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Interview: The LXD’s Jon Chu

July 7th, 2010 by Rebecca Harper Editor

This week marked the debut of an all-new web series on Hulu: The LXD. Written and directed by Jon M. Chu, who also helmed Step Up 2 and the upcoming Step Up 3D, this online exclusive tells the tale of several ordinary characters who discover they possess amazing superpowers through dance. Choreographed by Harry Shum Jr. (who just so happens to play Mike Chang on Glee) and Chris Scott, it’s all about the adventures of a growing league of, well, extraordinary dancers. With two episodes up on Hulu now — each provides the back story to a dancer; episodes throughout the first season will continue to reveal each dancer’s special talents — we caught up with Chu just has he’d finished watching Step Up 3D one last time before sending it out, so he was feeling a bit nostalgic. — Rebecca Harper (), Editor

Hulu: Thanks for talking to us today, Jon. So tell us … what is The LXD?
Jon Chu:
The best way to explain it is it’s an online dance adventure. It’s sort of a superheroes web series but the story is told through dance. Their superpower is dance, but the best part of it is that there are no special effects. There’s no wire work. Their superpower is actually real, and they are actual real people doing their thing. There’s mythology behind every character and you learn the mythology of how they discover their powers and how they meet each other to become to the most elite dance crew in the world.

It’s such a changing thing because the series itself is so unique because it’s very balletic and sort of operatic. It’s a mythology. There’s magic, there’s fantasy, there’s a different world. There are bad guys, there’s good guys, and it’s all told through dance. The language of the story is told through dance, so it’s a hard thing to explain to people until they actually get to see it.

What inspired you to do this?
You know, the dancers themselves. When I finished Step Up 2 a couple years ago and became friends with a bunch of the dancers, I started going to their sort of underground clubs. We became really good friends, and the more people that I would meet in these clubs, the more they amazed me. Each one I met, the next one was even more amazing than the last one. And they were all so different. I had never seen this type of dancing before. Each one has their own unique style of dance. One guy would be finger cutting, one guy would be waacking, one person would be jerking, one person would be the most amazing roboter. You just didn’t see this stuff — or I didn’t see this stuff — on TV or in anything; it’s just in the background of music videos for pop artists. To watch them expressing themselves on the dance floor, it hit me emotionally. They told stories on the dance floor and it started from there. I was like “Wow, you can actually do a lot more with dance.” Things that I had grown up watching, like musicals, the way I felt when I watched Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly do a movement, and how graceful and beautiful and emotional it was. I could see this among these hip-hop dancers, and that’s not how it’s usually portrayed when they dance.

So I started writing these stories about the different unique dancers that I’d started to meet, like Mad Chad, a robot guy. I started to write a story about how he discovered that he had robotic abilities.Maybe somebody implanted a machine inside his body instead of a heart, and I gave him this sort of bionic feel. Then I started writing about a guy who had no bones and how he could slink into different places and hide from enemies. But as a kid, he’d grown up with weak bones, so at some point, they just removed all of them. All these stories started to become more crazy and sort of fantastical. I realized that the good stories connected, that they actually were telling a bigger story and that it could include some bad guys. So I started to write those things and that’s when it got really, really fun.

The inspiration also came from Michael Jackson. Growing up watching “Thriller” or “Smooth Criminal,” those videos told great stories through dance. It wasn’t cheesy; it wasn’t like they were all of a sudden thinking in song and dance — even though they were. It was cool, and they danced with a weapon. It was manly, and it was just a cool, cool thing. So I thought, what if all of Michael Jackson’s stories had a bigger story to them? That’s kind of where it all started.

A lot of people have done web series. How is The LXD different than the others?
I think our secret weapon is dance. When you look at the top viral videos of all time, the majority of them are dance, whether it’s the Evolution of Dance, or Soulja Boy, or OK Go. So we tell a story through that. There’s no language barrier because obviously the Internet is a global thing. Because our dance is such a mix of different cultures — hip-hop is such a mix of different cultures and traditions, too, in itself. We use very unique styles of hip-hop, so it all crosses over and we don’t need to translate anything. Also, at showings, guys love it. It doesn’t have to be something that guys have to be afraid of, to watch dance happen in a musical form or anything like that.

And I think that our production value — I come from a film pedigree, so that’s where I approached it from. I knew that the dancers and talent were going to bring it. They’re the best dancers in the world, no doubt. So I knew that to keep up with them, we had to get the best film team together. We got really daring filmmakers and we all got together and started telling these stories of how a modern comic book would be told through video. Not a motion comic, not anything that a comic book portrays, but really a come-to-life comic book where the images themselves tell the stories. I think that’s a big change for even music videos out there. So we got really strong storytellers to come in to tell the story.

How did you assemble the whole group? You mentioned the club scene, but there are also some familiar faces in there — people like Harry Shum Jr., for instance.
Yeah, I met Harry like three, four years ago when we did Step Up 2. We first cast him and a couple others in there. Some of them I met in the clubs. When Step Up 2 came out, Miley Cyrus called one of the stars of the movie, who was just 15. She was 15 at the time, too, and called and left him a message and said, “Hey, I really liked you in the movie, just wanted to let you know.” So he called me and asked how we could get her number — but I didn’t know how to get her number. She did have a YouTube page, and I have a YouTube page. I wanted to make a dance video, anyway, with all these dancers from the movie, so I was like, let’s make a dance video and challenge her to an online dance battle. We’ll say that the rules are no rules. We knew that she had dancers; we knew that she had people that could film it, so we decided to challenge her. So we did it. We got all these dancers together. I met a lot of our LXD members from that. Everybody just started calling everybody. So one Tuesday night, they all came to the studio and shot this video. We called Miley Cyrus and her friend Mandi up. Two days later, she responded and made a video of her own, which was really high production value and included Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan at the end, which was obviously a slap in our face, because he’s the star of Step Up 1. So then it was on — and these videos were getting a million hits within a week of each other. We released another one and we get Adam Sandler, Lindsay Lohan, Diana Ross, Amanda Bynes … a ton of people were part of it. And that went nuts, too.

In the last few months, you’ve done TED, the Oscars, the Glee Tour. What’s it been like, getting all this attention?
It’s been a crazy ride! We started this to tell a filmic story online. It’s even hard to say “web series,” because web series has a cheap connotation to it. But what we’re doing isn’t cheap. We have a really super-high quality production with high quality talent. It’s fun to get everyone together and do this.
We started to make the web stuff, and so when people started to see the trailer, we got all these calls. Adam Shankman invited us to do the Oscars. We got invited to do So You Think You Can Dance, and we got invited to do the TED stuff. It all came from our web stuff. We hadn’t really done live shows yet. So everyone was wondering, how do we communicate? We’re going to look crazy if we go onstage and show superhero dancers. So we really called upon our choreographers Harry and Chris to come up with what our live identity is. I think it was that performance on So You Think You Can Dance where we said, “Listen, we’re not a dance crew. We’re a cast of characters, so we can’t come across as just another dance crew from one of those reality shows.” We had to do something really, really different. We wanted to tell an emotional story with hip-hop, so they picked this great Coldplay song that was done by a string quartet. I think it was that performance that really broke us out and made us stand out as different from everything else that was out there. It was then that TED called us. To get that call was nuts. People like Bill Gates and Al Gore want to see us? It was pretty cool. It was really cool and really personal they way they invited us. We sat down all the dancers and said, I know live shows weren’t in the plan, but I think we have an opportunity to change not just online stuff, but the live show way hip-hop is shown, as well. Everyone’s been in it together, and it’s been a really fun ride. That’s a good feeling.

Well we wish you lots of success with the series. Thanks, Jon!

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