go to buy leather ties with piano keys on it. And I’d go home to the south and all my uncles and cousins would look at me weird, and that was my connection to Footloose, that was my connection to it – I always thought it took place in the South, it wasn’t until I got older that I was like “oh, that’s more Midwest.”
But I found though that now I’m a parent, I’ve got two kids, and I’ll hear my wife say “Wren” (Wren with a W) “Wren just fell down” And I now it’s just a scraped knee, but I immediately go to “death.” I mean it’s a strange thing, it just changes you being a parent – I used to not think this way. And now I do, and it’s just these kids – they hold my heart in ransom. And I understand these parents now, and this tragedy, and if we made the tragedy early in the movie and how it affected the movie in the small town, and it made this ban on parties and congregating necessarily fanciful, I think it made it more relevant than it did in ’84.
Did you see the original script they had for the remake? How did you feel about it?
I always want to be respectful to other writers or directors, so I don’t have anything bad to say about it, and who’s to say those versions would work if they were ultimately realized? What I can speak to is that the team that was making High School Musical was making Footloose, and there was a particular swell of that kind of content at the time. Glee was taking off, American Idol was huge, so I can understand why the studio would want to go in that direction.
But when they parted with that and came to me, they knew I was a huge fan of Footloose and I remember I passed on it twice, I said “no it can’t be done, Footloose is a classic” all the sh*t I hear people say to me now, that I retweet for my mental sanity. Good and bad, I’m just sending it back out there.
I guess I tried to remind them of what was in the original. “So you’re cool with me having the character smoke, drink, have underage sex, have boyfriends beat their girlfriends?” And they were like “what?” I was like “it was in Footloose. It was all in there.” In fact I guarantee if that first Footloose came out now it’d be R, and I’m not saying they’d change a thing on it – when I submitted my first cut to the MPAA it came back R because of two lines from the original that I had to change. So everyone views that first Footloose through rose tinted glasses, that’s why it was so shocking for me as a thirteen year old. “If I’ve got a problem in high school I have to jump on a tractor and run into them?”
What was it like casting Kenny Wormland and Julianne Hough in these role?
Kenny is that surprise for everybody, because I think everyone’s like me thinking “how can anybody replace Kevin Bacon?” And I understand that, but it’s a little bit arrogant. It’s arrogant for me to say to thirteen year olds, “you have to have the exact same experience I had when I was thirteen.”
I remember going to see the new Karate Kid in Memphis Tennessee, and it was an audience filled with thirteen year old African-American boys and girls, and they were all wearing the same shirts so they must have been part of the same school or church. They were all cheering and loving it. And I said to my wife “what, do I have to turn around and tell them they have to love Ralph Macchio?” You can’t look at Jayden and connect to him? What are we going to do? Are they not going to have that narrative arc experience?
I think when I got Kenny in front of me, and auditioned him, I found he had a connection, he understood Ren McCormack, he lived Ren McCormack, and Footloose meant as much to him as it did to me. And I really wanted soldiers in the effort of Footloose, I wanted people who didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, I wanted people who understood the spirit.
What do you wish from this movie?
I’ve been on this tour, and showed it around America, and I’ve showed this a number of times, and at every intro I ask “raise of hands who hasn’t seen the original Footloose?” You’d be surprised, it’s half the audience that raises their hand. But there’s a minute where I have to let the audience grumble. “How can you have not seen Footloose?” I can understand thirteen year olds, but you’d be surprised there’s a lot of older people.
My wish is that people who’ve never seen Footloose are going to get the same feeling I had when I saw the original. I felt inspired, I felt a sense of camaraderie, I experienced a friendship that I could be from someplace else I could bump into someone from someplace else and be best of buds. I want them to have the experience I had with my family.
My family loves Footloose, they let me hear the S word or the F word – whatever was in it – because they believed there was a moral they believed in, and they shared in that joy with me. And it’s particularly special because a lot of people who saw it back in the day have kids. We’ve got teenaged kids even. And it’s a special thing to adults when I reveal the VW bug in my movie, and lean down to their kids to say “that’s from the original.” It’s the one thing that I didn’t have in my original experience. I had my dad, but now we have people like us who know the original, and we feel we’re somewhat a part of this. We tried to pepper in visual nods along with dramatic nods to the original.
Did you feel nervous about the dance sequences?
Not at all, I felt very comfortable with those. The only thing we were worried about was that we wanted it to be amazing dancing, but we didn’t want it to look choreographed. We didn’t want it to look like everyone’s moving in unison, except for the line dancing song where everyone’s moving in unison. Hustle and Flow, Black Snake Moan, I feel like I get music moments, so those were fun for me. I was more worried about “are people going to get into the friendships?” “Are people going to connect to Ariel and her conflict?”
We hear you wrote a part for Kevin Bacon.
It’s not true. In one of my first drafts I wrote a character that was Ren’s Deadbeat dad. And the studio came to me and said “is there any role for Kevin?” And I said the only role I see for him – I don’t see him playing the preacher or the uncle – but if he wanted to play the deadbeat dad… and Kevin’s been supportive of the whole thing.
Has he seen it?
No, he’s filming in Boston. But he passed on the part because he felt that it would hurt the movie, so I cut it out of the script, and he was right. We didn’t need it. Tarzan!
Footloose opens October 14. Check it out.