Shawn (Nicholas D'Agosto) and Nick (Eric Christian Olsen) are top scorers on the Ford High School football team…both on and off the field. As adept with a ball as they are with the ladies, they've conquered the school's hotties and are approaching girl boredom as they're faced with another scorching stint at summer football camp. But then they overhear the girls talking about cheerleading camp, and Nick hatches a scheme for them to join up: instead of running around in the sweltering heat with a bunch of sweaty guys, they'll be awash in a sea of gorgeous, athletic young women who can all do back flips and the splits. At first their plan works like a dream - cheer camp becomes a blur of lips, lifts, and launches as the cheerleaders succumb to the guys' charms one after another. But when it becomes clear that the addition of the guys has given their school's historically awful cheer squad a chance at success, the guys' participation becomes more than a lark. And when Shawn actually falls for squad captain Carly (Sarah Roemer), who's been suspicious of their motives from the start, their real reason for attending camp becomes apparent and threatens to topple the squad's newfound success.
STARTING THE FIRE
Rough-and-ready football players attending cheerleading camp? Sounds as likely as a cheer champion without school spirit, but the funny of Fired Up was actually inspired by real-life experiences. While in high school, producer Matthew Gross and best friend Phil Needleman decided to broaden their dating pool by attending their high school cheer camp. Where better, they thought, to meet beautiful young girls with very few guys as competition?
"It was actually Phil's idea," says Gross. "A girl on our high school squad mentioned to Phil it would be great to have guys on the squad, so he asked if I'd like to join the squad with him. I thought he was nuts until he mentioned going to cheer camp with a thousand girls…genius! I told him I was in.
"We were only thinking about the cheerleaders," continues Gross. "The part we didn't realize was that we were going to have to cheer."
At camp, "the morning stretches were my favorite part of the day," says Needleman. "It's like you never saw anything in your life. We would stand back and stretch…"
"Our eyeballs," Gross interrupts. "We'd stretch our eyeballs.
"The problem was the cheering," Gross continues. "The girls said, 'You didn't come just to camp with a thousand girls, did you?' We said, 'No, we're serious about this - we live to cheer.'
"When we came back to school there was this big pep really, and we were backstage before the curtain went up, and I just remember this feeling in the pit of my stomach. 'I can't do this,' I thought. 'This is not me.'"
"People didn't know exactly how to act," says Needleman. "The student body didn't get the idea."
"I was getting in fights every day at school and ending up in the principal's office," says Gross. "We finally said, 'It's not working out for us.'"
Though the experience didn't lead to a lifelong love of cheering, with great foresight Gross' mother, veteran producer Marcy Gross, told her son to take lots of notes and photos at cheer camp. "I thought it would make a good film," she says. Cheering didn't work out, but years later that idea for a dudes-at-cheer-camp film is a fully-realized movie.
"The idea always stayed with me," continues Gross' son. "I laid out the story and partnered with my friend, Maxim's Peter Jaysen, because I felt the story was perfect for Maxim's demographic and audience. The first place we went with it was Screen Gems."
The first cheerleader in history was a guy: on November 2, 1898, Johnny Campbell led the first cheerleaders (also all male) at a Minnesota football game. Women didn't join the sport until the 1920s.
Director Will Gluck was thrilled to pick up his megaphone for Fired Up. A television comedy veteran making his feature directorial debut, Gluck's experience and comic sensibility seemed a perfect fit for the film.
"Will is someone who has really strong opinions and choices, and they tend to be right on the mark," says Jaysen. "He has a terrific sense of timing and comedy, and a great confidence that the actors really thrive on."
To play Fired Up's best friends, the filmmakers cast handsome up-and-coming actors Nicholas D'Agosto and Eric Christian Olsen as lead characters Shawn (the character based on producer Gross) and Nick, respectively.
"We're very fortunate to have Nick and Eric as our leading men," says Gross. "They have such camaraderie, they have unbelievable chemistry - you can't believe they haven't been friends their whole lives. The film relies upon that chemistry and on the friendship of these two characters."
"We play a couple of guys who love women, and they also happen to be great football players for their high school team," says D'Agosto. "That in itself was a glorious thing for me to have the opportunity to play," he laughs. "In reality that couldn't be further from the truth, so it was great to do football scenes where we were made to look really athletically gifted!"
D'Agosto enjoyed the male duo dynamic that came from working with Olsen. "We had a few weeks of cheer camp before filming - you'll bond in the middle of that," he laughs again. "Eric and I had a really good time. We have two very different energies, but a similar idea of the kind of fun we wanted to have. He's great at making people laugh and cracking jokes out of nowhere - lots of improvisation and just a real free spirit. It's wonderful to have somebody like that."
As Nick, Olsen is more of the lead instigator of the two friends - it's his idea to infiltrate cheer camp, and his ideas generally lead to unexpected and hilarious adventures.
"Nick is the catalyst for all of the bad decision-making," says Olsen. "The wonderful thing about Nick is that he has this confidence that's totally unfounded. His perspective is zero, but he believes in it so much he convinces Shawn to do all of these crazy things."
Of working with D'Agosto, Olsen echoes D'Agosto's great-partner praise. "Nick has a great ability to adapt and improv in the moment," he says, "and I think that's where you find gold, especially in a buddy comedy. Instead of two intersecting monologues, we were able to play off each other and have a true conversation in a scene."
Sarah Roemer plays Carly, the head cheerleader who is very suspicious of Nick and Shawn's reasons for attending cheer camp.
"Sarah is a great 'girl-next-door,' yet she has a kind of unattainable quality," says Gluck. "Guys will watch the movie and say, 'I could get that girl.' No, you couldn't, but you think you could. Sarah is very talented and when Shawn falls for Carly - much to his surprise - he realizes he's found a smart, challenging and funny romantic interest, rather than a potential conquest."
"My character does not really accept the idea of the boys coming to cheer camp," says Roemer, "because she sees right through them. She knows exactly why they're going, and she frowns upon it, because she takes the cheerleading very seriously."
Fired Up also features a wealth of top acting talents in key supporting roles, including John Michael Higgins as the cheer camp's Coach Keith and Molly Sims as his wife, Diora, the camp's lead counselor. Higgins kept the cast and crew laughing with his portrayal of a lifelong cheerleader with Sansabelt pants exhorting his charges to "feel the fire within" as they performed their routines.
"Coach Keith is a man who has a great deal of energy - a lot more energy than I have," says Higgins. "He was born cheering - his mother swears the first thing he did with his little baby hands was spirit fingers."
"Keith was the first male cheerleader to ever go to nationals," Higgins continues. "He's spent his whole life thinking about cheering and absolutely nothing else. When you're like that, you're an outcast and don't even know it."
As camp director, Coach Keith has to demonstrate a cheer to his charges, so Higgins had to prepare and learn some moves. "In high school, the purpose of a cheer uniform was to imagine its absence," he says. "I try not to prepare for anything. It's always a mistake and takes time out of my busy sitting-around schedule, which is packed.
"They sent choreographers over, but they couldn't catch me at first," Higgins continues. "They finally tackled me and taught me the cheer. I did the cheer; it went fine. I get home - can't move. Can't think. Can't breathe. Lying facedown on the dining room floor. 'Honey,' I call to my wife. 'Honey, drag me into the kitchen. I'm starving.' She couldn't care less. She's like, 'You could do a few days without eating.' I couldn't move for three days.
"When I did those six or seven leaps at the end of 'The Fire Within' routine," he says, "I knew, airborne in the third leap, that this was the end of a pretty good run for me. I've been an actor since I was ten years old, and while I was in the air I looked around and time froze. I surveyed the blasted moonscape that was my career and just saw a smoking ruin. It was a historical moment for me. By the time I got to the sixth leap, it was sheer dada-ism. My thoughts were opaque."
Higgins learned that demonstrating the ever-important camp philosophy of "The Fire Within" can be a painful process, best left to the younger cast members. "As far as I'm concerned," he says, "'The Fire Within' involves destroying every muscle in your body. All of them - not just the hamstrings, the ones you'd expect, but the muscles that move the little cilia in your ears, the muscles that allow you to flare your nostrils. All of them…toasted."
Molly Sims plays Coach Keith's wife, Diora, who runs the cheer camp with her husband. She was able to draw a bit on past experience for her role.
"I was a cheerleader in my sophomore and junior years," Sims says. "I didn't make it my freshman year. Then after a couple years I didn't try out my senior year. But I loved it at the time".
"The girls take it very seriously," Sims continues. "I look back at my days of cheering and I marvel at how cutthroat it was and how much it meant to me at the time."
Of her co-star, Sims says, "John Michael Higgins is a phenomenal actor, and one of the funniest men I've ever worked with! Hysterical, to the point where I had to dig my fingers into my hands trying not to break character in mid-scene."
Rounding out the cast are the Ford High School Tigers cheer squad members: Margo Harshman as Sylvia, a relative introvert who is prone to occasional out-of-context utterances; Hayley Marie Norman as Angela, the most athletic of the Tigers; and Danneel Harris as Bianca, who develops an attraction to an unlikely member of her own squad. 12-year-old Juliette Goglia plays Shawn's young sister Poppy, a negotiating savant always on the lookout for a financial opportunity. Edie McClurg plays the Tigers cheerleading coach Ms. Klingerhoff, and Philip Baker Hall plays the Tigers football Coach Byrnes.
On the other side of the cheer mat is AnnaLynne McCord as Gwyneth, the head cheerleader of the elite - and chock full of "mean girls" - Panthers cheer squad; the Panthers are the Tigers main rivals for top honors at camp. David Walton plays Rick, Carly's pompous boyfriend, a pre-med student who insists on being called "Dr. Rick."
Pom-poms were invented in the 1930s.
- Cheerleading fact
STRATEGICALLY PLACED POM-POMS…
One of the comic centerpieces of Fired Up is a certain cheer delivered much more revealingly than your run of the mill Rah-Rah-Siss-Boom-Bah. The film's male leads had to bare more than their souls in this particular acting exercise.
"At cheer camp, Nick and Shawn are at the pond, skinny-dipping with some girls, and when they get out of the water to grab their clothes, the clothes are gone," says Eric Christian Olsen. "So D'Agosto and I go racing naked through the woods to get back to our cabin and we run into Coach Keith, who demands that we do a cheer. It was quite something to behold!
"It wasn't in the script when we signed up for the movie," Olsen continues. "As soon as we finished our deals, they wrote this scene where we're running around naked, doing cheers. It took about nine hours to shoot, it was very cold - and it is very funny!" The two actors had to rely on each other for proper pom-pom placement, as they performed the cheer "al dente."
"We had to do a 200-yard sprint, then begin doing this cheer for Coach Keith," says D'Agosto. "Eric and I looked at each other at the beginning, and we had this moment where we had to accept the fact that we'd be outside, naked all night, dancing in front of everyone - it was hilarious!
"I sucked it up - and I feel pretty good about it," D'Agosto laughs.
"My mom's going to be super proud of me," says Olsen. "Nothing like watching your son do a naked cheer. I can't imagine what those dailies look like - I hope they're burned and buried six feet underground."
There are at least four million cheerleaders in 31 countries.
- Cheerleading fact
REAL-LIFE CHEER CAMP
Before they began principal photography, the young cast of Fired Up was subjected to two weeks of cheer rehearsals on the Sony lot under the tutelage of choreographer/coach Zach Woodlee. Director Gluck wanted to ensure that every cheer performance shot for the film was real.
"I wanted to be faithful to the sport, so all of the main actors in this movie had to know what they were doing," says Gluck. "It was fun to watch these guys and girls who four weeks beforehand couldn't even do a back flip now not only doing back flips but practicing after we'd wrap at night to make sure their lifts were correct. Almost every shot of our final performances reflect our actual actors performing, because they wanted to do it themselves - and they did really well. They're fearless."
"Nick and I are both pretty athletic and thought it would be a cakewalk. Uh - it's pretty difficult," Olsen admits. "These girls, you're literally throwing them 15 feet in the air and they're doing back flips. You're catching them, and there are shoes coming down in people's faces - it's nonstop. I took about seven hits on the right side of my shoulder. Groin pull. My left calf twisted. We were all trainwrecks."
Danneel Harris had been a cheerleader in high school. "But as far as the actual physical cheerleading we did in this film," she says, "I was not prepared for it. Luckily, Zach really helped us out.
"Cheer boot camp was intense," Harris continues. "It was around eight hours of cheering a day. But it was an amazing experience, bonding with the cast like that. When we arrived on set the first day of shooting, everyone had their hair and makeup done, and I looked around and thought, 'Wow, we all clean up pretty well!'"
"I thought I was going to be the pro at cheer camp because I had a dance background," says Hayley Marie Norman. "I thought, 'I'm going to show all these people up and be amazing!' Um…no. Thirty minutes after we arrived on the first day they were throwing us up into the air - but it was awesome! What you see on screen is actually us doing the cheering and stunts."
"On the day we were shooting our big climactic cheer performance, every move had been choreographed and rehearsed. But suddenly, Danneel said, 'Watch this!' and proceeded to show me she could tumble and do handsprings," laughs choreographer Woodlee. "Danneel actually does flips in the movie, and all of our main actors go up in the air - they did a great job."
"The refs have always been blind. It's our job to make them deaf."
- Tenet of Cheerleading
ENJOY GETTING FIRED UP
Although Fired Up takes a bit of comic and creative license with the actual cheer camp experience of producer Matt Gross, in summing up the final product the filmmakers feel it does reflect the spirit of that time.
"There were certain aspects of the story I knew we were going to embellish, but there are other aspects that are pretty accurate," says Gross. "We were so enthralled with the notion of going to cheerleading camp - the two of us with all these girls - we didn't realize what we were getting into. It was great at first, but then the hunter became the hunted. We got more than we bargained for."
"It's a funny, funny movie," says Gluck, "and there's a pretty cool love story as well."
"This is a fantasy movie for every guy who ever wanted to go to camp with a thousand girls, and it's a girl's fantasy movie for every girl who has wanted to meet a really nice guy," says Jaysen. "It's hilarious, but it has a lot of heart."
"I think when people see Fired Up," says John Michael Higgins, "they will have tremendous nostalgia for a life they never even led, which is what the best Hollywood movies are able to do - make you feel a pang of loss for a life you never had. In this case, you're young, you're beautiful, you're at cheer camp, you're physically fit, the food is free. You couldn't keep a calorie on your body if they put a gun to your head, and you're fired up. You've got the fire within."
Molly Sims says, "You're gonna get some hot girls, some mean girls, some sexy footballers, some comedy, some sass - and you're gonna have a lot of fun."
D'Agosto sums it up more simply: "It'll really make you laugh."
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
WILL GLUCK (Director, Executive Producer) makes his feature directorial debut with Fired Up. He was the co-creator and executive producer of the Fox television series "The Loop" from 2005-2007. He also served as supervising producer on the network series "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" and "Grosse Pointe" and was the creator and executive producer of the Fox television series "Luis," starring Luis Guzman. He has also has written films for Universal Studios, Spyglass Entertainment and Participant Films, He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two daughters who are just a tiny bit ashamed of him.
FREEDOM JONES (Screenplay by) is a group of spoken word poets from all across the land who workshopped their one-woman show into Fired Up. They'd like to thank the green wizard lizard for all their inspiration.
READ MORE ABOUT SHOOTING FIRED UP AND THE CAST
THE ART OF ORIGINAL FILMMAKING