Ice Cube Fist Fight
Cast: Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Christina Hendricks, JoAnna Garcia Swishe
Director: Richie Keen
Running Time: 91 minutes
Synopsis: Ice Cube ('Barbershop: The Next Cut," the 'Ride Along" movies) and Charlie Day ('Horrible Bosses," 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia") star as high school teachers prepared to solve their differences the hard way in the comedy 'Fist Fight," directed by Richie Keen ('It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia").
On the last day of the school year, mild-mannered high school English teacher Andy Campbell (Day) is trying his best to keep it together amidst outrageous senior pranks, a dysfunctional administration and budget cuts that are putting his job on the line just as his wife is expecting their second baby.
But things go from bad to worse when Campbell crosses the school's toughest and most feared teacher, Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), causing Strickland to be fired. To Campbell's shock"not to mention utter terror"Strickland responds by challenging him to a fist fight after school. News of the fight spreads like wildfire as Campbell takes ever more desperate measures to avoid getting the crap beaten out of him. But if he actually shows up and throws down, it may end up being the very thing this school, and Andy Campbell, needed.
Release Date: February 23rd, 2017
About The Production
After School. Parking Lot. It's On.
Remember those inspiring high school movies where a dedicated but unconventional teacher is assigned to the worst class and, defying the odds, transforms them all into well-behaved honour students? Well, 'Fist Fight" isn't one of those.
Director Richie Keen says, 'This is definitely a heightened experience of high school. It takes place entirely over one day"the last day of the year at Roosevelt High, which is the traditional Senior Prank Day, so it's utter chaos. We wanted to see how far we could push that envelope."
It starts out as the teachers versus the students, or, as Richie Keen puts it, 'the prison guards versus the inmates." But everything changes when two teachers are pitted against each other. Suddenly Senior Prank Day is overshadowed by the promised faculty fracas that quickly goes viral. #TeacherFight.
Ice Cube and Charlie Day head the cast as the two teachers about to come to blows, and the actors also serve as executive producers on the film. Ice Cube relates, 'When I first got the script for -Fist Fight,' I was like, -Yo, this is what you go to the movies for; it's the kind of film that you can just have fun with.' 'It's like one of those movies where you have a ticking time bomb, but the time bomb here is my character, Ron Strickland."
Charlie Day, who stars as Ron Strickland's opponent, Andy Campbell, agrees. 'I mean, who doesn't love a good high school movie? And I thought the dynamic between my character and Ice Cube's character jumped off the page. I liked the ticking clock scenario, where it's a pressure cooker and the heat keeps getting turned up. Those were the elements that made the script exciting to me."
Even before Andy's date with destiny"or death, depending on whom you talk to"he is not exactly having a good day. Richie Keen elaborates, 'The kids at school are crazy; his pregnant wife is three days past due; and he's nervously waiting to find out if he's among the teachers being fired due to budget cuts. Then, being in the wrong place at the absolute wrong time, he happens to witness Ron Strickland having a -final straw' moment with his students, who have pushed him one time too many. He's put in a tough spot when he and Strickland are called in by the principal who wants to know what happened. With his job on the line, Andy reluctantly points a finger at Strickland, at which point Strickland tells him to meet him in the parking lot after school at 3:00. That's when things really get started."
The story originated with Max Greenfield, who also served as a producer on the film. The idea, he reveals, came out of wanting to turn a typical high school rite of passage on its ear. 'I grew up in a small town and remember all the times we'd hear about a fight happening after school. Everyone would be totally excited for it, but it would almost always disappoint. I thought, -I wonder what would happen if it was two teachers who decided to fight it out after school.' It put a real twist on it."
Producer Shawn Levy recalls that when Max Greenfield pitched them the idea, 'We instantly recognised it as being a great comedic premise with everything you look for"a simple, big idea at its core based on conflict and real life indignities and even the possibility for character redemption. So much good comedy is based on the frustrations and humiliations of real life, and this movie doesn't shy away from those embarrassments; in fact it grounds its comedy in those humiliating moments while holding out the prospect of rising above them and becoming something sort of heroic in the process."
The producers brought in the writing team of Van Robichaux and Evan Susser to turn the premise into a screenplay. 'They loved the idea," says Cohen, 'and there was an instant connection between all of us as we developed the project."
In crafting the script, Van Robichaux says they began by 'talking to a bunch of public school teachers and what we got from them is it's crazy out there."
Evan Susser adds, 'What we also got is the total lack of respect they get as teachers."
Incorporating that theme into the screenplay, the duo established a link between the two warring central characters despite the fact that they appear to be total opposites. Van Robichaux offers, 'Ron Strickland is a tough guy who lives his life by a strict code and doesn't take s**t from anyone."
Conversely, Evan Susser notes, 'Andy Campbell is a total pushover who wants everyone to like him. At first, it seems they couldn't be further apart, but as the movie goes on, we realise they are both dealing with the same frustrations of being a teacher."
Responding to the screenplay, Charlie Day and Ice Cube were attached to star in 'Fist Fight" even before Richie Keen was chosen to direct the film. Having helmed a number of episodes of Charlie Day's series, 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," Richie Keen already had a rapport with the actor. 'However," producer John Rickard asserts, 'that's not what got him the job. He actually went and pulled footage of Ice Cube and Charlie Day from other movies and put together a kind of trailer for this film, which was amazing. He fought hard for this project; his passion showed through and we all saw it."
'Richie Keen was the ideal fit for this movie in so many ways," Shawn Levy states. 'His directing sensibility is grounded in character, and he has an eye and an ear for comedy that is pitch perfect."
Cohen remarks, 'It's hard to believe this was his first movie. He was an amazing leader and everyone loved working with him, from the cast to the crew."
Ice Cube and Charlie Day were joined in the main cast by Tracy Morgan, making a much-welcomed return to acting, Jillian Bell, Dean Norris, Christina Hendricks, Dennis Haysbert, JoAnna Garcia Swisher and Kumail Nanjiani.
'Fist Fight" was filmed entirely on location in Atlanta, with an actual local high school standing in for rundown Roosevelt High.
If the longsuffering school manages to survive Senior Prank Day, the faculty and students will witness a no-holds-barred brawl between two of their own. Unfortunately for Andy Campbell, this test is pass or fail…and they're not grading on a curve.
Snitches Get Stitches
Richie Keen says the pairing of Charlie Day and Ice Cube as two teachers on an extra-curricular collision course is perfect. 'Comedically, I don't think you could ask for a better visual than Ice Cube versus Charlie Day; it's kind of a laugh in itself. And audiences are going to see these actors doing things they've never done before. It was just a joy working with them both."
Even before Ron Strickland challenges Andy to the titular fist fight, they have conflicting approaches to education. Richie Keen explains, 'Andy Campbell is someone who believes in talking about your feelings and asking for everybody's input. He wants to be a mentor to his students, most of whom aren't interested. Whereas Ron Strickland believes actions have consequences, so he'd say to Andy, -While you're busy talking about these kids' feelings, they don't know the alphabet.' He cares about getting results. He's kind of an old-school teacher, while Andy Campbell is more of a new-age teacher."
Charlie Day observes, 'Andy is a very nice man, perhaps too nice. He's adverse to any confrontation and is suddenly faced with the most intimidating confrontation of his entire life. Now he has no choice but to become a little bit tougher and less soft. I sympathise with him because no matter how resourceful he is and no matter how hard he tries to worm out of the fight, he can't get out of it. I think what appealed to me is his earnestness. He's starts out as something of a straight man in a sea of crazy people," he laughs. 'It was fun to get to play someone slightly more grounded who becomes completely untethered over the course of the movie."
'Charlie Day is a fantastic actor and comedian with an incredible energy," says Cohen. 'Part of his trademark is him being out of control, so this role played right into his style of comedy. And his character has such a wonderful and surprising arc as"without his even realising it"the fact that everything that can go wrong does go wrong is only fuelling him for his showdown with Strickland."
Greenfield adds, 'One of the most impressive things to watch is how Charlie slowly builds the tension. It just keeps building and building until it becomes a giant explosion of everything he's been dealing with all day."
Whereas Andy likes to over-share, the overly strict Strickland is a mystery to everyone at Roosevelt High. Questions about his past add to his aura of danger...and that's just fine with him. Ice Cube confirms, 'Without doubt, Ron Strickland is the most interesting man in the world. Nobody knows exactly what he did before he was a history teacher, so there are all kinds of theories flying around. Was he a soldier in Iraq? A gang banger? An ex-cop? He could have been a pianist; you never know. No one knows his history and that's just the way he likes it."
Charlie Day reveals that Ice Cube could be almost as inscrutable as his character. 'This was my first time working with Ice Cube and it was everything I hoped it would be and more. He's extremely professional and is very good at what he does. I was really happy that I was able to make him laugh as much as I did, because he's usually so cool and collected that it's tough to break through that exterior. It was nice when I got the chance to do that."
'Charlie Day definitely knows how to make me laugh," Ice Cube states. 'I'm a big fan of his and wanted to work with him for years, so I jumped at the chance to do this movie. I knew it would be great, and we had a ball shooting it."
Charlie Day had an ally in trying to make Ice Cube and other members of the cast break up. Tracy Morgan attests, 'Charlie Day and I are comrades in comedy. When we are on the set, we conspire to make others laugh. That's what we live for."
Tracy Morgan plays Coach Crawford, the unsuspecting gym teacher who is all-too-easily fooled by the pranking seniors as they leave a parting shot on his football field. 'We were thrilled to get Tracy Morgan," says Cohen. 'Anything that man does is hilarious, and it's just fun to see him bring his own brand of comedy to this role."
With members of the faculty and student body taking sides in the much-anticipated teacher fight, Coach Crawford allies himself with Andy Campbell, as does the misguided guidance counselor, Holly Grossman. Due to her job, Holly Grossman would naturally take an interest in the problem of sex and drugs on campus…except in this case, she's the one with the problem.
Jillian Bell, who took on the part of the nympho tweeker, admits, 'I love playing weird women, but Holly is probably the weirdest woman I have ever played. She means well, but she's an oddball. Holly likes to live it up and have fun which leads to some terrible decisions. She thinks everything is a good idea until someone tells her it's actually bad."
'Holly is a very strange woman, which is why I love her," Richie Keen grins. 'She gets big laughs in every scene she's in because, in an already outrageous situation, she is the most outrageous."
The director reveals that Jillian Bell's role was originally written for a man until, he recalls, 'I was watching television one night and they were showing '22 Jump Street.' I saw Jillian Bell and got inspired and picked up the phone and called Charlie Day and said, -What if Jillian Bell was the guidance counsellor?' He loved the idea so we changed the part to a woman for her."
'I was really honoured that they rewrote the part for me, so I was in," says Jillian Bell. 'I was excited to work with Charlie Day because I'd always been a fan of his. And this is my second film with Ice Cube, so I've decided I will only do movies with him from now on," she deadpans.
Jillian Bell adds that she also enjoyed her collaboration with Richie Keen, noting, 'Richie Keen is amazing. He knows what he wants, but he's so supportive of everyone's process and lets you do your own thing. It was a wonderful experience."
Tracy Morgan agrees. 'Richie Keen and I had already bonded on other projects, and he is my man. He's my brother; that's how I look at him."
While Coach Crawford and Holly are in Andy's corner, French teacher Ms. Monet is rooting for Strickland to kick Andy's ass. Cast in the role, Christina Hendricks explains, 'Ms. Monet is convinced that she caught Mr. Campbell doing this very sketchy thing, so now she wants to take him out."
And if Strickland doesn't get it done, the knife-wielding Ms. Monet is more than willing to help. 'Ms. Monet clearly has a dark side. She appears to be normal when you first meet her, but she can be set off like that," Christina Hendricks says with a snap of her fingers. 'And when that happens, she's scary."
Richie Keen notes he liked the idea of casting Christina Hendricks against type. 'When Christina expressed interest in the movie, I couldn't resist. I just thought she'd be such an interesting choice among this motley crew of teachers, and she was great."
Kumail Nanjiani plays one member of the staff who is remaining neutral: Roosevelt's on-campus security guard, Mehar. He refuses to get involved because the instant the school day ends, the fight is outside of his jurisdiction. 'Mehar thinks he has authority, even though he has none, but he has a lot of rules about how he controls his domain," says Nanjiani. 'So when Andy Campbell comes to Mehar and asks for his help to stop the fight, he says, -Sorry, my job is done at 3:00.' Actually, I think he's excited to see the fight."
Richie Keen reveals that the role of Mehar didn't even exist in the original script, 'but Kumail is so funny, I felt there had to be a place for him in this film. It was Charlie who suggested adding a security guard. Luckily Kumail Nanjiani was available because he added so much humour to the movie."
Kumail Nanjiani recalls, 'I was excited when Richie Keen asked me to be in the movie because I had worked with him before and really like him. And then I found out who else was in the cast. Getting to work with Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Jillian Bell, Tracy Morgan and everybody was a dream. Charlie is so funny it was challenging to keep a straight face in our scenes. We ruined a lot of takes," he smiles.
Anticipation for the teacher fight has done nothing to diminish the seniors' determination to make this the craziest prank day ever. And no one is more of a target than Principal Tyler, played by Dean Norris. 'It's the last day of school, and he just wants to get out of there and go fishing," the actor says. 'It's bad enough that the kids are pulling all these pranks on him, but he is also under tremendous pressure to lay off a bunch of teachers, so by the end of the day, he's just done."
Veteran actor Dennis Haysbert also appears as School Superintendent Johnson, who is adding to the pressure to cut the budget. Making a cameo appearance, Kym E. Whitley plays a 911 operator who gets a good laugh from Andy's 'emergency" call.
When Andy ratted out Strickland to save his job, he wasn't just thinking of himself. His very pregnant wife, Maggie, is anxiously waiting to hear if her husband is going to be out of work just as they are about to have another baby. Cast in the role, JoAnna Garcia Swisher offers, 'Maggie is obviously in a very delicate position: she is very close to giving birth to her second child and doesn't have much tolerance for the idea that her husband may be unemployed. She's worried that he can sometimes be too nice and wants to make sure Andy is going to stand up for himself. Little does she know that trying to keep his job has gotten Andy entangled in some insane teacher fight.
'It was amazing to be part of this cast and work alongside these extremely funny people," JoAnna Garcia Swisher continues. 'The whole experience was a huge thrill."
As if Andy wasn't stressed enough, he also promised his 9-year-old daughter, Ally, that he would be her partner in her school's talent show"a date he is seriously in jeopardy of missing between losing his post to layoffs…and his life to Strickland. Eleven-year-old actress Alexa Nisenson joins the cast as Ally, who is counting on her father not to let her down.
An ensemble of young actors play the Roosevelt High graduating class, led by Charlie Carver and Max Carver as identical twins Nathaniel and Daniel, and Austin Zajur as the blackmailing schemer, Neil. Rounding out the student body are: Bill Kottkamp as William, who puts Mr. Campbell in a compromising position; and Jose Diaz and Tim Johnson, Jr. as Cody and Jordan, who are leaving a lasting impression on the football field.
Richie Keen remarks, 'The casting process of finding the kids was hugely important to me. I think we hit a homerun with all of them and made some great discoveries."
Regarding the overall cast, Levy says, 'We surrounded our two strong stars with actors of equal strength from every side, which made for a dream project and a helluva good time onscreen."
The filmmakers also had a good time coming up with the outrageous pranks perpetrated by the students on the faculty. Rickard affirms, 'We spent quite a bit of time on the internet figuring out the best pranks and then working them into the movie."
Richie Keen adds, 'The question that kept coming up was: how far is too far? Do we buy a principal's car in the lobby? Would you believe a horse running through the halls? We did nix a few things we thought were just too ambitious for a group of teenagers."
The director says a favorite was the mariachi band that torments Principal Tyler throughout the day. 'One of our producers, Dan Cohen, had heard an actual story about a mariachi band following a principal around all day and I thought it was hilarious, so we made it a running gag in the film."
A number of the pranks created quite a mess, which posed a challenge to the director, as well as production designer Chris Cornwell. Richie Keen explains, 'The entire movie takes place over the course of one day, but like most films, we shot out of sequence, so we did a lot of prep work to make sure we knew exactly what happens when as the day progresses. Paint cannons go off at one point, so we'd place the paint in the hallway to shoot a scene and then have to clean it up to shoot an earlier sequence, only to put it back for another scene. We just had to be really mindful of the details to make sure nothing got lost."
Without question, the centerpiece of the action is the climactic fist fight between Andy Campbell and Ron Strickland, which evolves into more of an all-out mêlée. Creating the fight involved a close collaboration between Richie Keen, Charlie Day and Ice Cube and the stunt team, led by fight consultant Sam Hargrave, stunt coordinator/fight choreographer Thayr Harris, stunt coordinator/fight coordinator Daniel Hernandez, and stunt coordinator Kimani Ray Smith.
Sam Hargrave comments, 'Richie Keen wanted the fight to be brutal but did not want anything to look overly choreographed, like martial-arts-type fighting. It's a comedy, so there had to be humour, but the humour should come out of the mayhem."
In blocking the brawl, Thayr Harris and Daniel Hernandez put together what they called a 'fight viz," using stunt doubles and a video camera. Richie Keen recounts, 'I was able to watch the video and make notes on what I loved or what felt too slick or a move that Andy would not know how to do. We went through a few -drafts' of the fight until we arrived at a version we all liked."
Both Charlie Day and Ice Cube engaged in pre-production training to prepare for the fight sequences. Thayr Harris says, 'Charlie Day was a quick study and as his skills progressed, we actually had to encourage him to not look like he knew what he was doing. Likewise, Ice Cube quickly picked up all the choreography and even added some movements of his own. From the first time they rehearsed together, they immediately realised the potential for even more comedic moments. And they constantly cracked each other up."
am Hargrave adds, 'Both Charlie Day and Ice Cube were totally game and gave 100 percent on every take. Sometimes we had to remind them that they had stunt doubles and didn't need to do the big falls and stunts. They worked hard and ended up doing nearly all of the fight action."
Filming the fight took eight days, which both actors admit was demanding. Ice Cube attests, 'Day after day, it was like, -Richie Keen, how long is this damn fight, man?' It was hard and we got our bumps and bruises, but we had a ball shooting it."
Charlie Day agrees, 'Once we started, Richie Keen proceeded to systematically destroy Ice Cube and myself. He had us doing long takes of swinging fists, blocking punches and getting tossed around"things that neither of us is used to doing, let alone all day every day. I think we're lucky to still be walking," he laughs.
Richie Keen collaborated with cinematographer Eric Edwards to capture the fight, which begins in the courtyard of the school. 'The courtyard of this school feels like a prison yard. It's rundown, it's rusty, the paint is falling off…it's basically a crap hole. That was my intention."
Filming on 'Fist Fight" took place during the school year so taking over a school in session was not an option. Instead, the filmmakers enlisted the aid of the Georgia Film Commission, which sent them pictures of schools in Atlanta no longer in operation.
Cornwell and his team turned the abandoned building into a working high school, complete with team logos for the Roosevelt High Stallions, and funny but fitting bulletin board material. The school became a de facto soundstage, providing classrooms, hallways, the teachers' lounge and offices. In addition, the basement was transformed into sets for scenes in the police station and jail cell, where Andy and Strickland are temporarily detained.
Costume designer Denise Wingate had the task of clothing the teachers and students for what would turn out to be the wildest last day they ever experienced. Since everything transpires during one day, Denise Wingate had to design a single outfit for each character that instantly summed up their personality. 'It can more difficult than when somebody has a lot of changes," she asserts. 'It was a process to figure out the exact attire that suited each character. Richie and I decided early on to dress Andy in a light palette, versus Cube, who would be a little more ominous in darker tones."
As the day progresses 'Andy becomes more unhinged," Denise Wingate continues, 'and that's tracked in his clothes. We had about 30 versions of his costume in various stages of dishevelment. On the other end of the spectrum, Strickland's clothes are unflappable"they don't move, they don't wrinkle."
Denise Wingate especially had fun putting Jillian Bell's Holly in clothes that belie her character. 'She's so crazy," the designer remarks. 'How do you not play into that craziness? We tried a lot of different things, but then realized she didn't need to be overly sexual in what she wears. Instead, we made her really sweet, with a vintage floral dress and a modest little cardigan. It's only later, when she rolls up her sleeves, that you see her tattoo and get the under-layering of how nuts she is," Denise Wingate smiles.
For the students, Richie Keen says, 'It was important to me that they were in what kids are wearing today. I wanted everyone and everything to appear very natural in contrast to the outrageous things going on around them."
Some filming was accomplished outside the school in Atlanta, including in a computer store, where Richie Keen makes a cameo appearance as the sales clerk. 'I had never even been to Georgia before, but I totally fell in love with Atlanta," the director states. 'The local crew was excellent and everyone we met there was great."
Calling it a wrap on his first feature film, Richie Keen concludes, 'Making -Fist Fight' was an amazing experience from start to finish, and I really appreciated the opportunity to work with such talented people. We all had a blast."
Release Date: February 23rd, 2017