Frank Coraci is a guy who has made us laugh for years without directly calling attention to himself. He was a writer and performer on the classic Adam Sandler comedy album ‘What the Hell Happened to Me?’ Directed The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy and a smattering of other flicks like last year’s Zookeeper with Kevin James. And now his latest movie brings him back together with the former King of Queens to portray James as a 42-year-old biology teacher who becomes an MMA fighter in order to help the school’s music program from being disbanded by budget cuts.
I was weary of Here Comes the Boom at first, and upon seeing the trailer, my brain was filled with questions. Was this movie going to lower MMA down a rung in the public’s eye? Why was the UFC so heavily involved in the production of the movie? Why is Salma Hayek so attractive? Chael Sonnen disputes a tap in the movie? What the hell is Here Comes the Boom? And of course, who would win in a fight – The Waterboy or Kevin James?
I’m happy to say I was able to ask the director those questions, and now I’m pretty damn excited to see the movie.
What about MMA did you think would be good as a comedy vehicle? I personally agree that the MMA world is full of hilarity, but was there a script first and you jumped at it? Tell us the genesis of this movie. Kevin James has been a die-hard fan for a long time. He was friends with Bas Rutten for about fifteen years or so. They even did an episode of Martial Law together. He’s been going to events since way back in the beginning, so he had a love of it. I came out of high school as a wrestler. When MMA started becoming more of a sport I fell in love with it, but more than anything not even thinking comedy first, my first experience at a UFC fight was one of the most cinematic things I’ve ever seen. It was like a modern day Roman empire. The lights, smoke pumping techno-music. Dana White figured out how to put on a show like no other sport. So when Kevin came to me saying: ‘hey I have an idea for a movie where I become an MMA fighter,’ I had done a movie with Kevin before and had known him for a few years now so I immediately thought that it sounded like a great movie and I love making sports movies. I thought that this is definitely a sport that people need to know more about. Your first reaction to MMA is that these two guys are jumping around trying to beat each other up, then you realize they are the ultimate athletes competing in an extreme way that’s like no other sport. They’re putting their heart and soul out there and I can relate a little bit from wrestling. I always had a love for it, but how these guys pound each other then go and shake it out. It’s a very cinematic sport.
Yeah it’s kind the brotherhood that Fight Club represented in a not…Anarchistic way I guess? I can already say that this interview isn’t going the way I thought it would. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Haha
I’m refreshed, some people consider MMA to be flying skulls with wings and glitter Ed Hardy-wearing dudes. Right.
So is this movie going to help transcend all of the negative connotations of the sport that are on the surface to many non-fans? The good thing about this movie, because I’m a fan…I think it’s going to open it up. There is a bias to think oh crazy guys in the cage or WWE, that has it’s own place and that’s fine, but, because it’s Kevin James it has comedy and has a great inspirational side. Yes, I think it can open up MMA to families. The fighting is pretty brutal, and there are funny parts, but when it gets to the UFC and you put a guy in there at that age – he’s gonna get his ass kicked. I don’t want to give anything away, but yeah our goal was to make this OK for families, for a dad and son to watch, and for MMA to be in homes. Kind of like the NFL or something, to be accepted by the masses.
Alright, that’s great because I was worried that this was going to be a Ready to Rumble with David Arquette style movie. No, no not at all. Not one ounce. From the beginning of making the movie, you think Kevin James fighting MMA – it’s wild. But the tone of it, when you see the movie, it’s very grounded in reality. This isn’t The Waterboy of MMA. It’s a very grounded in reality movie. It’s a bit of The Fighter meets Mr. Holland’s Opus. The fighting in it is badass. And one of the things I do as a filmmaker, I went back and watched every fighting/boxing movie and really tried to figure out how to make these fight-scenes blow people’s minds. So much of it was: you see a boxing movie and the crowd is three rows then it’s black limbo. So the first goal was crowd. When you see a UFC fight you see the whole crowd and it’s huge. So one thing we made sure is to represent the crowd. It’s really visually outstanding. It’s unlike how a lot of movies before. Some of it is digital FX but I also put about eight cameras at the Bones/Shogun fight. So a lot of the crowd in the final scene with Kevin is that crowd. So our ring is basically in that crowd, in that stadium in Jersey.
Interesting, I was wondering if any CG was used for the crowd. You’re ruining my questions left and right. So I assume there are a lot of emotional faces in that crowd for Bones/Shogun, perfect fight for it, huh? Yeah, exactly. The other thing about that, and one of the most important things about the fights is that I wanted it to feel like what it’s like to get in the ring. Especially the final UFC fight. It’s almost first-person being in the ring where this guy, Krystof Soszynski plays the guy Kevin James is supposed to fight, and it’s literally first person camerawork with knees and elbows flying into the lens. And also, this happened during The Waterboy – I got to write my own football plays. So we got to come up with a choreography of moves that would blow people away. We put in the Pettis Showtime Kick becasue what an amazing thing. Kystof does one of those in the movie. Kevin is on the receiving end of only the most badass MMA moves, we made sure of that and had a lot of fun with it.
Kevin James got in phenomenal shape for the shoot, was this a Raging Bull type scenario or where you had to take some time off or was he in preparation long before shooting began? I’m not sure about exact weights, but he started training MMA back when I was on Zookeeper with him, which was a few years ago, he was training and had a dojo with Mark Delagrotte, and we saw him hit the pads and we realized we could make this movie. I shot the fights in progressive order. When we started the movie he was in pretty good shape, but by the final fight he was down to 218. I did it in order so when we got to the UFC fight he was in the best shape. It was method acting for sure.
Speaking of method acting was there any severe weight cutting by Kevin James? Well he went from about 300 pounds to 218. So, in the course of the movie he probably started at 240 and went down to 218 so over that time about 22 pounds. We joked that we both brought to the movie that wrestling dedication of working out really hard and that mental discipline but I’m glad I didn’t have to cut any weight. I’m glad I was behind the camera for that.
How has Selma Hayek pulled off immortality? She doesn’t age. She is truly gorgeous. As a director you’re staring at them though a camera from two feet away and she still looks amazing. I don’t know, I want to take whatever pills she’s taking. She jsut looks beautiful, and what is cool about her in the movie is that she’s a great actress, and she kind of validates the relationship between her and Kevin. Through the whole movie Kevin is hitting on her. and she’s this beautiful nurse that would never think about dating him. But through the course of the movie she sees how Kevin is becoming a better guy.
What is more unrealistic – Kevin James making it to the UFC or him having the love interest of Rosario Dawson or Salma Hayek? Hahaha, when you read the script, and Kevin wrote it, we tried to make sure that everything is as believable as possible. The whole movie is a journey. We treat it as: a 42-year-old biology teacher who in the movie is a former college state champ. If we throw him into the ring what’s going to happen? Most of the time he gets beat. He pretty much just goes in there to lose and make some cash. After he’s fighting for a while, and I don’t want to give away some of the jokes but he becomes a Youtube phenom. So his story gets out and the UFC notices him, so when a fighter on the undercard drops out he gets to step in. We made something that was pretty believable. It’s a story about a guy who just gets a shot. We tried to make the journey not ridiculous. The concept sounds big but it’s a believable story. As far as romance – he earns it with Salma Hayek.
You’ve made sports-themed movies before, but were there any challenges to shooting an MMA movie? When went to MMA events before the movie Dana would go: ‘you better make the hits big, kid’ and I was like: ‘thank you for calling me kid’ and I get it, this shows MMA for what it is: it’s badass but totally respects the sport and these athletes.
As far as MMA talent, who was the most fun to work with? Oh, Munoz was awesome, Mayhem of course, Wanderlei Silva was hilarious even though you couldn’t understand what he was saying all the time. But he has a funny scene with Joe. By the time you get the DVD there’s even more outtakes that you’ll see. Chael was a total prom, totally charismatic and smart guy. Very funny. Satoshi Ishii is in there, Krystof was a total pro and the nicest guy. He’s so classic as the MMA guy with the tattoos and bald head then is just the nicest guy ‘yes sir’ ‘yes sir’ ha, Rafael Cordeiro was very funny and cool. And how could I miss Bas Rutten? Anyone who is a fan of MMA, how could you not love that guy? To get him in the movie and have him do what he does, I would say he’s probably one of the funniest guys on the planet. We felt very validated to have Bas and Mark in James’ corner.
Any funny stories from on the set? Every day, especially the fighting stuff was great. No one really clocked Kevin in the face, but he caught a couple. I would say Mayhem Miller, haha, he was the sloppiest of the fights but he was awesome and super funny. We kind of paid homage to his entrances through the years and we have him walking out to the cage with a bunch of cheerleaders. But he was awesome. Everything with him was fun and crazy. Kevin threw a lot of punches and occasionally clipped people and one time got Mark Munoz pretty good. I have to say though you punch someone in the face and nothing happens it’s Mark Munoz. He was awesome. Chael Sonnen has a very funny cameo and he taps out in the movie and tries to talk himself out of it. He doesn’t play himself in the movie, he play a fighter on the way up and Kevin beats him. It’s in the montage, but the funny part is Chael trying to say he didn’t tap. There’s no one better at talking out the other side of their mouth than Chael.
You saw that he’s going to be a cast member coming up in this season of It’s Always Funny in Philadelphia, right? Yeah I heard that, that’s awesome. That dude has tons of charisma and is really funny.
You directed the Waterboy – who would win: with six months sprawl training: Bobby Boucher or Kevin James’ character? Oh haha that would be a good one but that might also be the only time I would do a sequel. The thing is you have to get Bobby angry, and also would it be on the field or in the cage haha I think in the cage it’s Kevin James but with a running start on the field he’s in trouble with Bobby.
Kevin James or Robbie Hart from The Wedding Singer? Oh that’s easy. Unless it’s a singing contest it’s Kevin.
Bobby Boucher Vs. Robbie Hart? Haha Bobby Boucher.
I’ll admit that when I saw the trailer I was very weary about how you were going to portray the sport we love, but after talking with you I feel confident that this should be a good flick. Listen, I’ve never had a reaction like this. I’ve been really lucky in my career where people laugh or cheer in the end. At the end of this one they’re cheering and clapping and laughing and they go nuts in the final fight. It’s so awesome to see. Any movie that I do, I bring a lot of respect to the subject. As goofy as The Waterboy was, I wanted the hits to be big and the football to make sense becasue I love football. The way I approached this was less of a goofy comedy. It’s funny at times but it’s very grounded in reality. Kevin as well, we didn’t want to make a goofball movie so that way the sport comes off as something truly dynamic awesome to watch.
Speaking of comedy and football, it’s nice that we have our refs back..
Haha, I tweeted
the other day that I’m glad the Footlocker employees will be back to work. I do feel bad that so many people pounced on the poor guys, the temporary refs. If anyone we should blame the NFL for not getting the deal done, but man. Yeah those were some crazy calls, but they were trying haha.