"Fame" director Kevin Tancharoen
Coming from a dance and choreography background of his own, director Kevin Tancharoen would seem as ideal a candidate as any to helm the revamp of "Fame," the 1980 musical about a troupe of actors.
And indeed he proved to be. The 22-year-old former stage director (for Britney Spears, among others), choreographer and actor
Tancharoen discusses living up to the original while maintaining your own artistic integrity, doing remakes, and re-pairing Kelsey Grammer and Bebe Neuwirth.
The Yap: So they got you to direct the new version of "Fame." How did that happen for you?
Kevin Tancharoen: My agent called me and said "you know, the producers would like to talk to you for the remake of "Fame." I had very little expectation...I didn't think I was going to get it. And I have very strong feelings about this movie. I grew up watching it, so I just wanted to offer my opinion. But they liked my background, from the performance world, I was a music producer and a choreographer and a stage director for artist tours like Britney Spears. They thought I had a youthful perspective on the life of being a performer. So I went in there talking about my experiences and how much I wanted to bring to the film. I talked about some of my older references. I love movies like "All That Jazz" and "Sweet Charity" and movies with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and movies that Stanley Donen created and Busby Berkeley sequences. I think they liked that I was able to blend both a classic and a newer generation's vision into this film, because that was exactly what they wanted. I was excited, because I was able to use all of my older influences and put them into this film.
The Yap: So then you mixed an old-school mentality with the contemporary style?
KT: Definitely. I was never a fan of the acidic style of editing, where it feels like the camerawork and the editing is overcompensating for the talent. I love it when you can hold on a wide shot for a little bit and let the talent do its thing, and I like the way the sequences seemed a little more composed for those sequences back then. They really took the time to say "the camera for this dance move would be better here." And the sequences were well crafted, storyboarded, and thought about. I always thought movies with musicals should be crafted with as much care as they do with car chases in action flicks. And that's what I really tried to do with this.
The Yap: So you wouldn't say you're not doing "Fame" like Michael Bay.
KT: No, no, definitely not the Michael Bay version of a musical. (laughs)
The Yap: You mentioned your background as a dancer, choreographer, and everything. How did that serve you in this film?
KT: It served me quite well, because I was able to tap into my own experiences. The authenticity of the world itself. The aesthetics. The creaky floorboards, the rosin box, and the fact that people spit on the floor and put their foot in it. Little ticks that I had witnessed over the years, I introduced those textures into this movie to paint a more realistic picture so you feel like you're engulfed in this world. That kind of stuff really helped me out. I just made sure I brought those experiences to the film. Make sure there was enough sweat on the mirrors and that it was foggy and like a sauna. I wanted them to feel like they were in that environment.
The Yap: You mentioned too your background watching "Fame" as a child. Did you feel any pressure in remaking it?
KT: Yes, because it was such an authentic, realistic movie that was honest...brutall honest. So there was an enormous amount of pressure because I'm a big fan of it. With that said, I was adamant about not recreating the characters. I think we can agree the characters were so brilliant in that movie. Coco was perfect, Leroy was epic, Montgomery was heartwarming. I felt like if we tried to recast those roles we'd be making a HUGE mistake. That's why we made the bold choice to paint 2009 characters and represent this time period in the way they represented 1980. And yes, I wanted to keep the authenticity, the honesty, the rawness the first film had and the message the first film had about hard work and dedication and it's not all glitz and glamor and there are going to be a lot of obstacles along the way, but if you love doing it there's a life for you. And I felt like I wanted to retain the message.
The Yap: Can you talk a little about the actors involved? You have a nice mix of established actors and young actors. And you're re-pairing Kelsey Grammer and Bebe Neuwirth.
KT: Yes, I LOVE Kelsey Grammer and Bebe Neuwirth! The teachers were brilliant, because they were all cast for specific reasons. They all had a background that fit the roles they played in this film. Like Kelsey Grammer plays the music teacher--he went to Julliard, so he was emulating his teachers over the course of his life experiences. Bebe Neuwirth was in "Chicago," and "Bossy Train," and she was a brilliant dancer and has done a lot of Broadway work. She plays our hardcore New York dance teacher. Charles Dutton plays our acting teacher, and a lot of people don't know this about him, but he used to run an acting program for inner-city kids after school, and at one point he taught Tupac. So he was able to bring back the experiences he had when he was teaching acting, teaching Ibsen and Shakespeare. The young cast, they were all so excited and exuberant, and they were passionate about getting this job. That kind of energy was infectious to the whole crew, and myself. I never felt the young actor cliche mentality. They were all so hardworking, and that was perfect because that's exactly what the movie was about.
The Yap: Did you have any of the young actors whom you just looked at and said "this person is going to be a star"?
KT: I think they all had that moment. They're all doing specific things, and they all get their chance to shine. Some of them are singers, and some of them are dancers, and some of them are acting majors. Naturi had that moment when she's singing "Out There On My Own," and Kay Panabaker had a brilliant moment when she was delivering an acting monologue, and Kherington, when she dances, it's like you can't take your eyes off of her. And Asher Book is going to be the next heartthrob. When he sings and sings and sits down at a piano, it seems like every girl falls in love with him. So they all had that moment in the movie that they're going to call their superstar moment, so I'm going to be interested to see who pops when this movie comes out.
The Yap: There have obviously been a lot of remakes coming out in the past several years, and more to come. There's a lot of backlash against it-that "Oh, we don't need another remake" attitude. What is your answer to those critics?
KT: As I said earlier we're really not remaking it. We're really just retaining the core message the first film had. I don't want to touch the first film, it was so perfect. But there are definite levels of films that can be remade, and this one is perfect for that. And there are other films that really can't be remade, and I get it. There's a level of complaints about remakes, but people forget that "Scarface" was a remake, and everyone quotes that. Sometimes a remake is a good thing.
The Yap: I was also thinking with plays, which obviously "Fame" is heavily influenced by stage productions, that no one complains when they do a new version of "Phantom of the Opera" or "Guys and Dolls" or whathave you...
KT: Exactly. Exactly.
The Yap: It's an interesting dynamic.
KT: It's just become a popular thing to complain about. And it's totally okay. I get it. But it's weird now where we have this open platform now where everyone is a critic. You can open up a blog or put your comments on the Internet, and now you even have Twitter, where people can post their comments AS they're watching the movie. It's pretty crazy. We're in a crazy time with the information highway where it's so instantaneous and every voice is heard.
The Yap: I'd like to talk about some of your upcoming stuff. You have a sci fi movie, "Arcana" coming out next.
KT: Yeah, I sold that to Universal. Brett Ratner is producing it, I'm directing it and John Ridley is writing it. John Ridley wrote "Three Kings" and he just wrote "Red Tails" for George Lucas, so I'm excited. It's going to have the backdrop of "Blade Runner," we're going to use the production techniques of "300," and it's going to be as raw and edgy as "The Warriors." I know that's a lot of references, but trust me, it's going to be quite a unique comic book, graphic novel-driven film.
The Yap: Do you have any casting set?
KT: No, right now we're just focusing on the script, and I can't wait to read the first draft from John. He's such a great writer, and I was really honored that he wanted to write it. I wrote the treatment and came up with the concept with Harry Shum, who happens to be on "Glee" now, and when I sold it John had a lot of interest in it.
The Yap: Can you tell anything about what it's about?
KT: Well, that's under wraps right now, because the story is just now shaping up, so there's not a lot I can say about it right now.
The Yap: How about a target release date?
KT: Not yet. We're just focusing on the writing for now.
The Yap: Okay...I also saw your name online associated with "Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog."
KT: That's my brilliant sister and brother-in-law. Yeah, they wrote "Dr. Horrible," and they just won an Emmy for it. I'm really excited for them, and I think they just put my name on it because I shot some behind-the-scenes footage here and there. It's just such a good group of people with Felicia Day and Joss (Whedon) and my sister and Jed and Zack Whedon. And Nathan Fillion is one of the funniest people I've ever met. I'm very proud of my sister. They did a great job on that thing.
The Yap: We need to wrap up here, but do you have a message for people who are considering seeing "Fame" or maybe have reservations about seeing this as a remake?
KT: I just want to say that we tried really hard not to mess with people's memories. We just wanted to emulate the integrity and the core message that the film had, and I think if you loved the original or the television series you'll love this too. There's a lot of great musical sequences in it, but there's a lot of character drama too. I hope they'll see it and hope that they knew we were trying to retain the original heart.