"We live in some very snarky, cynical times right now," Craig Brewer told me over the phone last week, and he probably knows it better than anybody. The director exploded into the independent film scene when Hustle & Flow won the Audience Award at Sundance in 2005 and went on to earn star Terrence Howard an Oscar nomination; then his follow-up film Black Snake Moan divided critics as audiences ignored it outright, a tough response that left him, as he says it, "cut out of wood."
Then, somehow, the next obvious step for Brewer became clear: he was going to direct the Footloose remake, a project once imagined as a vehicle for Zac Efron with High School Musical's Kenny Ortega directing, now handed to Brewer as he both rewrote the script and prepared to direct it. It was a switcheroo that gave a lot of observers whiplash, wondering what on earth Paramount was thinking handing this family-friendly remake over to the guy who chained Christina Ricci to a radiator and helped Three Six Mafia win an Oscar for a song called "Hard Out Here For A Pimp." But wait, Brewer asked me, and says he asked the Paramount executives: When was the last time you saw Footloose? Do you remember the parts about suicide and teen sex? Do you remember how much drinking they do in it?
Probably not-- and Brewer is counting on that, as he prepares to bring Footloose this fall to a new generation that either never saw the original or only remembers it for the Kenny Loggins song and the slightly nutty idea that an entire town would ban dancing. I spent about 20 minutes talking to Brewer about his passion for the original Footloose, why he thinks it's the perfect prescription for the "snarky, cynical times" we live in," and how, in his words, "I've never personally been more confident as a filmmaker that when the lights go out and the movie starts, I know they're going to love it." Check out our conversation below, and go ahead and mark your calendars-- Footloose hits theaters on October 14. If Brewer's confidence and clearly evident passion can be believed, we're all in for a surprise.
I'm sure you're worn out doing interviews for a film so long before it comes out.
I've wanted nothing better than to talk to everybody about Footloose. I've been waiting for a while. I knew there would be a couple weeks with a lot of hate, a lot of people like "Why the hell are you doing this?" Just see the movie so we can talk about it.
I feel like the hate starts when you first sign on, and then it calms down.
Oh yeah, I knew it was going to happen. When I was filming it, I would kiss my hand and tap it on the poster of Black Snake Moan and Hustle & Flow as I passed my office to remind me that I have only known polarization. I have only known movies where it was like, "Why the hell did you do that?" I felt a certain comfort, I guess. Black Snake Moan made me cut out of wood a little bit, so I can take any criticism that comes my way.
This remake went through this huge process with all these other directors and actors attached to it. Then you came on, and it seems like you started over from scratch.
Absolutely. That's something the studio was really supportive with. They wanted me to make the movie I wanted to make, and cast the movie I wanted to cast, and use the music I wanted to use. They knew I was a huge Footloose fanatic, and i count Footloose as one of the most important films of my young adult life. So they knew that I was going to protect it, or at least protect its heart as best I could.
You're not usually the easy choice for a studio to go with. How did you get the studio to put their faith in you? Was there negotiation?
If anything the only thing that I was worried about is would they let me make the original Footloose. A lot of people remember Footloose incorrectly. I think they remember Footloose by seeing clips of it on Vh1. I was like, can I have my Footloose be as hard as Footloose? And they chuckled and said "Sure." Oh, but hang on-- when was the last time you saw Footloose? In the original, everybody's smoking pot, drinking beer, she's pulling down her pants having premarital sex. She is suicidal. She tries to kill herself in the original movie I think twice. These are things that people forget. They forget that it was a movie that really had a hard edge to it in places. They remember "Lets Hear It For The Boy" and things like that- and I think we have that sweetness in our movie as well-- but high school is a mixture of sweet and sour. That's why the movie connected back in 1984.
The original and this one are both PG-13 right?
The original was PG. If it came out today it would be R.
Is it hard to depict teenagers accurately within the PG-13 rating? How close can you get to realism, and have you had to back off?
I didn't have any worry about having to pull back or anything like that. When the rating came back it actually came back R, but the things we had to change were things that were brought up in the original Footloose. We live in different, conservative times these days. There's a lot of talk about sex in the original, and we had it too, so we had to tone some stuff down there. But it's interesting how something that can play on Vh1 in rotation from 1984 still has some problems. I feel the best I can do is try to make the region seem as authentic as possible, try to make the people seem as authentic as possible, and let the heart of the movie shine.
It seems like you're moving into a new place into your career, going from being the guy who made these small movies into a new phase.
I'd like more people to see my movies. Anybody who says they don't want it, they're lying to you. I put a lot of heart into my work, and I love them like children. When I got the opportunity to do Footloose and the opportunity to maybe redo Tarzan, I hope that I can bring people that have seen my first films, and they'll see part of me in these things. I don't think I'm necessarily putting a stopper on what I used to be. I think I'm just allowing myself to go outside of rural South or the rap game or country music. I can see myself telling stories on a bigger scale. I hope it happens, but I'm very thankful with anything I get.
Do you have the one sentence pitch to someone who's skeptical about Footloose to convince them to give it a shot?
For people who have loved my other movies, I would hope that they would trust me. I know that sounds strange but I want them to trust me that I've thought a long time about whether I should do Footloose. I think it's a story that needs to be told and an experience that needs to be experienced again. We've been going through some rough times in our country, and I think we need to go into a theater and hear Kenny Loggins' music comes up, we need to clap our hands, we need to cry, we need to laugh. At the end of this we need to feel better about ourselves and better about humanity. I know many people are going, how can you get that from Footloose? I swear to God you can.