Breakin' into the Film Industry
An interview with screenwriter Julie Reichert
The year 1984 was a watershed for breakdance cinema, with the release of Breakin', Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, Beat Street, Delivery Boys and Body Rock (starring a young Lorenzo Lamas). The following year saw a tiny spate of follow-up films (Krush Groove, Rappin'), but the trend (cinematically speaking, anyway) seemed short-lived.
Two weeks ago, You Got Served quietly entered theaters and debuted at number one. The low budget drama about the world of “street dancing” (breakdancing by any other name) has racked up a surprising $26 million in ticket sales. Could this signal a whole new wave of breakdancing films?
Naturally, we turned to screenwriter Julie Reichert for insight. Reichert was one of the two screenwriters of Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. Retired from the Hollywood grind, Reichert now teaches writing for health professionals at the University of New Mexico's Health Sciences Center. Her film, written in collaboration with Jan Ventura, has been called “the Citizen Kane of '80s breakdancing movies” and was recently released on DVD, just in time for its 20th anniversary.
I hope you realize Breakin' 2 was at least partially responsible for me doing some very dorky things back in the mid-'80s.
Like what? Can I get the story?
Well, certain styles of dress, certain activities that may or may not have involved large sheets of cardboard. Moving right along, how did you become involved in a breakdancing movie?
I had a friend named Michael Ventura. He was a writer for the L.A. Weekly, a film reviewer. He, at the time, was writing a biography of John Cassavetes. Cassavetes was shooting his movie Love Streams and Michael was making a documentary of it. Cannon Films was producing that. Cannon primarily did exploitation. But they gave Cassavetes the money and said, “Do what you want with it.” Through being associated with Cannon, Michael found out that they wanted to do a breakdance movie. He was unable to do it, so his then-wife and I wrote a script. We just had a few days to write it and sneak it in over there at Cannon. We did that and didn't hear a thing. It turned out they did something entirely different with somebody else. That became Breakin'. We thought, “OK, that's the end of that.” Then, out of the blue, we got a call saying they wanted to hire us to do a second breakdance movie. It was a while before they determined whether they wanted a whole new fresh movie or whether it was going to be a sequel. They didn't know if they were going to get the actors back or not. Then it turned out it was gonna be a sequel, so we did that.
Breakin' and Breakin' 2 were both shot and released in the same year. Did you have like three days to write the screenplay?
Pretty much. They realized they were gonna make a bunch of money off Breakin' and they realized they better get on it quick if they wanted to make more money.
I wasn't in L.A. during the '80s, but the film leaves the impression that everyone—from cops to mimes to little old ladies—was poppin' and lockin' in the streets. Was that true?
No. It was not the case. That was just us doing the movie.
Did you have any experience in the culture at the time?
Only as an observer. We had seen a lot of people doing breakdancing at Venice Beach and here and there. We were familiar with the culture, although we weren't really part of it.
The film is essentially about a bunch of kids who get together and put on a stage show to raise money. I've often wondered if Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland ever showed up on set and threatened to break any legs for stealing their shtick.
Well, one would wonder that. Our original idea was still an exploitation-type film, but it was much more thought-out. We were under a lot of pressures and constraints. The other pressure we were under that was really quite entertaining was that [producers] were going for a G-rating. We couldn't use any [bad] language. We had to start figuring out ways to say things that sounded somewhat authentic. That was a big challenge. We wound up throwing in a line that we were sure was gonna get changed, which was, “What is this baloney?” And it stayed in.
The other thing I have to wonder watching the film is, I'm pretty sure every single shot includes an abundance of Day-Glo graffiti. Did anyone die on set from spray paint fumes?
That's also a good question. I don't know that anyone actually did.
A couple weeks ago, a new breakdance film called You Got Served, became a surprise hit. Any chance of you doing You Got Served 2: Electric Boogaloo?
I'd like to. I've been enjoying the couple hip-hop events I've been to lately: Jonzi D. the weekend before last. He was from England, part of the Revolutions Festival. Some of the local [performers] were there warming up. [Also] the Hip-Hop Prophets they did over at Tricklock Theater. I've been enjoying them and thinking, “Yeah, it would be fun to do another one.” But nobody's asked us.