Getting back in 'Step': Los Altos native Jon M. Chu directs new movie

Photo K.c. Bailey/Summit Entertainment Jon Chu directs dancer Marie "Pandora" Medina during the shooting of his new film, "Step Up 3D," scheduled to open Friday.

When executives at Walt Disney Pictures asked Jon M. Chu to direct a second sequel to the dance movie “Step Up,” the Los Altos native had two conditions.

“I wanted to do it in New York City because it’s a filmmaker’s dream, and I wanted to do it in 3-D,” Chu said.

After Disney execs agreed to his terms, Chu headed East to make “Step Up 3D,” which opened in theaters nationwide Friday. And he pulled it off for $30 million – a relatively modest budget for a 3-D movie.“

(Filming in) 3-D can slow us down, because it’s more expensive and takes more time,” said Chu, whose 2008 movie “Step Up 2: The Streets” grossed more than $150 million worldwide. “But it made us more creative – it really pushed us to try new ways to tell it.”

Chu opted to take his 52-day shoot to the streets to create a more realistic representation of New York City, instead of using pre-built sets in a studio – the usual 3-D route.

Drawing on his fairy-tale fascination, Chu built “a party in a box” using fantastical elements such as floating beverages.

“Every place they go is like a different planet,” said Chu. “We play it over the top, a romanticized New York City (…) In a way it’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or ‘Oliver Twist.’”

The 30-year-old former tap dancer helped choreograph the energetic routines, designed specifically for 3-D and a troupe of 250 dancers.

While several film critics last week praised the dancing in “Step Up 3D,” some scoffed at the plot – a classic coming-of-age story about young Big Apple street dancers beating the odds.

But the director remains unfazed by the criticism.

“We’re making a movie about dance for dance lovers and dancers themselves,” said Chu, whose family owns and runs Chef Chu’s restaurant in Los Altos. “We have an energy about our movie that’s not easily attainable. It’s a love letter to dance, and I think people can appreciate that.”

The people at Disney sure do. After Chu’s success with the previous “Step Up” sequel – his first big-budget film – and the anticipation that the latest movie will be a hit as well, Disney has approached Chu with ideas for a fourth “Step Up.”

But Chu, who debuted a dance Web series, “The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers,” in July, has yet to decide on his next project. The list of candidates includes Sony Pictures’ reimagining of the “The Great Gatsby.”

To view episodes of Chu’s Web series, visit www.hulu.com.

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