Director reinvents popular movie

By Drew Hunt

A big of part of Hollywood is dealing with backlash. Craig Brewer, director of the films “Hustle and Flow” and “Black Snake Moan,” knows this as well as anyone thanks to his latest film, a remake of the ’80s classic “Footloose.” His version, which stars Julianne Hough and newcomer Kenny Wormold, is a generous tribute to its predecessor. But for many movie fans, remakes are a cause for alarm. The Chronicle had the chance to sit down with Brewer to discuss the nature of remakes, his personal reasons for making the film and where he thinks pop culture is headed in the 21st century.

The Chronicle: In the original “Footloose,” Ren is from Chicago; but in your film, it’s switched to Boston. Why the change?

Craig Brewer: We started going out and looking for [actors] and we did a global search. We looked for Ren McCormack in Australia, London [and] America … and then Kenny [Wormold] started auditioning. I realized that he was from Boston and he had this accent. So once I said, “It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t have to be from Chicago, he can be from Boston,” suddenly, Kenny just blossomed. I felt like I was watching a real person, not an impersonation of Kevin Bacon.

The Chronicle: So what was your reason for making the movie?

CB: I really believed we needed to have a new teenager tale that was set to what the country is going through right now. I live in the South, and there’s a little bit more of this Red State, Blue State kind of thing happening. But I knew the big question everybody would be asking is, “What’s the point? Why do ‘Footloose’ if it’s just going to be another dance movie?” which always kind of pissed me off because it’s a very seminal movie to me. When I saw the movie, I was seeing those emotional politics. I was seeing my family praying for me because I listened to “Darling Nicky.” I was seeing more of a clash between cultures and how we’re closer to each other than we put off.

The Chronicle: The movie is obviously very personal to you. It seems like you would be in the anti-remake camp for that reason.

CB: I’m not too far off from a lot of those people. There’s a wall of hate aimed at us because we’ve done this, and I have to remind myself that I used to be one of those guys. For me, it was, “‘Footloose’ can’t be done and shouldn’t be done.” I turned down Paramount [Studios] twice. There was another version before I came along, but that movie was going to be more like a dance celebration of “Footloose.” Then there was a management change, so the head of the studio called and asked if I would do it. I said I would, but I wanted to do the original “Footloose,” something more along those lines.

The Chronicle: Has your opinion of remakes changed since?

CB: There’s this wave of curiosity about remakes right now. For a guy like me, when I was working at Barnes & Noble and I was really into movies, we always got into directors. We were really into like, “Okay, Soderbergh is doing ‘Ocean’s 11.’ That’s going to be sort of cool.” I like the idea of a director doing a re-examination of something. I look at it and think, “If John Singleton is going to do ‘Shaft,’ I’m going to do ‘Footloose!’ I feel a connection to it. I’ll be honest; I didn’t see “Cape Fear” [1962] before I saw Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” [1991]. I saw it afterward. So I’m wondering if we’re in a culture now where movies are our new literature. In other words, it’s something that we can actually reference and utilize. There’re people who are brilliant at it, like Quentin [Tarantino]. I never want to say that Quentin is just remaking a bunch of things, but man alive, is he inspired by it.

The Chronicle: Right. Cinema, itself, is his subject.

CB: Yes! And I think that there is an argument that that is what we’re doing here. When someone wants to do a new production of “West Side Story,” but they want to modernize it and they want to put it in space or something, you run the risk of it not working, but you should be able to explore that. So for me, I look at “Footloose” like an opportunity. I can go, “Well, you know, there are a lot of things I want to explore here.” I think it’s where we are now. It’s a different time for creativity. And it’s going to be painful. We’re going to get some great stuff, and we’re going to get some s–t.