"Rock of Ages" follows in the grandiose musical footsteps of director Adam Shankman's other big-budget musical, "Hairspray." But this one stands to gain a few more groupies, given the late '80s nostalgia and the stellar performances from a cast boasting Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, and Mary J. Blige, as well as newcomers Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta. We recently sat down with the director to talk through the moviemaking process.
Do you have a barometer for knowing if you've made a good thing?
Interestingly, it's about how protective I feel on the release. You lose perspective -- you don't know by the time the thing comes out because you've seen it so many times. I'm not a director who gets huge amounts of time to make the things that I make.
How many shooting days was "Rock of Ages"?
Less than "Hairspray," somewhere around 50 days. For a movie this size where you're shooting this many numbers with this many characters, it's very challenging, and I had the exact same budget that I had on "Hairspray," and that was seven years ago. I had challenges on this.
What were some of the most difficult parts?
Honestly, the scheduling. There was no "not making" your days, and always chasing trying to get in more. It was just always this unimaginable puzzle putting it together, on top of which, very much like "Hairspray," the older members of the cast … I mean, Catherine Zeta-Jones only shot for four days, Russell [Brand] and Alec [Baldwin] shot for two and a half weeks, so making it seem like they were there the whole time, you have to shoot it in a certain way. Sometimes you're shooting a scene in a room with people talking teach other and it's shot weeks apart -- the people aren't there for the other person and, you know, making sure you keep it as visually interesting as possible. Keeping it as real as possible given the insanity of the world. Not making fun of the era that makes so much fun of itself, making sure the audience is emotionally invested and rooting for the characters. That was my big concern.
Why do you think this is an important story to be told now?
I don't. It's an important thing to have joy and to celebrate, and there's no end to the importance of reflecting on [the idea that] no matter how sparkly things seem out there, the most important thing is love, whether self love or some sort of grounded love. The notion of fame is a very, very slippery slope, and it's a very "be careful what you wish for" kind of a thing. Our two lead characters end up finding out [that] what they thought they wanted, they don't really want, or that it's meaningless if you compromise your integrity. And Tom Cruise's character is a total cautionary tale, but that was so true of that period; those [rock star] guys were like children run amok with no rules, with nothing but money. There was no consequences to anything that they did as long as they were out there rocking and giving people what they want
We mock reality stars, but it almost feels like a similar parallel could be drawn.
I would say that Kim Kardashian is laughing all the way to the bank. I use her because she's the seismic epicenter of reality-created branding. Certainly back in this "Rock of Ages" era, there was no such thing as "branding" in terms of an entertainer. You just got out there and did your thing …
You know who was the first person out there in terms of branding? Elizabeth Taylor. I think she was the first person to have a fragrance. It's really interesting if you look at the history of how things work, this is a jukebox musical, meaning it's popular music turned into dialogue, which "Glee"'s done brilliantly, obviously. Well, all the old early MGM musicals were jukebox musicals. "Singing in the Rain" is a jukebox musical. That was a song catalog that the studio said, "Turn this into a movie," and handed it over.
François Truffaut said that the film of tomorrow would be an act of love on the part of the filmmaker. That seems to encapsulate what you've been saying about your approach.
That's very lofty, because I did make this out of love. I had trepidations because my last musical ["Hairspray"] was one of the greatest experiences I'll ever know in my entire life.
Seems like it'd be easier going forward, then, if you'd already had that pinnacle moment.
You get scared. I'm a director who makes stuff for studios, and I don't make things in a bubble and they have an expectation, and I have actors that are big movie stars, and I don't want to let them down. So there's a lot of pressure. No one goes into anything thinking they're gonna make crap. You just hope for the best.
It's a bit like steering a big ship -- there's so many people involved in making the movie, it's hard to know.
You've obviously talked to enough directors to know that there's three movies. There's the script, there's the one that is in your mind, and the one you end up with in the cutting room, and they're all different. What you can hope for is that you're clear enough in your storytelling that it doesn't veer too far off of what that was. You always see it the best you can see it in your head.
Is the "Rock of Ages" in your head different from the one on the screen?
No. That's the good thing about the success of this, is it actually is the closest because I felt like I successfully did not make fun of the period. I did not make fun of the music, and I actually ended up celebrating, and it feels like joy. Most strangely, it actually has a lot of innocence to it. It doesn't feel salacious. When I watch it, there's a lot of it that is really charming. Visually, I just crossed my fingers. I had to build Los Angeles in a different location ...
I noticed a lot of continuity errors, but when you're dealing with so many people and dance numbers ...
The continuity thing I just laugh at now, and my editor has a real philosophy about that which is that you should stay with the performance. "Terms of Endearment" has one of the most amazing continuity errors I've ever seen in my entire life. Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson are in the gazebo talking towards the end, and it's a really dramatic scene and it's really beautiful. In the two shot Shirley MacLaine is sitting back, and then on her front she's sitting forward and she just keeps changing where she is. In "Bringing Down the House," [there's a scene where] Joan Plowright's double is sitting in the golf cart behind her. I didn't even realize it until it came out on DVD -- I was just sort of watching Joan Plowright. Imagine how many people saw that mess-up and barely noticed because you're with the performance.
What are some of your favorite rock movies?
"Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle." I love "The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years," which is what I took a lot of this from. Do you consider "Rocky Horror Picture Show" a rock movie? I'm a big lover of "Almost Famous." It's a love letter to our past.
I felt a little "Wayne's World" in there, too.
You know, there is. At the end of the day, it's a comedy.