L.A. Readers! You Are Cordially Invited To The Tenth Anniversary Screening Of BRING IT ON At The New Beverly!
Published at: July 15, 2010, 12:24 p.m. CST by mrbeaks
Ten years ago, I purchased a ticket to see a film about competitive cheerleading. In my defense, the film had received a smattering of enthusiastic reviews and was directed by a guy who'd worked on two of my favorite sketch comedy shows ever (MR. SHOW and UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE). The problem with this defense was that, short of wearing it on a t-shirt, I couldn't palpably convey it to a theater full of snickering teenage girls and their horrified mothers. My presence was disquieting, to say the least. So I buried my nose in a book, shut out the scorn, and prayed the movie would be worth the ignominy.
BRING IT ON is not only the best film ever made on the subject of competitive cheerleading (take that, MARAT/SADE!), but also one of the few teen comedies of the last twenty years to recapture the non-condescending magic of mid-'80s John Hughes. Working from a whip-smart screenplay by Jessica Bendinger, director Peyton Reed hooks the audience at the outset with a Busby Berekely-inspired musical number, and keeps the film zipping along until its ebullient finale. It's a ninety-minute sugar rush of a movie, brilliantly cast from its leads (Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku and Gabrielle Union) to its supporting performers (Nicole Bilderback, Clare Kramer, Lindsay Sloane, Rini Bell, etc.) to one unforgettable, scene-stealing cameo (Ian Roberts as pill-popping choreographer Sparky Polastri). Few films make me happier (spiritually, not... you know).
And now it's ten years old.
So I'm requesting your presence at The New Beverly this Saturday night (7/17) for a special midnight screening of BRING IT ON, where I'll moderate a pre-film Q&A with screenwriter Jessica Bendinger (writer-director of STICK IT and the upcoming, QED-financed THE SEVEN RAYS), actresses Nicole Bilderback ("Whi-Whi-Whi-Whitney!") and Clare Kramer (Co-Co-Co-Courtney), and, hopefully, other members of the cast and crew. For updates on other attendees, I'll be posting updates on Twitter, as will The New Beverly.
Sadly, I can confirm that Peyton Reed will not be able to join us this Saturday evening. However, I was able to blackmail him into lunch at the 101 Coffee Shop, where I interrogated him for an hour regarding a movie he directed during the tail-end of the Clinton administration. As a true movie geek (and I'm not blowing the guy; he's a full-on film nerd), Reed is heartbroken that he won't be able to see one of his films projected at the theater where he caught numerous repertory classics back in the day. Maybe one day we'll get him out for a DOWN WITH LOVE/LOVER COME BACK double. Until then, I've got this terrific interview with a gifted filmmaker who's played the studio game honorably and profitably enough to earn a shot at something personal (which he's writing at the moment).
And to think it all started with "spirit fingers"...
Mr. Beaks: When BRING IT ON came out, we were in the throes of a teen-comedy resurgence. But unlike the teen sex comedies of the '70s and '80s, these films were all PG-13 and, for the most part, devoid of any real personality or sexuality. So BRING IT ON stood out because, while it had to be PG-13, it managed to convey the exuberance of the best of those '70s and '80s movies. Take for instance that locker-room tracking shot: in the commentary, you talk about paying homage to exploitation classics like Paul Glickler's THE CHEERLEADERS. That totally comes across. As does stuff like THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS and CARRIE.
At the time, were you consciously trying to set BRING IT ON apart from the more innocuous movies that were appealing to that audience at the time?
Peyton Reed: I was and I wasn't. I see a lot of movies, so I was definitely aware of what was happening at the time. To me, it was just like, "I'm making a movie about high school cheerleaders," and wanting to do the best, smartest version of that movie that you can. I would never do a movie where I was just poking fun. It was about - in the way it looked and the way it was put together - treating that genre with as much respect as possible. It's a slippery slope when you start referencing stuff like THE CHEERLEADERS; these are full-on exploitation movies, and you're making a PG-13 movie. It was always about finding that line of what was accessible, what was pushing it, and what was maybe too much for the target audience. Every day, it was figuring that out.
Casting was such a huge part of the movie. Once we got Kirsten, that gave it a real grounding and credibility. Because if that character didn't work, if it was too broad or too over the top, the movie wouldn't work. Consciously or not, all of the actors brought so much of themselves to those roles. I think the Kirsten-Eliza dynamic, and the Gabrielle dynamic, and all of that... there was a lot of that going on in real life. So it was just taking the situation, and making it funny and entertaining - but not so completely frivolous that it wasn't worth going to see.
Beaks: Gabrielle's so intimatding compared to the other girls.
Reed: This movie would not work without Gabrielle. In addition to being beautiful, she's just this serious, grounding presence. But when she turns light, it's amazing. She pulls us in because there's mystery to her. She's intimidating and sexy. Those scenes when Gabrielle and Kirsten face off, I love that stuff.
It's so funny talking about what makes something work or not. There were days on that movie, as there are on any movie, where you're like, "This is going to be great!" And then there were days when you're like, "This is not going to work." It's just this rollercoaster depending on how you feel about what you shot that day. To me, this movie has benefitted, then and now, from low expectations. It's like, "This is a cheerleader teen comedy! Okay. I'll watch it." And then people enjoy it more than they think they would. The movie has really benefitted from low expectations - which is a fantastic way to come at a movie. (Laughs)
Beaks: Was there any trepidation about having this as your first film? Or was it sort of a relief knowing that no one was expecting anything from it - and being fairly certain that, if marketed well, it would probably be a hit for the studio?
Reed: I did not enter into the movie thinking it was a sure-fire hit by any means. Everything you just said about that process? I felt all of those things. I think anybody who decides they want to direct movies and actually gets the chance to do it, you can't help but look at the templates of what's come before you. I remember turning twenty-six and thinking of all the great films directors had made by that age. At the time, I was thinking of SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE and CITIZEN KANE. (Laughs) I went into [BRING IT ON] thinking, "This is how I'm going to come out of the gate, and it's going to be what it is." I also remember reading Sidney Lumet's MAKING MOVIES, and he said something along the lines of "Your first movie is its own excuse for making the movie." If someone is giving you money, and a crew, and a cast, and a chance to tell a story on film, you should take it. That's Sidney Lumet's view.
But at the time I had a script I'd written. It was an independent feature that there was some interest in. We couldn't get financing, so I was doing the Upright Citizen's Brigade. And then this opportunity came along. And I found something in it that I really liked. It felt different from other high school movies because it wasn't just a high school romance. It was about a subculture. I really like oddball, subculture movies. And cheerleaders were doubly interesting as a subculture to me because it wasn't necessarily an outsider subculture; at a normal high school, they'd be the elitists. So it felt like the kind of thing that could be potentially... how do you make cheerleaders in any way sympathetic characters? That's what I thought going into it. Also, the lead character, Torrance, was not a really sympathetic character on paper. She was a rich, entitled kid who had a lot to learn about life. I really liked that about the movie./h3>
Beaks: But we like Torrance because she's done nothing wrong, really. She's inherited Big Red's thievery. And this is where you bring in the racial dynamic, which I think is very deftly handled in the film. It's a black-white conflict at first, but, ultimately, it's just about winning the right way.
Reed: That was the trickiest aspect of the movie going in, and, from script to finished movie, the thing that needed the most work. The fact that Jessica, when she was writing the script, wanted to tackle that issue was great. But we had to ground it and make it believable. The actors had so much to do with that. Kirsten, Gabrielle and Eliza really got at the reality of the scene while trying not to make it arch or pat. I remember there was a lot of discussion about who was going to win [the competition] early on. I love the end of the movie, but it's funny now, thinking back, about how none of that was set in stone. There was writing being done on that movie right up until shooting, which, again, is not where you want to find yourself as a first-time director. The fact that the movie came out to be coherent, is, to me, a feat.
Beaks: Was Jessica doing the rewrites?
Reed: Jessica did a bunch of rewriting. And the actors did some, too. Eliza did a lot of stuff with her character. It was a very, very collaborative thing - kind of unlike any experience I've had on any other movie.
Beaks: Ian Roberts did a lot of rewriting, too.
Reed: I'd worked on the first two seasons of the UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE show, and Sparky, as he was written in the script... it wasn't the most interesting version of that character as far as I was concerned. So Ian said, "Well, why don't we just make him this angry, pill-popping, Bob Fosse wannabe. I love Ian so much. I don't know how much of his improv you've seen, but the anger that's right beneath every thing. He's amazing. At the Upright Citizens Brigade, they used to call him "The Machine". I liked the idea of this guy coming in and intimidating young high school girls. That seemed like it could be funny to me.
Beaks: (Laughing) I guess I'm not surprised that there was a push to have the Toros win the competition, but that seems completely counter to the theme of the film.
Reed: It's very much a ROCKY ending. Rocky loses, but he's won; he's gone the distance. It's the lesson that needed to be learned; it seemed like the outcome those characters were driving towards.
Beaks: Was it the studio that wanted them to win?
Reed: I remember there being a lot of discussion, but not that much with the studio. It was early on in the writing process. From the original script to where it ended up, it's very different. The spirit of Jessica's script is definitely intact, but, structurally, it's very different. I remember reading Jessica's original script. It was so great. But she was trying to tell the story of the cheerleader rivalry, as well as this high-school caste system - like where the cheerleaders stood next to the dance squad. It was really wide reaching in what it was trying to do; Jessica did it all really well, but it was just this movie that couldn't be made.
Beaks: It would've been an epic.
Reed: I don't know if they tackled any of that in the direct-to-DVD sequels.
Beaks: I don't know either. I would have to watch one. (Laughs) I must admit that I haven't watched them.
Reed: That's okay.
Beaks: I have to watch a lot of movies. You'd think by now I would've run across one by accident on cable.
Getting back to the exploitation angle, your editor, Larry Bock, cut a number of the classic late-'70s/early-'80s Roger Corman productions. THE LADY IN RED, GALAXY OF TERROR...
Reed: He worked on ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL.
Beaks: And he was one of, like, five editors on [RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II]. That must be a nice perspective to have as a first-time filmmaker.
Reed: Larry was great at keeping that perspective up, especially when things got prudish. I mean, he was very realistic about "This is Universal Studios and it's PG-13, but let's screen it and push for that stuff." That was a nice perspective to have on this movie.
Beaks: Did he share any juicy anecdotes from working on those Corman movies?
Reed: I remember talking about them in general. Larry was very good on both BRING IT ON and DOWN WITH LOVE about... when you were cutting in his cutting room, every wall, ceiling-to-floor, was covered with this thematic stuff. On DOWN WITH LOVE, he had all of his vintage album covers up. He was just immersed in it. On that movie, we rented out this cutting space off of Santa Monica that used to be this design studio for Blue Note Records and [famed graphic designer] Reid Miles.
On BRING IT ON, he'd bring in all of these exploitation videos. It was very important to watch that stuff not only in pushing that side of the movie, but also reminding me of that whole history of cheerleaders, the iconography of cheerleaders.You cannot separate sexuality from cheerleading. It is inherently what it is - growing up with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and all of that stuff. But it's kind of a dangerous thing to do when you're making a studio, PG-13 movie and trying to push the sexuality. That did piss some people off. Like Roger Ebert.
Beaks: How did the actresses feel about that aspect? For instance, in that locker room scene, you've got them walking around in their underwear. There are moments where you feel the camera is kind of leering.
Reed: Yeah. The camera is leering - particularly in the locker room scene. The camera is like a lecherous teenage boy. I always have discussions with actors in those situations, and try to make the set very comfortable and open. But in a weird way, with girls of that age group, it's almost trying to pull them back and save them from themselves sometimes. This is probably a lot more true than it was maybe ten years ago. There's a certain age that actresses or wannabe-actresses or celebrities who are famous for nothing... they're so excited to do it, and it's not always the best long-term career choice.
Beaks: What about the bikini car wash? On the commentary, you said you got quite a crowd from the studio and agencies the day you shot that.
Reed: Yeah, but Eliza, at that point in her life, did not have any problem putting it out there. Eliza was eighteen when we shot that, and very aware of her effect on people around her. It was hilarious.
Beaks: She apparently showed up hungover that day?
Reed: Oh, yeah. I believe that was right after their stay in a Mexican jail. They went down and partied. They were wild.
Beaks: Well, we need to get her out for the Q&A to clear this up.
Reed: We need the real story. In front of an audience.
Beaks: There was also quite a collection of up-and-coming talent behind the scenes on this movie, too. Anne Fletcher did the choreography. She's now a sought-after director after THE PROPOSAL.
Reed: She's the best. I don't see enough of her. She also worked on DOWN WITH LOVE. An amazing choreographer, but, more than that, she's got an amazing, vibrant personality. That energy was so important for me on that movie. She was the one who not only choreographed, but brought in other choreographers to do the Clovers' routines. She works so well with actors. For actors who dance and actors who don't dance, to give them this confidence and just have fun... that's really valuable.
Beaks: One of the reasons the film works so well is that, from the opening sequence forward, it bounces along with the exuberance of a cheerleader routine.
Reed: It is kind of a bullet train of a movie. We really wanted it to be as kinetic as possible and feel, in a way, as if it had been made by cheerleaders. It's all youthful energy. We had such a fun time. Because we were so low budget and shooting in San Diego, the studio really did leave us alone on that movie. We were just down there doing the movie the way we wanted to do it. I'd just come off a couple of Disney TV movies where you had twenty days to prep, twenty days to shoot and twenty days for post. I was really prepared. We were all really prepared. I just wanted to get as much coverage, and really be as specific with it as possible. I think that's my style in general: trying to get specific coverage rather than setting up five cameras and figuring it out in the editing room. That would drive me nuts.
Beaks: When the film opened, there were a number of critics who got it, and saw that you'd made something much smarter than the average teen comedy. Were you ever worried that you did too good a job, and might be stuck with nothing but offers for more teen movies?
Reed: I don't think I was ever worried that I did too good a job. (Laughs) It's weird. At the time, you can't really tell what you think of a. You're just have no perspective. But when it came out and did well over the weekend... I'd never had an experience like that in my life. It was just the best possible scenario. But for a long time after that, all I got sent was "competitive 'blank' movies." "Competitive jump-roping." "Competitive poetry slam". They were all out there.
Beaks: (Laughing) Did you get ROLL BOUNCE?
Reed: I think it was pre-ROLL BOUNCE. There was a competitive dodgeball script that was not DODGEBALL.
Beaks: There were two competitive dodgeball scripts?
Reed: There may have been more. (Laughs) And they all came my way.
But the funny thing is, people ask, "Have you ever considered doing something like that?" For me, once you've spent a year-and-a-half of your life doing that thing, I just have a desire to do something different. Anything different.
Beaks: Which DOWN WITH LOVE was.
Reed: Yes, it was.
Beaks: I love showing that movie to people. Usually they get it. You really nailed the tone of a Delmer Davies movie, and infused it with a little [Frank] Tashlin. I remember interviewing you for that and praying it would catch on.
Reed: After that movie underperformed... I mean, there's always that Monday morning quarterbacking, and there are definitely things on my end that I would've done differently. But then there's that x-factor that you'll just never figure out. It could be a movie that was just never going to connect with that audience under any circumstances. You just never know. That's one that you just have to leave behind and see what happens. I know how I feel about the movie. I feel like I would like to see it on Blu-ray. That's what I would like!
Beaks: And then you moved on to THE BREAK-UP, which was so brutally honest about how relationships fall apart. That movie did very well, but it was misunderstood a bit. People weren't expecting it to be that nasty.
Reed: It was marketed like it was going to be WEDDING CRASHERS, but the second half of that movie is a rough ride. It can be very unpleasant to watch. I haven't watched it in a long time, but I remember when we were making it... Vince had that idea for a long time, and had very particular ideas about it. Jennifer was coming off - or right in the middle of - her situation [with Brad Pitt] at the time, and I was in a very painful situation. The emotionality of that movie was very real to all three of us at the time. (Laughs) The way that movie ends, that was something we really had to fight for with Universal. They were ultimately very supportive of us. But people will still talk to me about the ending of that movie. Some people love it, and some people hate it. I stand by it. That's the way that movie had to end.
Beaks: I responded to the melancholy of it. They're both okay at the end, maybe even better off. But there's still a feeling that it didn't have to go bad.
Reed: And that was the place I was in at the time. But, weirdly, it struck me as an optimistic ending. There's still some mutual love and caring and understanding between those two characters at the end. They acknowledge what they had, what they went through, and how each of them fucked it up. But there's always going to be a place in their heart for that person. That, at the time, felt optimistic to me. But it's hard to convince people that that's optimistic. (Laughs)
Beaks: And then something like YES MAN, which is a star-driven vehicle. What was odd about that movie - and, to be honest, kind of disappointing - is that I wanted more from the characters around him. I really liked the ensemble. And the fact that it had to be a Jim Carrey movie...
Reed: That movie definitely carries that tension in it. Though it wasn't going to be his character from ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, one of my goals with Jim was to ground him as much as possible. Part of that was, when I looked back at a lot of his studio comedies, it was just Jim. They didn't really even think of a supporting cast. So with [YES MAN], I wanted to have people around him that grounded him, and made it feel like he was in the real world with these friends. It's not always easy because Jim has this persona; as an actor, he can be a real force of nature. But I'm really pleased with his performance in that movie. It was the second movie in a row that I'd done built around a big comedy star. I enjoyed both of those situations. But I'm ready to take a break from it.
He's also ready to take a break from comedy. If all goes according to Reed's plan, his next project will be straight-up science-fiction. He's finishing up the script right now, and will be shopping it next month. We discussed it a bit off the record, and it sounds like the kind of sci-fi kids of the '70s would love.
If you're not in Los Angeles, do me a favor and treat yourself to a BRING IT ON/DOWN WITH LOVE double feature this weekend - and add in THE BREAK-UP if you've got the time. There are lots of operators working within the studio system who want nothing more than to get in your wallet. Peyton Reed's on our side. He wants to connect with your love of cinema. Let him in.
If you're in Los Angeles, I'll see you Saturday night. Cheerleader regalia is optional, but preferred.