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Close-Up: 'Stick It's Jessica Bendinger
by Scott Holleran
Jessica Bendinger directing Stick It
April 30, 2006

Former model (catch a glimpse of her in the Merchant/Ivory production Slaves of New York), high school basketball star and entertainment journalist Jessica Bendinger took her latest role—first time feature director of Stick It—in stride. The woman who wrote the popular cheerleading movie, Bring It On, talked about writing the script, working in Hollywood and why she stopped competing in gymnastics.

Box Office Mojo: Why did you quit high school gymnastics?

Jessica Bendinger: I got too tall. I grew six inches and my center of gravity changed. I was devastated. I felt like I was being held back a grade. Today, I'm 5'11.

Box Office Mojo: Is having a goal part of an interesting character?

Jessica Bendinger: In a good story, every character has something they think they want and the journey is to bridge the gap between what they think they want and what they really do want and need. I try to build the person first and the concept second. Anytime you're starting with concept, you're f—-ed, because the cart's leading the horse. Unfortunately, the Hollywood model right now is that the concept comes first. That's the formula. Then you're trying to make characters come alive within that formula.

Box Office Mojo: Are your Stick It characters intended to be individualistic?

Jessica Bendinger: They are. The characters start from what they need to learn. I wanted each to have a weakness they had to overcome, like in The Wizard of Oz, which I love. The Mina character needed a brain, Wei-Wei—the name means strength and courage in Korean—needed strength. Joanne is about love and kindness, so she needed to learn to love herself and she needed strength. Haley, which means gravelly homestead, is trying to go from rebel to revolutionary.

Box Office Mojo: Why not provide Haley with a romance?

Jessica Bendinger: Because I was tired of movies that try to shoehorn romance. Girls need to have a life before they need to have a love life. You don't need a romance or a tiara or a makeover. She needed to have a sense of self first.

Box Office Mojo: Who's your favorite gymnast?

Jessica Bendinger: Oana Ban. She's a Romanian gymnast. She does really hard tricks and she flew in the face of the [Gymnastics] Federation.

Box Office Mojo: You cast Olympic gymnast Bart Conner. Why not cast his wife, Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci?

Jessica Bendinger: Bart and Nadia were friends of the movie, but Nadia is more reserved. It never really came up.

Box Office Mojo: What do you say to those who find today's dominant fast cut style irritating?

Jessica Bendinger: I say talk to the studios. Take the diner scene [between Jeff Bridges' coach character and Haley, the leading female gymnast character] in Stick It. I was inspired by Paper Moon and we actually talked to [director of photography] Laszlo Kovacs so we could have these long takes and not necessarily cut on the line. But we were badgered by the studio for time. They were obsessed with the 90 minute thing. They want it under 100 minutes—and they're your boss. We did get a long crane shot when Haley's running.

Jessica Bendinger and Missy Peregrym on the set of Stick It
Box Office Mojo: Have you finished Stick It's DVD commentary?

Jessica Bendinger: I have. We actually have two commentary tracks, a blooper reel, and these end credits showing every real gymnast in the movie and all their championships. We also have uncut routines on bars and beams and the current national champion, Nastia Liukin, at really high frame rates.

Box Office Mojo: With Bring It On and Stick It, you've covered the subculture of Texas sports. Have you seen the Texas high school football movie, Friday Night Lights?

Jessica Bendinger: Yes. I thought it was awesome.

Box Office Mojo: What's the last movie you paid to see in the theater?

Jessica Bendinger: Friends with Money. I loved it.

Box Office Mojo: How do you account for the failure of other movies you've written?

Jessica Bendinger: Bring It On is the only original movie I've written. On First Daughter, I was the 15th of 17 writers and we all know what happens when you write by committee. I think the [writer's union] and movie studios need to get real. I'm not opposed to truth in labeling. If you have so many writers, I think it should be required to say how many wrote it and then people wouldn't go see it. Certain genres can sustain [having numerous writers], like animation and comedy. I'm just trying to make an honorable living.

Box Office Mojo: Your pronoun-heavy movie titles include Bring It On, Stick It—what's next, a remake of Stephen King's It?

Jessica Bendinger: [Laughs] Let me own up to something. Bring It On was chosen by a focus group, so I have to give credit to the teenage girls—probably in the [San Fernando] Valley. My friend's boyfriend thought of Stick It in a bar on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Box Office Mojo: How did being a journalist prepare you for writing and directing movies?

Jessica Bendinger: When I was working at MTV, I saw the [press kit] for Say Anything and I saw that [director] Cameron Crowe had been a journalist and I thought, 'I don't have to write about other people being creative—I can be creative.' I was working on deadline and that helps with self-reliance, so, for me, work as a journalist was like grad school for getting my chops. It helped me achieve discipline.

Box Office Mojo: How much do you hope to make when it's said and done?

Jessica Bendinger: I don't want to put a limit on it. I do follow box office in the demographic I'm in. I've used Box Office Mojo to educate people about Bring It On, Mean Girls and Save the Last Dance and what they made opening weekend.

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