MOVIES
A 'Step Up' For One Director

Anne Fletcher, a dancer turned choreographer, gets her big break with the teen dance film.

By Susan King, Times Staff Writer
August 10, 2006

Choreographer Anne Fletcher hadn't been actively looking to make the transition to film director.

"It was 'no rush,' " Fletcher said. She'd done choreography for such films as "Bring It On," "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" and "Bringing Down the House" and was "completely content."

"The thing about being a choreographer on a film is that you get to work on so many sets with so many different directors, producers, actors and genres," said the 40-year-old native of Detroit. "It's just the greatest classroom."

But then her good friend, choreographer-turned-director Adam Shankman ("Bringing Down the House," "Cheaper by the Dozen 2"), suggested her to Erik Feig, president of production and acquisitions at Summit Entertainment, who was looking for a director for a dance film, "Step Up," which opens Friday

"That's how I got called in," she said. "I said, 'Adam, what are you doing?' Of course, I am always going to take any opportunity that comes my way. That's just the kind of person I am."

Fletcher first met Shankman in 1990 when they were dancers on the Academy Awards in the "Under the Sea" number. "We fell in love," she said. "Not literally, but as friends. And I kind of took over all of the choreography when he directed 'The Wedding Planner.' "

Directing, she said, wasn't a difficult transition. "There are so many questions and they never stop ever," she said. "I mean never. But it was pretty easy. I obviously know dance on film and the acting part of it. I trained as an actor. I wanted to be a comic actor my whole life and, fortunately, Adam puts me in everything that he does."

"Step Up" stars Channing Tatum as Tyler, a bad boy with a good heart who lives with a foster family in a poor area of Baltimore. Jenna Dewan plays Nora, a prima ballerina at the Maryland School of Arts who is looking frantically for someone to replace her injured partner for the school's pivotal Senior Showcase.

Enter Tyler, who is doing community service at the school. One day Nora just happens to see him dancing with the hip-hop prowess of Usher in the school's parking lot. She decides to take a chance on him. Can romance be far behind?

Needless to say, the film isn't breaking any new ground in terms of plot. In fact, one of the film's writers, Duane Adler, wrote the story and shared screenplay credit on the similar "Save the Last Dance."

"It is a simple story," Fletcher acknowledged. "We all kind of know while we are watching it where it's going to go, but we want to enjoy the journey and experience. I want to have people feel really good after they see the movie."

Nearly a year before cameras rolled, Fletcher teamed with Grammy Award-winning music supervisor Buck Damon ("Garden State") to line up a diverse, eclectic soundtrack. "We basically spotted the script," Damon said. "We started off with her perfect style of song and then discussed what the song should have or what the feel should be like. Then we started going off demos."

"I am very picky about music," Fletcher said. "I'm a dancer. It took me a long time to approve anything. I knew what I wanted for each scene."

Though Fletcher choreographed the majority of the numbers in the film, she also enlisted the help of hip-hop choreographers Jamal Sims and Rosero McCoy to work with her on the big finale as well as a line dance in a club. They were also assigned to choreograph Tatum.

"They have a different vibe," she said of the choreographers. "They have a sense of humor about their choreography. Plus, Jamal and Channing had very similar body types. They look the same when they dance."

Fletcher also enlisted veteran cinematographer Michael Seresin, who had shot the classic 1980 musical "Fame," to be her director of photography.

"In my opinion, it's a masterpiece," Fletcher said of "Fame." "I loved the look of it because it was so rich and textured. I could literally take a spoon and eat the film because it is so rich and yummy."

Fletcher didn't think Seresin would want to do her $22-million film. But a few phone calls later, she was meeting with him in Baltimore. "We had two dinners and he completely got the movie and knew want I wanted to do. He's taken this little movie and made it look like a $50-million movie."

Casting the two leads wasn't what Fletcher expected. "I thought Tyler would be the hardest thing to cast in the entire movie," she said. "He had to be sexy and a hunk and he has got to do hip-hop. We met with Channing and danced him and we knew the second he came in he was my gold ticket."

Getting the right Nora proved trickier. "I thought the Nora part would come so quickly," Fletcher said. "I thought there had to be a million actresses out there with dance backgrounds. But it was so difficult."

Dewan, a former backup dancer for Janet Jackson who also appeared in "Take the Lead," auditioned at the eleventh hour.

"I danced her and was done," Fletcher recalled. "I said, 'I can get her to act. I know I can. She'd bust her butt off to be the best actress in the world.' "

Currently, Fletcher is in Toronto helping Shankman choreograph the movie version of "Hairspray" and waiting not-so-patiently to see how "Step Up" is received, which could dictate whether she gets another shot at directing. Because if she didn't have the bug before, she's got it now.

"We are kind of in a holding pattern until the movie opens up," Fletcher said. "The one thing that did surprise me during production more than I anticipated is how much I loved directing."

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