Craig Brewer is the independent writer/director of such lively films as Hustle and Flow (the Oscar- winning story of a pimp who yearns to be a rapper) and Black Snake Moan (in which Samuel L Jackson kidnaps Christina Ricci – albeit for her own good). Now the Virginia-born filmmaker takes on a tricky project: reinventing Footloose for a new generation.
Craig, why remake Footloose?
It definitely wasn’t my idea. I got a call from my agent telling me that Adam Goodman, the head of Paramount, wanted me to do Footloose. And I said, ‘No, you can’t. It’s a classic. It’s probably the most important film of my youth.’ Because 1984 was a big year for me – I was 13.
So you passed on it?
I passed on it. I said, ‘We’re going to get a lot of people angry because the movie is a classic.’ But much as people like me love the original there really hasn’t been a movie for teenagers that has those kinds of characters and those kinds of ideals for a long time. Teenager fare right now is usually kind of gross comedies or action films. There hasn’t been anything like a Footloose in a long time. I finally realised that I needed to find a personal way in.
And what was that?
The biggest difference between me in 1984 and me now is that I’m a parent. I felt that if I could just do Footloose where the ban on dancing isn’t about ‘sin’, but more about a town that’s suffering from a terrible tragedy. So I thought if I could move the car wreck to the beginning of the film it would humanise the parents a bit more and feel more contemporary. Because I do think America has an over-reaction issue. I think we over-react for the right reasons, I think our heart is in the right place but every once in a while we go overboard and people’s individual freedoms are in question.
For every reason that Footloose shouldn’t be remade I found two reasons why it should. I thought it would be a big old fight. It would be a battle to make a good movie, a battle to not abandon the original, but somehow stand on its shoulders. It wasn’t a money-grab. We really wanted to make a meaningful teenage movie like Footloose was for me when I was 13.
Dennis Quaid does a great job as the preacher, but was there any temptation to cast Kevin Bacon in the part?
No, because if Kevin played that role you’d think that the Ren McCormack of 1984 had somehow lost. I like that Kevin belongs to the 1984 version of this. I’m not here to replace that movie or that performance. There was talk of him having a cameo, but I think Kevin was right in saying that he didn’t want to do that.
What made Kenny Wormald right to play the new Ren?
There were some names attached to the movie before I came onto it but I wanted the freedom to cast it with new people. When I was 13 I discovered Kevin Bacon through Footloose. I discovered Sarah Jessica Parker through Footloose. And there is something special about movies where you’re allowed to do that.
It’s harder and harder these days: you wanna sell the movie, you wanna get some stars in there. But they come with their own baggage from every other movie they’ve been in. So we did a big search. We did casting in Australia and London and all across the United States and we needed somebody new. Kenny Wormald just kept coming up. He had something unique and special: his own attitude. If I’d found an actor who’d just done a Kevin Bacon impersonation we would have messed this up.
Was it always part of the plan to use songs from the original?
I love the original soundtrack, and I knew there was a list of four songs that the audience base would really come after me if they weren’t in the movie – ‘Footloose’, ‘Almost Paradise’, ‘Holding Out for a Hero’, ‘Let’s Hear It for the Boy’. But we also changed up some of the songs a bit without taking away the magic of the original version. A good example is this one song by this 15-year-old girl called Ella Mae Bowen who made an acoustic demo of ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ – a very fast-paced, drum machine, ’80s song, but hers was slow and soulful with a country flair to it. And I remember thinking, we’ve got to somehow make our movie like this girl made this song.