Here is what the multitalented filmmaker had to say:
IAR: To begin with, since you have been a producer of the Step Up franchise since the very beginning, have you been surprised by the overall success of the series and what do you think it is about the film’s that have made them so popular with audiences?
Adam Shankman: Dumbfounded would be a better word. I’m surprised and thrilled, obviously. But I think what makes them popular is the fact that they are very good quality versions of what they are. The stars are always beautiful, the music is really good, and the dancing is great. At the center of every one of the movies there is a story about people that have been disenfranchised and find a family. So it’s easy for people to hook into it.
So you think it’s the film’s universal themes that audiences relate to, is that right?
Shankman: Absolutely! I think in some ways every single person feels lonely in certain ways and feels that way at some part of their life and especially when you hit your teen years, you might not want your family … you want a new family.
The series is also very reminiscent of the classic movie musicals from the ‘50s and ‘60s; do you that element has helped add to the popularity of the franchise?
Shankman: Very much so, that was kind of the model.
What films in particular from that era do you think have been especially inspirational to the series?
Shankman: No, it’s not any one film. You know, I grew up on these things. There is a lot of talk about how much spacing we need between each dance number, the dramatic highs and lows, and basically the musical structure. But these are essentially musicals, you know?
With the series really taking off like it has, have there ever been a shortage of ideas for sequels or do you think the franchise can just go on forever?
Shankman: It could go on forever but it is difficult because I really want the dramatic stakes to be legitimate, so I don’t like it to feel to trumped up. Finding new ways for people to keep saving the world through one dance step at a time is challenging. It’s just not common. So it is taxing, which is why it can feel familiar but so far we’ve been able to make it work.
Can you talk about adding 3D to the series with the previous film and now continuing that with Step Up Revolution? How has the 3D element enhanced or changed the franchise?
Shankman: When Step Up 3D was conceived, at first it wasn’t 3D but we kept making jokes. Then suddenly (director) Jon M. Chu said, “It should be 3D.” Then he got obsessed with that. I feel like in this newest one, with the technology today, it felt very immersive and I think that the people who did see it in 3D really got to feel the experience even more so its been really great, particularly internationally. The international numbers for the 3D films are really big. We don’t use 3D to just throw things at the audience. The 3D gives an almost live, in-person depth to the experience because you have an enhanced perspective on the dance numbers.
As a producer, how involved are you in the actual production? What is your day-to-day role on set during principal photography?
Shankman: My sister (Jennifer Gibgot) and I trade off. My sister is my partner; she is my producing partner. So on these movies, she’s there three weeks, I’m there three weeks, and we go back and forth. I tend to want to be there while they are shooting a lot of the numbers and all that, but I’m present, I’m definitely present.
Because of your background as a dance choreographer and film director, do you ever give advise on set to those department heads or do you try to step back and just let everyone do their jobs?
Shankman: I kind of step back. When I come on to the set it tends to be like having an 800-pound gorilla in the room, especially because we focus on new filmmakers and I want them to have the same experience that I had initially, which is when I started directing I didn’t have overbearing producers. They really let me do my thing, so it was only when they were overwhelmed or when they wanted advice that they would come to me and ask me. But because I’m there and because of my background, they do come and ask me a lot so I do get the opportunity to work with them and weigh in. But by and large I tend to step back.
Can you talk about working with director Scott Speer on Step Up Revolution, and why he was the perfect person to direct this installment of the franchise?
Shankman: It’s so easy because when we found Jon (Chu), he wanted to make Step Up 3D like it was the last movie on Earth. He was so excited and frankly, I was afraid that we wouldn’t find somebody like that again. But Scott has his music video background, he loves dancing, and he knows the whole dance community, so he came in with the exact same excitement. I thought, wow, he’s coming into number four with this much excitement. This is incredible. So he was a very natural fit. It had to do with the enthusiasm and the desire to make it the absolute best thing ever. These are not jobs that you can just phone in. These are not paycheck jobs. You don’t get paid a lot of money to do them. So you really, really need to do them in your heart.
When you are casting for these films, are you looking for actors who can dance, or dancers that can act?
Shankman: We try to find dancers that can act and frankly, look gorgeous on a poster. We really have to stick to that because we don’t like doubling people and it’s really hard to teach somebody who can’t dance at all how to dance. In both the case of Channing Tatum (Step Up) and Ryan Guzman (Step Up Revolution), they were guys who had really never done anything but social dancing and they metamorphosed into these incredible dancers before our eyes. But they kind of lied in the auditions and said they could dance, and then they did end up dancing really well. So those were just incredibly fortuitous strokes.
You mentioned Channing Tatum and he was virtually unknown when you first discovered him for Step Up. How pleased are you with the way his career has taken off?
Shankman: I couldn’t be more proud of him. I’m absolutely madly in love with him if for no other reason than he is just one of the greatest guys ever. He is definitely one of the nicest guys on the planet, which is why he and (his Step Up co-star and wife) Jenna (Dewan-Tatum) will never divorce because she is the nicest woman on the planet. I have no problem taking credit for their marriage.
Finally, coming off of Rock of Ages, do you know yet what your next directing project will be?
Shankman: I don’t know? I’m reading a bunch of stuff and having meetings so soon to be announced I’m sure.
Two of your last three films, Hairspray and Rock of Ages, were both feature film adaptations of Broadway musicals. Would you consider adapting another Broadway musical or would you like to direct a non-musical comedy or drama next?
Shankman: Right now I want to do a character driven comedy or dramady. I love living in a musical world and Rock of Ages was not my last musical but I’ve got to spread them out a little.
Step Up Revolution will be available on Blu-ray beginning November 27th.