Director And Choreographer Get “Zapped”

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Zapped
“Zapped” follows Zoey Stevens (Zendaya, center), a high
school straight-A student and advanced level dancer whose life is
up-ended when her mother remarries and she finds herself part of a
family comprised of rambunctious, chaotic and most of all, messy boys —
and a male dog, Humphrey, to boot. She finds salvation in the
unlikeliest of places when a dog-training app downloaded to her
smartphone somehow can also magically control boys. The Disney Channel
Original Movie “Zapped” premieres Friday, June 27 (8:00 p.m., ET/PT) on
Disney Channel. (DISNEY CHANNEL/David Bukach)

BY: Marjorie Galas, Editor

Vancouver may not jump to mind when one thinks of the Disney Channel. Canadian native and “Zapped” director Peter DeLuise knew, however, the area provided great opportunities for the upcoming Disney Channel original movie.

“We shot in Vancouver Islands, which is far left and to the bottom of
Vancouver,” said DeLuise. “The weather, the scenery, the neighborhoods
were perfect for the movie. Vancouver proper is a more developed city.
Most buildings on the island are no more than five stories. It’s just
lovely there.”

See Also: Mia Michaels Turns Raw Emotion Into Expressive Movement

While other recent hits, including “Godzilla” and “22 Jump Street”
where shot in Vancouver, DeLuise’s knowledge of the area allowed him to
recognize the benefit of the lesser-used location. The director whose
television helming credits include “Sanctuary”, “Stargate Atlantis”,
“Stargate SG-1” and “The Outer Limits” used his knowledge of acting and
young adults to guide his choice in directing “Zapped.” An accomplished
actor who started as a teen, DeLuise currently teaches youth acting
classes. He’s the father of a ten year old son. He loves comedy and had
such a great time directing Disney Channel’s “16 Wishes” a few years ago, he was eager to work with Disney again.

Utilizing the strong incentive program, DeLuise hired local crew, and
cast the majority of the key roles surrounding lead actress Zendaya
with Canadian actors, including Chanelle Peloso and Adam DiMarco. While
the classic theme of the story, how absolute power can corrupt a person,
was attractive to DeLuise, “Zapped” incorporated a number of dance
numbers into its storyline. This was new territory for the director.

“In science fiction, you’re creating stuff that isn’t there; you
don’t have to be literal. Working with dance is not unlike an aggressive
CGI or a stunt sequence – you are using these techniques to help tell a
story,” said DeLuise. ““While I had not done a legit dance sequence,
every genre you work with can affect everything else.”

DeLuise knew that finding the right choreographer
would be crucial to creating fun, entertaining dance numbers that
supported the elements of the story. As he began auditioning talent, he
was told Aakomon Jones was the person he needed. “AJ” had created
choreography for Madonna’s touring shows as well as films (Pitch
Perfect) and television (“Dancing with the Stars” where he had
previously instructed “Zapped” lead Zendaya.)

“I knew he was it right away. Every moment I spent with AJ I was
grateful for,” said DeLuise. “He has this glow about him, he’s great
with kids, and he has incredible energy. Dancers were chomping at the
bit to be near him, even if it was just to audition. They walked away
saying ‘I learned steps from AJ’ – the audition was like a master class
for them.”

AJ began his process by carefully reading through and understanding
the script. He ensures he clearly understands each character, and
creates a truthful number based on what the characters are going through
before and after each dance sequence. He also looks at the tones and
palette of the script, determining the style and period the music should
represent. This informs the type of dance he’ll incorporate into the
choreography. “Zapped” focuses around a high school dance competition,
and hip hop was the chosen style.

“This was a state championship dance competition,” said AJ. “So you
have to think of the style of dance the people would be engaged in; this
is a school as opposed to a night club or kids in the street.”

AJ also takes into consideration the abilities of the actors and
dancers he’s working with. If there is a weaker dancer, the other
dancers will be adjusted to support that person, where as a strong
dancer may be toned down to match the overall skill level. DeLuise spent
twelve weeks carefully casting all parts, hiring primarily dancers who
had some acting ability. While AJ was able to develop more complex dance
moves, he remained cognizant of each dancer’s ability to perform on
camera, hit marks, and carry their acting through their performance.
“Zapped” required the dancers to fluidly move from being highly skilled
to awkward, uncoordinated dancers due to the control Zoey (Zendaya) has
over guys with her magic app. AJ worked with the dancers to ensure their
facial expressions stayed even and in control regardless of the moments
they were required to portray.

On a television show, it is not unusual to have between four to eight
hours to prepare for a dance number. Working on “Zapped” there were
multiple dance numbers, locations, and moving parts within a scene, as
well as scheduling obligations of the cast members, so rehearsal time
varied from one to three weeks. Prior to establishing any dance moves in
rehearsal, AJ focused on getting the cast comfortable dancing together
by working on group timing through a series of strength building
exercises.

“It’s a minor boot camp; everyone gets in shape, finds their wind,
lots of running, stretching and exercises, all done in rhythm,” said AJ.
“We’ll do jumping jacks in synch and in formation. It gets everyone on
the same vibe.”

AJ appreciated the attention DeLuise and “Zapped” cinematographer James
Alfred Menard paid to the choreography during the rehearsal process. The
three discussed their visions for the scene and collaborated to obtain
the best possible visuals during the dance numbers. While AJ had a great
experience working on “Zapped”, he particularly enjoyed the
collaborative efforts he shared with DeLuise.

“It wasn’t the largest budget but (DeLuise) was able to create shots
that were amazing,” said AJ. “I took a few notes from him about being
creative and how to use your brain when working with a small budget to
work it out.”

– An Interview With Peter DeLuise And Aakomon “AJ” Jones –

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