Step Up: Revolution expands the franchise beyond the team dance battles with an emphasis on flash mobs. Shakefire had the opportunity to sit down with the stars of the film, Ryan Guzman who plays Sean the leader of the MOB, and Kathryn McCormick, a more traditional dancer who is drawn into Sean's world, as well as Jamal Sims, the dance choreographer who has worked on all four Step Up films.
Shakefire: What kind of dance numbers are we going to see this time around? Step Up 3D was pretty ridiculous with its moves so how do you plan to top it?
Jamal Sims: Well the difference with this one is that one was more of a battle movie while this one is dance used as a voice to speak on different social situations or whatever. So the power was in the number of people and also the styles of dance. We had contemporary; we had salsa; we had crumping. We kinda used every last style we could have and incorporated it into the numbers. But we also did a lot of stuff. We used bungees. There’s some special stuff in there, which I’m all about.
SF: What did it take to film the flash mobs?
JS: We shot most of it on location and then some of it we did do in studio. We designed the flash mobs for the movie. It’s not one of those flash mobs we see on YouTube where people just go out and have these generic steps like one, two, three, four. You know what I mean? These were really designed to, well, we’re doing a dance movie so it can’t be just regular dancing. It has to be something special. We made sure that the environment, whether we used escalators or cars that were bouncing, we just had to make sure that the environments were cool enough to warrant these flash mobs and to make the 3D stand out.
That was the hard part. We went and saw so many different places. I feel like I live in Miami because we got to go to so many places just to see where we were going to shoot and what was going to be the best option for each number.
SF: How did you go about casting for the different flash mobs?
JS: It was a long casting process. Because we were able to use so many dancers we just didn’t want to have fillers. We really had to go through and find the really good dancers that had something about them even more than just being able to dance. We wanted to make sure they had something special. That was a process. That was the hardest process. And being in Miami their dance style is a little different and not as commercial as LA. If we were in LA we would have been able to cast it like that, but because we’re in Miami where they don’t shoot a lot of dance movies and you don’t have people who have a lot of experience in auditioning. Some people could audition and tank but be really good dances but just because they’ve never auditioned before they don’t know how to present themselves without being nervous. We really had to hopefully have another callback and give them another chance with some dancers.
Ryan Guzman: He’s not lying, though. It was long. I went to one of them after I got cast. I showed up because initially they were going to try and body double me. I went to this place called Alley Cat in LA and there had to be at least 600 dancers.
SF: How do you even choose? I guess you have such a trained eye you can see right off the bat.
JS: Yeah, because this is my fourth one, now I can tell in maybe two eight counts if somebody has it. I feel like I’ve gotten that good to be able to tell if they can do it or it’s not going to work. But that’s only after a certain amount of time of doing this. It’s hard. I’m a dancer first so I know it feels to be on the other side of the table and to want to do something so bad and to want to express yourself through dance and just be a part of them and the whole process. I would tell people thank you for coming and then would see them in 15 more minutes in a new outfit coming through the door going again. “I just told you thank you for coming,” you know what I mean? But I know it; I get it because it’s just like I have to be in this movie. We get a lot of that because dancers are so passionate.
SF: Did you have a favorite scene that you were proud about?
RG: Well we agree on one scene, which is our duet scene. It’s a contemporary piece between both of us that we kind of show you throughout the whole movie but we don’t show you until the end, and it’s something unbelievable that Travis Wall put together.
As far as flash mobs, it’s hard to pick one. Every single time we did one flash mob it’d be like, “This was the best one.” Then we’d do the next one and it’d be like, “Nope, this one’s the best one.” Throughout the whole movie you’re going to have that same feeling. You’re gonna feel like they can’t outdo that but then we do. It’s just unbelievable the way the choreographers put it together and how the dancers carry it out.
Kathryn McCormick: I think it’s so cool how all the flash mobs are in different settings and because of that it brings such an excitement to it, like “What are they going to do next?” and it depends on where do they go. Where is The Mob going to be? Wherever they are they have to blend in to the community around them. So I think that brings a lot of excitement and that’s why you can’t really pick a mob that’s the best because they’re all so different from the other one.
I think the contemporary duet that we do is just something new that you haven’t seen in a dance film before and to be able to express the story between Sean and Emily through that movement I think it’s just really, really powerful.
SF: Ryan, did you have to do any extra training for the role?
RG: Not really. They paired me up with Kathryn and brought me to all the other dancers, which is The Mob. I did a week of additional training right before we went to Miami with her and another choreographer. I dove into it and hopefully it worked out.
JS: Haha, it had to work. Just to say something on him, Ryan is a fighter so he knows how to move his body and he has muscle memory so picking up choreography is easy for him. He doesn’t think it is but it is. He’ll get it and he’ll have it and the next day he’ll come back and it’ll be that much better. And he has that mental attitude too. Some people who doubt themselves will never dance. The minute you can stop yourself from that you’ll start finding out that you can do a little something something.
KM: And from a partner’s standpoint, as doing contemporary where it’s a little more hands-on with each other and physical connection, it was insane because he’d be over working on the Mob choreography while I was in the other studio working on the contemporary choreography. Next thing you know they’d be like, “Alright, Ryan’s coming in. We’re going to do the contemporary duet.” He didn’t even know he was doing contemporary at first. And he came in and was a natural, once it got past the fact that there’s no personal space; I’m just gonna grab you here and lift you there and hope that my hand lands in the right place. It was like he just knew where to be a natural partner. There are times where I’ve been with people who’ve trained their whole lives and it’s not a thing that comes naturally and you have to work really hard at it to connect.
RG: See why they’re my friends? Haha.
SF: Why did you decide to go down the dance route, having previously been an MMA fighter? They seem completely different.
RG: They’re one in the same. I had no clue how hard dance was until I got in there and started doing it with them. I put it right up there with MMA as far as training wise. We would do training every day for three weeks for nine hours. On top of that I had to make myself look like I knew what they were doing so I’d go home and train with her for another three hours. It was difficult. I lost 15 pounds in the first week just from dancing. For me, dancing is fun. I have rhythm and I used to do it in the clubs and stuff like that, but never really thought about it. As soon as they introduced me to the dance world I just got engulfed by it. It was something I wanted to be a part of and I think I’ll forever be a part of it now. I’m very proud to be a dancer.
SF: Kathryn, how did working on So You Think You Can Dance train you for this movie?
KM: Being on SYTYCD you’re always paired up with different partners to tell a story. I think that’s one thing that’s really powerful and it translates into acting because you’re always given a certain situation or circumstance that needs to be portrayed for the audience to get. I realized the importance of telling stories and I started to understand how to use my background and where I came from and the experiences I had to connect with those.
One time on SYTYCD I did an army piece. I’ve never been in the army, but to be able to connect that to leaving someone you love, leaving home for the first time. So it’s digging in and finding those things you can relate to and I think that translates a ton in acting. It’s just without the voice so it’s learning how to speak on top of that.
RG: She did an amazing job in acting too. For not acting and just diving into it and being a part of a movie where everybody’s going to be judging you, she just went full out. I was impressed on some of the things I saw when I watched the movie a couple of months ago. It was amazing.
SF: There seem to be a lot of first for the both of you, as well as the directorial debut of Scott Speer. What was it like with everyone being so new to things?
KM: Scott Speer is an amazing man. I remember going into my first audition and he was so warm and welcoming. He was very opening and understanding. He loves what he does so much and that translates. It made our group a family. He’d be the person at the end of the day that would come around and tell everyone thank you or apologize for things that happened when he didn’t have to do that. He had so much on his plate. He’s just a very considerate and kind man.
There’d be even days where Ryan, Misha [Gabriel], Scott, and myself would go to Misha’s place on Sundays and work on our scenes because we all wanted it to be that good and it was all of our very first film so we wanted to put in the extra time. So to have somebody who would take his off and spend it with us because he truly believed that we could do it only made us stronger in believing that we could.
RG: I think there’s only two ways people being so new to the industry can go. One way is nobody really knows what to do, everybody’s new and they’re bouncing ideas off each other and not really sure what to do. Or, we got lucky with our way, where everybody’s so hungry and they’ve got so much to offer and so many new ideas that it creates this super, amazing type movie that we never expected it to.
JS: For me, I love new energy and Scott would say, “We’re going to do this, this, and this. What do you think about that?” as opposed to saying “This is what you’re going to do.” He knew that I had done it before and if it was somebody that didn’t know if the number was going to work before we even got there he would ask me what I thought. Just for that, I was really appreciated of him.
These two are just like, I could have never asked for two better leads. Kathryn’s ability of her background of her studying for years of dancing and then Ryan coming in and never doing it before but feeling like he’s done it for a thousand years, then to go out and throw them anything. They were just down for it. That’s something that you don’t come across every day.