Hollywood’s Best Film Directors


Adam Shankman

In "Hollywood's Best Film Directors," we go behind-the-scenes with some of Hollywood's biggest names. They talk about their lives and work, explaining what makes them so successful. The series includes heavy-hitters Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and M. Night Shyamalan, among others.

AIRED: March 01, 2021 | 0:26:01

Man: Action.



Got it. Good!


Narrator: This great Hollywood director started his career

as a dancer and then choreographed movies

such as "The Flintstones,"

"Anastasia," and "Boogie Nights."

His directorial debut was "The Wedding Planner,"

starring Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Lopez.

And it was a mega hit.

He followed that with the teenage movie

"A Walk to Remember,"

and the successful comedies "Bringing Down the House"

with Queen Latifah and Steve Martin

and the blockbuster "Bedtime Stories" with Adam Sandler.

He has excelled, especially in the musical genre,

as a producer of the "Step Up" franchise

and as director of the mega-production

"Rock of Ages" and the multi-award-winning "Hairspray."

Hey, I'm Adam Shankman, and welcome

to "Hollywood's Best Film Directors."

I'm here, honored, not knowing exactly

why I was chosen to be a part of this.

But hey.

Welcome to my home.

We are in Hollywood, California, situated unironically

under the Hollywood sign up in the Hollywood Hills.

Hollywood, Hollywood, Hollywood.

'Cause I'm a Hollywood film director.


I grew up in Los Angeles, I was born here,

my parents were incredibly supportive,

loving, young parents of the '60s,

and grew up in a really beautiful,

pretty idyllic setting in terms of my surroundings

and the people who raised me.

My mom listened to a ton of music, as did my father.

So I was introduced to the notion of music

and dance at a very young age. I went to school.

I always wanted to act, dance, and sing.

But my parents were really firm about the fact

that I was not going to have those opportunities

professionally until I had a full education.

I understood and I hung in there with it.

But all through school I was heavily involved with theater.

I didn't have any formal dance training,

but I danced around a lot.

And my mother says that I came out of her singing

and dancing with a top hat and cane,

which to me just sounds very uncomfortable.

And although my grandparents wanted me

to be a lawyer or a doctor because,

hey, I'm Jewish and that's what we do.

I said that I wanted to be part of theater

and they they happily allowed it

because it's what clearly made me happy.

So I moved to Minneapolis and joined

the Children's Theatre Company in school

where I became a part of a repertory company.

The choreographer from the theater there said to me,

"You are a dancer, you should dance."

And I sort of scratched my head.

And I said, "Well, that's kind of cool."

My years in New York were very kind of roller-coaster-y.

They went up and down. I mean, I had a great time.

I had a lot of fun.

It was, you know, the early '80s.

I was livin' la vida loca. I was having a ball.

And it was also the same period of time

that I started to -- it wasn't question --

but get comfortable with my sexuality.

And I became, you know, a happy, out, gay guy.

But weirdly, at the time,

it was more about just having an identity

and it actually had nothing to do with having sex,

which, you know, fun fact about me.

I basically lived in New York for five years

as an openly gay guy without having sex.

Then I kind of hooked into some pretty extraordinary stuff.

My friend from Los Angeles, Nancy Simon,

who is Neil Simon's daughter,

said, "My sister is casting a workshop."

I don't know, somewhere between 12 and 16 of us in it.

We performed this kind of showcase for her.

Karen Eisenberg, Manny Eisenberg's daughter,

also was a director-choreographer.

And she saw me and she kind of plucked me out

and said, "You know, I think you should come with me

and dance in this production and that."

And so I ended up doing a string of regional productions

all over the country. I remember the cast and I

were watching on TV this great new music video

that Janet Jackson had done called "Rhythm Nation."

And I went, "Oh, my God,

that's what I want to do.

I want to be part of that now."

Friend of mine from high school was doing -- was producing

a Janet Jackson video called "Escapade."

And she asked me if I'd be interested in auditioning.

And I did. And I got in.


I was really lucky.

When I started choreographing,

I wasn't getting a ton of work as a dancer.

People were really into the kind of the all-American type,

back then, it was a lot of industrial work.

And I was sitting in a friend of mine's production office

complaining about how little work I was getting

and the doors quite literally flew open.

And somebody yelled, "Does anybody know a choreographer?"

And I just turned around without thinking at all

and said, "I'm a choreographer."

I met the director who is Julien Temple,

who was probably the most prolific music video director

of that period.

And he just looked at me and he said,

"Well, we need somebody right now.

Who have you worked with?" and I told a half truth,

which was I've worked with Janet Jackson

and Paula Abdul, which was the truth,

because I danced with them. But I hadn't choreographed them.

♪ Come on, baby, let's get away ♪

It was a video that was kind of a low budget favor he was doing,

and it was this artist named MC Shan

and it was my first thing that I ever really choreographed.

And somehow that moment just changed my life.

And I started choreographing from there on in.

And he hired me for so much

that I never really had to look back.

And about a year or two into doing that,

I had a lot of friends that were actors

who were starting to star in stuff.

And they started to ask me, as the stars, they were like,

"Well, I have this dance scene in the movie.

I think you should meet my friend Adam Shankman.

He's a great choreographer."

So I started accepting these jobs.

My first movie was a movie called

"The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag,"

but then a friend of mine asked me

if I would help with "The Flintstones."

So I was on "The Flintstones."

So, many years later,

I was working on a movie

with Mark Wahlberg and Bill Paxton,

and there was a scene that needed to be shot.

And I kind of came to the rescue of the director

and I fixed a scene so that it could be shot more easily

just by actually jocking around the actors

and then helping the camera find what it needed to find.

And the actors walked up to the producers and said,

"You guys should fund a short movie for this guy.

He should be a director."


I was working with a lot of first-time directors

and a lot of them were having a lot of problems

making decisions and they were overthinking stuff

and it was getting in their own way.

So it was becoming frustrating to me.

And the next thing I knew, six, seven, eight months later,

I was still going and I thought, "You know what?

I have a little block of time here.

I'm going to make a short film."

And we put together this short film called "Cosmo's Tale,"

which was just a blast to do. And unbeknownst to me,

the producer of it submitted it to Sundance

and I got into Sundance.

Now, during that time, my sister, who was a producer,

she handed me a script and said, "I'm having a lot of problems

getting a director on this movie.

What do you think of it?" She said, "Well, would you feel

okay about coming into the studio and meeting on it?"

And I said, "Sure, why not?"

I mean, I knew I wasn't going to get the job,

but I thought what a great experience.

The head of it was a woman named Ruth Vitale.

And I was meeting with her and I'd worked with her

on a movie called "Boogie Nights,"

which I'd choreographed

and had really -- we formed a friendship.

And 10 minutes into the meeting, she was like, "You're hired.

This is great." And I was like, "What? Huh?"

And so that happened and that movie was "The wedding planner,"

which turned out to be my first movie.

Man: Action!


Action. Got it. Good!


That's Adam Shankman, the Adam Shankman.

[ Laughter ]

"A Walk to Remember" came about in an interesting way.

I was in post-production on "Wedding Planner"

and I was submitted the script and I read it

and I didn't really care for it.

My agent then called me again like a month later

and said, "Please consider having a meeting on this."

And it was with a producer who I knew.

And I just kept saying, "Please tell Denise --"

It was Denise Di Novi. And I said,

"Please tell Denise thank you, but no, thank you.

I just can't relate to it."

A third time, they came at me a third time and I said,

"Guys, I keep saying no because I mean no

and I just can't find my way in."

And they said, "Denise asks that you read the book

before you pass on it."

So I ended up reading the book and called them back and said,

"Well, this is amazing. This is a beautiful story,

but it's been developed so crazy.

I don't know why you have it developed into where it was."

Again, this is Hollywood.

I don't know why things turn into what they turn into

except the stuff that I'm involved in.

Then I said yes to making the movie,

mostly because I was afraid of kind of a little thing

called the sophomore curse, which is like a lot of people

have hits and "Wedding Planner" was a hit,

people's second movies oftentimes bomb after a hit.

And I was like, "Okay, well, this movie is so low budget.

And, you know, I was told

that I didn't need to hire any big stars

because at that age there were no big stars."

So I essentially greenlit the movie at a very low budget.

And at that time the video market was so hot

that I knew that everybody would make their money back.

And that's really what my rationale

for saying yes to doing it.

♪ So, if every night you're shaking ♪

♪ As you lie in bed -Cut it.

"Hairspray" was a funny one for me

because Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman,

the guys who, you know, kind of ushered me into the business,

had written the stage play.

And I was a huge fan of the John Waters movie.

When I was told that they were trying to do it

or that there was some interest in doing it as a movie.

I was like, "Okay, well, this is mine."

♪ And that's where it's at

♪ Whoa-oh


Okay. So, Elijah, back out a little bit that way.

Thank you.

I threw my hat into the ring

and through circumstances

that now seem so long ago and far away,

but were incredibly painful at the time,

I didn't get the movie, and I made no bones

about how much I was hurt by that.

And then a year later, I was in Canada making a movie

and I got a call saying,

"Those directors are now off the movie that were hired.

Would you feel comfortable coming back in?"

Basically with the maybe false belief

that I was going to just get the movie no matter what

because everybody knew if I didn't get it,

I would kill myself.

And I don't think anybody wanted that.

-Aah! -What is wrong with you?!


Let's do that again.

"Hairspray" I understood in my bones because I don't know

if it was just about being gay or not feeling understood,

but there was a part of me that was like this little fat girl

who just wanted to dance and didn't understand

why people would have a problem with me dancing.


I always stayed close to John Waters and he was like,

"Why are you --" He's like, "If you try to do

what I would do, you're gonna fail.

If you try to do the play, you're gonna fail.

If you do what's in your head,

you're gonna do great 'cause you're great."

And I was like, "John Waters thinks I'm great, what?"

♪ Kids in town


You are on the set of "Bedtime Stories."


In that arena where there is effects and all of that,

there were only a few comedians that made sense to do it

and Adam Sandler happened to be one of them.

And I was on a Christmas trip in Mexico

and Adam happened to be staying in our hotel.

And my sister, as my producing partner was like,

"You have to talk to me about the movie."

I said, "I will not talk to him about this movie.

I will not talk to him about the movie."

There's nothing more creepy than a guy coming out like,

"Hey, Sandler, I got a script, wow, let's do this."

And so I didn't, which I think turned out

to be the best move that I ever made,

because when we did actually come to him,

he thought of me as a person who is respectful

and a friendship that will last a lifetime

happened with Mr. Sandler.

I love him very much.

Actually, could you hang on for one second?

My favorite scene still from that movie is a scene

that is from the very original script,

probably the only scene from the very original script,

which is the scene where his car breaks down

and suddenly gumballs start raining down around him.

And the first thing comes true that the kids have said,

which is that the sky will rain gumballs.

I love that scene.

[ Laughs ]

I'm so happy, oh, my God.


You know, I think that any film lover

or any of the audience probably of this show

knows that they're making a movie is either a one-year,

year-and-a-half, two-year process,

if you're "Gravity," three years, three and a half.

But for me, I take to that really quickly,

because as a choreographer, my entire life

and as a dancer was all about rehearsal and preparing

and getting ready to do stuff.

So it was sort of my natural inclination to immerse myself

in the preparatory period as much as I could.

With "Pacifier,"

it was easier than harder because it was mostly

about creating the world in which the people lived in.

And it was really about getting venues to those kids

that he was going to be literally wearing around

for half the movie, getting the kids loving him.

He happens to be a great dad and a great --

he's great with kids.

So that came pretty easily to him.

And that movie had been written originally for,

I believe, Jackie Chan. And so we had to remold the movie

and then bring in kind of what Vin did in a great way.

And again, another great lifelong friendship

was formed there, which feels like,

how are you friends with Vin Diesel?

But I'm telling you, Vin Diesel loves him some musicals.

When I took "Wedding Planner," it was like I think it was

thought to be like an $8 million independent film

and it was just this little romantic comedy that,

you know, I was excited to make if it happened.

And but you never know. And during that time,

there were a couple of actors that I talked with

about doing it as we were developing it.

What happened was I had signed with my agency, UTA,

who had represented me as a choreographer

and then suddenly I was directing,

they were representing me as a director.

And they started calling me and saying, "Jennifer Lopez

really, really, really wants to meet on this movie.

Like, she's like being really relentless.

She loves the script."

And I just thought to myself, "Well, she's too sexy.

Like, this character's Italian and she's Latin

and I don't really understand that casting."

And I kept saying no.

And by the time I met with her,

she had just been coming out of her marriage.

And we met and we sat down

and we had the time of our lives at this lunch.

And we just like by the end of it,

she had completely talked me into hiring her.

I called them and I said, "Gosh, you know, I'm into her."

And the studio was like, "Well, we're not."

A year later, her deal was done, basically.

But by that time, her album had come out and she had broken out

and become a big, big star.

Let's do it again because it was too real.

I like to act a little more.

♪ Who cares about sleep when you can snooze in school? ♪

I made the whole movie through the character's point of view,

which made it very easy for me to make.

It informed the look of it,

it inform the sound of it, it informed the casting.

I saw the world through Tracy's eyes.

The music led me to do what I did in terms

of the feeling of it all. It felt very of me.

And, you know, then the casting process started

and it started with John Travolta.

And that was a crazy, amazing thing that happened

because Craig Zadan and Neil Meron had been talking to him

for a while about doing it.

But he had said not until

there's a director on and I can talk to him.

Would I ever even consider signing up for this.

And I had one meeting with him

and he was in, and that was just heaven.

And then came Queen Latifah,

who I'd made "Bringing Down the House" with.

So that was easy. And she'd been in "Chicago."

And then came Michelle Pfeiffer, and then Christopher Walken.

I just was having these crazy meetings with all these people

and talking them into doing this what seemed like

a fairly insane project.

That's kind of best for Roger. -Yes, sir.

All: CinemaScope!


Man: Action!


Action. Got it. Good!


I feel like as a director,

because I worked with so many directors before

I actually directed my own movies or TV

or whatever I did, I find that I have learned

so much more from the people who I don't like

how they worked than the people who I like how they work.

So I want my sets, because I'm a crew member

before I was ever a director, I was part of a crew.

So I run my sets like somebody who really knows

what it's like to be on the other side.

My sets are generally very fun. I like silly.

Even when we were making "Walk to Remember" or even

when we've been doing tense action scenes

or any of those things that were not comedic,

I like to let the air out of the tires

and I like people to laugh and I like people to feel like

their time on my sets is valuable and worth doing.

[ Laughs ]

I like to think that I'm a little bit weird

and a lot of actors think that I'm strange

because they don't quite understand

how I get what I get from them,

but I get it from participating with them

and encouraging them and being excited

when they're bringing what they bring to the table

and just being a big cheerleader.

There's a moment at which an actor

understands the character way more than me,

I don't work with actors who I've heard are too difficult.

And I take on crew members who I know are going to be good,

obviously, who are good at what they do,

but who also have good dispositions.

Oh, God. Steve Martin and Queen Latifah.

That is -- That was a pair for the ages for me.

Steve has been one of my greatest supporters.

And because I happen to be one of his biggest fans,

it's meant the most to me.

But Steve is like a light switch.

It's like when you turn him on, it's like Steve Martin

and it's like everything you hope.

And then when you're like call cut it's like...

Queen Latifah is one of my close friends.

She just thought I was so crazy and weird

and, you know, she was just sort of mesmerized.

But boy, man, they loved each other.

They loved working together. It was great.

Matthew McConaughey is one of those actors.

Again, I love that man so much. But that is you put in a quarter

and whatever is going to happen is going to happen.

I mean, you can only have so much influence on it.

Like, I remember when we were doing the tango scene

for "Wedding Planner,"

he worked relentlessly for like a month and a half,

almost every day on what that was,

so he could act freely and understand steps.

He's just so enthusiastic and loves life

and is so passionate about stuff. It's really infectious.

It made me really excited because he is,

like Christopher Walken, he's like a wild card,

like, I don't know how it's going to come out of his mouth,

what's going to come out of his mouth.

But it's always going to be interesting.

Working with Tom Cruise spoiled me

more than anything in the world

because I've never worked with anybody

who was such an army of enthusiasm.

Like he comes with 10 million percent of his,

you know, excitement every day to work.

[ Cheers and applause ]


The other thing that's really significant about me

being a dancer on that Oscars in 1990

was 20 years to the year later,

I got the opportunity to produce the Oscars

and I'm pretty sure I'm the first --

I know I was the youngest Oscar producer at that time for sure.

But what was also cool was,

I am for sure the only producer of the Oscars

who started out as a dancer on the Oscars.

The "Step Up" franchise was really born of a desire

for Erik Feig, who's the president

of Lionsgate now, to make a dance movie.

And he sort of came to me and he said,

like, "Who's like the next you?"

And he sent me the script and I said,

"Well, the script is pretty. I don't know about it,

but if you want a director who can put it into shape,

it would be my best friend, Anne Fletcher

and then we'll produce it, my sister and I,

because, you know, we know how to do this."

And we had no idea that, you know, we just finished

making five that, you know,

$600 million later that we would be sitting here

with all of this, all of this legacy, really.

But I originally made it just wanting for my best friend

to have an opportunity to see what it is that I do every day.

And then the wild reality of casting

Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan, it was just magic.

You know, he was so special and so was she.

And now they're married and have a baby,

which I, of course, call the Step Up baby.

And, you know, we take full credit

for that relationship and that career,

I'm not going to lie.


The movie that I will never, ever, when I'm channel surfing

or if it appears somewhere that I will always see

and never turn off, is "Jaws."

"Jaws" holds up for me regardless,

no matter what, I am still transported.

Every time I see that movie, it brings back

every one of the same feelings

that I ever felt when I saw it originally.

So, and Mr. Spielberg knows that.

And I've actually written an article for "The New York Times"

about it, and he's written me letters

about how much I love it.

And I have "Jaws" paraphernalia. And so, yes, it's "Jaws."

It's very difficult for me to look at any of my work

because, again, they all look like documents of mistakes.

And God, I wish I'd done that, I wish I'd done that.

"Hairspray," in my heart,

was obviously an incredibly close space

because I really do see myself in that way

and then "Bring Down the House,"

ah, that movie just makes me laugh.

So I can actually watch "Bringing Down the House"

as if I didn't make it.

So that's pretty -- That's pretty cool.


You know, at this point, I make movies the same way

that a baker bakes or a teacher teaches,

it's what I do, it's who I am.

I don't really imagine myself or I can't really see myself

doing anything else,

because at the end of the day, I'm a storyteller.

And this is the medium that I found the greatest comfort in,

on top of which,

I love being a part of making people feel good.

And when you are the boss of 200-plus people and daily,

you can make them feel proud of what they've done

because you've supported them in all working towards

telling a story that millions of people are going to see.

It's just a great feeling.

You know, what I'd like to say to anybody

who's a fan of my work,

obviously, first and foremost is thank you for supporting it

and thank you for being so vocal with me about your support.

But I believe that anybody who's a fan of my movies

in their heart, their soul is a real optimist,

and they believe in all things good in life.

And to this I say congratulations and I'm with you

and I'm just going to keep making movies for you guys.





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