Five Favorite Films with Footloose Director Craig Brewer
The Hustle & Flow writer/director explains why he took on the 1980s remake.
Brewer filming on location for Hustle & Flow
RT: Let's talk about Footloose.
Craig Brewer: You know, I kept Footloose out. I kept it out, but I would put Footloose up in there. Really, Footloose is one of the most important movies of my life.
No kidding. Alright, well, let's get the basics out of the way: how did you come to work on the Footloose remake?
I got a call. I got a call from Adam Goodman, head of the studio. [laughs] He was like, "You gotta do Footloose." I had passed on it already, because -- I'm sure, like a lot of fans of Footloose -- how can you possibly dare to think that Footloose could be redone, and why would you want to do that? He said something to me that really clicked. He was like, "Well, listen, I think that you're the person to do it. I think that the kinds of stories that you've been wanting to tell and the movies that you've already made actually are in the spirit of the original." And they were very protective of the original; they weren't in it just to make a money grab off of the title, because this is actually one of Paramount's smaller movies. So they really wanted to do it for the heart, and they put that in my court to run with.
I knew that if I figured out one thing, that it would all click into place, and that is the big MacGuffin, which is the whole, "How can you do a movie about a town banning dancing?" When I figured it out, I called up Adam, and I said, "Okay, here's how the movie begins," and I started telling him the movie, and within 10 minutes he's like, "You did it. That's how we're going to do Footloose."
In the original movie, they don't talk about why the town banned dancing until about an hour in. Up until that hour, we as an audience believe that it's about Hell, like, they don't want their kids dancing because they don't want them to burn in the fiery pits of Hell, right? That's kind of what you're feeling. And then later you go, "Oh my god, there was this bad accident that killed the preacher's son, the older brother of this girl that's kind of suicidal, screwing around with guys she shouldn't be screwing around on." To me, that is more relevant than Heaven and Hell. To me, I feel we're in a country right now that overreacts for the right reasons. We overreact in the wrong way for the right reason. We love and we care for our kids, we want the best for our fellow man, we don't want harm to come to us. Therefore, the following laws need to be passed, so we don't even have the risk of this happening, ever.
I felt that if I could, at the beginning of the movie, give some context to this town, then the religious part of it would be taken out of it, and therefore I could focus on the religious elements in the movie that I think are better applicable to a modern South. I don't like demonizing religion. I grew up with faith in my life, I grew up in church, and I've criticized it. I mean, you've seen my movies; it's not necessarily like I'm a Christian poster child, but there's Christian themes in all of my movies. I mean, Black Snake Moan, I got the idea for that from the book of Genesis, you know? And so, I wanted to make a movie where, to some degree, you understood where Reverend Moore was coming from. You know, I'm a father now, so I saw where he was coming from, and I knew that if I just, at the beginning of the movie, established that, where the one thing where people were like, "This just makes no sense. Why would you have a law banning dancing?" Well, let me tell you, when people watch the first five minutes of the movie, I think they get it, and they move past it, and they're able to enjoy the movie and actually find that it's relevant to this day.
You know, before I saw your film, I actually did rewatch the original Footloose, and this was, in fact, one of the problems I had with the original. Watching yours, I was surprised by how much this change altered the tone of the movie as a whole, for me.
Right, right. I'm glad you got to see them back-to-back, and I wish more people would treat this remake that way. I'm not here to replace that movie. I really want it to be a companion piece. That was the 1984 version of these things. You know, Dean Pitchford, who wrote the original, he's co-screenwriter on this, because I really wanted a lot of the story to remain intact. I had great respect for the original Footloose; I'm not going to rethink it. I don't want Ren going to bars, or Afghanistan to teach people how to dance; I want the same story. But it felt like in the South, now we get to deal with things that everybody at least thinks about with the South, this polarization, that they don't want people coming in and telling them how to live their lives, you know, or changing what faith put in place, the whole red state/blue state thing. And now, I feel like our times are more polarizing than ever, because of those things. So I felt like, if I could just get on board with that element of it, then it was going to be a movie that doesn't seem out of place next to Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan.
Yes, at first glance, people might look at you directing this film and think, "Wow, this is a huge departure for him after Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan...?
And what do you think, after having seen it?
After having seen it, I don't think that's necessarily the case, because it's got that musical element, it's got the Southern setting, it's got those themes of morality and redemption, which seem to exist in all of your films.
I totally give that to the original, though. That's what people don't realize. If you want to understand where Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan came from, I grew up with Footloose. I grew up with Flashdance. I grew up with Urban Cowboy. An Office and a Gentleman. These movies of the 1980s that were kind of "pop" movies, they had a hard edge to them. You know, Prince hauls off and smacks Apollonia after she gives him a white guitar. You know, Ariel takes a pipe to her boyfriend's truck. These are some tough movies; they don't make teenager movies like those any more. People are afraid. If Footloose, the original, came out today, I think it'd be rated R. It's got kids smoking pot, it's got underage sex, you got kids in bars drinking beer, and luckily, Paramount allowed me to keep all that. I was like, "Can I at least have it be as taboo as the original that plays on VH1? I mean, I'm not even going to do anything extra, but can I at least do what Footloose did?" Because that alone, people forget, was kind of hard. I think that they remember Footloose through watching music videos on VH1 "Remember the '80s" or something like that, but I saw a movie that was kind of hard. Let me tell you, I remember the gasp in the theater when Lori Singer said, "I'm not even a virgin." I remember it. People were like, "Ohh!" And now, they do the same thing this year. When I watch this version with a big crowd, an audience, "Ohh!" And it's like, "Haven't you guys seen Footloose? [laughs] Haven't you seen Footloose? Don't you know this moment happens?" They forget, like, "Oh my god, I can't believe she said that."
Speaking of which, it struck me how similar your film is to the original in some respects, and yet how it manages to avoid feeling outdated. Was it you who was responsible for bringing on Dean Pitchford?
Yes, yes. I had lunch with two people after I decided to do it, the first being Craig Zadan; he's one of the producers on it, and he produced the original film. I said, "Listen, I know everybody's wanting me to update and change it up and all this kind of bullsh**, but you need to know from me that's not going to happen completely with me, because I love Footloose, and I think that there's a way to show Footloose to a new audience -- and to its old audience -- to say, 'There are certain things that you loved about it, and it's not just Kenny Loggins singing that song. You loved Willard. You loved the friendship that was happening between these guys. We all want to feel like we could be chubby, or skinny dorks, and at the end of that movie, we're dancing, and people are cheering and applauding and cracking up, because that's what the spirit of Footloose was.'"
And then I met with Dean. Dean read the script that I wrote -- and I was very nervous about Dean reading it -- and I said, "Dean, look, they tried to remake Footloose a couple of times, and the scripts that they made... No disrespect to them, but it was just a different direction than I wanted to go in." You know, they were changing things about it, and I told him. I was like, "Listen, I took your original script, and I made my version of it, but it's you and me, buddy, and if you don't like this script, then we're not going to make it." But he was very emotional about it, in a very good way, and he said, "I see that you loved its heart." And we just recently screened it for him, and it was probably one of the greatest nights of my life because -- it's weird -- I met a man who was instrumental in my growth; he just didn't know it. [laughs] So I had to tell him that; I was like, "Look, you need to know. I know you're looking at Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan, but Footloose made me who I am. This is my way of saying 'thank you,' and I hope that you approve," and he loved the film. I think I made the right decision, just like I think J.J. Abrams, when he did Star Trek, he made the right decisions. We need to give places in this movie where people can feel like they've seen things from the past, of the movies that they love, but it's in a new version that feels relevant and cool.