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Peyton Reed - Director of Bring it On

What do you get when you cross a talented new director with a group of hot up and Bring it On! We had the opportunity to talk with Bring it On Director Peyton Reed about working with shooting stars: Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku and Gabrielle Union as well as what goes in to making a great DVD.

I had a chance to watch the Bring it On DVD and it seems to be a very packed DVD. When you started directing "Bring It On", were you thinking were you thinking DVD or was this a process that started afterwards?

Well I've always been a DVD geek and before that a laser disc fanatic, too. In the back of my mind I was definately thinking about it, but we had a pretty low budget for the movie so my mind was much more focused on getting the day's work done and getting the stuff right for the movie than anything else. It wasn't really until we got to the cutting room that we were pulling scenes aside and began to really get ready for the DVD. When we were editng the film I really wanted to have enough stuff to really do a great DVD. But you never know, if the movie came out and tanked, I could have gone to Universal Home Video and said, Hey! I've got all this great stuff, they could have easily said I don't give a shit! I don't think people expected as rich a DVD as we did for "Bring it On" and we really tried to get together as much stuff as we could.

How involved were you in deciding what went on the DVD and how did you make the decision as to what to put on?

I tried to be really aggressive with Universal Home Video because I wanted to personally supervise the transfer of the movie along with my DP. I was pretty adamant about that, and it ended up working out great because we got a really fantastic hi-def transfer. I am really pleased with how the movie looks on the disc. In terms of the supplemental stuff, I really wanted to make sure we had a certain amount of extras. I know what I like and what I don't like on other DVD's so I really tried to pick the best of the best stuff for this DVD. It was important for me to do on camera intros to the deleted scenes. I hate when there's a deleted scene on a DVD with no explination, or you have to go out of your way to find an alternate audio track. I felt that doing intros gives people the context to really enjoy the deleted scenes.

What were some of the DVD's that helped inspire you for the "Bring it On" DVD?

The influence really stared way back with some of the Criterion laser discs. With those I would always listening to the audio commentaries. The first three Bond discs they put out: Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger all had superb director's commentary. On the flip side, we've all heard the bad commentaries where it's just some guy is just describing exactly what you are seeing on screen. You know, "here's where the guy goes to the car". I wanted to have fun with the commentary and provide some kind of information that really makes it worth people's time listening to it. In terms of the supplemental stff, there wasn't a lot of insparation before we made the movie, but when we were prepping the DVD we were inspired by discs like Magnolia and the Rushmore Criterion. What inspired me the most were the discs I saw that didn't have anything on them, I realized how much opportunity there is out there and how wrong it would be not to take advantage of it. It's always a bummer to get the DVD of a movie you love and find out that there's nothing on it at all.

Oh, I think many DVD fans know that experience unfortunately all too well.

I came from a background of directing behind-the-scenes documentaries. A lot of the stuff I've done has ended up on laser discs so I wanted to try to do something really great for my own DVD. I think the next DVD I'd like to try to do even more than I did this time around.

Many people, myself included, consider Kirsten Dunst an extremely quick rising star. I don't know if you share that view or not. How was it working with her on the set of "Bring it On"?

Getting Kirsten for this movie provided a huge sense of relief for me. I was obviously familiar with her career and knew she had the acting ability to really energize this movie. On paper the role she plays in this movie is kind of tricky as it's a potentially unlikable character. I knew she had the charm and she knew how to ride this tonal line of what was funny about it and commit to the situation. She was great. She was 17 when we shot this movie. She started doing commercials when she was 3, so she's worked in this business longer than I have! That's a surprising thing to think about, but she's just great. I like how she has structured her career. She'll go off and do a small indie project and then she'll do a studio picture. She switches off, and I think that's really interesting.

How would you classify "Bring It On"? It seems like it's a studio picture with an indie flavor.

It is, at the end of the day, a fairly mainstream studio film. I tried to make it smart, and not to pander too much. Our budget was just over $10 Million; in studio terms that's a tiny budget but in the indie world that's a pretty decent budget.

When you were casting the roles for this movie, to what extent was there an athleticism requirement? What kind of rigors were the actors put through in order to perform the often extremely acrobatic circumstances?

We made everybody come to the audition having prepared some kind of a cheer - probably the most humiliating thing you could do to an actor. We needed to know they at least had some sense of rhythm and coordination because not only did they need to act, but they needed to meet the physical demands of the roles. I didn't want to have to double anyone because I just hate when you can tell that someone who is doing something isn't the actor. It was really funny - I particularly remember Eliza coming in (you could tell she had just put out her cigarette) she sat down in the chair and said, So, Dude, what is this- a fucking cheerleader movie? The idea of Eliza doing a cheer is just hilarious. We put all the actors through a 4 week cheerleader camp, it was great just watching Eliza because of all the actors, I think she got into it the most. I would not have expected that from her personality.

With Eliza especially, how much did her experience affect the role?

Yes, that's really the reason she was cast as that character. She came into the audition and the attitude before she even got to the lines, and I thought that's Missy right there. That's such a crucial role in the movie because you've got to acknowledge that anyone coming to see a cheerleader movie has a lot of preconceived notions about cheerleading. She had to be the cynical eye to all the stuff around her, because she's really the one the audience is going to identify with, and so her responses to the cheerleading stuff was so very important.

Some people take cheerleading maybe way too seriously. In many ways "Bring it On" takes a somewhat satirical look at the world of cheerleading. Did you get any responses from people who saw your movie and were very into the performing and competition space?

Yes. We did screenings for all of these cheerleading groups. They were thrilled about it as there was a movie made about competitive cheerleading. I got calls from some people who said the movie was really great, but there were some technical errors in terms of the competition. Yeh, of course you fudge certain things. People get fanatical about that stuff and one of the things that attracted me to this script in the first place was it is a really interesting subculture. I like kinda extremist types of subculture. You can do a movie about cheerleading, comic book geeks, guys who are totally into DVD's. There are all these kinds of areas that attract people who get so passionate about something that might be meaningless to somebody else. It's an interesting background to explore in a movie.

How about Gabriel Union? What was it like working with her? She seems to be definitely a rising star in her own right as well.

Yes, Gabriel blew me away. She's so beautiful. We sat down and had numerous conversations about that character. I didn't want to make a movie that was preachy about race relations- that's the last thing I want to do. We sat down and looked at that character and said that we want to make this character really watchable, but we don't want it to become knowingly militant. We want her to have a sense of humor and be a really strong character. I think she was able to find what was cool about that character that in a way I doubt other actresses could have. Whenever she's on the screen she has this charisma.

It must have been a real thrill to have been directing some of the cream of the crop from the field of 17- 20 year old up and coming stars.

I was really fortunate. I was really terrified about getting good actors, because at the time we were casting this movie because there were so many teen movies being made and so many teen TV shows going on. There were people we'd talk to who'd say well, I've just made this pilot for this tv show "Freeks and Geeks", and we don't know if it will go, etc. and of course the show did go. All these people had commitments so I was just terrified that there would be no kids left at all. I think we got an amazing cast. I was really thrilled to get Jesse Bradford because I was a huge fan of King of The Hill - the Steven Soderbergh movie. I thought Jesse was great. It was fun for some of the other cast members who had not done that much.

Do you think it takes something different as a director to be directing teen actors?

I think there's actually a benefit to working with teen actors, they've got such boundless energy and everybody is willing to try different things. Kirsten's approach to acting is different from Eliza's and Gabriel's. Then we had the girls from this pop group "Black" who had never acted before. At the end of the day they just all sort of hung out together - it was fun. You do get this youthful spirit from this group of people. I was probably spoiled on this movie because they were so game for everything. It made a huge difference.

When you were prepping this film to what degree did you have the cheerleading routines mapped out in your mind?

The kind of music each squad performs to and the kind of dances they do are such an important part of their personality. Then you get into the area where you need to look at what is the difference between a good routine and a cheesy routine? To the average person it's a fine line. We had great choreographers we worked with so there were distinct styles between them. The actors, when they weren't shooting, were rehearsing these routines in their off hours. It was grueling for them, but not for me because I just got to sit back and watch! A couple of weeks before we started shooting I stopped by the rehearsal places at the gym, and the first half of the day were these amazing dance choreographies and in the second half of the day were the gymnastic and cheerleading moves being rehearsed. They were just exhausted. They had to learn their lines on top of that stuff. A lot of that was figured out beforehand, but when you get special actors in there they start adding their own flavor to it. That definitely comes across, too.

It was reported that Gabriel and Kirsten both in previous lives were cheerleaders. Did this help them in these roles or do you feel that everyone pretty much started at ground Zero?

They were different types of cheerleaders. Kirsten was a cheerleader in 8th grade when it is just waving pompoms and memorizing these really short cheers- not the kind of really athletic kind of cheerleading in this movie. Kirsten and Gabriel both said they were cheerleaders in school more to be popular than anything else. It probably gave them some insight into just standing up in front of a crowd and having people stare at you as you dance around. I don't think any of them knew until they got into it how physical it was going to be. The first couple of days they really were hating me. They were sore and in pain- it was pretty brutal.

Getting to you and some of your influences, I saw you were involved with "Upright Citizen's Brigade". What kind of influences did you draw on in directing your film?

I think what comes across in this movie is a bit of the early John Hughes stuff like "16 Candles". I'm also a big fan of "Flirting", that Australian film, the high school bit at a boarding school. I like the tone of that movie. Bring it On is kind of weird since it's part High School comedy and part sports movie- a weird highbred. I think doing "Upright Citizen's Brigade" and "Mr. Show"- sensibility wise they were all low budget cable shows and we were running around trying to get everything really quickly. That was really preparation for this movie. I wanted to make sure it didn't get too broad. The problem with a lot of high school movies is that the performance level all around just gets too broad. It's a TV influence. The style of acting is such that there is no realism to it. That's not to say that "Bring it On" is a realist film or anything, but I wanted some grounding in the performance. I think having Kirsten, Gabriel, Jesse, and Eliza and actors like that was really good.

In the commentary track you talk about an extremely expensive song: Cherry Pie by Warrant.

The guys from Warrant are probably going to show up at my house and kick my ass for saying how much. But it's out of their hands really.

How did you make the call to spend so much money on that song? Was it tough balancing the creative needs of the film and the expense of what you wanted?

You start out with a pretty fixed music budget, so we had to do some shuffling around and give priority to the songs that mean the most. When we shot the scene where the stripper girl tries out for the squad we used the Warrent song. We did try other songs with a similar rhythm. Everything is this movie is riding this line tonewise. Both the stripper try out and the bikini car wash were so remincent of '80's teen movies, we needed the music to match that tone. To me Cherry Pie was the perfect fit, it is such a cheesy mid-80's song with the worst, most obvious lyrics to it. It gave me a sense of irony about it- which I thought was really important. Other songs made it too nasty and too dirty for this concept of a movie, and I thought Cherry Pie did it with a kind of weight to it. When you get over the fact that it costs $40,000.00- and originally it was going to be more, but that's the price they got it down to. We changed some other things to try to get the overall budget down. There are times when you just have to fight for something like that.

"Bring it On" went out at a PG-13. Was that a fight between saying this film has pre-teen appeal and some mature content in there?

It was always intended to be a PG-13 movie. I was actually obligated to deliver a PG-13 movie. There was much discussion early on when this movie was being conceived whether it would be PG 13 or R. My feeling about this is that if I'm a teenager and the movie is rated R I'm going to feel screwed. Also, I think this movie would have really had to go out of it's way to be a hard R rating. When you have a film about cheerleading you are not going to have blatant nudity and stuff like that. What I wanted to do was to make a movie that would sell right into the PG 13 rating- not PG, PG13. Anyone over 13 is OK for that movie. All the ratings are really objective. What's OK for one person is not OK for someone else. The battles we had with the MPAA were all over language. It was certain words and mostly double entendres. The MPAA is a fascinating subject in and of itself. You never know who the people are when you submit the movie. The studio is the go between so you don't talk to the MPAA directly. You'll talk to the studio who'll say they have trouble with this scene or this line, and then when you ask really direct questions like will this help- they can't answer that. They'll say try and submit it and we'll see what happens. It's very hard to get a straight answer from the MPAA. Finally I was allowed to talk to the MPAA directly about certain things, and again they don't give you a straight answer. If I cut this word out will that give me a PG-13? They'll reply, well, try it and submit it and we'll tell you. There's only a certain amount of time the studio wants to resubmit. It's a very weird process. I think the considerations rating wise for sex and violence is very different than language. I think it's ridiculous that the R rating can encompass something like "Reservoir Dogs" and "Natural Born Killers" that are pretty violent, and it can include "Billy Elliot". If you look at "Billy Elliot" it's a very nice coming of age movie. It's only rated R because they say fuck all the time. Obviously some parents would find that objectionable, but the fact that one rating encompasses "Billy Elliot" and "Reservoir Dogs" is really weird. There must be a better way to have a ratings system. I think PG 13 has kind of changed. It's a weird rating anyway. What's the real difference between a PG movie and a PG 13 movie except that a PG 13 movie is a better bet at the box office.

So what's next for you?

I'm not doing any movie before this mythical writers strike that may or may not happen. I've got a couple of things in development. One is with Universal and is called "East Bound and Down" which is sort of an updated Smokey and the Bandit type movie. We've been working with Owen Wilson to develop that project. Recently we pitched a smart revisionist redneck chase comedy. The writer Brent Forrester is working on the script now so we'll see what happens with that.

Buy Bring it On

- Geoffrey Kleinman


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