“Dance Camp,” the teen-targeted movie from YouTube and Awesomeness Films with digital stars, is patterned on the successful formula Disney established with made-for-TV hits like “High School Musical,” “Camp Rock” and “Teen Beach Movie.”
Like those, “Dance Camp” will feature big song-and-dance numbers. But it will deviate from the Mouse House’s typical mold with a storyline geared to an older-skewing crowd, according to producer Matt Kaplan.
“This movie’s probably a little more adult in tone” than the likes of “HSM,” said Kaplan, president of Awesomeness Films.
Kaplan doesn’t mean the pic will include R-rated material. Rather, “Dance Camp,” set to be released in the first quarter of 2016, will be an unvarnished look at the trials of teen love and friendships.
“Dance Camp” stars popular YouTuber Meg DeAngelis, actor-dancer Nadji Jeter (“Grown Ups”) and top Vine creator Jake Paul. In the movie, Hunter (Jeter) is sent to a dance camp filled with eclectic misfits by his mom as punishment after he throws a house party. He initially refuses to take the camp seriously but is goaded by a rival dance group’s leader Lance (Paul), which prompts Hunter to step up his game. Along the way he learns some lessons, makes some friends and finds love with Cheyenne (D’Angelis).
The movie is co-produced by Jon M. Chu (“Step Up Revolution,” “Jem and the Holograms”) and his Chu Studios banner. “Dance Camp” is the first under the pact between YouTube and AwesomenessTV’s Awesomeness Films, under which the companies are slated to produce six films over 18 months.
“We felt like we would look for a fun, big, commercial concept that would fit with our demo and (YouTube’s),” Kaplan said. “When Jon Chu brought us ‘Dance Camp,’ we immediately knew that was the first film we would do together.”
YouTube has first-window distribution rights to “Dance Camp,” but the parties are still determining the distribution strategy (and how long YouTube’s exclusivity will be). YouTube might launch the film on its free, ad-supported service, sell it initially through the Google Play store or pursue another option.
“Dance Camp,” while it is the first original movie YouTube is associated with, follows in a line of feature-length movies starring “digital influencers,” including “Smosh: The Movie” from Awesomeness and Defy Media.
Of course, just because someone is huge on YouTube, Vine, Snapchat, Instagram or any other Internet platform doesn’t mean they have acting skills required for a movie role. And “Dance Camp” added another wrinkle: Everyone in the movie has to dance. Kaplan confirmed that DeAngelis, Jeter and Paul participated in dance auditions before they got the parts.
For Kaplan, casting digital talent in movies is becoming an easier process. “Six months ago, it was overwhelming to try to identify the digital stars who would break out,” said Kaplan, former exec at Lionsgate and founder of Chapter One Films. “At this point I have a clear understanding of which influencers we want to go after.”
“Dance Camp” wrapped principal photography last week, with 22-day shoot on location at a camp in L.A.’s Griffith Park. The film is directed by British female duo Bert & Bertie, with choreography by Fatima Robinson (“The Voice,” “Dreamgirls”). “It was a priority for us is to work with up-and-comers,” Kaplan said.
The movie will include covers of pop songs performed by YouTube stars (those have yet to be announced), and a soundtrack will accompany the movie’s release. Said Kaplan: “We really want to grow ‘Dance Camp’ into a brand.”