Director Steve Carr on his latest film Freaky Friday

Best known for his work on Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Movie 43 and Daddy Day Care, director and producer Steve Carr talks to Mandy News about his new musical film Freaky Friday.

20th December 2018
/ By James Collins

Steve Carr Daddy Day Care COLUMBIAPICTURES

Introduce yourself to the Mandy News audience and tell us how you got involved in film and became a director?
My name is Steven Carr, I directed the film Freaky Friday: The Musical. I started my career with a graphic design company called The Drawing Board. I designed all the album covers for Def Jam with my partner including Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet, LL Cool J… every album from the early ‘90s to the 2000s, Jay-Z’s albums, all of that. 

From there I went on and directed music videos for Jay-Z: Hard Knock Life. This City is Mine; videos for Method Man, Moby, Hall & Oates. I did a bunch… one for Death Squad, which was a remake of Rappers’ Delight which got a lot of attention. It won some MTV awards. Then I got recognised in Hollywood and started getting calls from agents.

I had an opportunity to meet with Ice Cube, who was doing a sequel to Friday, called Next Friday and I went in and said, ‘I don’t really know how to pitch a movie but I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the script.’ And he frowned, which I found out later was his normal face, and he agreed to let me direct it, so again I just yelled, ‘action!’ and ‘cut!’ indiscriminately.

Next Friday turned out to be a big surprise hit. From there I went on to do Dr Doolittle 2 with Eddie Murphy, and Daddy Day Care and Paul Blart: Mall Cop with Kevin James… I put a huge extension onto my house, based on that. I was picking the kinds of movies I was interested in. The thing about Freaky Friday that was interesting to me – and based on my CV you’d think I was the last person to do a Disney movie – I loved the idea of doing a musical, having come from music video and melding narrative and music together in short form.

If you would like to find work in music videos you can look for UK jobs here.

Back to Freaky Friday! How did you approach that project?
For me, It was kind of easy, because I’d done it in short form. I didn’t go to film school, so when I started doing music videos I would write these treatments that gave me the opportunity to tell these stories in the songs. So if it was Jay-Z’s video for The City is Mine, I did a take on The Usual Suspects.

I had to learn how to tell narratives by doing them in the videos, so when I came to doing Freaky Friday it was like returning to school for me – telling stories with music, in a longer form but without the cursing! It was familiar but still a lot of fun.

What was the turnaround from you first getting involved to getting into the edit suite and locking the picture down?
One of the things that was quite attractive to me was the fact that it was a pretty quick turnaround. It was about a year between me first hearing about it and turning in a rough cut. That’s fairly quick in my business. I’ve spent years developing projects, so to be able to get the script, do some meetings, re-work the script and start casting this quickly was kind of fun - under a year from beginning to end for me.

What were the challenges of working with such a young cast?
It was kind of enlightening! Everyone was super-talented and excited. Even the older actors didn’t have that much experience. It was an opportunity to create an atmosphere where everybody felt safe to make mistakes. A big part of the way I work is to embrace the idea of improv, because the things that happen on set happen in the moment and can never really be captured by the actors then re-captured months later by the people who watch it.

I always maintain that I shoot the script but then I let it kind of evolve. With this cast, they were shocked that I let them do their thing, but they responded beautifully, they blossomed and came up with a lot of the stuff that ended up in the movie. We created it on the spot.

What are your plans for 2018 and beyond? What are you working on?
I’m casting for a film right now with the working title of: The Teenage Pregnancy Road Movie with Zombies. It’s like Shaun of the Dead. It’s terrific – it’s a zombie comedy movie! I can’t really speak about it, but I have some terrific young actors.

We look forward to that! With Freaky Friday, it’s been remade because it’s such a classic story. What’s the spin you’ve put on this new version?
Obviously with it being a musical, a lot of the emotions are expressed through the music. I’m not a big fan of watching previous incarnations so I didn’t feel any connection to the stuff that had been done prior to this. I just attacked it the way I do with most films – what’s the heart of it?

One of the things that I’m pugnacious about is, even if it’s a musical it needs to be grounded in some sort of reality. I don’t like this idea that people can just break into song out of nowhere. It was much more of an organic, natural, holistic way of dealing with the musical. Disney has been amazingly successful with the descendants of High School Musical and stuff like that – an elevated kind of reality.

This is a much more traditional musical, in that the story is the most important thing as are the relationships, then the music is this beautiful layer above it.

What advice do you have for people wanting to become directors?
Wait until I retire first! I don’t need the competition. It really comes down to the desire and ability to tell a story. In terms of the technical aspect of directing a film, it’s about where do you want to be if you were part of the conversation, you know? If you want to see where they are, it’s a wide shot. If you want to see who’s talking to who, that’s an over-the-shoulder shot. If you want to see what’s going on in their face and what they’re feeling, that’s a close-up. 

If you use that as part of your storytelling, cinematically you’ll be able to tell the whole story.

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