Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My writer's cut: Behind the scenes of "BRING IT ON 5: FIGHT TO THE FINISH"

"Bring It On: Fight to the Finish" cast: Meagan Holder, Nikki SooHoo, Tony Gonzalez (choreographer), Rachele Brooke Smith, Holland Roden, Vanessa Born
‘Fight’ Club

The talent behind the Malibu-set and -shot cheerleader comedy sequel share their experiences of ‘bringing it on’ in the ‘Bu

by Michael Aushenker

If you’re among the baffled wondering why a successful “Bring It On” musical was launched last year a decade after the release of the feature film hit, consider that the popularity of the Kirsten Dunst cheerleader comedy has never waned. Can you cheer “S-T-R-A-I-G-H-T T-O D-V-D F-R-A-N-C-H-I-S-E!” ??
Since the 2000 release of Peyton Reed’s original, “Bring It On” sequels have come flying fast and furious, beginning with 2004’s “Bring It On Again” and continuing with “Bring It On: “All or Nothing” (2006), “Bring It On: In It to Win It” (2007), and “Bring It On: Fight to the Finish.” The latest entry, released in 2009, was set and shot in Malibu.
Directed by music-video world graduate Bille Woodruff, the man behind the Jessica Alba hit “Honey” and its 2011 straight-to-DVD sequel, “BIO: Fight to the Finish” starred “Dip It Low” singer Christina Milian as Catalina, an East L.A. teen relocated to the fictitious Malibu Vista High, where she must contend with her arch-rival for the cheerleading top spot, snotty richie rival Avery, played by Rachele Brooke Smith, even as ‘Lina falls for Avery’s sensitive brother, Evan.
Smith, a vivacious 24 year old, told Malibu Times how Avery’s family home and the movie’s beach scenes were all shot around Zuma Beach.
“I absolutely loved working with Bille,” said Smith, who still sees co-stars Vanessa Born, Nikki SooHoo and Gabrielle Dennis. “We all hang out. I’m still very close to most of the cast.”
At 14, Smith suffered a gymnastics accident which required six pins in her wrist. A blessing from the unfortunate injury: she doubled down on her dedication to dance and singing. Those skills, showcased in her role on “Turn It Up,” caught the eye of Woodruff.
“He actually fought to get me the role. Avery would have been a blonde,” said Smith, who auditioned four times before securing the role.
SooHoo, an accomplished actress and dancer who attended Orange County High School of the Arts in Santa Ana, arguably possesses the most impressive filmography credit as Holly in Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones.” Coincidentally, she worked on “Stick It,” directorial debut of original “Bring It On” screenwriter Jessica Bendinger, in which she starred as a gymnast opposite Jeff Bridges.
“That was my first feature film,” SooHoo said. “I really thank her for the opportunity,” in which SooHoo trained six hours a day for three months, five days a week to approximate a gymnast.
Making these films, “I gained a respect for gymnasts and cheerleaders,” SooHoo said, admitting she was once suspect regarding whether or not these were legitimate sports. The hardest part of her cheerleading training was gaining that trust “that  your teammates were not going to drop you. It really is teamwork.”
Likewise, on the set of “Fight.”
“Bille  knows exactly what he’s doing,” she said. “He’s cutting in the camera. He hired us because he knew we’d know what to do. He expects us to know it and he let’s us do it. As an actor, you make the choices. You make the character your own.”
The female stars of “Fight” bonded during a boot camp, set up by the producers for several weeks from 9 to 5, to rehearse cheerleader choreography.
Smith reports that her scenes at the Avery House took two days to shoot. There were also beach scenes shot at Zuma Beach. The interior gymnasium parts were shot at Cal State Northridge while East L.A. scenes were lensed at Boyle Heights’ Roosevelt High.
Born and SooHoo, who play teen cheerleaders Gloria and Christina respectively, confirm Smith’s report of a very fun shoot. “Billy is one of my favorite directors,” Born said. “He let’s you be you.”
Born was an instigator of on-set practical jokes (some included on the closing credits coda). For instance, on co-star Holland Roden’s birthday, Born ordered myriad small cans of Silly String from Santa Cruz and made sure everyone on set had a can to zap Roder with.
As opposed to her experience on the set of “Lovely Bones,” during which A-list director Jackson received the luxury of time and money to perfect his film, SooHoo observed how Universal had a “tighter schedule” emphasizing to “finish it on time. We only had one or two takes on each scene.”
Originally from Sacramento, where she danced for the Kings NBA team, Born was already familiar with Point Dume, where she had found a rock divot perch she liked to go to and ponder.
“It’s my thinking chair,” said Born, who goes there to meditate to this day. “That is the place where my dreams come true.”
SooHoo, too, had a prior Malibu connection. Back in her Orange County junior high, different classes paired up with universities, which the respective classes visited.
“My class was Pepperdine,” she said. “The first time I visited Malibu, I fell in love with it.”
“Bring It On,” SooHoo added, was “one of my favorite movies. I love being a part of that whole family.”
Fresh off of a Cappadocia, Turkey, vacation, screenwriter Elena Song told the Times her original “Fight to the Finish” script had “a little more about teamwork, more female empowerment stuff.”
Song, who polished up Alyson Fouse’s screenplay on the fourth installment, took lead on writing “Fight,” which Fouse shares a co-credit on. Energized by character-driven creators such as the Coen Brothers and Charlie Kaufman, Song drew heavy inspiration from Audrey Wells (“The Truth About Cats and Dogs”). On the strength of her screenplay “After Mindy Flipped Out,” what Song describes as “a ‘Spinal Tap’-style mockumentary on figure skating; basically what if Tanya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were sisters,” Song was hired as a writer on the last two BIO sequels. In Hollywood, “Mindy” had landed on the respected Black List and won top prize in the now-defunct Diane Thomas screenwriting contest, gaining her screenwriter Sasha Gervse (“The Terminal”) as a mentor. Song also did some uncredited work on “Shrek the Third” and wrote a never-produced “Wizard of Oz” spin-off called “To Oz” (a yarn about Dorothy’s grandchildren carrying on the Oz-visiting legacy).

Screenwriter Elena Song, with Alyson Fouse, co-wrote the screenplays of the fourth and fifth "Bring It On" movies "In It to Win It" (2007) and "Fight to the Finish" (2009).

Previous to screenwriting, Song had spent a decade in sales and marketing for HBO. The screenwriter, who studied film studies and communication at American and Stanford Universities, traveled as an affiliate operators sales marketing agent to such territories as Phoenix, Las Vegas, Guam, Santa Barbara and Hawaii: “You’d have to go to each island and convince them to have HBO there. I bought a lot of donuts. I had my day job and I’d work on my writing at night. I told myself, ‘I’ll give it a year to try to kick off screenwriting. I was very naive but I’m glad I was married because I wouldn’t of done it without the support from her husband,” Paul Mandelbaum, a teacher at Emerson University’s Burbank annex and the novelist behind author of books such as “Adrian on the Edge” and “Garrett in Wedlock.”
Song was tasked on her BIO screenplays to “give it that ‘Bring It On 3’ flavor.” (“All or Nothing” was considered a series high by Universal.) As research, she watched all three predecessors (even though each were self-contained, unconnected stories with different characters) and read all the scripts.
“I pretty much did a page-one rewrite on Alyson’s script” with “Fight.” I wrote the first draft  on #5 ,then they brought me in. Alyson wrote #3, which was considered the holy grail of the sequels.” Song pointed out that where she excels is in structure while Alyson supplied much of the colorful dialogue. “She has that trash talk down,” Song said.
After “Fight” was finished, Song ran into Bille Woodruff at the premiere, held at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, where Woodruff apologized for discarding parts of her script. Smith recalls improvising on the shooting script but nothing above normal. “With every script, there’s room to adding your uniqueness,” she said. Despite a de rigeur different outcome from script to screen, Song appears satisfied with the finished product. “There’s some really good cheerleading sequences,” she said.
Smith, who also plays a bitchy character in next month’s “Pop Star,” admits she fears getting typecast with spoiled diva roles. “I loved playing those types, even though I’m very opposite those characters,” she said. “I love dancing. I will dance till I’m 90. But I don’t want to get pigeonholed as the dancer who acts.” (Smith also appeared in the Andre 3000 video “Green Light” and as an “Ironette” in “Iron Man 2”.)
While one might view Avery as a Malibu caricature of a snotty, even racist entitled girl, the movie’s complexities come from Evan’s philosophical differences with his sister’s spoiled mentality. Song, herself of half-Dutch Jewish/half-Korean heritage raised in WASPy Trumbull, Connecticut, tried hard to imbue her fish-out-of-water screenplay with solid character depth, tapping into some feelings minority teens go through when they arrive at a new school. Part of the band geek crowd, Song played trumpet and French horn back at Trumbull High. However, her younger sister, Miran, was Miss Popularity: a cheerleader! So Song had a window into that world to tap into in her “Fight” script.
Smith feels grateful to have co-starred in the sequel to “one of my favorite movies which inspired me as a child. It’s very surreal.” She believes the subtext of determination and pursuing one’s dreams despite obstacles is one she and other young actresses can relate to. The girls of BIO5 occasionally get recognized for their work in “Fight.” Once, while at a Burbank mall, a male cashier “began screaming ‘Oh, my God! It’s Gloria!’” Born said. “He was in a panic.’Oh, my God! I  loved your movie.’ It took me by surprise.”

Co-stars of "Bring It On: Fight to the Finish" (and real-life besties!): Nikki SooHoo, Vanessa Born, Rachele Brooke Smith.
On Aug. 23, Born made her stand-up comedy debut at the Comedy Store on Sunset. She is also co-producing “The Runner” with Smith, both of whom, with SooHoo, have roles in their independent drama. Smith played a desperate, pregnant girl in the drama “Matter of Time” while SooHoo has the upcoming thriller “Crush,” as well as the straight-to-DVD “Music High” and its already planned sequel, “Fearless.”
The takeaway from acting in BIO5, for Born and SooHoo, was “how hard-working all those cheerleaders were on the set,” as the former put it. All three actresses commend the movie’s subtext as inspirational. “They inspire a lot of girls and show them what’s possible,” Born said.
Such messages of female empowerment emanate from the “Bring It On” creator herself. As a screenwriter, Song said she was happy to hear reports of Bendinger’s July legal triumph in a lawsuit against the producers of the “Bring It On” musical. Suing them for borrowing too heavily from her movie’s storyline, Bendinger won a prominent, above-the-title credit on all P&A for the musical as its source writer. Likewise, SooHoo, who has worked with Bendinger, expressed her elation for her first director’s victory. “I always felt mixed feelings doing ‘Bring It On 5’ that she wasn’t affiliated with it,” she admitted. “She totally deserves it. She created a staple to that whole cheerleading world.”
To these up-and-coming actresses, “BIO 5” has become the most significant movie in the series because it was the one on which they all met.
“The best part I took away from the film was my best friends,” SooHoo said. “Staying friends after a movie wraps can be the hardest part. I think it was destiny, we were meant to be friends. We were all the same age and that’s how we met.”
She loves her “BIO5” clique as these young actresses continue to pursue their career goals, two of them even living in Santa Monica.
“We motivate each other, inspire each other and love each other,” SooHoo continued.
“We’ll run into each other on auditions actually,” Born said. “We’re like a mini-family. It’s like a reunion every time.”

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