(WESTWOOD, California) – The idea is simple. Two high school teachers plan to fight each other after school. Add in that it’s senior prank day, budget cuts are threatening teachers’ jobs and the school’s administration is highly dysfunctional, and tensions are at all time high. Sounds like a hilarious premise for a film, right?
Writer Evan Susser admits he was skeptical at first. “I had lots of objections. Adults don’t challenge each other to fights, I mean, I would call the police.”
But fellow writer Max Greenfield was more confident about the premise, saying he’s always been a fan of “one bad day movies” like After Hours or Falling Down. “We really wanted to explore how far in one day you can take a guy and break him.”
That “guy” would be Andy Campbell (Charlie Day), who’s typically calm and even-tempered. But when Andy has an altercation with the most feared teacher in the school, Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), Andy becomes a powder keg, waiting to explode.
Co-writer Van Robichaux describes Campbell’s character as, “Someone who works hard and plays by the rules and thinks that’s going to give him the life he wants. He needs to learn he has to do more than that.”
Susser says Campbell’s personal struggles reflect his own struggle as well. “We’re both in our early 30s, we started our careers during the recession. A lot of our friends went to law school and then got out to find there were no jobs for lawyers. So people thought they could get jobs teaching because it was supposed to be a safe job, but no, schools were closing down.”
But the story isn’t just about Campbell’s struggle, it’s about Strickland’s journey, too.
“Both Campbell and Strickland’s characters are in the same place. It’s just that Campbell is aware of it, Strickland is not. Throughout the day and especially throughout the fight, Campbell realizes how pent up he’s been and how much he needed to get this out of him. That’s what brings them together when it’s all over,” says Greenfield.
Adding to the chaos and humor, is the school councilor Holly (Jillian Bell), who’s a nympho tweeker. Not surprisingly, this character was written as a man in the original script. But the movie’s director, Richie Keen, was so impressed by Bell’s performance in 22 Jump Street, that he offered her the role.
Instead of having to reign in the character to fit a female sensibility however, the writers said they were able to push the character’s wackiness even further. “Once we got Jillian, we made her character even more extreme,” says Robichaux.
The film is full of hilarious pranks and apparently, coming up with them was the most difficult part of writing the script.
“Let me tell you something. It’s very difficult to come up with pranks. There were two notes that kept coming back with the script. One was that we have to keep track of time and the other was more pranks,” says Greenfield.
“I wrote the part where Campbell gets dragged by the horse. I was really worried the whole time about that. This was a Looney Tunes bit and I thought, ‘are people going to see this and think we’ve taking it too far?’ But the reaction I’ve seen is that it comes at a point in the movie where everyone’s ready to get a little Looney Tunes.”
But it was the actual fight scene at the end of the movie that got the most rewrites. “When we first wrote it, it was written more with poetry, where it had some of the beats of the fight but more just the tone of the fight.,” says Susser.
“The longest fight scene in any movie is the one in They Live [five minutes, 20 seconds] and we said in the script that we wanted it to be longer than that one,” says Greenfield.
“But when Richie came on board,” adds Susser, “He was like, ‘I love this, but what am I actually filming?’”
“So, we broke it all down, and figured out stuff like the stop sign on the school bus,” says Greenfield.
“It became like a math problem at a certain point, because it was like, he knocks the bag, and in the bag is a tennis racket, so he grabs the tennis racquet, etc. We then had to plant all the stuff earlier in the script.”
But Greenfield says the length of the fight proved to be an advantage. “Everyone had an opinion about what they wanted to see in the fight, so we had time to put in each person’s point of view. Van and Evan did a great job of marrying all those ideas together in the script, distinguishing where it gets big and sloppy, where it gets funny and where it get real. That’s what ended up making it so funny, because it really does have all these ups and downs.”
Fist Fight opens February 17.