‘bring it on’: the complete oral history
Throughout the entire filmmaking process, the ending of the movie was also a point of contention with the studio.
REED: I remember there was a whole debate about who was going to win, and there were people in the mix that were like, “Well, Kirsten’s the lead, the Toros have to win.” Well, nah, that’s not the story.
WONG: If you’ve ever seen “Rocky,” Rocky doesn’t win either and people forget that. And for us, the biggest thing about being a sportsman or a sportswoman is about grace in loss.
REED: She took that team from being a team that robbed their routines from someone else, and she made them on their own work hard and do it on the up and up, and they did an amazing job. But they came in second to the other team, and it was a life lesson for her.
WONG: It’s not about being a gracious winner, it’s about being a gracious loser, because generally that’s what happens when you play competitive sports. You have to power through that; and what does that say about [her] character? We were with the idea, we loved the fact that this is a “Rocky” with girls, a “Rocky” for girls.
An alternate ending, which found Torrance and Isis at U.C. Berkeley, was actually filmed and included on the DVD, but has been all but forgotten by those involved.
REED: I remember shooting at UCLA. I think it was a post-credit scene where you see Kirsten and you see Gabrielle and they’re in college now. They’re going to the same college, and they are on the same cheerleading squad.
WONG: The fact that at the end of the movie they’re still not friends is really the point: they respect each other, which is different from like, “Oh, give me a hug,” because they don’t have that relationship. They’re rivals.
REED: I literally have not thought about that scene until right now that we’re talking about it. I think I ended up not wanting to put it on the DVD supplemental thing because it really kind of had no real place in the movie, but we did shoot it. Like, do we shoot a thing where it’s the next year, where they end up being on the same team?
DUNST: Oh really, did we shoot that? I don’t remember, but that’s awesome! We went to Berkeley! We’re smart!
BENDINGER: The movie [originally] opened with her writing to the International Olympic Committee to consider an exhibition sport for the next game, which was cheerleading, and then it ends with her writing to them to thank them because she had her wish come true, and she’s cheering at Berkeley.
REED: But it really didn’t feel like it said anything, or did anything, so we just decided to cut it. The idea of doing “Mickey” and doing the bloopers stuff just felt like — this is a cheerleader movie, we’ve got to go out on this, it’s all about energy. And nothing seemed to be better than that.
DUSHKU: I love the lip sync “Mickey, you’re so fine” at the end too, I think that was kind of an afterthought that they decided to do after shooting the big final thing down in San Diego. And it was so much fun. It was ridiculous. We kind of just threw it together completely unplanned and it ended up being so hilarious.
DUNST: That was fun because we could do whatever we wanted to. We just made it up.
The next year, while the film was being edited, was a time of waiting. With production wrapped, it was time to unleash the movie onto the public and see what they thought.
BENDINGER:I brought my friends to a cast and crew screening in LA and I was still scared. It’s just so strange to me – there’s the movie you write, the one you shoot and the one you cut: three totally different movies. So I was pretty panicked, insecure and anxious. Look, it’s a team effort, and making a movie is such a collaborative thing, but the studio was almost embarrassed. I remember seeing an executive who shall remain nameless at the premiere of the movie and I said, “Oh, this is so-and-so from the studio,” and he said, “Yeah, but I had nothing to do with the movie!”
SLOANE: I grew up in Chatsworth, California and they were doing a test screening in Chatsworth at the movie theater I used to go to growing up. I put on a wig and went with some friends and my boyfriend at the time. I remember sitting there watching it thinking, “Oh my God, this is really special.” I had no idea what it was going to be, and it really surprised me and kind of blew my mind.
DUNST: We went to cheerleading camp, we learned our dances and stunts and all that stuff and all of us were just having fun on the movie, not thinking, “Oh, wow, we’re working on a great movie. This is going to be huge.” I remember my brother saw the movie before me, there was some screening, and my brother was like, “Oh, Keeks, this is going to be a hit.” I was like, “Really?” and he was like, “I can tell, I can tell.”
SCANLON: The budget was $12 million. When we were testing the movie, it tested really well and they were like, we actually have something on our hands that isn’t just a weird little indie movie with a bunch of girls in it — because that’s how [the studio] approached it. But once they realized what they had, they were like, “OK, we’re going to put a lot of money behind marketing.”
WONG: When we were trying to figure out the trailer for this film, I kept getting these trailers and the trailers were just not good. And, I was just like OK, let’s take a page from Jerry Bruckheimer. Jerry Bruckheimer does a trailer for ladies, a trailer for gentleman, and a trailer for an urban audience, which is not monolithic. So, we were like, OK, we have to make three different trailers. One has to be a trailer that explains to men why they have to see this movie. The reason they’re going to see this movie is because we’re going to use every tit and ass shot we have in this picture in the trailer. And we’re going to use the scientific voiceover from our test screening that says, “73 percent of men polled said they would not be willing see a movie about cheerleading. Here’s why you should see a movie about cheerleading.” And then cut to the bikini carwash.
SCANLON: They realized they had this huge marketing opportunity to African-Americans, and we didn’t have enough pivotal trailer moments. So we shot a couple of those for marketing.
WONG: We shot additional footage of Gabrielle and the girls from Blaque just walking around a gymnasium, just to make it seem like they were a bigger part of the movie — and used that as an urban trailer.
WONG: The Friday that we opened, they had done the tracking report for the market place and the initial tracking report said that movie was going to open at $6 million dollars — which is not good, because the movie’s budget topped $11 million.
REED: I really never imagined. I remember up until the weekend of the release just wondering, “OK, is this going to be a disaster?”
“Bring It On” opened on August 25, 2000, and made $17.3 million domestically its first weekend.
SCANLON: They thought it was going to be this modest opening, but it ended up being this phenomenon the first weekend. I mean, girls showed up in their cheer uniforms. Entire teams came together. People were doing cheers in the aisles. It was crazy. It was insane.
REED: At the time there was a Wesley Snipes movie, “Art Of War,” that was coming out that same weekend, and Wesley Snipes was huge at that point. We’re like, “OK, we’re going to get crushed by this movie, but I wonder if we can be second?” and we ended up coming in first place by a pretty big margin and beating that movie and we were like, “WHAT!” That didn’t make sense to any of us. It was amazing.
DUNST: I remember we went to Universal City Walk to see how it was doing in the theaters, and every theater was packed. I had never experienced that first hand, so it was very celebratory and so awesome.
REED: I remember Kirsten kinda getting teary eyed and saying, “I have the number one movie,” it was such a big thing, she was still in high school and it was a really, really amazing night. And then we ended up being number one for two more weekends after that which was just crazy.
DUSHKU: A good number of the girls and I went out on the town to celebrate and may or may not, you know, have jumped in the pool at Sky Bar and were like, we have a number one movie!
BRADFORD: When I saw the movie before it came out, I was like, huh, this movie turned out so funny. It’s smart, it doesn’t play down to anything. It’s not like a cheerleader movie. It’s not a dumb movie disguised as a cheerleader movie, it’s a good movie disguised as a cheerleader movie.
“Bring It On” was a certified hit, the little movie that could. It spawned several straight-to-video sequels and a Broadway musical in years following — though none of the key players were involved.
REED: I have passed by the sequels, you know, flipping around on TV at times, but I just have not been able to watch them. Because to me, I certainly know they have fans and everything, but because they’re not the same cast or whatever, I don’t have any association with them. I’m not just saying that, I’ve never seen them. I haven’t seen the musical either.
DUNST: I have not seen the musical, and I’ve only seen glimpses of the other things on television, but I have not watched them yet. But I’m impressed that OUR movie was a movie that was an inspiration for cheerleaders.
REED: There’s that part of me that always wishes, oh wow, I wish they had greenlit a feature sequel, because I think we probably would have come back and done it.
Fifteen years later, the film is still beloved, and the cast and crew see echoes of “Bring It On” in newer work.
BLISS: We didn’t imagine it would have this amount of staying power, we just didn’t anticipate it, and that [people] would be thinking about it 15 years later. All I can tell you is I read the script and it just sparked. It just sparked for me.
UNION: It had a message, there were very clear characters to get behind and it was a campy good time! To me, it reminds me most of “Grease.” That spawned the sequels and the musicals and still lives on –- are you a Frenchie, are you a Rizzo, are you a Sandy? It still inspires that campy good time.
SLOANE: That’s a big part of it –- and that’s why “Pitch Perfect” is such a huge success as well. When there’s music tied into something and you can sing along to a song, and the song makes you think of the movie, that’s kind of the easiest way to spread the seed to have it resonate with a big group of people. It was just unadulterated fun. People were incredibly talented. The cheers were catchy, it just appealed to a lot of people, it appealed to the underdog. There’s no one that doesn’t love the underdog story.
DUNST: It was a genuine surprise, and there hasn’t been a movie like it like afterwards. “Drumline” and even “Pitch Perfect,” you know what I mean? Those movies wouldn’t exist without “Bring It On.” Competitive, female-oriented comedies.
SCANLON: “Pitch Perfect” [is a modern-day “Bring it On”], a thousand percent. I mean, this sounds so self-aggrandizing, but even the TV show “Glee.” Really anything with sort of a sports and/or musical structure that has a little bit of attitude and a wink and a nod. “Mean Girls” is one. I don’t think that could have happened, we’re talking great minds that put together that movie, but I don’t know if it would have actually sold and been made.
DUNST: I don’t think there had been a movie that it had been surrounding mostly women, one, and two the team that you’re following doesn’t win, which is a good lesson too. We have very good morals in the story. I think that’s refreshing… But it’s also everyone that was hired, even the small parts, everybody was just weird and quirky in their own way and a great way, that when it came all together, it just hit the right notes at the right time.
Now, a decade and a half later, the cast is still connected, and “Bring It On” stands as some of their most recognized roles.
WONG: They’re still really good friends with each other, like Nicole Bilderback was like the maid of honor at Clare Kramer’s wedding. They’re still best friends. Jesse Bradford and Eliza Dushku pick each other up at the airport when they’re in each other’s towns. They’re really, really close because of this movie.
UNION: I’ve run into Kirsten over the years, and it’s always love. It’s like something happened in that movie that kind of cemented us all. We all respect the experience and hold it near and dear. Because I don’t think any of us have had [it] like THAT, ever again.
DUSHKU: I have a forever bond with all those ladies. For a tomboy like me who grew up with three older brothers beating up cheerleaders, it was special in itself to have a girls club.
BILDERBACK: Believe it or not, I still get recognized from “Bring It On” frequently. You walk into the grocery store, the Grove, the mall, a friend’s house –- you know, literally everywhere.
ROBERTS: At a certain point I decided to focus more on writing than acting but to have done this one role in this movie that people care about. I remember I got something sent to me that they wanted to put my scene in this game called “Scene It,” which is some movie trivia game. I was like, “What, wow! My scene’s in a movie tribute game!” You know? So it’s funny.
SLOANE: I couldn’t have imagined my character would have become something that people connected with in any way or would have loved to hate. Especially gay men. I remember there was a Halloween right after the movie came out, and there were a lot of Big Reds in Santa Monica. Which made me so happy –- nothing makes you feel like a man dressing in drag as a character you’ve played.
UNION: I don’t have any other movie where it inspires Halloween, not just dress-up as the Toros and the Clovers, but whole routines. And this has been going on for about 15 years: it actually picks up speed every year, to be honest. I’ll have soccer dads doing whole routines in Target like, “Do you remember this?” I’m like, oh my God. It’s a movie that hasn’t escaped anyone –- everyone has a memory.
DUNST: It’s amazing, even my own friends have quoted me in “Bring It On,” I mean for a while if anyone was getting out of the back seat or opening a door they’d be like, “I’ll get the door, Tor.” Well, I was embarrassed that my friends would quote a movie to myself that I was in, it’s just weird… But they enjoyed it, so.
BRADFORD: People will say, oh yeah, “Bring It On.” I hear it all the time. Like, if I don’t shave for two or three weeks and then I do, that day and for a week, I hear it every day.
UNION: “Brr, it’s cold” is a fan favorite. I don’t know it to save my life, [and people are always] like, “Am I getting it right?” and I don’t know.
DUSHKU: Gay men want to do the cheers in the produce aisle with me, and sometimes I do.
DUNST: It’s been a while, but if it’s on TV and I’m flipping through I’ll pause for a second because it’s just, you know, memories.