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TAKE THE LEAD

About The Production
The idea for Take the Lead came about when producer Diane Nabatoff saw a segment on the "CBS Early Show” about Pierre Dulaine, a dance teacher in the public schools of New York. Nabatoff was instantly intrigued by the idea of a man teaching ballroom dancing to young inner-city kids and became determined to find Dulaine and learn more about his story. After two months, she finally located him in New York and arranged a meeting. "I knew immediately that I had to tell this story, no matter how long it took to get it on screen,” recalls Nabatoff.

Nabatoff and her former producing partner Michelle Grace caught the interest of Christopher Godsick, then a Senior Vice President of Production at New Line Cinema, who sparked to the idea right away. "I have always enjoyed mentor-oriented stories as well as dance films,” says Godsick. "I felt Pierre's story took the best from both genres. If we put together the right elements, it was easy to see this project's full potential.”

With New Line Cinema on board, development of the preliminary idea began in earnest. While the story is clearly inspired by Pierre Dulaine's work, the filmmakers decided to change some details to make the story more accessible. As a result, the school setting in Take the Lead was changed from an elementary school to a high school. "We made the kids older so they could be more relatable and open up the story, and we also decided to fuse the two forms of dance to broaden its appeal,” says Nabatoff. 

Christopher Godsick continues, "We wanted to deal with more mature issues – issues that are magnified in high school.” The give and take involved in the relationship between Pierre and his students is also magnified. As he teaches them the classic dances, they infuse these unfamiliar forms with their own hip-hop moves, creating a fusion, a balance of both worlds. "The writer of Take the Lead was faced with a daunting task. Although we remained true to the spirit of Pierre's work, the writer had to create a compelling story and endearing characters that engaged the audience. After a brief conversation, Dianne Houston came into the studio and painted us a wonderful picture,” says Godsick. ”Dianne has an incredible voice and was at one time a dancer, which gives her an understanding, and an amazing take on the story,” adds Diane Nabatoff. 

With a draft of the script complete, the search for the right director began. Liz Friedlander, a veteran music video director, was an easy choice. "The minute Liz walked in, it was just so clear to me,” recalls Nabatoff. "She totally understood the story and had tremendous respect for it. Her background in music videos and dance also gave her an understanding of the world of these kids and the audience we wanted to reach.” While Friedlander was initially attracted by the dance and music elements of the story, she says that "it was the amazing characters combined with the obvious elements of music and dance that I found most intriguing.” Godsick adds, "We knew we wanted a director who could capture the attention of the youth market. We met with several directors who were either good storytellers or possessed an interesting visual style. After meeting with Liz we knew that she was a double threat. Liz has the rare qualities of a complete filmmaker who can deliver on all fronts.”

Friedlander began working with screenwriter Houston to shape the story. She was particularly interested in ensuring that Dulaine be a character and not a caricature. Friedlander explains, ”even though it's a ‘fish out of water' story, Pierre needs to be portrayed as a real person – one that walks and breathes and evolves. Because then he is that much more human and thus more extraordinary.”

As Friedlander and Houston developed the script, conversations began about finding an actor who could best portray the character of Pierre Dulaine on screen. Antonio Banderas was t

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