Films have long had the ability to inspire people to do new things, or develop passions for things they never knew they had in them. Take the poker phenomena that built and built after the Matt Damon film Rounders was released and developed quite a following. Myself, I was inspired to become a ninja after my first viewing of American Ninja as a child, but, alas, that never came to pass. Don't be surprised if after October 2 you start to see a lot of girls or young women breaking out the quads and skating around your neighborhood when the film Whip It! hits theaters nationwide and puts the unique sport of roller derby in the national limelight.
The film follows the journey of Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), a young woman who's trying to find herself when she discovers the sport of roller derby, so, what better way to celebrate this film than with a little real-life roller derby action. I was invited down to The Doll Factory in Silver Lake where we were able to see this sport up close and personal. There was an exhibition bout between two of the L.A. Derby Dolls teams - the Tough Cookies and the Varsity Brawlers - with clips of the film shown during breaks in the action. We even were treated to the musical stylings of Landon Pigg, who plays Page's love interest in the film, Oliver, and who makes his acting debut here alongside his burgeoning musical career. While this isn't my first experience with roller derby (my ex-sister-in-law and other friends were derby girls back in Minnesota), the action at The Doll Factory is much more fast-paced and this is one of the few leagues in the country - which stands at over 400 currently - that are a banked-track league, which means instead of skating around a flat track, it's more like a much-shorter banked NASCAR track with padded rails - only with tough chicks skating and beating the crap out of each other.
The L.A. Derby Dolls league is where Shauna Cross, who wrote the non-fiction book Whip It! and adapted it into the film's screenplay, first fell in love with the sport, skating for the Sirens team under the name "Maggie Mayhem" (they all have crazy names like that). Many of the women we saw participate in the bout are also showcased in the film, with Kristen Adolfi (a.k.a. "Krissy Krash") and Rachel Piplica (a.k.a. "Iron Maven) portraying the Manson Sisters in the film, teammates of Ellen Page on the Hurl Scouts (clever, eh?) and they're also teammates on the Tough Cookies. The Derby Dolls contributed heavily to the making of the film, as the Doll Factory was used for training and the same architect that built the Derby Dolls' banked track, built the track that was used in the film, so, naturally, it's only fitting that they would have a press event for the film here. Aside from the derby action there are a spate of vendors to check out with food and other merchandise and, of course, a bar, stocked with ice-cold Tecate's and other amenities. Glorious.
After the match was over, the track was cleared and out came Drew Barrymore, who stars as Hurl Scouts captain Smashley Simpson, and also makes her directorial debut here as well. She was joined by Ellen Page, Juliette Lewis, who plays Iron Maven, Eve, who plays Rosa Sparks, Zoe Bell, who plays Bloody Holly and Shauna Cross who wrote the original book and adapted the screenplay for the film. Here's what they all had to say about making this new film, with the Q&A moderated by Alex "Axles of Evil" Cohen who was also one of the trainers on the film.
Drew, what guided your vision for the overall look, style and wardrobe for the film?
Drew Barrymore: When it came to the look and the style of the film, I remember after meeting with Shauna, who is the reason that I'm here. I tried to film it, cinematically, the way that it felt. I went handheld as they walked into this unique, eclectic, atmospheric place. For me, it felt a little Wizard of Oz-y, where it's all this black and white and then all the sudden it's this Technicolor thing. When the lights went on and the derby girls came out, I thought, 'I can't believe how cool and capable and amazing they are and they all have their own individual style, but they're a team and they have this great camaraderie.' I'm looking at the crowd and there's a yuppie couple and a grandmother and grandfather of one of the derby girls and then a 19-year-old alterna-boy. I looked around and I thought that there's no one who is not accepted in this arena for who they are, their ethnicity or their economics or their style. There was such an unjudgemental world and that's a party I like to go to, and that's what I wanted to show.
Ellen, can you talk a bit about what it was like training, and what were some of the challenges for you?
Ellen Page: Wow. Well, when I first came, my mind was just shattered. I couldn't believe this world with these amazing women. At first I was just thrilled and excited with the prospect of getting to learn how to do this. I wanted to do all the skating and I wanted to do everything I possibly could. But I was really lucky because Axles was here training me, and she was just absolutely phenomenal. Not only was she an excellent trainer but she's become a friend and I feel so lucky. She just broke everything down for me and the L.A. Derby Dolls were so kind, because they're women with jobs and lives and they would come in and scrimmage with me. I'd be ready to vomit but they just encouraged me to keep going at it. And working with Zoe and Juliette and Drew, they were really really awesome.
Juliette, you play the very talented Iron Maven. Can you recall the first day that you showed up at this warehouse, put on skates? What was the hardest part for you and some of the challenges for you?
Juliette Lewis: The thing is, a lot of us just wanted to do it justice. I can't pretend to be as bad-ass as a real roller derby girl, but I can look the part. I was just trying to work on my form and get fast and get low. (Axles) and Kasey (Jennifer "Kasey Bomber" Barbee) were amazing at how good of teachers you were with us. But what are the challenges? I don't know, just getting the form down, and working on my start.
Who had the biggest bruise or injury during the making of this film?
Drew Barrymore: I bruise really easily anyway, but there is this awesome skater from Detroit, Racer McChaseHer, and her and I got to wrestle each other. I think there's nothing hotter or more fun to do than a girl fight. So we were wrestling and rolling around the track at one point and both of us fell on one of our skates and put both of our body weights on my thigh on the skate so the skate jammed in my thigh. I had a bruise that I'm not kidding was a foot long and a foot wide. My entire leg was covered. I was like, 'Yeah, that's a merit badge. That's cool.' But thank God we were encouraged by Derby Girls but they never babied. You're like, "Oh my feet, I'm dying." They're like, "Uh-huh, keep skating." That's the way you learn in life, by people supporting you, teaching you the techniques, taking the time, giving you tough love, supporting you, making sure you're doing it right. You form this family and you're excited to come back to each other and that is what this film is about, finding a tribe where you can be capable and learn things and do things and celebrate them together. Our training was imperative because we learned when we got better that they were tough on us and it made us better.
Everyone who knows derby knows that an important part of the training is the after-party training. For Eve and Zoe Bell, what was it like for your hanging out with these girls and getting a taste of that after-party world?
Eve: First of all, I just have to say all of you are amazing, all of you, the ladies, the men that support the ladies. I really enjoyed getting to know this world, but the after-party, yeah. The after-party. There were a lot of those and we had a ball.
Zoe Bell: I think the after-party, you work hard and you play hard. When you get a really good hit, often if you get a really good hit, it will really hurt, but there's a party afterwards and you can appreciate the sense that you kicked the sh*t out of each other and celebrate that.
Shauna, for someone who is coming into the sport for the first time, what would you most like them to learn or think about or feel about the sport when they see this film?
Shauna Cross: Well, I would've never been able to write about it if one day, searching for an apartment, I didn't stumble across an ad for roller derby. The core, the urbany spark of 20 girls who were trying to figure out what this was and what we were going to do, and what I discovered was an amazing world and group. People always say 'blood, sweat and tears' as a metaphor, and in derby, it's literal. I had never experienced a sport where you could be as competitive as you wanted to be, as feminine and as sexy and loud or not loud and tough, I had never seen that. It was just too good not to write about, so I hope people get a taste of that when they see this and I hope when they see the film, they'll go see their local girls play and support them.
Drew, is there any interest in doing a sequel to Whip It!, if the movie is a hit?
Drew Barrymore: I will say this. It doesn't happen every time, and when it does it's so magical, but that's why I put it on the poster and what I think is so great about derby, and the extraordinary journey of life, is you want to find a tribe. You want to find a group of people that you want to celebrate life with and learn things about life alongside of them and you want to stick together and you want to cheer each other on and cry on each other's shoulders, talk about love and inspire each other. Whether or not we would do Whip It! 2, or if it's just going to be the party we have tomorrow night after the movie, this team lives and I love that. This family sticks together.
Whip It! opens in theaters nationwide on October 2. If you live in the L.A. area and want to learn more about the L.A. Derby Dolls, you can check out DerbyDolls.com/LA. That's all I've got from the crazy Doll Factory, folks. Peace in. Gallagher out!