HomeMovie NewsBlue’s Big City Adventure Director on Nostalgia, Pop-Punk Roots

Blue’s Big City Adventure Director on Nostalgia, Pop-Punk Roots

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Blue’s Big City Adventure director Matt Stawski about filming in New York and his history with pop-punk music videos. Blue’s Big City adventure will be available for streaming through Paramount+ on November 18.

Blue’s Big City Adventure follows Josh, who gets the opportunity of a lifetime to audition for Rainbow Puppy’s Broadway musical, and Blue as they skidoo to New York City where they meet new friends and discover the magic of music, dance, and following one’s dreams,” reads the film’s synopsis. “The entire Blue’s Clues crew is reunited for this special movie event, with the beloved animated friends and all three hosts — Josh, Steve, and Joe — together for the first time in the Big Apple.”

Tyler Treese: Blue’s Big City Adventure is a fun movie. What was your history with Blues Clues? What was your kind of knowledge of the franchise?

Matt Stawski: Yeah, I was about 10, 11, 12 when Steve came out of the scene, so I was a little old for it, but my little sisters watched it. So it was always on in the background in my childhood. But when Josh came on to be the new host, I remember when they were having all of the auditions for the new hosts and all the press and the marketing they were doing behind that. I thought that was really cool. So that’s my history with it.

Nickelodeon hit me up and told me they wanted a musical, and I was kind of in at musical, so I was like, “I’m game. Let’s do it.” So I then dove in and did all the research, and the team that we worked with really helped construct the sets and hide all these millions of Easter eggs in the movie for all the OG fans. It was fun to see all of the millions of characters that they created in the Blue’s Clues world and integrate them into the film [and] into New York City.

Being in New York City and having those three generations of Blue’s Clues hosts has made people think a lot about Spider-Man: No Way Home. There have been so many fun memes. How has it been seeing them compared to one of the biggest blockbusters and seeing the fans are really excited for this crossover with all three hosts appearing?

It was crazy to see that. Originally I was like, “What?” And I was like, “Oh yeah.” I remember seeing No Way Home, and when that moment happened in the dining room, and you’ve got all the Spider-Men in there, people were throwing popcorn in there and screaming, you know? It’s funny to think [that] all kids that were Steve’s Blue’s Clues kids then are now Marvel kids, you know? That parallel just makes so much sense and it’s justifiable because we want people to see the film and when Joe comes on screen and Steve comes on screen … to just scream and see them all come together and it be this mind-blowing experience. It really adds to the excitement, and I love the parallel. Some of the memes are so funny.

Yeah, it’s real great. You mentioned putting in a ton of Easter eggs and it’s cool because this is a film that celebrates the Blue’s Clues legacy and Broadway and music. How cool was it, specifically being in New York City, to celebrate music since you worked so much in music videos? How cool was it to have that connective tissue?

Yeah, it was really important, actually. We were definitely using On the Town with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly as a big reference for the movie. We were using Funny Face, as a musical that takes place in the city of Paris. We were using a lot of the old MGM musicals, a lot of Fred Astaire stuff as references. So we were taking a lot from the old and putting it into the contemporary. Being able to create updated versions of classical musical numbers with people in colorful outfits, singing and dancing in the streets and running around New York, and hitting all these iconic locations … it really felt great. And it was great that Nickelodeon gave us the creative freedom to make a musical that obviously is updated and has a lot of elements of different genres of music, but still has its heart and soul from that Broadway/old MGM musical style.

You got some amazing people with connections to Broadway, obviously BD Wong and Taboo from the Black-Eyed Peas. How did some of these cameos come together?

Our incredible casting department. They just really went above and beyond and tried to find us tons of cameos that were either relevant to giving Josh advice [and] being sort of wise sage characters, or connected to Broadway, whether it’s Ali Stroker or Phillipa Soo from Hamilton. The other thing, too, is that we used as a reference for this film because I wanted it to be a full sort of like bridge that adults can watch with their kids, we used The Muppet Movie as a really big reference for that. I think the original Muppet movies, as well as the new ones, did a really good job of taking a kid’s property and putting in cameos of actors that adults would notice, you know? So that was a really fun thing to do and sort of fill them in throughout the entire movie.

Speaking about a more adult-oriented cameo, I was curious about Alex Winter. That whole scene where him and Steve are saying the same stuff. Was that a reference to the Robot Chicken sketch he did where he voiced Steve, or what was that about?

That just happens to be a coincidence, actually. The fact that he voiced Steve in that Robot Chicken episode, I learned about that episode after we shot the movie. I didn’t even know about it beforehand. That just happens to be a coincidence, but him being in there was huge for me because obviously, I’m a die-hard Bill & Ted and a huge Lost Boys fan. Alex, now, is a big documentary filmmaker, so he’s just an incredible filmmaker artist through and through. It was so fun to have that character as well as putting him in that scene that has that Wayne’s World homage to it. It was this full circle moment with old characters [and] new characters rocking out to the Blue’s Clues song in a Wayne’s World style. It was just pure fun, you know?

Some of the humor that I really liked was just seeing Josh in the real world, away from the Blue’s Clues magic and acting shocked when people are just interacting with normal inanimate objects and him expecting it to be alive. How was having fun with the ridiculous and imaginative world of Blues’ Clues?

Yeah, that was super fun. I remember we had the script all written out and we started shooting on the first day, and the very first take is actually the take where Josh is walking towards the jazz club to meet Ali Stroker. It’s not in the script, but to all of our extras walking by, he was just like, “Hi, hi, how you doing?” Just being really delightful, you know? Just overly optimistic to them. These are just New Yorkers walking the street and we realize Angela [Santomero] and Traci Paige Johnson — Angela who wrote the script and Tracy who created Blue’s Clues –we’re like, “There’s so many parallels to Elf, with Will Ferrell going to New York City and being this innocent guy that doesn’t really know that people can be cynical,” and people can be like, “Hey, I’m walkin’ here.” That whole thing. We then played more and more into that idea of Josh being this innocent guy from Storybook World in a city like New York, which is obviously a warm and magical place, but it can be bitter at times. And we really played into that to, to bring out some of that humor that I think adults and kids alike will both like.

What were the challenges, especially early on because it starts in the classic Blue’s Clues House, and he’s filming these scenes with a bunch of CGI objects and stuff that’s not there. I know in the past, in some of your music videos like “America’s Suitehearts” by Fall Out Boys, that was similar with the backgrounds being added on. So how was having the interactions between the live-action and what I assume is mostly blue screen and changing that?

When we were on green screen, I was very much in my comfort zone because, yeah, the Fall Out Boy video, it was all blue screen with a giant carousel on set. So we’re able to do a live-action animation hybrid with that one. So those first 10-12 minutes of the movie were all on green screen. Then going out into actual New York City, that was a huge challenge because we needed to a make sure when Josh and the other actors are interacting with the animated characters, that their eye lines are correct. So you have to use these spherical balls to place in. And we had like different puppets and dolls that we would place so the actors could rehearse and get their eye lines correct and how they’re going to interact with the characters. You had to have a VFX camera capture the lighting of the scenario so then they could rebuild that lighting onto the animated character’s post-production so it looks like Blue is really in New York City. So you had to do more rehearsals because they were animated characters and you had to take extra time for the VFX to capture all their lighting. So it was almost like shooting a film with extended time to do all the VFX in the rehearsals. It made it a little tougher, but it was a fun challenge and it was a good learning experience, too.

I was also curious how you got your start in music videos because you worked with so much pop-punk royalty right off the start: Fall Out Boy, Paramore, New Found Glory — these are all amazing bands.

I just grew up in the punk rock scene in Detroit. So when I started going to high school, we went to Cousino High School in Warren, Michigan, that actually had a TV station and we were able to borrow cameras there and we would just start shooting punk rock bands in Detroit, my friends and I, and learning how to shoot a live performance. Then I built my music video career from there and a lot of the pop-punk connections are because I had a lot of friends in punk rock bands. Through friends, I met New Found Glory. I did a video for Anthony Green and I remember the reason I got the Fall Out Boy video is because Pete Wentz saw the Anthony Green video I did.

He’s like, “I want something trippy and animated like that.” So that’s how I got “America’s Suitehearts.” I always wanted to work with Alkaline Trio and I was able to do a video for them. So I just took my punk rock roots. When I was doing music videos, obviously, I did a lot of R&B and pop and things like that, but it was definitely a pleasure to be able to do a lot of these bands that I grew up with [and] do videos for them when I was on the younger side.

How was it working with Matt Skiba? I’m a big Alkaline fan.

It was really fun. We shot their video on top of a mountain in the middle of the hills of the Angeles National mountains. it was a really chaotic set and it was different because a lot of Alkaline Trio stuff is dark and moody, and we did a super colorful, different kind of film — it was very, very artistic film. So it was super fun working with them. I love all their albums, I love their early stuff, obviously, but they’re a great band for sure.

I just saw them, and I saw Paramore as well at When We Were Young and AFI was there as well, and you did that awesome video for “17 Crimes.” Davey Havok — what a guy. How is it working with him? He seems like he just exudes cool.

Yeah! Davey’s actually a really good friend of mine now. I met him through an old roommate of mine, and so that’s how I came to make that video. He’s a true artist. He really took AFI and every album they come out with … it always evolves, you know? Which is a beautiful thing. You never want a band to stay the same. I mean, as much as I love Black Sails and Shut Your Mouth to see the progression of AFI and to see their style change throughout the years … it’s such an interesting thing to see and such an exciting thing to see because I love every album they put out. Davey is just so well-versed in music and film. He’s always pulling great references for his art from really good places. Him and I go to the New Beverly Cinema all the time and just watch old black-and-white movies together. Whatever old horror movies they’re playing, we’ll be there. Whatever throwback 90s or 80s movies they’re playing, we’ll be there. So it’s good to have a friend that takes their influences from older places and freshens them up for the contemporary crowd.

Music videos are often shot on a budget, and budgets and constraints really breed creativity. What have been the biggest lessons that you’ve learned from that that have helped you with movies and larger products?

I would say, I don’t think we could have made this movie, Blue’s Big City Adventure, without my history of being in the music video world, because it’s bootcamp. You are given a small amount of money and you’re given one day to do it because, most of the time, the artists will come into L.A., they’ll have a show in L.A., they’ll be on tour, they’ll do some press, they’ll shoot their video, and then they’re out of town. They’re playing either San Diego or San Francisco the next next day. It’s a very high-stress situation where your resources are limited. Going into the world of feature filmmaking, I realize there are so many moments like that where you have to cut things at the last minute, where you have to lose set pieces, where you have to change the choreography, where you can’t get that big beautiful set you wanted and you have to find a practical location to shoot something at, or where it starts raining and you have to shoot indoors instead of outdoors.

You have to make those last-minute decisions. And I think being in that cutthroat world of music videos where it’s highly competitive and the budgets are low, and the time you have to shoot is very minimal, it trained me perfectly for the world of features, and I felt very comfortable making this movie because we had a little more money than the music videos and we had a little more time. Obviously, shooting in New York City was a huge challenge, but, we were able to adjust when we needed to pull it off.

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