Step Up 5: All In director Trish Sie talks to Cineworld

The new Step Up film, Step Up 5: All In marks the feature film debut of Grammy Award-winning music video director Trish Sie. She talks to Cineworld in an exclusive interview about the latest in the dance-tastic franchise…

How were you approached to direct the film? 

I've shot quite a few commercials and music videos, and since I'm a dancer and choreographer myself, I love creating and capturing movement. So when the Step Up producers sent me the script for Step Up: All In, I jumped at the chance to be involved. 

I was happy to see some of my favourite Step Up characters in the story. And reading it, I was drawn to the fact that this instalment of the franchise explores the daily lives of the characters... the frustrations, heartaches and joys of dancing. Less about saving the world; more about the personal experience of being a dancer. And when asked what I would bring to the series, my answer was that I wanted to bring a light touch, more humour and playfulness. 

The main priority for a dance movie, to my mind, is to provide us with joy and escape, to make us smile and tap our feet. The producers and I were very much on the same page that what we wanted to make was upbeat, something fun and exuberant and entertaining.

Had you seen any of the previous movies? 

I had seen all of the previous movies! Step Up 2: The Streets is my favourite, but I enjoy them all. The dancing and music never fail to deliver. And I was excited to work with so many of my own favourite characters from the series who would be returning in this all-star lineup... especially Briana Evigan (who plays Andie West), Adam Sevani (aka Moose), and Ryan Guzman.

What did you want to bring to the series? 

I grew up in the 1980s, and I have a sweet nostalgia for that innocent frolic of many 80s teen movies and dance films. I wanted to bring back some of that goofy whimsy; I wanted to lighten things up. I wanted to make a movie about young people and their daily lives – the drive to dance, the realities of how tough that world can be, but how for a few shining moments, all your hard work and sacrifice pays off and makes it all worthwhile. 

And of course, I wanted to show great dancing and inventive choreography without too much cutting, without chopping it up too much. Good dancing should speak for itself. Watch old Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly movies – a loose head-to-toe shot and very few edits. It's so restrained and elegant! These days, we're so accustomed to music video pacing. As a result, I think that dance is often shot and edited way too frenetically. 

I find it frustrating that the flow of the movement is interrupted by fast edits. And I don't like to be told where to look and what detail to notice. Sometimes, I want to be watching the feet, and a filmmaker cuts to the face. Or I want to see the guy in the back, but we cut to the girl in front. This movie is shot and cut the way I like to watch dancing: with respect for the choreography and the performance and freedom for the viewer to take it all in, looking at the big picture as much of the time as possible. I think dancers generally will like this movie – they can appreciate the choreography.

This is your first feature. What were the challenges compared to directing music videos? 

Coming from the world of music videos, I found the trickiest challenge was the juxtaposition of the acting scenes with the dancing. It's very hard for a spoken scene to compete with a high energy dance sequence set to adrenaline-soaked music on a huge, gorgeous set, performed by the world's best dancers. 

In a music video, you have a very simple arc: start someplace and ramp it up. Keep people's attention for 3 minutes and you're good. But in a dance film, you need to make each dance number interesting on its own merits, PLUS you have to tell a story, as simple as that story may be. You need to keep the energy and the pace moving while giving viewers a break, letting them recover from the intensity of the dance scenes, building them up for the next one. 

There is so much inherent emotion in music and dance, it almost blows out people's emotional response systems. It's like feeding people a very spicy meal and then trying to get them to taste and enjoy very subtle flavors between each fiery course. The balancing act is so delicate! I'm aware that first and foremost, people come to a Step Up movie to see amazing dancing. But the audience needs to care about the characters for the dance scenes to pay off

Did you choreograph much of the film yourself? 

I had a terrific team of INCREDIBLE choreographers, led by Jamal Sims, Chris Scott and Dondraico Johnson. Along with their associate choreographers, they really did everything! I like to think that being a choreographer, I was able to bring something extra to my directing... a few ideas here and there, a certain rapport with the dancers, a unique tone on set, my specific approach to framing the shots and editing the sequences. But I certainly can't take credit for the moves!

What makes this film different to the others in the series? 

With this installment, we really tried to return to something simple. The characters in our film aren't saving the world; they're just trying to make it. They simply want to dance and pay their rent and get a decent shot.

Dancers are naturally such spirited and passionate people. But they're often so playful as well! I hope this movie shows the lighter side of dancers as they struggle to survive in a pretty brutal industry. I'm proud of the visuals – it's a good looking movie. I think we brought a certain visual richness to the look of the film – the colours and the textures, the lighting, the locations and set pieces. And the soundtrack is absolutely KILLER. Terrific music, from start to finish. 

Lastly, I hope that audiences feel the movie has a heart. Let's be realistic – we're not dealing with cancer or war or life-and-death challenges here... THIS IS A DANCE MOVIE! But all the same, I hope people feel something real - that I really did bring my own experiences as a dancer to bear on this movie. Lots of autobiographical material in here! I think dancers will be able to relate to the story and the characters, to the frustrations of being a dancer and at the same time, the sheer exultation of dancing.

Trish Sie, thank you.

Step Up 5: All In shimmies into Cineworld on 1st August.