EXCLUSIVE: Paul Becker Talks Hellcats
Hellcats choreographer Paul Becker discusses the rest of Season 1, dance possibilities for Season 2, and more
Hellcats has carved out a niche in the CW Network's Tuesday night lineup, and, although a Season 2 renewal hasn't officially been announced yet, most are expecting another season. The series is set within the competitive world of college cheerleading, and the man most responsible for the dance numbers and cheer routines is choreographer Paul Becker. The show just returned after a month and a half hiatus on Tuesday, April 19 and the show will run continuously until the Season 1 finale on Tuesday, May 17. I had a chance to speak with Paul Becker over the phone to discuss his work on the series. Here's what he had to say.
I read you're a protege of Kenny Ortega. I was curious how you first got into the whole business as a choreographer in general?
Paul Becker: Yeah. I have been dancing my whole life. My very first choreography job happened by chance. I was hired to dance opposite Kate Beckinsale. We were dance partners and the choreographer didn't show up. It was for a commercial and I jumped in and said I could do it, and she had my back. That was my very first choreography job and I just pursued it. I loved it so much. I just actively pursued it by knocking on doors and walking into studios and introducing myself, spreading the word. It's a niche that not a lot of people do. Where do producers go when they want a choreographer? They don't know, so they know that I'm there.
Hellcats is essentially a cheerleading show, but the dance routines are something you don't see on most cheer shows. Was there a lot of background you had to look into, as far as how these competitions work?
Paul Becker: I had to do a lot of research, because I had never choreographed a cheerleader in my life. My whole base is dance and martial arts and stunts and fighting. I have a gymnastics background, which is the closest to cheerleading that I had. It's paying off. Choreography is choreography. It's all movement and I have an eye for that. With doing the cheerleading stuff, I hope to help evolve cheerleading into more art than cheer.
Cheerleading has become a fairly big thing now, with the competitions on ESPN. Were there aspects of cheerleading that surprised you when you were doing research?
Paul Becker: Oh yeah. The danger aspect was the biggest thing that surprised me. It's the most dangerous sport in the world, where you have to chuck a girl 30 feet in the air. These girls don't have wires. Stunt guys fall 30 feet and they have wires. Our cheerleaders get chucked 30 feet in the air and they have nothing but a blue floor. That was the biggest aspect that surprised me, the skill level these athletes bring to the table. They're daredevils.
Do you have consultants that were former cheerleaders on the show?
Paul Becker: I have one cheer coach. I set everything and the cheer coach helps. It's such a fast process. There are so many numbers to work up and I do have a great team around me. We do have a coach to help piece things together while we're working on other stuff. Basically, that's about it.
Can you talk a bit about working with the cast? Had any of the other cast members had any dance or cheer training before they started the show?
Paul Becker: Well, Ashley Tisdale has her High School Musical background and a dance background, so she's very easy to work with. Alyson Michalka attacked all the moves and handled it really well, but none of them had a cheer background. Sharon Leal came from the Broadway world and she's been on stage, so when we do the big Broadway numbers, she's a huge asset to have, so we can just pull from her.
Yeah, it seems like a very well-rounded cast with a lot of different backgrounds.
Paul Becker: Yeah, what's great is we not only do cheer numbers but these giant production numbers. This new episode is a zombie number and after that we have a big (Bob) Fosse number with Sharon Leal. We do everything, not only cheer.
Paul Becker: We are, we are on hiatus until we find out if we get picked up or not. I think it will get picked up, it sounds like it is, but you never know.
Do you have ideas you're kicking around if Season 2 does happen? Is there a big fantasy number you want to do if you get the chance?
Paul Becker: Yeah. I think (series creator) Kevin Murphy is on the same page that we want to go even bigger next season, with the production numbers and the musical numbers. We want to add more musical elements to the show, but finding organic ways to put them in, not just coming out of the blue, like some other shows (Laughs). I think we've done that. The writers have found ways to put them in organically, through the story points, not just throwing a number in just because we have a great guest star or a great song. There needs to be a reason for it. I think next year we'll find ways to do these things in a way that's natural.
Is there a guest star that you do really want to work with next year though?
Paul Becker: I cannot say. I mean, I got in trouble for twittering that I was at a location. I signed a total confidentiality clause. We should do another interview when it gets closer to release, then I can talk all about it. They are so tight. I've never been on a film that tight, never.
Is there anything else you're working on that you can talk about?
Paul Becker: Well, Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules and Sucker Punch were just released. I heard there may be a Wimpy 3 coming. I'm also developing some TV shows right now, stuff that has nothing to do with choreography.
These are things that you're writing?
Paul Becker: That I'm writing and developing, yeah. I'm actually directing a docu-musical on Ben Vereen. We've been shooting that for awhile now. I'm on hiatus now, so it's nice to have a bit of a break from the season. It's been really crazy. I just won the Dance Track Magazine Artist Award for choreography on Hellcats. We beat Glee, so that felt good.
For that Ben Vereen documentary, are you looking for a theatrical release for that?
Paul Becker: It will be a theatrical release. I've already interviewed Debbie Allen, I'm interviewing David Foster, I have Louis Gossett Jr., Usher Raymond. There are a lot of celebrities because he touched a lot of people's lives and inspired a lot of people. It's a cross between a documentary and a musical, in a way.
Finally, what would you like to say about these last few episodes of Hellcats to the fans of the show?
Paul Becker: We have the great novelty episode, followed by a great Fosse number starring Sharon Leal and a bunch of dancers. Then the finale is going to be brilliant. It's going to be a giant hot lunch jam, but a cheer version of that. There is so much energy. It's unlike anything I've ever seen in the world of dance.
Excellent. That's about all I have for you. Thanks so much for your time and best of luck with those project you're developing.
Paul Becker: Thank you. Bye.
Hellcats airs on Tuesday nights at 9 PM ET on the CW Network.