‘Step Up’ Turns Ten: Channing Tatum Has Always Been Very Good at Dancing

Music supervisor Buck Damon explains the film's iconic appeal, working with Ciara, and the moment he knew Channing Tatum would become a star.
August 11, 2016, 3:00pm
Film still via Summit Entertainment

Ten years ago today, audiences watched Step Up for the very first time. The low-budget movie told the story of a contemporary dancer, Nora, partnering with a street dancer, Tyler, played by a then unknown former stripper named Channing Tatum. The duo and their friends danced to the music of the time: Sean Paul, Chris Brown, and Ciara, whose single "Get Up" became a number seven Billboard Hot 100 hit.

Thanks to the music, the film became a sleeper hit, spawning four sequels and a blockbuster soundtrack largely produced by Scott Storch, the Miami Hit Factory producer behind the biggest hits of the era: He's responsible for 2000s classics including 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" and Paris Hilton's "Stars Are Blind." Storch worked on overseeing the film's music at the behest of Step Up music supervisor Buck Damon.

Damon's good friend, Anne Fletcher, was choreographing and directing the movie, and she trusted him to curate the perfect sound. Once he read the script and broke down its musical sequences, he decided on the sound the film should use, discussed it with Fletcher, and reached out to producers like Storch. In honor of the film's tenth anniversary, Damon spoke to Broadly about the film's inspiration, the backstory of Ciara's "Get Up," and why he knew Tatum would become a star.

Read more: Shona Rhimes on the Making of 'Crossroads'

BROADLY: Did you expect Step Up to become a big hit?
Buck Damon: No, I didn't. I thought it had potential to be a hit, but you never know what hits and what doesn't. Some things that you think are going to be hugely successful are not and vice versa. I had a good feeling about it during production and especially after we had finished it.

What kind of music did you seek for the film?
Hip-hop was really popular then, and the whole idea is OK, a kid comes from the hip-hop world and collides with someone who is more of a classically trained dancer. The idea was to mesh both worlds, which we did.

What films inspired the films: classic musicals or dance movies like Footloose?
For the first one, I think the biggest inspiration was Fame. Obviously, we didn't follow it, but it was an inspirational goal to make a dance film that could somehow impact [culture] as much as Fame did.

Screencap via YouTube

How did you find the music?
Most of the first one['s soundtrack] was original music. We had everything written for the film. That was just a matter of using my contacts within the hip-hop community, going to producers, from Scott Storch—who, you know, [produced] anyone who was popular then—[to] people who were unknown like [future OneRepublic lead singer] Ryan Tedder.

I knew who he was. He was really eager. I told him what we needed, and he would turn around a song, and I would say, "Oh my god! That's exactly what we needed." I need this song, and he would make another song. And then, years later, he's the lead singer and writer of OneRepublic and a huge record producer.

Wyclef John wrote something for us. It's all a matter of canvassing the community, and seeing who's interested, and getting people to commit things, and developing them.

Did you expect Ciara's "Get Up" to end up a top ten single?
Yeah, instantly, the first [time] I heard the demo. I chased her because [of] who she was and what was happening. Her and her manager were really into the idea, so we screened the movie for them. They sent [the demo of "Get Up"] to me, and I was like, "That's it." It was sort of what we wanted and were looking for.

Read more: The First Female Hijacker Shares Her Story

Did you pick all of the music after production wrapped?
No, not all of it. If we were dancing to it, we would pick it [before filming started]. Much to the choreographer's hesitation, I would swap things out in post[-production] sometimes. After they saw that I knew what I was doing when I would swap things out, they felt more comfortable with me doing that.

Why do you think the movie was so successful and appealed to so many people?
My god, I don't know. It's like, "How did I do that? I don't know." It's a series of steps that we got to success. Why do I think it was so successful? I think it hit something timely back then. So You Think You Can Dance was just starting. We did this tie in, and I remember them saying, "There's this TV show, Do You Think You Can Dance," and it was like, "Oh, that would work well." I think just as the dance craze was starting, we were at the start of that wave.

Did you think Channing Tatum was going to be a star?
[Director] Anne [Fletcher] called me, and she said, "I just was in a tent with a young guy. I think I found my lead. He's amazing. He's not trained, but he's a great dancer, and he's incredible on film." Meeting him, he was incredibly nice. I was constantly on set with him, and I kinda thought he had the it factor. Then when I would screen the film for record labels, the girls or the women in the screenings were like, "Oh my god. That lead, he's amazing." After sharing that so many times, it's like, "Yeah, he's a star."

What is the biggest misunderstanding about Step Up?
The biggest misunderstanding? I don't know, are there any? It's a dance film.