Interview: Paul Becker, director of Breaking Brooklyn

Paul Becker is a choreographer who got into the game in the early 2000s and has been doing his thing steadily ever since. Cutting his teeth on a slew of TV productions, series and awards shows (Masters of Horror, The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, Tru Calling and the American Music Awards, anyone?) before moving on to work with pop stars (Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers), Becker now finds himself choreographing all manner of big-time Hollywood productions and television series, from 2011’s Sucker Punch and 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods to, more currently, this year’s Deadpool 2 and Overboard and TV’s Riverdale). One of Becker’s most recent projects also marks his directorial debut: the song-and-dance-fueled family comedy-drama Breaking Brooklyn, which he also co-wrote and, of course, choreographed.

Disc Dish caught up with the affable Becker last week and talked to him about Breaking Brooklyn, a family film about two school-age Brooklyn boys who are taken in by an old Broadway showman after their father is arrested, which stars newcomer Colin Critchley, Nathan Cress and veteran performers Vondie Curtis-Hall and Louis Gossett, Jr. Becker also offered some choice bits on choreography and his career-changing encounter with director/choreographer Kenny Ortega.

Disc Dish: A perusal of your choreography credits is like a journey into genre-land—this last year alone found you working on both the Netflix high school rom-com The Kissing Booth and the hard-hitting Marvel Comics superhero flick Deadpool 2.

Paul Becker: Yea, it’s pretty cool when you’re a choreographer—a choreographer can drop into different genres one after another after another, from horror to comedy and then back to musicals. All of them, they all have a kind of choreography in them. Choreography is all about storytelling—it comes from the Greek comes from the Greek khoreia which means “writing with dance.”

DD: Sometimes it’s the musicals that have a problem with the story!

PB: Yes, a lot of dance scenes in a number of films don’t say anything, but I want to say something with my work.

DD: Let’s talk about the origins of Breaking  Brooklyn.

PB: There’s a bit of an extended backstory to it, which goes back to 2008. I had already choreographed lots of films and I had bought a loft in Brooklyn when the economy collapsed–while I was in mid-renovation! I needed to get a job fast—so I got one at Planet Hollywood. But that didn’t work out at all and I was immediately fired. Then I got a job a FAO Schwartz, working with kids on the piano dance mat.

DD: Like in Big!

Vondie Curtis-hall and Colin Critchley get down to some serious tapping in Breaking Brooklyn.

PB: Yes. Whenever producers or celebrities would come in, I would hide! I actually once hid from Kristin Chenoweth…! So one day, Kenny Ortega walks in and I knew I had to meet him. [My supervisor} wasn’t letting me run to another floor to get to him, so I quit on the spot and ran upstairs. And that’s how I met him—we spoke, I sent him some of my material and we clicked. Two weeks later, I was offered the Jonas Brothers tour. Anyway, I was taking the subways back and forth from Brooklyn to Manhattan to work, and that’s when i was began writing Breaking Brookyn. I met my writing partner, Rory Owen Delaney, in Brooklyn. Jump to eight years later, when I got a call from a friend who told me that some of her producer friends were looking for a dance movie. So much time had gone by, but then it all began…

DD: So you went into production in the winter of 2015 and you had a helluva cast, led by Lou Gossett, Jr. and Vondie Curtis-Hall.

PB: Oh yes! And having such a very strong cast really helped me out as a first-time director. They were all such professionals. I heard some amazing stories from Lou and I embraced whatever he told me. He definitely taught me a lot about giving your talent the floor when they’re doing what they do. And that when you’re directing them, having your shit together is what gets the job done. If you have to stop to re-adjust the camera or the lighting or something, it breaks the momentum.

DD: And Vondie, who’s also a director, what was he like?

PB: Amazing. Vondie can adapt to anything. I would tell him my ideas and what I was going for in a particular scene—and overall—and he would give me options on how he would approach it.

DD: He was dancing up a storm in the movie’s later scenes!

PB: And he knew what he was doing—he was in the original cast of Dreamgirls on Broadway.

DD: I know this is going to sound clichéd, but the movie was shot in Brooklyn and the city comes off like its own character.

PB: We shot in the heart of Brooklyn near where I lived and most of it centered around where I wrote the film, so it was all very comfortable and familiar. And, yeah, I’d like to think there’s some real Brooklyn essence in there.

Breaking Brooklyn is now available on DVD and Digital from Lionsgate.

Buy or Rent Breaking Brooklyn

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.