On the lot at Shepperton studios in Surrey, England, where the roads are named after British cinema greats – Peter Sellers Way, David Lean Drive – producer James Richardson is explaining why there’s nothing wrong with aping Hollywood now and then. ‘Why do we [Brits] always make films where we go for the grey and miserable?’ he wonders. ‘I’m not knocking them – I’ve made some of those films – but this one, StreetDance, is about fun.’
Richardson’s Vertigo Films is best known for blokey titles like The Football Factory, but a couple of years ago he had a revelation. ‘I went to the UK Street Dance Championships and saw this whole world open up to me,’ he explains. ‘I thought: This is amazing. It’s British and it’s fun. And I thought: Why has the UK not done a dance film with that same glossy look and feel as a Hollywood film?’
Like Save the Last Dance, Step Up and the rest, StreetDance 3D hinges on the kind of plot – ballet boy meets hip hop girl, but can they learn to dance together? – some might call cheesy, but Richardson calls ‘uncynical, aspirational and uplifting’. The film has benefited from fortuitous timing. The idea was first floated in May 2008, but as the production got moving, the dance groups Richardson had clocked on the underground scene – Diversity and Flawless – backflipped into the mainstream via reality TV’s Britain’s Got Talent. He also decided to use British urban artists for the soundtrack, many of whom have conveniently since scored number one hit singles. Add to that the fact that StreetDance is the first UK film to be shot in 3D and that’s a whole lot of zeitgeist going on.
To get that glossy MTV look, Vertigo hired directing duo Max Giwa and Dania Pasquini, who made their name doing pop promos for Craig David and So Solid Crew. ‘I think ours is a real family film,’ says Pasquini. ‘Popcorn and fizz, as we call it,’ adds Giwa. ‘There’s no guns and violence. All our dancers are the real deal and they’re nice, clean-living young people and that’s refreshing,’ says Pasquini.
In the canteen, a converted bus where they’re serving plum tart and custard, we bump into one of those clean-living dancers. Kenrick Sandy started out teaching hip hop to unengaged kids in east London and now finds himself choreographing for a major British film. ‘To get from there to here – it’s definitely a blessing,’ he says. ‘I hope it’s not a one-off.’
At ‘A’ stage they’re setting up the film’s finale, a dance competition (of course), and crew are clustered around the monitors, donning 3D glasses to check out the effects. The 3D team has come over from LA to show everyone the ropes. You have to change the way you shoot – fewer close-ups, more emphasis on depth and layers. And you have to keep the shots clean: one small prop in the foreground would instantly distract everyone’s attention.
Richardson had been wanting to try out 3D for a while and is amazed this is the first non-US feature to do it. ‘3D is brilliant,’ he enthuses. ‘This is not just about glossy Hollywood special effects. If we were to take kitchen-sink drama and shoot it in 3D, it would be wonderful.’
More to try
1 Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)
We love, love, love this film, a documentary about public primary schools kids in New York City learning to ballroom dance. Smile as the naughty boys who thought they were too cool for it start to bust moves that Bruce Forsyth would be proud of.
2 Save the Last Dance (2001)
The film responsible for the ongoing spate of dance competition movies remains the one to beat, setting off the trend for thrilling ballet-meets-hip-hop mashups.
3 Bring it On (2000)
Okay, technically it’s a cheerleading movie, but the routines are a crowd-pleasing blend of dance and acrobatics. It even features cinema’s greatest sadistic choreographer, Sparky Polastri.