is writer-director drawn to films with music as the underlining drive, while revealing the grit into a group or society. He is best known for his break out hit Hustle and Flow, which he wrote while working at Barnes and Nobles and later directed. He lives in Memphis,Tennessee and lobbies for most of his projects to be filmed in Tennessee, “I guarantee you I'm the only person in Hollywood fighting to make a movie in Tennessee.” Brewer has become a Memphis hero and solidifies the status with his latest project,
The remake of Footloose was initially linked to High School Musical director Kenny Ortega, with an obvious tween/musical guarantee. Brewer had turned down the project at first but once he was given creative power, Brewer made it his own.
“I figured out a way to make the whole movie work and even make it mine, make it a Craig Brewer movie. I knew before I said yes. You need to know how much you are laying yourself across the railroad tracks. This train will hit you. It will hurt. This movie is going to really hurt because you have two burdens to carry. One, make the movie good. You have to clear that hurdle, but even if you clear that hurdle, you’ve got this wall of hate that’s gonna come at you because you dare to remake something that some people deem a classic or dare to remake something that people call a piece of crap. You can’t win either way, so I knew early on what to expect. “
Footloose is a departure for Brewer in some respects, given his past films tell stories of struggles in the Hood, and the Blues Music scene, far from the teenager angst genre. Brewer met with a new contributor for Design Tonic, Sophorn McRae in Memphis, to talk more about his work.
DESIGN TONIC: It’s clear you are a great storyteller. How did you choose filmmaking as your medium?
CRAIG BREWER: I grew up in theater and I grew up being in a lot of plays, and I was born in 1971, so I was 6 when Star Wars came out. It was a perfect time to be a 6 yr. old boy. I fell in love with movies, but I didn’t know there was someone called a filmmaker and this person actually made the film until Michael Jackson’s Thriller came into my life. I really was into Michael Jackson, and I kind of collected all things Michael Jackson. One of things that I got was a copy of Michael Jackson’s Thriller: The Making Of. I remember suddenly seeing John Landis directing Michael Jackson and telling him what to do. My dad brought me to The Raiders of the Lost Ark,.. Jaws. Then more and more we started seeing filmmaker’s movies. We weren’t just seeing movies. I remember my dad coming home saying “That guy Steven Spielberg has a new movie coming out called E.T.” From then on, I got the bug. I want to be “the guy in charge”,telling a story that thrilled people. I knew I wanted to do that. I wanted to write. I wanted to direct. I wanted to have beards and baseball caps just like them. I think I needed them at that time in my life. I was kind of an awkward kid at times. A little bit chubby and some kids would make fun of me. Oh well, you know, directors don’t have to be good-looking. They can be hairy and fat really and do quite well.
So, it was a childhood love of film that started it all.
Yes, it was, but I think, and I see this with my son, it was actually a love for my dad. Everybody has their way of connecting with their own parents, and for some people, it’s sports. The dad will go out and toss the ball with their kid. There’s a way they can communicate and love each other through that sport but films are so much cooler, because my dad was intellectual, smart, and funny. He had a particular type of humor about him. When we would watch movies constantly, and it was our way to debate the world and world issues,human problems,love, temptation and all that kind of stuff. And music, I remember the first time I saw James Brown perform, the first time I saw Aretha Franklin and John Lee Hooker, and Booker T and the MG’s was in Blues Brothers. It was this movie my dad and I were just cracking up watching it, but it had all these great musical performances by these soul singers. That was my introduction to them. I bought more of their albums because I was such a fan of Blue Brothers.
Have you define your style? How do you want it to be interpreted or not interpreted?
I don’t know if I’m going to call it a crisis yet but I’m definitely at this point where I’m examining what that style is. Because you don’t set out necessarily to have one, but then suddenly you’ve got it. So you start seeing little bits of yourself in all of your work, and if you do it enough, you’ll begin to revolt against it. Obviously, everyone brings up music, and music is a big part of my creative process. I get an idea for a movie then I start collecting a playlist of music, and I hang out in my office, [typography font="Cabin" size="25" size_format="px" color="#f58b0a"]I blare the music, turn the lights off, turn on the Christmas lights, and I just start imagining this movie in my head[/typography] and giving it a soundtrack, and it becomes real to me. It’s like I’m watching a trailer in my head, and then it’s time for me to do the same thing with movies. I put together a playlist of movies then I watch them with the counter on. You can actually see how minutes you are into your movie.
Brewer’s style is evident in the beginning scene of Footloose as the teenagers dance across the screen to the original Kenny Loggins' song. In the new Footloose the tragic accident that prompts the town to ban dancing while drowning out the music, is (tastefully) shown. The town's reaction (led by Rev. Moore, convincingly played by Dennis Quaid) doesn't seem quite as unwarranted. Brewer, immediately suggests that the parents are trying to protect their children, by any measure.
One can’t seem to help compare the Footloose remake to the original?
Sure, I encourage it.
I assume you loved the original. Did you make sure to keep certain things the same?
Yes, I loved the original. I know every frame of the original. I had micro things I wanted to do with it like I wanted to make his outfit look like the original or the car gets back in or these lines get used. But the macro picture, I should just do Footloose. I should do as much of the original script as I can and change it to make it relevant today and relevant to me. I tried to make it alive and relevant. It was done so well back in the ‘80’s that I think it needed to be retold. There are many purists out there who argue, “Why not just watch the original.” Well, that doesn’t happen. I know a lot of people haven’t seen Footloose and especially teenagers, so I really wanted them to experience that same type of movie. I didn’t want to keep that narrative from them just because there was one that already existed. I know it’s Kevin Bacon’s movie but Dean Pritchard wrote the script. I think it’s a timeless script. I think it can work in another generation. Once I got past that, I saw my way into it. [The original] also allowed me to do things I couldn’t normally get to do in a movie. It’s an interesting dichotomy. People already know how the story’s going to end. Let me give you a big spoiler alert. They’re going to dance at the end of this movie. There were also elements where I was amazed what I could do, because of the remake. I was there in 1984. I watched the original in a theater. That moment where Kevin Bacon is dancing in the warehouse and getting rid of all of his anger was pretty awesome AND silly back in ’84. Well, we get to do an awesome/silly dance in my movie, and we’re going to try to do it the best we can. I’m going to put my own spin on it. I know it’s unrealistic. I know there aren’t teenagers blaring songs in empty warehouses trying to get rid of their anger. That’s what you go to the movies for. I also don’t fly around in X-wing fighters or Death Stars but that’s what we went to see Star Wars films.
How do you stay creative in the film process?
Robert Redford’s Academy Award winning movie Ordinary People, about a family who has two boys where one of the boys is killed in the beginning and the other boy is dealing with the pain of that sibling. This is a lot like what’s happening with Ariel and her father in Footloose. So I wanted to watch that movie to get into that kind of tone and mood. That’s the creative part of it...I need to tell this story. Let me explain this. The studio wants it all spelled out to them. They’re not “Go and figure it out and we’ll pay you money. We’ll read your script.” I had to act out the entire movie of Footloose before they even gave me the money to write the entire script. That’s just to write the script. Not to make the movie which they can then budget then cast and find out how to actually make this movie and where to spend those millions of dollars. The other part of creativity is reactive. Ok, this is all great but you need to chop 5 million dollars out of your budget. We know you love this train sequence but you need to lose the train sequence. That’s a big speed bump. You’re saying to yourself that this a perfect story, and it revolves around this one train sequence, but they’re saying, “We can’t be more clear. We can’t afford the train sequence. You can either make the movie without the train sequence or keep it your script and no one will see it.” So you’re thinking, “How am I going to do this?” I’m older now and I’ve realized there have been too many times that my ideas have been challenged and been forced to rethink them and they’ve been better, so I welcome it. I welcome a lot of notes. I welcome a lot of perspective. The other day someone gave me a note on Tarzan, one of my producers, and I absolutely said no. Then I thought about it and thought I could make it work if I did the following things. Now I’m more sold on the idea than I was before. You get more mature and you realize you can bend a little more and sometimes the bending yields better results.