Exclusive Interview: ‘Footloose’ Director Craig Brewer

7848865.jpgIf you think Craig Brewer an unusual choice to direct a remake of Footloose, you’re not alone. The man behind such gritty, provocative films as Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan was himself vehemently opposed to the idea of revisiting the avowedly cheesy 1984 dance drama – that is, until a bunch of dead bugs helped convince him otherwise. In an exclusive interview, affable, Memphis-based Brewer discussed his surprisingly intense devotion to the original Footloose, and why he feels the remake fits comfortable alongside the other films in his canon.

A lot of directors would recoil at the thought of remaking a film like Footloose. How did you react when you were first approached?

Oh, I recoiled. Several times I recoiled. The first time was when I read that they were doing it. I was, like many others, thinking that it was going to be kind of terrible. Why would they need to do that? It’s a classic movie; they’re gonna ruin it. And [I recoiled] again when my agent called and said, “They’re not making that movie. They want you to make it.” And I said, “No, it’s a pass. I can’t do Footloose. Why would you want to do Footloose?” It was the most important movie of my young adult life. I couldn’t see how it could be updated, how it could be relevant. And I said no. He said, “Well, would you read the script they developed?” And they sent me the script, and I was like, “No!” The script was nothing like the original. So I again told them no.

I’m on my way to this bachelor party down in New Orleans, from Memphis – a friend of mine for years is getting married. I’m on that long bridge that’s over the swampland, and I get a call from the president of Paramount, Adam Goodman, and he’s like, “I refuse to accept your pass. Why do you keep passing on Footloose?” We kind of got into it right there. I said, “Look, I appreciate you calling me and everything, but why are you guys wanting to remake Footloose? Is this just a money grab?” He said, “No. We think that there needs to be a teenager movie that has these same ideals, and that’s why we want you to do it the way you would do it. How would you do it?” And I was like, “Well, I’d do Footloose. I wouldn’t try to reinvent it in any way. I’d try to make it more relevant., but I just couldn’t see how to do it.”

Then there were all these bugs coming out of the swampland that were hitting my windshield. I’d got a rental and I hit the windshield wiper with the fluid spray, but there was no fluid spray, so it smeared all the bug guts across my window and I couldn’t see through it. So all the oncoming traffic, the headlights would light up my car, and I really felt like I could crash into them at any minute. And that’s when I got the idea. [The accident] was always alluded to in the movie, but I never saw this crash. I never saw the moment where these teenagers hit another car, but I didn’t see that tragedy. It’d heard about it; it was an afterthought to a law that was already in place in this conservative town. But the idea of trauma, and a small town dealing with that trauma and being very reactionary and to some extent over-reactionary, bringing in all these rules and laws to protect their kids, suddenly that seemed to me much more relevant that even in 1984. So by resisting [the project] and fighting with them, I really saw a way to bring it to a modern audience and yet still be in the mythology of Footloose. I wanted fans to be tapping their feet to Kenny Loggins and singing along, but then they get hit with this truck. I wanted fans to go, “What? Oh, that’s right.” After that, everything started to fall into place.

Did you wonder why they were so ardent in pursuing you? You don’t immediately strike me as the first choice for a project like this.

I think the problem that most people have – and I totally get it – is they see my movies and they have a memory of Footloose that I think is somewhat skewed. I was telling someone the other day, “Well, I made this movie about this girl that experiences a really traumatic event in her life and so she starts screwing around with this guy and being really self destructive. She tries to kill herself almost twice.” And they were like, “Is that Black Snake Moan?” And I was like, “No, no. It’s Footloose.” When you started saying those things, you’re thinking, yeah, but it was Footloose. It was cheesy and fun. Sure it was, in places, but that movie was hard. There was some harshness to it that I specifically remember. I was 13 [when I saw it]; it shocked me. I think when Adam Goodman took over the studio, he was like, “I don’t want a cheery, Glee version of Footloose. I want what Footloose was.”

I know a lot of people are like, “The guy who did Hustle & Flow is doing Footloose?” But I think once they see my Footloose – and even when they see the original Footloose – they can kind of get it a little bit more. In my movies I’ve explored religion and family and music, and the thought of music as exorcism for the bad things in your head – I think that started with Kevin Bacon dancing away in a warehouse. That movie was in my heart; I knew every frame of it.

You take great care in this film to create a sympathetic portrait of the villain, played by Dennis Quaid. Was that a priority for you?

That was important to me. I didn’t want to necessarily demonize faith, either, because I felt that if we did that, it wouldn’t feel authentic to today. I mean, I’m sure there are extreme churches out there and everything, but most people when they go to church, they’re dealing with religious leaders that genuinely care about their community. They’re not just trying to be evil guy trying to keep people from dancing cause they’re worried that they’re going to hell. I didn’t want this movie to be about that. I didn’t want them thinking that the reason we’re stopping these kids is because it’s a sin to dance.

There’s a lot of merit in dancing being destructive. I’m 40 this year, and I remember Dirty Dancing coming out. It was around the time I was in high school, and everybody was dirty dancing. I remember: You got with your girlfriend, you faced her, you put your crotch up against her crotch, and you started grinding up and down. At least when we were doing that back in the day, I was looking at the girl in the eye, but now girls are rubbing their asses up at the crotches of boys, and it literally is what our grandparents said rock and roll was: It’s sex standing up. I look at that and I think, well, I’m sure that’s awesome and fun, but is there any sort of, like, damage that’s happening here? [Laughs] And that’s when I’m like, when did I become this guy who thinks like that? But now I do. If I saw my daughter doing that, I’d be like, “Wait a minute. Come here young lady, I need to have a talk with you.” That’s just because I’m a dad now.

Do you plan on doing Tarzan next?

I hope so. I just turned in the script and the studio’s reading it this weekend. We’ll see what they think.

Will it be a straightforward take on the character?

Sort of. It’s definitely of the era. It’s not like a modern take of it. There’s no hip-hop in it. [Laughs] I was very much into the books when I was younger and loved the movies. Something that Footloose taught me is that you have to make a new movie, but you also have to take into account the fans of the original. Well, Tarzan has got so many different types of fans. There’s people that loved the Disney movie. There’s the people that loved Greystoke. There’s the people that loved the Weissmuller black-and-whites. There’s the people that don’t like any of that; they like the books. There’s people that like the comic books. There’s a lot of people to please with that movie.

Yourself most of all, right?

Right. And I gotta say, I think I wrote the best script I’ve ever written on this Tarzan movie. I hope I’m able to do it.

Footloose opens everywhere tomorrow, October 14, 2011.