Catching Up With Jon M. Chu

February 28, 2011

It’s been nearly three years since I last talked with Jon M. Chu and, wow, has his life changed!


Today, Jon is best known as the director of Justin Bieber’s movie, Never Say Never. To all of us in the dance community, he’s also well-known as the director of Step Up 3D and as the creator of The LXD.


He has more than 200,000 followers on Twitter and is rumored to be under consideration for a long list of cool projects, including a G.I. Joe movie.


But back in 2008, when I first met him, Jon was just starting to get recognized. He was fresh off directing Step Up 2: The Streets and found himself between jobs. With one of his Step Up stars, Adam Sevani, he created a dance crew that waged an online battle with Miley Cyrus and dancer-turned-singer Mandy Jiroux. The YouTube battle got many millions of views and was ultimately settled on Fox’s Teen Choice Awards.

Miley and Mandy won, but the battle catapulted Jon’s recognition to a loftier level. Step Up 3D pushed it even higher.


But what I love about the guy is that he hasn’t changed one bit. Just last week, Jon and I (along with some students at Buffalo State College) did a video chat interview. Despite being in the midst of his Bieber Fever, Jon is still a cool, humble, down-to-earth guy—and he’s still all about dance.


Here are some sound bites from my conversation with Jon—and some thoughts on how you can use his ideas to accelerate your dance career:

  • On using Twitter and other social media to interact with fans:
    “I love talking to the people who are going to see my movie,” Jon said. “I think when you know somebody that’s made a movie and you go watch it, that’s a very different experience than when you don’t know a person and just go watch the movie.” Jon used Twitter to get feedback from Justin Bieber fans on what he could do to make Never Say Never better. He took their ideas and created a new version of the movie—called the “Director’s Fan Cut”—which he finished two Sundays ago. The special version, which features 40 minutes of new footage, is being shown in theaters this week. An idea for you: Use your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or account to get feedback on your dancing and choreography. Post clips, ask people for feedback, and then post new clips to show them how your work is evolving. This is a cool way to get ideas, and it’s a great way to build an audience.


  • His view on dancers:
    “I love dancers. I think they’re the most beautiful artists. They use their bodies to create language. They beat up their bodies. They’re always in the back but they are capable. They don’t get paid that much but they love their art more than anything. For any artist, I think that’s more important thing: Whether you’re going to get paid for it or not, you love it more than anything.” An idea for you: If you’re considering pursuing dance (or any art form) as a career, ask yourself this: Do you love it so much that you’d happily do it for little or no pay? Which leads me to my next Jon Chu sound bite.


  • On making use of his downtime between paid movie projects:
    “I have a camera, we have YouTube, we can get stuff out there. I don’t care if people are going to pay me or not, I can still make movies.” Jon has created a bunch of cool projects between paid gigs. The best example is The LXD, an online show that depicts regular people discovering they have superpowers through dance. Great online content can lead to something more, which is exactly what has happened for The LXD. The dancers wowed fans as the opening act for “Glee”‘s concert tour last spring. (Interesting side note: “Glee” cast member Harry Shum Jr. choreographs for The LXD along with Christopher Scott.)

This past weekend, fans who saw Never Say Never were also treated to a short film by The LXD called Game On.


“We want to do a bunch of these ‘LXD Presents’ short films and put on a bunch of different movies the way Pixar does it,” Jon told me.


An idea for you:
Over the summer or anytime you find yourself between competitions and conventions, use the time to create new dances … and use technology to share them with others.


It worked for Justin Bieber, who was discovered on YouTube.


It worked for Jon M. Chu.


It could work for you, too.

Tim O’Shei is the founder of Live! Starring … You!, an organization that connects student interviewers with professional entertainers. Check out their work at These students from Buffalo State College contributed to this blog: Cymone Bland, Kristina Boberskyj, Antonio Butler, Kristine Starkey and Desiree Wiley.


Pictured: Jon M. Chu