Damon Santostefano weaves a brand new mystical musical fantasy for young teens and romantics alike
This Tuesday, Warner Premiere is debuting Damon Santostefano's latest romantic comedy Another Cinderella Story on both DVD and Blu-Ray Disc. The film is a musical reinterpretation of the original A Cinderella Story, melding high comedy within the ever popular dance genre to create one of the most high-spirited teen flicks seen in recent years. Another Cinderella Story boasts an all-star cast that includes Disney phenom Selena Gomez and heartthrob Drew Seeley, best known as the singing voice behind the character of Troy on High School Musical. Not only did Santostefano direct the film, he also produced the soundtrack, which boasts exciting new track from both Gomez and Seeley, and even contains a track from the very funny Jane Lynch. It is currently tearing up the billboard charts, and <Another Cinderella Story seems poised to do the same on the home video market. We recently caught up with Damon to talk with him exclusively about his upcoming film.
Here is our conversation:
Why did you guys decide to make a sequel to 2004's A Cinderella Story?
Damon Santostefano: The studio hooked that one up. The producer called me up and said that he'd seen other things I'd done. He thought I was right for this. I pitched him on my ideas, and we tossed them around for a little while. There were certain things I wanted to change. I brought my idea of what the music should be. The styles of music, how it should be produced, and then I started to fall in love with the whole thing. Another Cinderella Story is a dance comedy musical. It is a retelling of the Cinderella story, and doing this meant that I would get to produce an entire album full of music. So I got quite excited about it.
You produced the soundtrack. How did that all come together?
Damon Santostefano: It was all original music, with the exception two, maybe three, songs that we licensed. The songs that we licensed were actually being produced while we were looking into the licensing on them. So, essentially, everything is freshly baked. All of the original music that we created started with me and producer Greg Cham, who produced the High School Musical soundtrack and movie. He has also done Miley Cyrus' last two albums. He had these two amazing songwriters called The Wonder Twins, and they are songwriter/producers. We got together and started knocking ideas around. And they would create sketches of songs in the styles and sounds that we wanted. We started to create the songs from there. Drew Seeley, who plays Joey Parker, our Prince Charming in the film, wrote or co-wrote five of the songs in the movie. He would come in and put his style on it. A lot of the lyrics were his. And he sang a lot of the vocals along with Selena.
Do you have a favorite track from the film that you are really excited for people to hear?
Damon Santostefano: I have several. I think my favorite is "Tell Me Something I Don't Know". That is Selena's single. It is now at number twenty on the billboard charts. I also really like Drew's acoustic version of "New Classic". That one is not in the movie. But it is on the soundtrack.
You say that this is a musical. Is it a musical remake of the original film, or is it a somewhat different, completely new storyline that you guys are working with?
Damon Santostefano: It is not a remake, nor is it a sequel. It is a retelling of the Cinderella fable, but in the context of a musical. But it is also a high comedy. It is its own animal, entirely. There are aspects in the plot, maybe three our four plot points, that were retained from the original A Cinderella Story. But other than that, it is really its own animal.
Its kind of crazy that you have all of these different genres butting heads in this. With the dance genre so popular right now, is that one of the reasons you wanted to make this a more dance oriented story?
Damon Santostefano: I think so. I think musicals, like horror movies and westerns, have waves of popularity. It just so happened that the musical had a comeback. Right as that was starting to peek, this came along. Both Warner Brothers and the Producer decided to make it a musical. It was a question, and I said, "By God, Yes! If we can make this its own musical from top to bottom, then why not?" We embarked on doing it. It was in some ways a theory when we started. Everyone wanted to make sure that we could bring it in as an original piece. I think once we put all of the elements together, we saw that it would be a lot of work. But we were psyched to be doing it. It was definitely driven by the interest in the musicals that were out there. It was inspired by High School Musical. But it is a very different animal than High School Musical. In a way, we were embarking on our own thing. You don't know how people are going to take to it, but it seems to have worked out.
Was it a challenge to bring some new choreography into this project? Who did you have helping you out on that front?
Damon Santostefano: The choreographer was Michelle Johnson. She worked with Rob Marshall, the guy that directed Chicago. She was his assistant choreographer for sixteen years. She worked on Chicago, and she was actually in Chorus Line on Broadway for many years. She actually came in to design the choreography. Then we had two more choreographers come in and build from her design. They trained our actors both in Los Angeles and in Vancouver. It was about finding the newest, freshest, coolest choreography that was out there in the pop world. We also wanted to go past that, so we added some postmodern elements to it.
How did you go about casting this film? You have an all-star cast, with Selena Gomez, and Drew Steely, and Jane Lynch. How did you pull together such amazing group of people?
Damon Santostefano: What we needed was similar to what you would have needed in the 1940s. When you make a movie like this, you need actors that are triple threats. Actually, they have to be quadruple threats. They have to be really good actors. They have to be very, very funny. And they have to sing and dance. It is not like a comedy, where you find a naturally gifted comic that is essentially playing himself. You have to find someone that can do all of those things you need. And that is a really tall order. Selena was really one of the only obvious choices because she could do all of those things. And it was written for a young Hispanic woman. Everything seemed to fall into place when she read it. Because she loved it. We were like, "By God, we got lucky!" Drew Seeley was another one that could do everything. He is a songwriter. He sings, he plays. He has been training since he was eight years old. He's a really good actor, and he's funny. When we got those two together, I put them in a room and had them read. They had never met. They did a few scenes together, and then they improved. There was immediate chemistry. Which, by the way, hardly ever happens. I got chills down my spin. I was like, "Wow! There is some real electricity in here." And that was it. They were cast.
You've obviously seen the original film. To me, it is a little dull and colorless. But your film is the exact opposite. It is so vibrant and full of life. Did you purposely try to inject this with as much energy as you possibly could? And do account that life buzz to your two leads?
Damon Santostefano: Actually, if I may, the energy came from me. I rewrote the movie. So that it would be as briskly paced and as sharp as it could be. I wanted it to never stop moving. And I really wanted the jokes to land. That is hard to do when you also have a love story and a musical. What I did was make it my life's goal to make this urgent and exciting as a comedy. And then I brought that energy to the actors. I said, "This is your job. You guys really have to bring this energy. You have to be crispy on the set. And you have to play with it, and challenge each other." Because it can get dull. Everyone has been rehearsing for weeks. At all hours of the night. They are dancing all the time. Who wants to be funny the next morning, right? I thought of Jane Lynch. She really was it, and I'm luck that she was available. I had a blast with her. I come from an improv background, so she was critical in lifting the bar on the set. When Jane Lynch walks onto a set, she is funny immediately. The crew will stop working, because they are laughing so hard. Then she focuses, and it is like a laser beam. You better be on your toes. The actors would rise to her level, especially in terms of the inventiveness and the comedy.
Are you guys setting this up a as a sequel franchise for Warner Premier?
Damon Santostefano: I don't know if they are interested in doing that or not. I would think they would be. But I haven't heard officially that there is a Another Cinderella 3 coming along. We don't have any ideas for a sequel. You'd want to bring it to a whole new level, and I don't know what that level would be. It all depends on what the studio is looking for. And what the audience is looking for. It could be the further adventures of this gang. Or it could be on Mars.
Mars? That would be pretty cool. I'd like to see that. Right now, with these straight-to-DVD movies proving to be so successful, do you find it a more conducive environment for your art? It seems like you have a lot more freedom. And I know this is your second sequel title, following Bring it On Again.
Damon Santostefano: Honestly, it is more freeing. If there is one great thing that comes out of making a movie on this very reasonable level in terms of budget and resources is that when they trust you, they really leave you alone. It is a very intimate environment that you are making a movie in. And you have to make it quickly. In my case, the studio was really trustworthy with the approach I was taking. When they saw it coming down the pike in terms of the music and the dailies, they were really happy with it. And they just let me go. That wouldn't necessarily happen if we were a thirty-five million dollar comedy. There, each joke, and each day of dailies is highly scrutinized. There are certainly more cooks on a bigger movie. On a movie of this size, there are much fewer cooks. I rewrote the movie, and directed it, and produced it, and produced the album. So it was really much easier to make it. Because it was me and just a few other people working in the machine. If something went wrong, I would just have to phone call myself. If something went wrong, I would fire myself. That was it. And on a television pilot, that is a very different experience. It almost seems similar, but it isn't logistically. You have many more producers and writers. And then there is the studio within the network. There is a busload of people that have an opinion. That doesn't happen on these direct-to-DVD movies. Which makes it kind of great.
Before I go, I want to ask you about the Zune. Why do you think the Zune is a great modern day replacement for the glass slipper?
Damon Santostefano: It worked in a lot of different ways. It is a modern day version of the glass slipper. It is not only an object that is personal because of the choice of music on it. That is the way Joey Parker identifies the girl he danced with. But it also has music on it that ties into the soundtrack, and it contains the music they dance to. It sort of organically fit. I have a question for you. When you heard them calling it a Zune, did you say, "A what?"
No, I knew what a Zune was.
Damon Santostefano: I didn't. I assumed it was the Microsoft version of the Ipod, but I wasn't sure, This was a year and a half ago, and they'd just gone to market. So I wasn't sure. Apparently it is selling.
The kids that see this will know what a Zune is. Maybe Another Cinderella Story will sell a few more.
Damon Santostefano: (Laughs) Yeah, maybe.
Another Cinderella Story is coming to DVD and Blu-Ray this Tuesday, September 16th, 2008.