Jeffrey Hornaday first arrived on the scene in providing the choreography for Flashdance. He went onto orchestrate Dick Tracy, the film version of a Chorus Line and laid down the numbers for Michael Jackson’s Captain EO. If that’s not enough, he’s worked along side Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Robert Zemeckis and directed world tours for Madonna and Paul McCartney. The unbelievable success of the Teen Beach Movie, which was the highest rated cable movie in history, has earned him the Director’s Guild of America Award and almost encapsulates all he’s accomplished in one question.
Times Square(TS): What else is left to do?
Jeffrey Hornaday(JH): (Laughing) Sleep.
TS: When did you know dance did it for you?
JH: When I was a kid, I saw Cabaret. There was just something about it so I went back and saw it 13 more times.
TS: What did your parents say about that?
JH: I remember my mom dropping me off a couple of times…Movies were like daycare back then.
TS: Where did you go from there?
JH: The town I grew up in did a lot of musical theater, and there was a production of West Side Story, which made it cool to dance. I got involved and got swept up in it.
TS: In sports, many times great coaches aren’t great athletes. Is Dance that way with you?
JH: I used to be good. I worked with a lot of professional dancers. That was the foundation. But I was always a bit more interested in how things were done behind the scenes. I started assisting choreographers, and one thing led to another.
TS: What was your big breakthrough?
JH: I was assisting this choreographer who was doing musical numbers that they would plug into programming overseas. I ended up taking over for him and was learning on the job. From that, I was able to compile enough stuff to make a reel. At the same time, video was just starting in Europe, and the director of Flashdance was fascinated by the medium. So the stuff I was doing – choreography for Rock ‘n Roll – matched his interest. We then met through one of the dance doubles in Flashdance, and that became my breakthrough.
TS: What does Teen Beach Movie owe to the old beach movies?
JH: My memory of these movies is real different than how they are. I remember them being full of energy and choreography, but when look at them, they are very simple, very flat. So the concept we went with was, let’s try and recreate what it feels like when we look at these movies nostalgically rather than trying to recreate them. That led to our mantra of, if it’s not over the top, we’re not doing our job.
TS: But Bleach Blanket Bingo and all that – kind of silly. Did you worry about that here? What attracted you to this?
JH: What attracted me to is it being a story about a couple of modern kids who are into contemporary beach culture and find themselves trapped inside a boy’s favorite old movie from the 60’s – Beach Blanket Bingo. So for me, it’s like how cool is it to do a movie that’s funny and has a modern sensibility about it but is a full on, breakout, song and dance movie.
TS: How do you keep the dance from overshadowing the story?
JH: Cabaret. That’s always the barometer. The music sequences absolutely reveal character and always drove the story forward. You never have a sense of getting off the story so that’s engrained in my head.
TS: What created the historic ratings for Teen Beach Movie?
JH: The thing that was surprising was that a lot of adults with young children would sit down and feel obligated to watch something with their kids. As it turned out, pretty much all the adults I talked to really enjoyed it themselves. Like the Pixar movies, adults got as much pleasure out of it as their kids.
TS: Moving on, you worked with Michael Jackson.
JH: Michael Jackson had this real innocence about him that allowed him to not get in his own way. He was the best performer I’ve ever been in a room with. He reminded me of Fred Astaire in that there was a real eloquence about what he did. And all this time later, we almost take for granted what he accomplished. He actually did those things, which is amazing.
TS: Did you work with him when he all his craziness was emerging?
JH: When I was working with him on Captain EO, he was at the height of his powers and before he took a dark turn so I was lucky.
TS: Tell me about working with Paul McCartney.
JH: The guy I worked with before I directed the tour for Lionel Richie was a big promoter in Europe and turned out to be the go to guy for Paul McCartney. At the time, Paul hadn’t toured for about ten years, and he said, if something comes up would you be interested. I was like, yeah. So one day, I was driving, the cell phone rings, and I pick it up. Then I hear, this is Paul McCartney. Of course, I wasn’t expecting the call so I’m heading across four lanes of traffic to get off the freeway. I was just a magic moment. Paul McCartney calling me but the experience of working with him was unique. He would come in with stuff in a real abstract way. Almost in a Sergeant Pepper-eque way, he would have these disparate images and he wants to see what you can distill from that. In rehearsal, he’d be like, I was thinking last night about a 17th century woman in a powdered wig, a long wonky dress – see what you could do with that…Looking back at it, everything appears like very preconceived conceptual ideas when really it was this long improvisational effort.
TS: It must be weird being Paul McCarteny. Every person he meets is going to have a permanent jaw drop on their face.
JH: I was never not star struck. It was a dream come true. There was this one moment where everyone went off to lunch, and he stayed behind to do a sound check. He started singing Yesterday and got my camera phone out…
TS: I guess the 14 times seeing Cabaret really paid off.
JH: Two dollars a movie, $28 – yeah.
TS: Real nice talking to you
JH: Thank you