Fast Times Production Notes

Everybody talks about “the kids.” What are they like today? What do they think? What do they wear? What music is hot? The questions are endless.

Writer Cameron Crowe decided to find the answers first-hand. In the Fall of 1979, he returned to high school “undercover” as a student to research teenage life. He remained there for the entire school year absorbing all the details possible about “the kids” in their own words.

That year is now “Fast Times At Ridgemont High.” It was written by Crowe from his best-selling book of the same title, detailing the humor and struggles of contemporary teenagers from their point of view.

A Refugee Production of An Amy Heckerling Film, “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” stars Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus and Ray Walston. The Universal Picture was produced by Art Linson and Irving Azoff, and Amy Heckerling made her feature film directorial debut. The screenplay was by Cameron Crowe, based on the book by Cameron Crowe. The executive producer was C.O. Erickson.

“Fast Times At Ridgemont High” is “true to the humor of the kids,” Crowe remarks. “It’s not a teen exploitation picture. It’s the way they live. The anguish and adolescent turmoil (as portrayed in most of the current articles and movies about teenagers) is important, but the humor is also important. The kids love to have fun.”

“The contemporary kids also lead adult lives at younger and younger ages,” continues Crowe. “For instance, making money is important to them. They feel that allowance from parents is humiliating. The economy has affected them more than people know.”

Each of the characters in “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” has their own theme. The kids struggle with independence, success, sexuality, money, maturity, school, and particularly with just making it through the formative years.

There are the girls who discover sex before romance and exist with a false maturity through their teens; and the boys who try to deal with the fact that girls their age are in a different world in many ways, forcing them to grapple with their budding masculinity.

In the high school hierarchy there are those filled with the work ethic who hurry to their fast-food jobs after school, and the hustlers who deal in whatever commodities the kids demand. There are even a few kids who don’t aspire to success and adulthood at all, but are happy being their own age.

Producer Azoff sees Crowe as “the culture expert of this movie. He really understood it, knew it and lived it. It’s about relationships and growing up fast. The time goes by so fast for kids today who are out on their own much earlier than in the past. They learn very quickly how to deal with their independence.”

“There are two meanings of ‘Fast Times,'” states Crowe. “The primary meaning is that adolescence is faster than it was in the past. The other meaning is that it captures the whole fast-food system that these kids are involved in today. Kids are working and leading adult lives. They cram much more into a limited time before going out in the work world.”

Director Heckerling liked Crowe’s script for “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” as soon as she read it, and when she meant him, they instantly seemed to like each other. “There were a lot of very similar themes in his script to my screenplay, ‘My Kind Of Guy,'” says Heckerling. “Certain themes (about kids) are universal. I love the theme about these kids having to deal with sex and jobs and things that people twenty years older than them are still dealing with.”

The Production

Filming took place at various locales in the Los Angeles area over an eight week period, which included extensive night work. Director Heckerling worked closely with production designer Dan Lomino and cinematographer Matt Leonetti in choosing sites that would be true to the lifestyles of teenagers.

The major location was the huge Sherman Oaks Galleria shopping mall in the San Fernando Valley, where crew filmed from about 9:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. when the mall was closed. This is where the fast-food hangouts, movie theatres and video games are and where much of the film’s action takes place.

The mall was dressed for the opening of school at “Ridgemont High” for the first week of nights there, with back-to-school signs, pom-poms and banners. When the crew returned for another week later in the schedule, the mall was decorated for the Christmas season in reality and in the script.

Lighting the mall proved to be a major challenge for cinematographer Matt Leonetti and his lighting crew. Together with production designer Dan Lomino, Leonetti designed a housing for motion picture lights that would look like part of the normal lighting of the mall. When the crew was ready to shoot after closing, they plugged in and the whole background was lit, saving the production about a day’s shooting in all.

Hundreds of extras worked as shoppers at the mall and the fast-food restaurants remained open throughout most of the long nights spent filming there offering snacks to the cast and crew.

Van Nuys High School served as the location for “Ridgemont High” and about eight days were spent filming there while school was in session. The administration consented to the filming because classes would not be disrupted on the oversized campus. The school allowed students interested in pursuing film-oriented careers to spend some time observing the crew at work.

The school is one of the oldest in the San Fernando Valley. It was built in 1914 on ranch land. A five-acre farm is still part of the school. There are four main buildings and eighteen bungalows on the spacious campus. The school is unique in the makeup of its student body which consists of 27 home languages. There are, among the students, refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, El Salvador, and Afghanistan. Some of the illustrious graduates of Van Nuys High School are Robert Redford, Jane Russell, Stacy Keach, Natalie Wood, Marilyn Monroe, former Rams football player Bob Waterfield, and tennis star Vince Van Patten.

The company filmed in the lunch court; the hallways; a history class; a biology class, complete with live animals and various specimens; the boys locker room; and at the front entrance, where a “wrecked” automobile was towed in and out by an oversized truck. The student body hardly blinked an eye at all the commotion having experienced the presence of various other film crews over the years.

Other locations included a rented house with pool in Canoga Park, which served as the residence of Stacy and Brad Hamilton; the abandoned Morningside Memorial Hospital in Inglewood, where the biology class takes their field trip; the All American Burger Restaurant in Brentwood, where Brad works in the opening of the film; the girls’ gym at Canoga Park High School, where the “last dance” takes place; and several street sties in the San Fernando Valley.

Four small sets were constructed on stage #3 at Universal Studios in the final week of shooting for scenes in Mike Damone’s room, Linda Barrett’s room, Jeff Spicoli’s room, and the pool-side changing room.

Director Heckerling and costume designer Marilyn Vance sought the most authentic look for the wardrobe of the teenagers in “Fast Times At Ridgemont High.” Vance and her crew visited some local high schools and observed the way the kid were dressed. They found that groups of kids tended to dress alike: The surfers were in cutoffs and Hawaiian shirts; the cheerleaders wore sweaters and skirts or neat jeans; mohawk hairstyles were popular with football players; and some groups chose the expensive trendy “romantic” clothes.

Some of the research was done by Heckerling at local rock clubs. “I go to clubs a lot and I see kids dress in great clothes,” says Heckerling. “Then sometimes while location scouting, I’d see kids in jogging sneakers and backpacks and react strongly about those. We had to settle between what is the cool thing to wear and reality.

“Spicoli and his buddies were in control of what they wore because they knew what surfers wear. Sean (Penn) is from Malibu… I’m from the Bronx. I’m not going to tell him what a surfer wears!”

The Music

Both the producers and director Heckerling feel that music is central to the story of “Fast Times AT Ridgemont High.” The music is the ambiance of the film and will be used to the greatest advantage throughout. It will be a combination of what high school kids listen to today.

Azoff will compile the music which he says, “will be a superstar collection of entertainers writing all new, original material for the soundtrack. There will be a few new acts on it because I always do that because I feel an obligation to expose some new talent. There will be a double soundtrack album released on Full Moon Records and distributed by Electra/Asylum.”

Among the artists who will write and perform original songs for the movie are Jackson Browne, the individual members of the Eagles (Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Timothy Schmidt, Joe Walsh and Don Felder), the Go-Go’s, Sammy Hagar, Michael McDonald, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Poco, Quarterflash, Todd Rundgren, Bob Seger, Billy Squire, Ringo Starr and The Whispers.

The Filmmakers

Producers ART LINSON and IRVING AZOFF are partnered for the first time on “Fast Times At Ridgemont High.”

Linson has produced five films and directed one prior to “Fast Times At Ridgemont High.” The UCLA Law School graduate and former rock music manager co-produced “Rafferty and The Gold Dust Twins;” “Car Wash;” “American Hot Wax,” which he co-wrote; and directed “Where The Buffalo Roam.”

Azoff is one of the top executives in the music industry, managing the biggest names in music including Styx, Stevie Nicks, Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald, Jimmy Buffet, Dan Fogelberg, as well as others.

Azoff was the co-producer of “Urban Cowboy,” and served as the executive producer of its Grammy-award winning double-platinum soundtrack. He has also been responsible for packaging the highly successful “FM” and “Heavy Metal” soundtracks.

The “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” soundtrack will be compiled by Azoff employing the biggest names in contemporary rock for a double LP on Full Moon/Asylum Records.

Director AMY HECKERLING, who is a graduate of the American Film Institute, makes her feature film debut with “Fast Times At Ridgemont High.” Her 1977 short film for AFI, “Getting It Over With,” which she wrote, directed and edited, starring Glynnis O’Connor, was submitted for Academy consideration as Best Short.

Heckerling attended New York University Film School where she wrote, produced, directed, and edited a student film entitled “High Finance.” The 10-minute musical won top awards at the NYU Film Festival, the Northwest Film Festival and the Marin Film Festival among others.

After graduating from AFI, Heckerling wrote the screenplay called “My Kind Of Guy.” She also worked as an editor at Columbia Pictures Television and 20th Century-Fox Television.

Author/journalist CAMERON CROWE debuts as a screenwriter adapting his first book, “Fast Times At Ridgemont High.”

In writing “Fast Times At Ridgemont High,” Crowe says, “it was my intention to write of the entire business (of day-to-day high school life) – from academic competition to the sexual blunders – of teenage adulthood. I did not want to become yet another adult writing about adolescence and ‘the kids’ from an adult perspective. This story, I felt, belonged to the kids themselves.”

Screenwriter Crowe diligently reported to the set each day to offer encouragement to the youthful cast and be available for any re-writing needed as the shooting progressed. His infectious good humor was welcomed by cast and crew alike.

Crowe, whose journalistic career began at the age of 15, has written for such publications as PlayboyRolling Stone, the Los Angeles TimesCircus Weekly, and Creem. His specialty is exclusive feature interviews with celebrities, which have included Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Warren Beatty, David Bowie and Jack Ford.

The executive producer/unit production manager is C.O. ERICKSON, who has worked in various production capacities with everyone from Alfred Hitchcock (“To Catch A Thief,” “Vertigo.” “Rear Window”) to John Huston (“Freud,” “The Misfits”) to Joseph Mankiewicz (“Cleopatra”) to Roman Polanski (“Chinatown”).

Most recently Erickson co-produced “Zorro The Gay Blade” and was executive producer and unit production manager of “Urban Cowboy,” “Magic,” and “Popeye,” and was the production executive of “Blade Runner.”

Cinematographer MATT LEONETTI, who was raised in the movie business, is the son of cameraman Frank Leonetti. His credits include Steven Spielberg’s “Poltergeist,” “Breaking Away,” “Raise The Titanic,” “Eyewitness,” and “Mr. Billion.”

The Cast

SEAN PENN is Spicoli, the surfer/doper of Ridgemont High. Penn recently made his screen debut in the feature “Taps,” starring Timothy Hutton and George C. Scott.

Penn and screenwriter Cameron Crowe became good friends during the filming of “Fast Times At Ridgemont High,” an experience which further aided Sean in his interpretation of Spicoli. “Every script you get has a rhythm and the rhythm comes directly from the writer. I think for me it was good to hang out with the writer because I got the rhythm of the piece down,” remarks Penn. “The humor of it is his. Being with Cameron let me pick up a lot more about Spicoli.”

His stage work includes roles in EarthwormsThe Girl On The Via Flamina and Heartland, on Broadway, which though short-lived won raves for Penn.

He has appeared in episodes of TV’s Barnaby Jones and Concrete Cowboys, and the TV movies “Hellinger’s Law” and “The Killing Of Randy Webster.” Next, Penn will star in “Bad Boys.”

JENNIFER JASON LEIGH portrays Stacy, the 15-year-old who yearns for maturity. She gave an acclaimed performance as an anorexic girl in the ABC Movie of the Week, “The Best Little Girl In The World,” and has also starred in the TV movies “The Killing Of Randy Webster” and “Angel City.” Her feature film credits are the recent Richard Brooks’ production, “Wrong Is Right” and the suspense thriller “Eyes Of A Stranger.”

On stage she won the 1979 Los Angeles Valley College best actress award for her role in The Shadow Box.

JUDGE REINHOLD, who is Brad Hamilton, the “king of the lunch court and prince of the fast-food hierarchy,” began his dramatic career at 16 when he appeared in a Moliere play, Sganerelle. He majored in drama at college and later became involved with the Manatee Dinner Theatre in Stewart, Florida.

Moving to Hollywood, Reinhold landed roles on TV in Animal HouseMagnumWonder WomanThe Survival Of Dana and Brothers And Sisters.

He made his feature film debut in “Running Scared,” followed by “Stripes” and a starring role in the upcoming “Pandemonium.” On stage he has appeared in Love in E FlatNorman, Is That You?, Barefoot In The Park and The Owl And The Pussycat.

Fashion model PHOEBE CATES plays the sophisticated 17-year-old Linda. Despite her youth, Phoebe, who is 18, is no stranger to success. Beginning a modeling career at the age of 14, she quickly rose to become a top international cover girl, traveling all over the world on assignments.

During the past two years, she has been featured on four Seventeen covers, three Elle covers and four times on Young Miss in addition to numerous other publications.

A knee injury curtailed Phoebe’s plans for a dancing career, but kindled her interest in acting. She made her feature film debut in the romantic adventure, “Paradise.”

BRIAN BACKER, who is the shy, nervous Mark “Rat” Ratner, made an impressive bow on Broadway in 1981, starring in Woody Allen’s play, The Floating Light Bulb. He won the 1981 Tony Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the stuttering, jittery Paul Pollack.

The young actor received his training at New York’s High School of Performing Arts, the Lee Strasberg Institute, The Neighborhood Playhouse, and the Herbert Berghof Studio.

He made his network TV bow in “Hal Linden’s Big Apple.” On the big screen, Backer had leading roles in “The Burning” and “The West Orange Cowboy.” His other stage productions includes roles in The Life Of The Male CalicoThe MatchmakerDark At The Top Of The Stairs and Enter Laughing.

ROBERT ROMANUS plays Mike Damone, “Mr Attitude,” his first starring role. He appeared as Jodie Foster’s boyfriend in the motion picture “Foxes” and was the voice of Izzy in Ralph Bakshi’s animated film “American Pop.”

Romanus studied with Harvey Lembeck at his Comedy Workshop, Peggy Feury and William Traylor at the Loft Studio, and Robert F. Lyons.

On TV he appeared in The Six O’Clock Follies, and on stage in West Side Story. Romanus is an accomplished musician who sings and plays guitar, bass guitar and drums.

Veteran actor RAY WALSTON rounds out the cast as the eccentric history teacher, Mr. Hand.

Since making his acting debut in 1939, one line in Maxwell Anderson’s play High Tor, Walston has moved comfortably into films and television, while never neglecting the theatre.

His numerous Broadway credits include starring roles in South PacificThe Rat RaceMe And JulietDamn Yankees, for which he won a Tony Award as the Best Male Musical-Comedy Star for his memorable role as “The Devil,” and dozens of other productions.

On screen, Walston has starred in “Damn Yankees” and “South Pacific,” recreating his stage roles; and “Kiss Them For Me,” “Wives And Lovers,” “The Apartment,” “The Sting,” “Popeye,” and most recently, “O’Hara’s Wife.”

His TV series, My Favorite Martian, ran for three years. Recently Walston has starred in the NBC play of the week The Fall Of The House Of Usher and the movie-of-the-week “The Kid With The Broken Halo.”

Courtesy of Universal Studios