film reporter

Fletcher proof that dancers know more than one step

Fox's "27 Dresses," which grossed a healthy $27.4 million during the course of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, shows that choreographers-turned-directors can do more than direct dance movies.

The romantic comedy is directed by Anne Fletcher, the latest footworker who has crossed the floor, joining the likes of Adam Shankman, Julie Taymor and Rob Marshall.

Hollywood has a long of tradition of choreographers stepping behind the camera, including Herbert Ross and Bob Fosse, but until the comeback of the musical this decade, it was a tradition that was on its way out.

Shankman, who worked on such movies as "The Flintstones" and "Casper" before making his feature debut with 2001's "The Wedding Planner," can list many attributes a choreographer brings to the table. But he says it all comes down to a different way of thinking.

"By the nature of what our job is, we create organization out of chaos," he says. "It's like how stunt coordinators become second unit directors: We have a natural feeling for how to visualize sequences. We do what directors don't know how to do, otherwise they would do it."

For Fletcher, it's about staging.

"It's all about where people should be and wanting to get inside the movie," she says. "I love getting the camera involved with the actors and having lots of movement. Sometimes you get trapped with the normal shooting."

Fletcher was a dancer on "Flintstones" and "Casper" and assisted Shankman on choreography in films like "Boogie Nights." She made a name for herself by coming up with the cheerleading moves in "Bring It On" and the Age of Aquarius musical number in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

It was Shankman who gave Fletcher her first shot at directing, with 2006's "Step Up," the surprise Disney hit that he produced.

Shankman and Fletcher are trying to pass the baton by hiring plenty of other choreographers and keeping them on set as much as possible so the footworkers learn everything about a production, all in an effort to groom them for a life beyond that career rung.

"It's about making choreographers, who've been beaten down for so many years, see their careers as not ending with choreography," Shankman says. "It's about seeing a bigger picture for yourself and how to get in the door."

With the newfound success of helmers like Fletcher, who already has booked her next gig with the Sandra Bullock romantic comedy "The Proposal," these up-and-comers will "have the chance to be next in line. If they want it," Shankman added.