'Step Up Revolution' Director, Choreographers Talk Flash Mob Attraction and Former Martial Artist Ryan Guzman's Debut
Four choreographers collaborated to stage 65 dancers and flash mobs throughout Miami, while the franchise's new director watched action films to step up to the challenge.
The Step Up franchise underwent a revolution of its own to exceed expectations for its fourth film. Step Up Revolution moves the dance-centric film series from the Northeast down to Miami with a smaller budget, different production and distribution companies, a new director and fresh faces for leading roles. Such were the necessary changes to create a film that focuses on flash mobs for the first time.
“[In] a duet, you have to play off the chemistry of your partner; [in] a solo, you’re trying to captivate an audience by yourself,” So You Think You Can Dance runner-up Stephen “tWitch” Boss told The Hollywood Reporter at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre red carpet premiere last week. “In a flash mob, you have so much to feed off of!”
To harness that energy, four choreographers collaborated to create eye-popping dance numbers in crowded, common places.
“When I found out I had 65 dancers, I was like, ‘Yes!’” choreographer Christopher Scott explained of creating the film’s noteworthy flash mob sequence in the office plaza. “I love working with duets on SYTYCD, but it’s nothing like having that many bodies to be able to build the craziest visuals you can think of doing -- ripples! It was like the choreographer’s dream.”
Clips of Scott’s sequence debuted on Facebook weeks before last week’s red carpet premiere, while the introductory “car surfing” number was released days ahead of the screening in Los Angeles last week.
Despite the fun of working with so many dancers at once, choreographers sometimes found themselves with new problems to solve.
“You [usually] pretty much locate it towards that person, making sure the movements fit that person’s body. You do that through getting to know that person and getting to know that person, one on one,” explained seasoned dance flick choreographer Chuck Maldonado, who contributed highly to the film’s final number. “In a flash mob, most of the time, it’s one big mob -- if you can’t do, we’ll hide you in the back somewhere!”
“We just had to be careful that it doesn’t become corny,” added Step Up franchise vet and head choreographer Jamal Sims. “We wanted to do something that meant something, that made a statement.”
Even more so, choreographers had to be sure their creations would accurately translate onscreen and in a three-dimensional format.
“Because you’re choreographing a flash mob in a movie, it’s shot differently,” choreographer Travis Wall told THR of designing the film’s duet as well as a number with The Mob. “You have to come up with a scenario where there’s normal people around -- and know that on the set, there’s gonna be normal people around, so you have to choreograph around them, knowing that they’re not going to part of the flash mob. That’s the whole thing about a flash mob is people are unexpected by it.”
Director Scott Speer revealed that he studied a completely different genre of film to step up to the challenge of filling Jon M. Chu’s spot.
“I thought, could we bring suspense into a dance movie? It suddenly opened up this ability to structure the movie almost like an action movie or like a heist film,” he told THR. “I think that that was what really fired my creativity, like dancers coming out of a painting, dancers as statues, doing things that you’ve never seen. That was the focus -- to boost these flash mobs into heist-style takeovers.”
Aside from the ubiquitous flash mob “protest art” demonstrations, Step Up Revolution follows the budding relationship between a contemporary dancer and a local hip hop Mob member -- leading roles played by two new faces.
“When I found out it was [Kathryn McCormick], I was excited because I knew that we had a lead that can really dance,” said Maldonado of the SYTYCD alum. “She’s a blessing, she’s a sweetheart.”
Though McCormick appeared in the Fame reboot, her co-star Ryan Guzman auditioned with no previous dance experience at all. Such wasn’t a problem for the former professional martial artist who crossed over into modeling and acting.
“Ryan knows muscle memory,” Sims told THR. “Anytime he does something, he could remember it, because he’s a fighter and his muscles are used to remembering what they did.”
Guzman attributed his effective learning to the universal quality of art form altogether. “Everybody loves to watch and feel what the person dancing is feeling. You fall in love with the music and the movement and whatever you’re doing; it’s really like out-of-body experience.”
McCormick cites reality shows like SYTYCD, America’s Best Dance Crew and Wall’s upcoming series All the Right Moves for translating dance for a larger audience.
“If you’re not a dancer, so many times, you’re like, ‘Oh, dance is cool, but it’s just a hobby, something that you do when you’re little,’” said McCormick. “But these shows have made it to where people -- who would never even watch dancing or consider dancing or even understand dancing -- can relate to it. It’s such a great way to tell a story; I think it’s a really beautiful way for people to just process their lives through art.”
Step Up Revolution opens Friday in theaters nationwide.