Interview with Jon Chu

Jon Chu is best best best know for directing the movies “Step Up 2: The Streets” and “Step Up 3D.”  His next project is “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never”, which is done in 3D as well.  Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Jon about working on the “Step Up” series.

Click here to purchase the films from the “Step Up” series

Mike Gencarelli: The 3D dance scenes feel like a perfect fit for “Step Up 3D”, was it difficult to shoot?
Jon Chu: Yes and No.  We have some of the best dancers in the world.  So in a way we are loaded with amazing amazing talent.  Yes it is difficult because technically there is a lot of things that go along with 3D.  We are not on a green screen stage.  We are out in real locations in New York.  There are a lot of things that can go wrong.  But also what is more challenging is creativity. You have to figure out how to communicate dance and emotion in the story with the new tool of 3D and how can 3D actually enhance that story telling.  There is the choreography of not just what is in the frame but of the frame itself.  Every step of the way, whether it is costumes, lighting, choreography or acting inside these dance numbers, we have to re-configure it for how can we test the 3D in this way.  I think it just takes time and more thinking. But for me that is more fun to make a movie like that.

What was your favorite dance scene in “Step Up 3D”?
JC: I mean each one is so different and great.  Although I do love our 2 1/2 minute oner with our Gene Kelley/Fred Astaire-like dance number.  Our remix version was a little crazy but I loved it.  That was not on a backlot, that was in a real New York street.  These kids are 15 and 16 year of kid dancing like that with zero cuts for 2 1/2 minutes.  When we got the shot on the 17th take of it, the whole set exploded.  I will never forget working on tthat scene.

One of my favorite was the battle scene in the water, who came up with that idea?
JC: Our concepts for each of the battles, we wanted to do the elements of the earth.  The first one we wanted to do earth and fire.  The second we wanted water and wind.  The fire ended up gettingcut from the movie so we just had the earth in the first.  For the second, we had these huge gigantic fans and it became to much craziness, so we took out the wind.  So we only had the water part [laughs].  The final battle was suppose to be energy and light, which we were able to get both.  The water was definitely a plan.  We dealt with water on “Step Up 2”, but that was raining.  It was from the top down for that and for this it was from the bottom up.  It was a whole new experience.  We had to build that fountain in the set, which was an old bank.  We had to build in the plumbing for it as well.  We had to have clean water coming in and out of it, for sanitary purposes obviously.  Our cameras where these new 3D cameras, which did not have water protection on them.  We are going old school just wrapping them in whatever we could, like saran wrap.  The technicians are freaking out screaming “You cannot get these million dollar cameras wet”.  I was like “We have insurance right, just keep going”.  They were constantly wiping the lenses.  We figured we are doing a 3D movie, we are young, we have a fan base that is going to love this movie and we wanted to go have fun and push it for them.  We have an opportunity to plan in the sandbox, maybe more than some other movies so we wanted to go there.

Did you feel any pressure to amp up the dance numbers in “Step Up 3D”?
JC: Oh yeah for sure. We knew if we were going to come back and do this in 3D, everything needed to be amped up.  But luckily I met so many new dancers and each of them has their own individual weapon.  So when you go from 60 dancers in “Step Up 2” to 250 dancers in “Step Up 3”, you have a whole new arsenal of weapons to go after.  We tried to build each segment around that arsenal, whomever was on the stage at the time.  Even the different battles had different dancers.  We had different people with different skills going out there.  That made it very interesting for us to play with.  It also changed the way we moved the camera.  When you have the robot guy going at it, you go not want the camera moving around a lot, you want his little movements to be telling that story.

The soundtrack is so critical in these films, do you have any pull with the songs?
JC: Yeah we worked really closely with our music department.  Music is a huge part of our movie.  It forms the dance and the dance forms the music.  We are constantly getting stuff throwing out at us, even when we were writing the script to see what inspires us.  While we are shooting they were giving music to us and we are throwing music back at them.  Ultimately our movie lies between all of that.  Especially when we are remixing things.  It is a really big part of our movies.

I hear there are plans for a fourth in the series called “Step Up 4Ever”, would you be involved?
JC: I think so yeah.  I have read and seen some things.  I am not sure what I am allowed to say.  But I think we have an opportunity to do more and to switch it up and try some new things.  Maybe stuff we haven’t been able to do in the prior movies.  At this point, I think I will be around but not directing though.  But we’ll see how that goes.

Click here to purchase the films from the “Step Up” series

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