Peyton Reed Says "Bring It On": Set to Mud Wrestle with Ebert
by Robert Mandel
Well, besides learning that one shouldn't perform an interview while sick as a dog, I also learned that directing a hit film, one that brought in $60 million more than he spent, doesn't necessarily have to pervert your outlook on the world. Not that Peyton Reed, the director of question, didn't needed an excuse for that. Here is a guy on his first film, Bring It On, who was so meglomaniacal that he had to have total control over every aspect of the DVD, down to gluing the layers of the disc together and inspecting the grooves for foreign substances. No, just kidding. As you're about to read—and hear on his very funny commentary on the DVD itself—Peyton may not have taken much improv, but his tongue-and-cheek sense of humor is a crack up. I tried to keep up wits with the man Ebert called a "smut peddler."
Peyton: Where are you located?
Peyton: I'm known as a "smut peddler" in that town!
dOc: Are you referring to Ebert?
Peyton: Yes. (Laughing.)
dOc: I was going to ask you about that. We received a question about Ebert's review of Bring It On from one of the members of our forum of choice, Home Theater Forum. His question: Roger Ebert cited Bring It On as evidence of the MPAA's bankruptcy, where movies that should be rated 'R' are trimmed to within an inch of their life to fit into a 'PG' rating, whether or not the material is appropriate for that classification. How does Peyton Reed feel about this observation? Was Bring It On trimmed at all to avoid the 'R' rating?
Peyton: (Laughing.) Ready for the answer? My quick answer is that I think Mr. Ebert is showing his age. But I am one of those people who grew up watching Siskel and Ebert, so there was a part of me that was wondering "How is he going to review my movie?" So, of course, I watched Ebert and Roeper. Roeper gave it a "thumbs up," Ebert gave it a "thumbs down." It was interesting because in Ebert's TV review he didn't really go there at all. It was more about how he felt that the film didn't balance the things it was trying to do, and Roeper said, "I think it balanced it perfectly!"...and they went on to argue about it. But then in the article in the Sun Times came out it being "the centerpiece of smut peddling!"
But really, this movie was never conceived as an 'R' rated movie, because clearly that's something that when you are making money for a studio there is much discussion about up front. As a filmmaker, I am contractually obligated to deliver a 'PG-13' movie. I could easily have gotten an 'R' rating because of little bits of language, which I talked about this on the DVD, but if I was a teen audience member and I went to see an 'R' rated movie (if I am able to get in with my parents or sneak in, whatever), I want to see an 'R' rated movie. I think that Bring It On would have had to have been re-conceived pretty heavily to fulfill what I would want to see in an 'R' rated movie. At its core, it is the story about this cheerleading squad and this competition. So, to try to shoehorn nudity and stuff like that, to me that would have felt like a different movie.
I think we pushed the limits of MPAA limits in terms of language in Bring It On, but I personally feel that the MPAA is little out of whack about that stuff. Just in terms of the way that the MPAA's system is set up, and the communication process with the MPAA I find really weird. The way that it works is that if they see a part of your movie and they say, "We had a problem with this section or this section," and because the studio is the go-between you always see the notes from them. It's not very specific—like they tell you it's a problem with this line—it's not a matter that you can just call them up.
It took me a while to go to the studio and ask them, "Can I actually talk to the MPAA myself?" And their like, "It's not normally done." And I'm like "Why? I want to get the movie where we can get the rating to we're we need." I finally got through to them, but they are not allowed to tell you what to do to the movie or even offer suggestions. So, you just have to take shots in the dark, and ask questions like, "If I do trim this, do you think that will that do it," and their like "Um. You'll just have to try and submit it." It's a strange process because you don't really know who they are, and they can't really lead you in a certain direction. And just how they deal with sex and violence and language is a little out of whack.
dOc: I actually come at it from two different vantage points. There's the giggly teen boy—I mean, when I was 13 I know what I knew and what I wanted to see—and then on the other hand I have a 14-year-old daughter and I know what I don't want her to see!
Peyton: Listen I have tons of nieces and nephews who I know would see this movie, and I consider myself a responsible filmmaker in that area. Some of the language in the movie was far more controversial with people that I knew, in terms of people saying, "Why did they have to talk that way?" Kids DO talk that way, but that's a whole separate discussion. But as far as the movie being labeled as "smut peddling," well, I have to radically disagree with that assessment.
dOc: You're originally from Raleigh, and went to school at North Carolina. Were you there during Michael Jordan's career?
Peyton: I was there for his last year, 1982, the year they won the championship.
dOc: Well, that was the most important question. It's all downhill from here!
Peyton: I still keep up with my Tarheel basketball.
dOc: Did you ever take improv classes? I know you worked on Upright Citizens Brigade...
Peyton: I took one semester of the Groundling's class years back, and the only reason I didn't continue is that I had to drop out to do the Forest Gump documentary.
dOc: How did that come about?
Peyton: I had worked for this company, CM Productions, starting out as an editor of a bunch of these behind-the-scenes documentaries, until I got to where I was writing and directing them. I did a bunch of them over the years, and worked on staff for that company, then freelance. The Making of Forest Gump was actually the last behind-the-scenes documentary that I did. This company had the deal to do the documentaries for Amblin, and they did a bunch for Speilberg and Zemeckis and a ton of other much smaller movies. It was a great place to work, because they would hire people who were really young, and give them a chance, which they probably wouldn't have had someplace else.
dOc: You had also made a short, Almost Beat. Do you have any intention of getting that onto one of the many short film compilation DVDs, like Short?
Peyton: I don't know. It's interesting. It's a 12-minute film, and like anything like that, I loved it at the time, and now I watch it and all I see is the stuff I did wrong. I don't really have the compilation DVDs banging down my door saying, "We MUST have Almost Beat on our DVD!" I'd love to have it out on a DVD at some point, I'm just not really sure that the demand is there yet! (laughing)
dOc: I was just curious. It's one of the nicest things about DVD, I think, being able to stretch out away from the top 10 action films.
Peyton: I think it's really cool, because when I did the short, at the time their was a company in Chicago called Picture Start, they put out video compilations of shorts, and rented out the shorts for festivals to screen shorts. There was a show way back then on the USA Network called Night Flights. It was a syndicated show that would play music videos, that started in the 1980s and went through the mid-1990s. They showed the short on that, and I remember seeing it then and thinking, "Oh, my god!" That market really dried up, but now with the internet and DVD it is becoming viable again for short films. I agree, it is one of the best things about the format.
dOc: So are you a big fan of the format?
Peyton: DVD? Yeah, I am, because I was a LaserDisc fanatic, too. I still have a giant LaserDisc collection. But just because—obviously—of the sound and picture improvements, and as a filmmaker, just to have the proper aspect ratios, I just can't rent VHS anymore. Then you get the additional bonus of the audio commentary.... When I got the Scorcese discs, and the John Sturgess stuff, the original 3 Criterion Bonds, Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger, that have the audio commentary on them, that stuff to me was revolutionary. I am really glad that after LaserDisc died that DVD is here to stay.
dOc: What are some of your favorite DVDs?
Peyton: Well, I mentioned the Magnolia disc. Also, the Criterion Rushmore, both the movie itself and all of the supplements... it's terrific. I am really looking forward to Superman: The Movie, that sounds really cool. And, of course, the Planet of the Apes boxset. Who can live without that? I am happy that most of the studios seem to be coming around.
dOc: When did you know you would be making a DVD of the film?
Peyton: We knew they would put Bring It On on DVD just because they are doing everything, but in terms of how much stuff they were going to put on it I didn't know, because a lot of that had to do with how much the movie did or didn't do.
dOc: What were the final numbers, I was looking for them...
Peyton: I think the final domestic numbers were $68.5 million... just shy of 70. It may have edged up to 69...
dOc: That's not bad for a $10 million film, eh?
Peyton: Yeah. Listen, I was shocked! I was very pleasantly surprised. You work on a movie for over a year, and your fate is determined in a weekend... it's a scary thought. You prepare yourself for the worst, that it's going to tank.
dOc: What did you go up against? What other films?
Peyton: Well, the other thing about that weekend is it's generally a dumping ground. It's right before Labor Day weekend, it's at the end of Summer, some of the kids are back in school and some of them aren't, so we definitely benefited from that release date. But, we were up against Art of War, The Cell had come out the weekend before, and The Crew. But now that the movie did well, interestingly, people in the scheduling business out here keep referring to August 25th as the Bring It On date! So, that's kind of interesting.
dOc: So the movie did well, and you knew you would be doing the DVD...
Peyton: We knew Universal would be doing a DVD, but I was really aggressive. Universal Home Video turned out to be great, because they were really cooperative, but I really wanted to be involved in the DVD because I am a fan of the format. I wanted to see how much stuff I could squeeze on. You know, before we left the editing room we had to put together all those deleted scenes and things.
dOc: Was it your choice to do them as they are on the disc, altogether with the lead-ins?
Peyton: It was my choice to do the lead-ins, but if you look at a bunch of DVDs there are some that put on deleted scenes and give you no information about them, about why they were cut out. Then there are some that you have to re-access the audio track, and that gets to be tiring. There are certain ones that I really like—like The Sixth Sense—where the director comes on and, hopefully, as succinctly as possible tells you why they shot the scene and why they cut it out. I wish there were chapter stops on each for ease of use, but that's my only thing. I don't know. Does it work? I don't know.
dOc: I think it does. I think you're right that it gets a little tiresome going back and forth to get to the next track. As for the commentary, sometimes I like it separate sometimes I don't. An instance where I think it works is on one of my favorite discs last year, Waking the Dead. The deleted scenes are actually finished scenes that were deleted, many from 7 to 12 minutes long (45 minutes, in total). You need to be able to see the scene and digest it, then go back and listen to Keith Gordon comment about them. But on a smaller scale, that does tend to get tedious.
I was pretty surprised by the amount of extras on this disc. I guess Universal was pretty happy with you!
Peyton: Well, it was interesting because you know they have different categories: regular and collector's editions. We were putting so much supplemental stuff on it that eventually we qualified for Collector's Edition! The lead time was really quick between the point that we were prepping it and when they had to deliver it.... We had originally planned to do all this other stuff like go out and film some Super 8 footage, and make it look like a Super 8 movie I made when I was 13 with cheerleaders in it and create this whole fiction that it had been my life's ambition to make a cheerleader movie!
dOc: That's hilarious!
Peyton: It would have been ridiculous—that Super 8mm movie, but we just didn't have enough time to do it. Also, the budgets are really tight on DVDs. But I have to say, based on pure technical specs, I am so pleased with how the movie looks. The DP and I went and supervised the transfer, and the transfer to High Def, and I thought it looked better than on all the projected screenings. So, that's another great thing about it.
dOc: So, you were involved with the image transfer. Were you involved with the audio transfer at all?
Peyton: The audio transfer is sort of a straight lay over of the surround sound mix of the movie. I was involved with the mix for the feature, but not on how they transferred it. I was really pleased that they put both the DTS and the Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks on. I was really pleased with the sound.
dOc: How did you get involved with the film?
Peyton: I had just signed on to do 3 episodes of Upright Citizen's Brigade in New York, and the day before I left I met with Caitlin Scanlon and Max Wong, the producers on the movie. They had sent me the script and I had read it, and I met with them to give them my notes on it. I remember getting a call, "We have this script...it's called "Cheer Fever," and thinking, "O, my god!" They told me, "Don't be judgemental about it, it's a cheerleader comedy...." And I was like, "Oh, come on!" I was thinking, "Has my career come to this?!" But then I read the script, and it was interesting to me, because I am a fan of high school movies and this was a high school movie, but it was a different thing, a movie about cheerleaders where they were the protagonists and I found that kind of a challenge. Then there were all these musical numbers. I had notes on the script, but there was a chance to do something kind of interesting with this movie. I am a big fan of something I haven't seen before in a movie, and the idea of introducing a lot of people to competitive cheerleading, though tricky, proved interesting to me. Then I went off and did Upright Citizen's Brigade, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to do anything about it. Then there were these series of phone calls, and I ended up getting the movie. I finished the episodes and flew back, and we hit the ground running.
But that's the whole interesting process of pitching yourself to direct a movie. You can do all the preparation you want, and have all of your specifics on how you want to do it, but then you have to talk to all of the producers—and there were a LOT of producers on that movie—then you talk to all the studio execs, and they see your reel of the stuff you've done before, and at some point, somebody somewhere has to make a leap of faith and say, "O.K., we're going to hire this guy."
dOc: You have a very diverse resume.
Peyton: It's weird. It's hard to explain to anybody.
dOc: You did some live shows at Disney?
Peyton: Well, actually Disney and Universal.
dOc: I think I experienced one, with Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.
Peyton: Right. Yeah, that's some weird stuff. It's mostly a technical excercize, but it's really different because it's not like it's in and out of the theater... it's like there forever... well, at least 10 years.
dOc: So, when did you work on Mr. Show, which I loved?
Peyton: I worked on the last 5 episodes on the last season, and that was obviously just a blast to work on! The writing was just so good. That was another no budget show for HBO, and it was crazy hours running around trying to get it together, but everyone had so much fun doing it they didn't care.
dOc: I listened to your commentary on Bring It On, which I thought was very entertaining. In fact, it is the only commentary that both my fiancée and daughter listened to as well. While you give screen-specific commentary mixed with behind-the-scenes information, it seems that you didn't take it too seriously.
Peyton: As a reviewer you probably get this, because I get it going into the video store and looking at stuff....but you'll see some really crappy comedy that comes with audio commentary with director "whoever," and I'm thinking, "What does this pretentious a--hole have to say about this movie!" I think I was very aware of that, and I knew what I liked and didn't like about video commentaries. There are those guys that will sit there and describe what is going on on-screen. "Here is the guy pulling up into the driveway. He gets out of the car, and is going to say, 'Hi' to wife..." and you're thinking to yourself, "Well, no sh--! I've seen the movie! Why are you telling me what is going on in the movie? Why don't you give me information about....anything?!" Then there are the guys who appear to have fallen asleep, with long passages of nothing! So, if anything, I probably talked too much. Yeah, I like the screen-specific stuff, and it was just a matter of trying to find a balance of telling funny anecdotes and some kind of technical information about the film. There were times where I found I had to tell myself to back off.
dOc: How many takes was that? I know on some, they actually splice together several takes. Or was it just a lot of coffee....
Peyton: Yeah, I got all coffee'd up....I wanted to try and do it with as much continuous time as we could. I think we only stopped like 3 times. I really wanted to just, like, go...but I did want to hear my commentary before they put it on so I didn't make an ass of myself, and I had to make them take out one word. At the beginning I said the word "ironically" and it made no sense, so I had them take it out. So they took out the word "ironically" and that was it! (laughing) And then they take out breaths and things like that, apparently.
dOc: So, on the disc you said you were a "skinny little band geek." Were you ever a cheerleader?
Peyton: No, never a cheerleader...a snare drummer.
dOc: Did you have cheerleader envy?
Peyton: Oh, sure. I think every kid in high school did. That was the thing about band—you had a fine seat near the cheerleaders, but unfortunately you were wearing a ridiculous feathered hat and band uniform! So, it really didn't help you much.
Peyton: Having done this DVD, next time out I want to shoot and record a bunch of stuff during the movie. I know a bunch of filmmakers are doing that, but it's a lot of fun. Also, there's a documentary on this disc, that I think they did a good job with, and I love the idea of using the money budgeted to let a friend take a digital camera and take footage. Like I was really happy that Paul Thomas Anderson allowed all of those awkward moments on the Magnolia disc. Watching that behind-the-scenes stuff, there's this scene where he's sitting on the set and someone is telling some bad news, and he's like, "Why didn't I know that yesterday?" Thirty people are coming up to him asking different questions, and that to me is what being a director is. That to me, got it across better than some schmaltzy interview about "how we had such a great time...", getting beyond the promotional aspect of that stuff.
dOc: When I came into the film, I really didn't expect anything much. As you said, it's a cheerleading movie....in the beginning it's hard to take them seriously, but in the end it is hard to NOT take them seriously. It does take athleticism to perform those routines. So, you sent the actors through 3 weeks of training?
Peyton: It was more like 4 weeks. Kirsten didn't go quite as long, since she arrived late because she was filming a movie in the Czech Republic; about 2 weeks. But we put the actors through rigorous training.
dOc: Was that your idea to make it seamless?
Peyton: Yes, but it was something we had to do. I was really determined to not "double" people. There were only a couple of instances in the final film where there are doubles. There were two reasons: first, they had to learn all this choreography, because there is something great about watching an actor do that stuff and not having to cut their feet and hands so that you can clearly see that it's not the actor, and second, we and the producers had a lot of discussion early on about insurance risks and what things were considered stunts and would need a stunt coordinator, and what was considered a part of the sport so that the coaches and trainers could handle it. We were really able to get them in there, and they really got into it. I think to some of the actors it felt like method acting, that they could really get in there and do it. They also really bonded with each other and to the other cheerleaders, and that helped, too. And I'm sure some of them, like Eliza Dushku, were like, "What am I doing in a cheerleading movie?!" But once she got in there she got into it the most, and that was really funny to me.
dOc: So, how was it working with Kirsten Dunst?
Peyton: Oh, she was the best. She's just great, because....
dOc: No, no. Give me some real dirt!
Peyton: She's just such a beautiful girl, and she was 18 when she did the movie. That's why we cast her...well, you can see by her performance, she is> that girl. She's got this great sort of perky quality, and this cynicism to her. She's a smart girl, then she's just non-stop energy. She's always playing pranks... that's what I should have said on the commentary: "She showed up so hungover one day...." No!
dOc: Are you married?
Peyton:(Laughing) Yeah, that was the great thing. When I started the film I had just celebrated my first anniversary. I had all my friends saying, >I>"Oh, man, you screwed up! You're doing a cheerleading movie. You should have waited!" And I'm like, "What are you talking about?" Because you get on the set and you feel like a camp counselor—like a parent, and you are a parent in the sense that all of these kids are 17, 18, early 20s, and I'm in my 30s, and you realize, "I'm not young anymore. I'm old!"
dOc: Well, I guess since your wife survived the shooting of the film you decided to take another risk by insulting her....
Peyton:(Laughing) Yeah, exactly! I had to play it for her to get her approval. [To her:] "It was funny, come on!"
dOc: It was funny.
Peyton: No, she was great. She works in L.A., and we were shooting in San Diego. She drove down every weekend. She was awesome.
dOc: Awesome, but "frightening." I really just enjoyed your tongue-in-cheek approach.
Peyton: Well, thank you....
dOc: So, what made you want to try a remake of Citizen Kane?
Peyton: (Laughing) Exactly. I have always been a Welles fan, and I never thought he got it right the first time out, so.... I always thought about how they have those trade paper announcements about your next project; that you could print "Peyton Reed Announces He's Going to Remake Citizen Kane."
dOc: No, really, all kidding aside...what is the really deep meaning of the film?
dOc: No, just kidding!
Peyton: Yeah! The deep meaning of Bring It On...that's up to the viewer...well, not according to Roger Ebert....
dOc: Really. What made you make this into such a dramatic film, rather than a comedy?
Peyton: Well, basically because all of the jokes misfired. That's how it got categorized as a drama.
dOc: I thought the title sequence was very funny... You have all those outtakes. Between those and the deleted and extended scenes, knowing you were going to make the DVD, how did that affect the production? Were you sweeping the floor of the editing room, or purposely making the actors take extra takes or throwing them off to put on the deleted scenes reel?
Peyton: We knew that when we were filming the movie that we wanted some form of outtake thing to fill the closing sequence with. You have in your head all these things that you want to do. Like we were going to do all these staged outtakes, like we'd get a take of a scene between Kirsten and Eliza Dushku. So, I'd go up and say, "Let's do one take, Elizah, where you blow the line, and Kirsten tries to sell it as real and lean all over it like, 'I'm a professional, I can't....'" Like try to do some really fake thing. But then you have a $10 million budget, and you have a schedule; all that stuff goes out the window because you really find out that you just have to make your day. "Forget the outtakes, I have to get the scene that's going to be in the movie!" So, it becomes just a survival thing, and I was happy that we had the outtakes that we did. That's the reality of it, that on a budget like this, there's only so much time. I mean, I wasn't able to get the girls dancing to [the song] Mickey until the very end, because I finally got permission to do it, having just received the permission to use the song, and we had to rearrange the schedule and I had to fly and shoot that in like a third of a day. I think it helped, because it's kind of loose and silly. You have to fight for all of that stuff because they get so uptight about the schedule and the budget and everything.
dOc: Especially if it's your first feature.
Peyton: Yeah, they don't want you to appear to be reckless. There's stuff you really have to fight for.
dOc: You could have given up the rights to your song....
Peyton: Yeah, exactly....my $1 fee!
dOc: What made you want to become a director? I saw where you were a driver on Bull Durham.
Peyton: Yeah, I was a damn good van driver. Actually, I did wreck a van on that movie! I had just dropped off Tim Robbins and someone else on the set, and they had me make a run to the airport to get some film stock, and when I pulled back there was a post and I smashed the fender and ripped the rear quarter-panel off. So, those were my driving days. No, I had always been into it. Starting at age 13 I made Super 8mm movies. My dad gave me a camera and I always made Super 8mm movies, like The Ten Million Dollar Boy and stuff like that. You know, all these pretty silly movies that I made all through high school and college. I weirdly always wanted to do it, probably since seeing Planet of the Apes or something.
dOc: You did some music videos, too?
Peyton: Yeah. A handful of really low-budget music videos. Mostly for North Carolina bands, Superchunk and The Connells. It was good, because they were all on independent labels, so it was just knowing the guys in the band, and if you stayed within a certain budget you could go off and do whatever you really wanted, so that was kind of fun. And that was a time when MTV would play videos like that. Now they don't even play videos.
dOc: The same HTFer as before asks: How did working on music videos help with directing Bring It On? Through a skilled use of music and colorful camerawork, or through a familiarity with directing lots of cute dancing babes in skimpy outfits?
Peyton: Well, none of my videos had any cute dancing girls. I didn't do any Aerosmith videos. These were really low-budget videos. If you know these bands, there were no video vixens in them! I would say then that the answer is 'A,' a combination of music with colorful camera moves, or whatever the hell the question was! (laughing)
dOc: You talk about some influence by John Hughes' films, like Sixteen Candles, in your commentary. Are there any other films or directors that inspire you? Or is the job and the paycheck your main inspiration?
Peyton: (laughing) Yeah, there are lots that inspire me. But as for this particular movie, there was Sixteen Candles, early John Hughes. I love the movie Flirting. And we looked at All That Jazz for the Sparky character. I checked out all of the Busby Berkeley films for the opening scene. Just a lot of stuff like that...it is a weird combination of things in the film.
I think for me to say, "Uh, I think that Scorsese and Kazan were a large influence on Bring It On," I don't think that's anything that any one wants to see in print.
dOc: What are you doing next? A band geek movie?
Peyton: Before I started working on Bring It On, I actually wrote a script I would like to get back to soon, that had the band geek kids well represented in it. It was a Southern based, coming-of-age, high school comedy. But after I'm done promoting this, I'll be trying to get a script for East Bound and Down, a sort of revisionist Southern redneck chase movie, and I'll be preparing for the pending strike that may or may not happen.
dOc: Well, I had all these other questions, but you answered them all on the commentary. Good for the DVD buyers, sucks for me.