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Exclusive Interview : Steven Jacobson

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Give it another a year or so and you might actually recognize Melbourne-boy Steven Jacobson’s name.

And maybe you already should. Jacobson was involved in the multi-million dollar film version of ”Dreamgirls” after all, and as the film’s second unit director was involved in capturing some of the film’s most dazzling musical and dance sequences.

He did such a terrific job that he was asked to play ‘director’ on his next film – again, a musical.

“And the question everybody asks me is ‘Do you have a dance background’? No, I don’t”, says Jacobson, whose ”Centre Stage 2 : Turn it Up”, opens across Australia next week. “I actually grew up watching genre movies – they were my passion. Horror movies were it for me.. I literally just fell into this world through Dreamgirls – and through working on that I discovered that working on a musical is absolutely electrifying!.”

Jacobson says he feels he learnt enough about dance shooting numbers for ”Dreamgirls” to be able to now shoot similar sequences that fell authentic – likening ”Centre Stage 2” to a documentary on ballerinas that plays as if ‘’you’re a fly-on-the-wall’’ in a real Academy.

Unlike the Oscar Nominated ”Dreamgirls”, which was always intended to be a big screen release, the sequel to 2000’s ”Centre Stage” – a quaint ballet drama set at a prestigious dance academy where the students are put through their paces and then some in an effort to prove their worth – was never intended to debut anywhere but on DVD.

“When they told me [it was going to get a theatrical release in Australia] I just about fell off my chair”, says a jovial Jacobson. “I’m coming back to Melbourne on Saturday and plan on going to see it with my family – my parents are just over the moon! It’s a very thrilling experience. It’s interesting that the Australian distributor [Sony Pictures Releasing] took a particular liking to it and wanted to release it not only first, but at theaters.”

Jacobson probably shouldn’t be surprised that the film is hitting theaters – after all, the original ”Centre Stage” did fantastic business locally when it released about eight years ago. And it’s still considered the be-all-and-end-all of dance movies.

“People that like that film absolutely adored it. It’s definitely true that Australia took a real liking to it.”

When Jacobson was hired to direct the sequel he was as pleased as punch that a couple of the original characters had been written into the script. One of them, school head Jonathan Reeves, played by veteran actor Peter Gallagher (TVs ”The OC”, ”Sex Lies and Videotape”, ”Summer Lovers”) was a must, says the filmmaker.

“His character was in the script but they hadn’t asked Peter to do it yet”, he admits. “But we just knew we had to make that work”.

Jacobson says although he wanted to do something totally different story-wise this time out, he also wanted to link the two films in some way – and bringing two of the instructors back from the first film was a good place to start.

“When the movie starts they’re starting out in that same [ballet] world that the other kids did in the original film – and Peter Gallagher is absolutely essential to that. His voice and his presence is a must there. If he wasn’t the head of the academy in this film I just think it would’ve felt like a total compromise. We all felt that if he didn’t want to do it, it wasn’t worth doing”.

And Gallagher just didn’t turn up, shoot his scenes and immediately leave the set either – he became very involved in the production, even helping coach some of the lesser experienced actors on it.

“He was the one really experienced actor we had, because the vast majority of everyone else in it hadn’t really done much else. I was actually a bit nervous about meeting him, knowing how many movies he’d done, and him knowing this was my first feature, but he was just wonderful – charming, positive, constructive and just generous to the other actors. He’s always very funny and very witty.”

The only other returning character is Cooper Nielsen, played by real-life dancer Ethan Stiefel.

“Again, I felt like Ethan was essential”, says Jacobson. “I think one of the things that distinguishes Centre Stage with a lot of other dance movies is the level of ballet talent – and Ethan is that. He’s one of the great male ballet dancers in America.”

Audiences will also get to see another side of the dancer-cum-actor this time around – as he breaks into hip-hop!

“Immediately, to me, that was one of the great attractions of the project – and particularly for the real die-hard ballet fans; they are just dying to see him do hip hop! He has never done it before! He was so anxious, but he said he would do whatever it takes to make it work. He was genuinely excited to try something he hasn’t done. He had to give himself over to the choreographer and be instructed by someone else.”

The first film fixed on the character of Jody, played by Amanda Schull, and her conquest to become a big-time ballerina.

As far as Jacobson was concerned, her story had been told.

“If it were a real direct sequel to the original, and just picked up after the last one, then yes, we would have followed Jody and the other characters into whatever they did next – after ballet school”, he says, adding a quick cameo from the character would’ve taken audiences out of this story. “We wanted to have the film set in the same world, but to tell a different story – and for people to invest themselves in this story”

In addition, Jacobson decided he didn’t want this film to be solely about ballet – he incorporated many other styles of dance into it, namely Hip Hop.

“Still, I want to make it clear to people that this isn’t a movie where it’s Ballet vs. Hip Hop. It’s still a movie about a young girl that wants to be a ballerina, and it’s only after hours – when she’s in the car park with her friends for instance – that she lets her hair down. She still wants to be a ballerina. It’s not about a person from the street trying to convince people that hip hop is the way to go.”

And though this film’s about the character of Kate (Rachele Brooke Smith), and her plight to become a ballerina, Jacobson says he sees “no reason at all” why the character of Jody couldn’t return for the inevitable ”Centre Stage 3”.

“Australia is the first country to get it, but after everyone else sees it, and people like it… I think we’d all like to do another one. I have some ideas but I won’t give them away at this point.”

Jacobson says the best part of all this is that he’s now able to get meetings with producers and studios to pitch new potential projects – one of which may be a horror movie, something akin to the films he was obsessed with as a kid – something he hasn’t been able to do before.

“The next year should be exciting… I look forward to finding out what’s next myself!”.

CLINT MORRIS

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About Caffeinated Clint

Clint is the creator, editor and maintainer of Moviehole.

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