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STEP UP

The Visual Design
From the beginning, Anne Fletcher liked the fact that STEP UP is set in Baltimore, an industrial Northeastern city full of rawness and vitality — and definitely not a typical performing-arts center like New York or Los Angeles. The visceral urban realism of Baltimore became a key factor in developing the film's contemporary style. To further forge the look she envisioned for the film, Fletcher worked closely with a team that included director of photography Michael Seresin, production designer Shepherd Frankel and costume designer Alix Hester.

Fletcher went after Seresin because he had shot the dance-driven classic "Fame” and went on to such diverse films as "Angel Heart,” "Angela's Ashes” and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” "I went to Michael because ‘Fame' was so tremendously gorgeous and dimensional and yet real and touchable,” says Fletcher. "He has an exceptional eye. Some of his scenes in our film are so rich, I feel like you could eat them right off the screen.”

Seresin was equally drawn to working with Fletcher. "Choreographers traditionally make great directors because they have such a good sense of movement, and Anne's brilliant that way,” he says. "This film is also really different from ‘Fame.' It's more a real story of redemption.”

The cinematographer also had his own distinctive vision for the film. "I wanted the look to be very counter to what you usually think of as hip-hop style,” he notes. "I wanted the lighting to be very naturalistic, so you always feel like the scene is being illuminated by daylight or moonlight or streetlights. To me, hip-hop has a very hypnotic, authentic feeling that I wanted to capture.”

To keep a melodic fluidity to his work, Seresin often listened to the scene's music while working. "The music is so important to the drama, and it can also suggest camera moves,” he explains. "I often use visual beats on the beat. It's pretty subtle stuff, but it's useful to create a strong atmosphere.”

Equally focused on forging the film's atmosphere was production designer Shepherd Frankel, who was faced with the task of creating a fully fleshed-out performing-arts high school. Frankel wound up using three Baltimore locations to get the look he was going after: the exterior is a historic local middle school, the school's auditorium is located at a nearby college, while the centerpiece is the interior of the school, which was built from scratch at the City Pier in Fell's Point, where the TV series "Homicide: Life on the Streets” was filmed. In building the school, Frankel had a lot of personal inspiration. "I went to the LaGuardia School of the Arts in New York City,” he says, "so the first thing I did was bring in my yearbooks and Anne and I started talking about them. We really wanted to make the school feel real, to have a very comfortable and lived-in feeling where there's constantly activity and things going on everywhere.”

Frankel came up with designs that were authentic right down to the tiniest details, from the wooden locker boxes for musical instruments to display areas for student artwork. But it was a daunting challenge to create it all at City Pier. "At the time we started shooting, no one had set foot in there for years,” explains John Starke. "The paint was peeling and it had become an informal homeless shelter. It was pretty rough. And yet Shepherd really turned it into something great.”

Among the sets Frankel created at City Pier were classrooms for costume design, digital art, music, a set shop and Director Gordon's office. He also built a fully functional recording studio and the piece de resistance: the dance studio, which he created so as to be visible from all the other sets, replete with majestic windows that saturate every scene with light.

Moving out into the city, some of Frankel's

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