Zac Efron Film 'We Are Your Friends' Puts Big-Screen Spotlight on EDM Scene

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Zac Efron in "We Are Your Friends"

EDM has already taken over clubs and festival grounds. Now the dance genre is exploring a new frontier: movie screens.

On Aug. 28, We Are Your Friends, the first feature film distributed by a major movie studio (Warner Bros. Pictures) that is focused on the EDM world, opens nationwide on 2,300 screens. The ­coming-of-age story stars Zac Efron as a ­millennial who yearns to break free of his ­stagnant life and ­aimless buddies and become a DJ. It was directed and co-written by Max Joseph, 33, of MTV Catfish fame. The film also stars Wes Bentley and Emily Ratajkowski and features ­appearances by DJs Alesso, Dirty South, Nicky Romero and Dillon Francis.

Taking its name from a 2006 track by Justice vs. Simian, We Are Your Friends features some 70 music cues. An 18-song soundtrack is out Aug. 28 on Interscope and includes music and new remixes from Hook N Sling, Fake Blood, Deorro and AlunaGeorge. "Black Out," by The Americanos featuring Lil Jon, Juicy J and Tyga, was written for the film.

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Joseph says he deliberately used up-and-coming acts, in keeping with the tone of Efron's ­character's journey and also due to financial ­constraints (the film's budget was in the mid-seven figures). With a few exceptions, such as a Gryffin remix of Years & Years' "Desire," the emphasis was on new tracks. Says music supervisor Randall Poster: "[Forget] advances of albums; this is more like, 'Check it out on SoundCloud. This was created yesterday.' "

The music team also looked to EDM experts like The Juan MacLean of DFA Records (Joseph directed a documentary about the seminal dance label), Interscope's Neil Jacobson and Ultra's Patrick Moxey for counsel. "We had great tour guides," says Poster.

Comparisons to 1977's Saturday Night Fever with Efron in the John Travolta role are intentional, says Joseph, also crediting such music-driven films as Trainspotting and Mean Streets for influencing We Are Your Friends. "We pulled some things from them and put our own spin on it."

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EDM's cultural crossover to a mainstream film has been a long time coming, says DJ Pete Tong, co-founder of William Morris Endeavor's electronic music division, who wrote in an April Billboard editorial that most Hollywood decision-makers "dismiss EDM as a fad." Poster notes the "deep and profound ­musical element to the story" but stresses that at its heart, We Are Your Friends is about ­finding one's way and the meaningful connections forged over music: "EDM is not simply about bottle service and an iconic DJ in Las Vegas."