Finally, the moment I’ve been anticipating for so many years, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, one of my favorite films (if not THE favorite) is being released on Blu-Ray in all it’s widescreen high-definition glory. Today, April 21, 2015, the fantastic Shout! Factory (responsible for the release of the Freaks and Geeks box set and countless horror classics via their Scream Factory imprint) releases both Breakin’ films as a double feature on what is the 31st anniversary of both films. Strange to think kids today who may see these now viewing them the same way I saw movies from the 1950s, as it still feels like only yesterday my Dad was taking me to the theater to see Breakin’ 2 when we lived in West Virginia. After that trip to the local cinema the film stayed with me ever since, and really my love for it has only become stronger. A lot of has to do with my love for music from the 80s which I believe is one of the strongest decades for music (contrary to popular opinion) – and the Electric Boogaloo soundtrack is no exception. What always stuck with me the most about Breakin’ 2 (and yes, I view it in much higher regard than the original film which was released only seven months prior to the sequel, in the spring of 1984) was the complete joy that radiates from every frame. The music, the dancing, the bright LA setting, the Dayglo costumes, and even though the storyline has been done plenty of times before and since, the positive message of good winning over greed. It’s just so hard in my opinion to find even another musical that is filled with so much optimistic energy and that is – more than anything else – completely sincere. Of course there are plenty of films out there which are more technically accomplished, and I would obviously have to say are “better” films. Really, there’s no mistaking it. But I always find myself coming back to Breakin’ 2 when people ask me what my favorite film is. It may not be perfect in its execution, but where its heart lies couldn’t be more clearer, which is a lot more than can be said about movies both then and now.
It was a true pleasure having the opportunity to interview – to celebrate the Blu-Ray release – one of the stars, Adolfo ‘Shabba-Doo’ Quiñones (who portrays Ozone in both films) and the film’s director, Sam Firstenberg. Both couldn’t have been nicer, and even kinder to take time out of their busy schedules to take part.
The end credits of Breakin’ mentioned a sequel called Electric Boogaloo was in the works. Was a sequel always part of the plan or was that included in case the first was a hit and a sequel was then financially warranted by Cannon?
Sam Firstenberg: I was never aware of that fact but I am not surprised. From the beginning Cannon was a company of sequels, Death Wish 2, 3, & 4 with Charles Bronson is just one example. I presume that you are right and the plan was that if Breakin’ would be successful they would produce a sequel.
Adolfo Quiñones: A sequel wasn’t in the works, during production of Breakin’ it was planned due to the enormous success of the film. I was not contracted for the sequel. After tough negotiations we entered into an agreement to star in the second film.
Sam, how did you become involved as director? Was it your history with Cannon Films, or a specific vision you had for the sequel?
SF: The director of Breakin’ was Joel Silbert and as far as I know he was supposed to direct the sequel. I don’t know why he did not, and I never asked, but at some point after the release of the movie Ninja III: The Domination that I directed with the same actress of Breakin’, Lucinda Dickey (Kelly), I was asked by the head of Cannon Films, Menahem Golan, to take over the directing of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. At that point I did not have any vision for the movie, it was developed later.
Michael ‘Boogaloo Shrimp’ Chambers, Lucinda Dickey, Adolfo ‘Shabba-Doo’ Quiñones
Your history at that point as a director was mostly ninja films (‘Return of the Ninja’, ‘Ninja III: The Domination’). Was the transition to a musical challenging or did that background actually help in some way?
SF: As a matter of fact my background as an action director helped a lot when it came to directing a dance movie. By that point I had gained vast knowledge and experience in directing and creating sophisticated action sequences such as fights and chase scenes. When it came to directing dance sequences I discovered that there is no big difference between the two. It is all about deconstructing the certain piece of action or dance to its elements on the set, in a way that later, in the editing room using the cinematic language, it could be reconstructed in the most effective way, to enhance it to the delight of the potential audience.
Menahem Golan had his own history with musicals, having directed 1980’s The Apple for example. He seemed to have an affinity for the genre. How was it working with him, his partner Yoram Globus, and the notorious Cannon team?
AQ: I personally found working with Menahem and Yoram to be both tough and rewarding. Initially I was tapped to choreograph the film before being cast as Ozone.
SF: This is true, in addition to The Apple, Menahem Golan also directed the musical Kazablan and he did love that genre of films. As a result it was actually very creative and fruitful working with him on that movie. I remember that every weekend we met in his house to discuss the script and potential additions and changes to it. He was engaged in watching the dailies every night and always had suggestions for improvements and additional dance numbers. Yoram Globus was not involved in the creative side of making the movies. During production the entire Cannon team was very supportive. As an in-house director, since I was also part of that team, everyone there was also a friend.
On the set of Breakin’ 2 with Adolfo Quiñones, Lucinda Dickey, director Sam Firstenberg
The film’s plot has been criticized for being standard background filler, but it’s actually said to be based on a real life story. If true, what is that story?
SF: If the plot of Electric Boogaloo is based on a true life story then I am not aware of it and don’t know much about it. But it is really a familiar story anyway, the story of the small guy taking on the powerful authorities for a cause that will benefit the community. Many classical film have tackled that subject so many times, so yes it is standard story but one that people love to be told again and again.
AQ: Actually, my character Ozone and my side kick Turbo were both patterned after our real life personas. I must add, Breakin’ was based on a project I managed to get produced and financed by Topper Carew for Rainbow Productions, Breakin’ and Entering, a documentary based on the west coast street-dance scene in Los Angeles. I eventually headlined and served as the choreographer and talent coordinator for the production.
The look of the film is very bright and optimistic with its neon and Dayglo pastel colors, a bit of a contrast from the first film. What was the thinking in that? Was it simply a result of street fashion at the time or was it a feeling you wanted to get across?
AQ: Well, a little of both to be honest. I personally felt they were going in the wrong direction. I was told they wanted to bring a brightness and a sense of fun and optimism to the sequel.
SF: The “look” of the film is a result of the talks I conducted with the production designer during the pre-production period. Yes it was the fashion of the time among the hip-hop crowd but it was also our intention to exaggerate it to a point of saturation to create excitement, youthfulness and hope.
The late producer Menahem Golan, of Cannon Films, on the set with the Breakin’ 2 cast
Lucinda had a dancing school background, while Michael and Adolfo’s were said to come more from street performing. What was the experience like working with leads who had such different backgrounds?
SF: The differences of their style of dancing had been all resolved in the original Breakin’ movie so I did not have to deal with it. Besides, this is usually the area of the dance choreographer and all the other dance experts and not the director’s.
AQ: It had it’s pros and cons. On one hand it was great but on the other there were moments of frustration, but I believe we were able to eventually overcome our differences. For the record, I was never a street-performer per se, and neither was Michael ‘Boogaloo Shrimp’ Chambers (Turbo) who was a current member of my dance crew – he along with other featured dancers in the films.
Was the cast of dancers drawn from the Los Angeles and southern California area or did you search throughout the country to get the best of the best?
AQ: Yes, I had tremendous casting input, and played a major part in casting the street-dancers and choreographers of the film. Namely, Jaime Rogers and Billy Goodson.
SF: The three lead dancers, Lucinda, Boogaloo Shrimp, and Shabba-Doo, were a given. For all the rest we conducted open call auditions. Dancers come from all over the Los Angeles metropolitan and probably from other cities as well. Casting the vast number of dancers was not my responsibility but the choreographer and his assistants. I was only involved when it came to casting principal dancers important to the story. In addition, at the time Shabba-Doo was very much involved in the hip-hop and break-dance scene in Los Angeles and other cities so he brought in some of his friends and co-dancers to participate in the movie.
The George Kranz track ‘Din Daa Daa’ seems to be the heart, and almost a source of energy for the film, including it being used during two different scenes. How were songs chosen for the film, and were the song choices decided before anything else since nearly every scene is centered around specific songs?
SF: The producing of the music went hand in hand with the pre-production of the movie. The PolyGram records label partnered with Cannon films to produce and then distribute the songs for the movie, at a very early stage. A representative of the company commissioned Ollie Brown from Ollie & Jerry to scout and choose some existing songs and then produce and record some other songs. They worked together with the choreographer Billie Godson in finalizing the selection to fit certain dance numbers written in the script. The process was a collaboration of many talented people including Cannon’s music department. Later on during the editing of the movie (editor Marcus Manton) we realized that some songs or musical themes of those songs would fit certain situations in the story, so we decided to use them accordingly, either as repetitive theme or as echoing and mirroring effects.
AQ: You’re right in part, regarding ‘Din Da Da’. However, many of the songs were chosen after the point and added later, matching tempo, etc.
What inspired the music from Ollie & Jerry being featured so predominantly throughout the soundtrack? What songs from the soundtrack, if any, were you into on a personal level; or enjoy dancing to the most during the production?
AQ: Interesting, Ollie and I had this conversation some time ago. He told me he would watch my dailies from the film and get ideas from what I said and did, being the leader of the crew both on and off camera. My favorite song to dance to during filming was ‘Reckless’, performed by Ice-T and produced by Chris ‘The Glove’ Taylor.
The scene of Turbo dancing on the ceiling is said to be a shout out to classic musicals like Fred Astaire’s Royal Wedding. What is the story of how that was done and what the inspiration was. How difficult was that to pull off?
SF: The idea to add a scene of Turbo dancing on the ceiling was Menahem’s. It was indeed inspired by a similar scene of Fred Astaire in the movie Royal Wedding. The way a tricky dance like this is done is by building a room that can be rotated a full circle upside down all the way. The camera is anchored to the floor and goes up when the ceiling comes down and the dancer on it. In the final shot it looks like the dancer is on the ceiling dancing upside down. The only difficult part is that everything in the windows and all the lighting setup has to rotate with the rotating room. The dancer also faces a challenge in reorienting himself every second to the revolving reality around him.
AQ: Yes, it was created as an homage to Fred Astaire’s Royal Wedding, using the gimbal room. The way they did it, if I remember correctly, all the furniture and so forth were all nailed down, and the gimbal room was placed in the middle of a rotating barrel. The cameraman was strapped to a board, I think, along with his camera, which allowed him to rotate with the room. The idea came from Menahem and the film’s director, Sam Firstenberg.
What was your favorite scene to film, and what made it so special for you?
AQ: My favorite scene in Breakin’ was the initial battle in Radiotron, which really showed off our dancing. In Breakin’ 2, it was the scene where I lead a horde of kids to march on city hall against gentrification. That scene was particularly special to me as it showed how we felt about ourselves and our community.
A recent article stated the film’s final production was rushed because distributor Tri-Star wanted it out to distract from the disastrous release of Supergirl the month prior. Cannon on the other hand was well-known for rushing all their releases with the “quantity over quality” concept. In different hands and a different situation, do you think this would have been a different film, or was the final product what you had envisioned and hoped for?
SF: The distribution company Tri-Star asked for about two thousand prints of the finished movie two or three weeks after the end of photography; not to distract from a disastrous box-office results of Supergirl but to replace the movie in all the theaters they commissioned for its release and recover some of the financial loses it suffered. Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo opened as a result in about two thousand theaters in North America and was received enthusiastically and did well in box-office. Not all of Cannon’s films were rushed product, they were low budget but not necessarily rushed. In some of the Ninja movies I directed there was plenty of time in production and in post production, and so was the shooting schedule of Electric Boogaloo. But the editing of it was a rush job indeed. We worked with seven editors and numerous sound editors 24 hours around the clock for several weeks. The movie obviously did not suffer in terms of energy and vitality because of the short editing period but it could have been different if the overall budget was bigger. With more money it could have looked bigger, more polished, and maybe some famous “name” actors could have been hired to play guest parts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a more successful movie. The vision could have been enhanced but it definitely was not compromised.
AQ: I’m not aware of their reasons for rushing to get the film out, I suspect it had a lot to do with money. Again, I wasn’t particularly pleased with the film’s direction in the second Breakin’ film.
Some may not realize the level of work that was put into Breakin’ 2 – no matter their opinion of the final product – especially with the dance scenes which usually included dozens if not hundreds of dancers and extras. What was the most challenging part of the production process, be it pre, post, or filming?
AQ: Filming was by far the most challenging part of production. Long days during an exceptionally hot summer. It was grueling.
SF: Filming such a “big” movie is always a technical and organizational challenge but coming from action packed movies it is not something I had not encountered before. The biggest challenge was organizing and executing the final show scene, with about four thousand extras in the crowd, multiple dance and song numbers, with various dance groups and individual dancers and singers. In addition there is security, crowd control, communication between multiple camera units, coordination of location and timing and much, much, more.
Upon its release, reviews were actually good – they seemed to “get it” – from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, to Roger Ebert who gave it a three-and-a-half star review. The final box office tally however was considered a disappointment compared to the first Breakin’. Did the release come too soon after the original, or did the winter release hinder its performance perhaps, as it’s more of a summer film?
SF: It is true that the movie was not a summer release, but on the other hand it came out in the holiday season which is also a very good time for a release of a youth oriented film. Since I am not a distribution expert and have no knowledge in that field I am not qualified to comment on box-office matters. But as you mentioned Breakin’ 2 got some good reviews and in the final analysis, over the long period of time since it was made, it has proven to be a cultural iconic classic with great longevity and influence even today, and to the best of my knowledge also made tons of money worldwide.
AQ: I agree, on one hand the core of the story/plot was a good one, however, it faltered in the execution. The dance sequences seemed to work but wasn’t well thought out, and as a result, it came across kind of hokey and uneven. I remember cringing at some of the hospital scenes where Turbo was supposedly injured, and miraculously being healed within hours. I’m still shaking my head on that one. Lol.
Obviously the film’s Electric Boogaloo subtitle created a humorous cultural impact, but what positive cultural impact do you think the film had at the time and in the years since? Did it distract from, or drawn attention to the film and it’s positive message and feeling?
AQ: On one hand it brought a lot of attention to the popping art form, but on the other hand it felt forced and contrived. I believe the positive message managed to remain intact despite the title and overall left the audiences with a good feeling that resonates to this very day, some 30 plus years later.
SF: It is hard to tell what was the impact of the phrase “Electric Boogaloo” on the movie’s success at the time of its release, but today, 30 years later, it definitely draws attention to this cultural phenomenon, and is a major factor in the film’s longevity and popularity with young new audiences of today. The phrase by itself became synonymous with the 80s and a substitute for the word “sequel”. I just read the following sentence somewhere on the internet; “we are waiting for a sequel to the bible that will be called Bible 2 – Electric Boogaloo”.
For the hardcore fans, could we get clarification on two things? Why does Turbo’s girlfriend randomly appear from a locker in his room during the big hospital scene? What is the song used during the scene where the bulldozers are turned away, and how can we get it?
SF: For the hardcore fans (and I am so glad that they exist) the answer to the first question is that the rough cut edit version of the movie was too long and we had to cut out some scenes to shorten it. One of them was a scene of the girlfriend sneeking into the hospital and in order to avoid being discovered by the big, fat head nurse, she hides in the closet or locker. If the scene was not cut out her appearance would not appear to be random. To answer the second question, if I am not wrong the piece of music you are mentioning is not really a song – it has no lyrics – but it is rather a composition to accompany the scene and therefore it is not on the Electric Boogaloo soundtrack CD. But today with the enormous amount of information on the web I am certain that there is a way to find it.
AQ: Ha ha, there’s a lot of unexplained ‘random’ occurrences in Breakin’ 2. The track playing during the bulldozer scene was basically a filler track, and therefore, doesn’t have a title. It is virtually impossible to find.
What does the film now mean to you personally, over 30 years later?
AQ: The Breakin’ films serve as a source of personal and professional pride, and an iconic landmark for the hip hop culture. I must add, I am eternally grateful to have been a part of both productions. I am particularly happy to know my characterization of Ozone has and continues to have such a positive impact and inspiration for millions of dancers and dance enthusiasts both young and old all over the world. I think it’s time for “A Breakin’ Uprising”! Yes, let’s do it one more time!
SF: To me the film Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo does not have a “meaning” per se but it is a source of great memories and satisfaction from knowing that it still resonates with some audiences bringing them delight, and the fact that it become an iconic film that symbolizes the colorful 80s.
For further information on actor Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quiñones, visit his website.
Fur further information on actor Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers, visit his website.
For further information on director Sam Firstenberg, check out his website.