Bring It On, a Universal Pictures Home Video release available from Redbox to rent or buy on DVD or On Demand, was the high school comedy nobody expected, least of all its director, Peyton Reed. After directing several well-received made-for-TV films for Disney as well as episodes of the alt-comedy classics, Upright Citizens Brigade and Mr. Show, as well as The Weird Al Show, Reed had been looking for his first theatrical feature to direct. His agent sent him a script by Jessica Bendinger set in the world of competitive high school cheerleading. Reed was hooked. Bring It On went from sleeper hit—opening at No. 1 and earning more at the box office than projected—to cult classic that established its teenage cast, Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku and Gabrielle Union, as breakout stars. Reed himself went on to join the Marvel universe with Ant-Man, while Bendinger made her directorial debut with Stick It and wrote her critically-acclaimed YA novel, The Seven Rays. They teamed up once again by phone to talk to Redbox about Bring It On’s unlikely journey to the screen, surviving 27 rejections and why the film’s original ending wound up on the cutting room floor.
Redbox: No writer ever says, “I’m going to write a movie that will become a cult classic that spawns five sequels and a Broadway musical. How did Bring It On come to be?
Jessica Bendinger: I loved cheerleading competitions and I loved hip-hop and I loved the alt-rock, indie, Gwen Stefani energy that was coming out of Southern California when I first moved to L.A. Someone said that I should write the movie that had not been made and that I personally would want to see. So, I did.
RB: How did you pitch the movie to studios?
JB: I pitched it with great inexperience. I went in with my 13-page document and I read it verbatim. I was panicked. I was sweaty. I had no AC in my car. It was not pretty. But I kept getting meetings. By the 27th no, I had pretty much given up on it, and then meeting 28 was at Beacon Pictures. It finally sold in October, 1996. I had a good hazing with Hollywood; a lot of rejection, but it all worked out.
RB: It took four years for Bring It On to make it to the screen. What were some of the most memorable studio notes you get that indicated they didn’t get what you were trying to do?
JB: I heard that girls don’t go to movies. I knew that wasn’t true. Somebody suggested we cut the opening cheer. Given everybody’s love of the opening cheer (“I’m pretty/I’m cool/I dominate this school”) and the way Peyton directed it, I dove on the sword for that one. it’s so beloved and it’s my favorite part of the movie.
RB: Peyton, how did the project come to you?
Peyton Reed: I had been looking for a feature to direct. I always loved the idea of high school movies and my agent called and said, ‘I have a high school movie, but it’s not the high school movie you might be expecting.’ I read it. It was so beautifully written, it grabbed me from the beginning. Jessica created this really vivid world and this insane subculture. That opening cheer was such a bold announcement of the movie. It was in your face and it confronted all your notions about cheerleaders right off the bat. I just felt that this could be really great. It excited me from the get-go.
RB: I want to add here that between Upright Citizen’s Brigade and your work on Mr. Show and The Weird Al Show, you’re a comedy hero.
PR: Part of the fun thing about all those shows was the writing was so good and they were all very low budget shows, so I learned the value of preparation. You move really quickly in those environments and that helped us develop the energy of Bring It On, which was there in the script. The energy of the movie should feel like the energy of a cheerleader; kinetic and fast-paced.
RB: You hear actors in war films talk about going through boot camp to prepare for their roles. Was there a cheerleading boot camp?
PR: There was. The movie was shot in San Diego which is the real hub of cheerleading activity. It was important the actors blend well with the reel cheerleaders in the movie. I wanted the actors to do as much of the cheerleading as they could. We really put them through the paces. Jessica in all her research can tell you how intense that cheerleader training is. The athleticism involved is off the charts.
RB: This was a breakout film for your core cast members.
PR: The casting of this movie was crucial. It’s hard for us to imagine this movie without all those actors. We saw so many people; everybody of that age in Hollywood at the time came through and read for the movie. We encouraged the actors to put as much of themselves into those roles. I was just fortunate to have them to work with.
RB: Come opening weekend you had the No. 1 film in America.
JB: We did! I’m looking at a picture of Peyton and me getting that phone call. It was a magical night. We were piled into a van, driving around to theaters (to see the audience reaction). Two weeks in a row we were No. 1. It was surreal.
PR: Surreal is the right word. With any movie you can feel that it works, but once you release it into the world, there is no guarantee it will connect with an audience. That Friday, we started getting the numbers in and we were just floored. It made a lot more than they had projected. That sent me over the edge. It was too good to be true. And to be there with Kirsten; she was 17 at the time. She got the call from her agent saying the movie was going to be No. 1. Watching her tear up was such a great moment.
RB: When did you realize that the film had taken on this life of its own?
JB: Every five-year anniversary there is increased demand for talking about it. It has spread like wildfire on social media.
RB: Peyton, do you miss the scrappy days when you had to make the most out of a $10 million budget, and are there lessons you learned from Bring It On that you bring to the set of a Marvel blockbuster?
PR: It’s the same process: The preparation we did for Bring It On and the momentum with which we made it stay with me on every movie. There was this youthful exuberance that fed that movie; everybody was so psyched to be there and that is an energy I’ve fostered on every movie. It’s a privilege to make a movie and have those resources behind you. You want people who are excited to be there, creatively hungry and giving it their all.
RB: One of our readers wanted to know what became of the film’s original ending.
JB: In the first draft of the script, Isis and Torrance are at UCLA together cheering for the Bruins. Sorry, USC fans.
PR: We shot that ending. It might be on the deleted scenes of the original issue of the DVD. It was one of those things where you have one too many endings and the cast singing “Mickey” was such an uplift. Anything else seemed tacked on. I looked at that scene recently to remind myself what we cut out of the movie. I think we made the right choice.
RB: Peyton, another reader wants to know why Weird Al hasn’t been in one of your movies.
PR: Tell them they still may get their wish. Al and I talk about stuff like that all the time.
RB: Do you think we would be here 20 years later talking about the film if it went out with its original title, Cheer Fever?
JB: (Laughs)A rose is a rose, reportedly, and a good movie is a good movie, but no.
Redbox: You’re both members of the Academy in a movie year like no other. What does the Oscar race look like this year?
PR: There have been fewer movies released so I’m trying to spearhead a movement from within the Academy to reach back 20 years to see if there are any movies that could be nominated for Best Picture. I’m lobbying to get Bring It On nominated retroactively. I’ll keep you posted.