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Channing Tatum, Terrence Howard in Fighting, starring Luis Guzmán, Zulay Henao, Brian White

Rogue Pictures Presents A Misher Films Production: Channing Tatum, Terrence Howard in Fighting, starring Luis Guzmán, Zulay Henao, Brian White. The casting is by Amanda Mackey, CSA and Cathy Sandrich Gelfond, CSA.

The costume designers are Kurt and Bart, and the music is by David Wittman and Jonathan Elias. The music supervisors are Dave Jordan and Jojo Villanueva, and the editors are Jake Pushinsky and Saar Klein. The film’s production designer is Thérèse DePrez, and the director of photography is Stefan Czapsky, ASC.

Fighting’s executive producers are Lisa Bruce and Andrew Rona, and the film is produced by Kevin Misher. The action film is written by Robert Munic and Dito Montiel, and the film is directed by Dito Montiel.

Small-town boy Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum) has come to New York City with nothing. Barely earning a living selling counterfeit goods on the streets, his luck changes when scam artist Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard) sees that he has a natural talent for streetfighting. When Harvey offers Shawn help at making the real cash, the two form an uneasy partnership.

As Shawn’s manager, Harvey introduces him to the corrupt bare-knuckle circuit, where rich men bet on disposable pawns. Almost overnight, he becomes a star brawler, taking down professional boxers, mixed martial arts champs and ultimate fighters in a series of staggeringly intense bouts. But if Shawn ever hopes to escape the dark world in which he’s found himself, he must now face the toughest fight of his life.

Fighting Movie Shooting Locations

Shawn’s bare-knuckled journey weaves him through New York City’s cramped, roach-ridden housing projects to spectacular penthouses, where he finds himself part of the evening’s entertainment for wealthy Wall Streeters. Each of his four key fights in the film takes him to different ethnic neighborhoods. The climactic battle atop the Wall Street high-rise is preceded by a fight in a Russian community hall in Brighton Beach, one in an Asian pleasure palace in Flushing, and another in a back alley in the Bronx.

“What was wonderful about working with Dito was knowing how he is completely grounded in reality,” says production designer Thérèse DePrez, whose work was recently seen in Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and will soon be seen in Antoine Fuqua’s Brooklyn’s Finest. “This is a film in which the design should not outshine anything. As a New Yorker, it was very important to me to make sure that it never screamed New York; things should be subtle but very real, warm and authentic.”

Montiel wanted to bring audiences the same excitement he felt as a kid on trips to Manhattan. In order to keep an authentic feel for the film, the casting directors looked for extras from the different neighborhoods where the fights take place. Many Russian extras were found in Brighton Beach, many Dominican cast members were found in the Bronx and many Korean extras were found in Flushing. “I wanted to show New York off and roam around the city,” says Montiel. “We didn’t need close-ups of the Empire State Building to let the audience know they’re looking at New York. The extras, who randomly walk through our shots, have such interesting faces. That’s why you film in New York.”

Agrees producer Misher: “You get a feeling that these people actually are New Yorkers. Hopefully, in the finished product, you get to feel like you’ve actually taken a trip to a New York that people haven’t seen that often—a city of great diversity and very different people.”

DP Czapsky hadn’t shot a film in Manhattan since 1989’s Last Exit to Brooklyn. “I wanted to come up with some out-of-the-ordinary, iconic visuals of New York City,” he says. “I hope the audience feels like they’ve been taken to places in the city they normally wouldn’t get the opportunity to visit as a tourist or an outsider.”

Montiel, Misher and DePrez were eager to find unique locations for each fight. “There were a lot of places that were incredibly cinematic but they seemed very stagey,” says DePrez. “We would find a terrific location with great vantage points, but Dito would question why the characters would fight in that particular space.” For example, while looking for a location for Shawn’s final fight with Evan, DePrez found the perfect spot under the Brooklyn Bridge in an old factory that had arched windows. The setting had a Roman Coliseum feel to it, almost completely set up to host a fight scene, but it seemed too staged for Montiel. Explains DePrez: “Dito asked me, ‘Why would they come to this location?’ So we honed that scene down to the Wall Street penthouse. That made much more sense for the characters, and it’s more in keeping with the obsession Dito and I had with keeping the film as realistic-looking as possible.”

The filmmakers used Linden Place (which features a large dim sum banquet hall on the first floor) in Flushing as the location for Shawn’s battle with the Korean fighter. A popular establishment that often hosts weddings, the setting reflected that this fight involved much more money than the ones in Brighton Beach or the Bronx.

The penthouse fight, set in a work-in-progress home atop an early 20th-century Beaux Arts skyscraper, is now the finished apartment of one of the leading Google entrepreneurs. It is located on Nassau Street and Spruce Street, right in the Wall Street area. With its three floors, huge arched windows and vast open spaces, it is one of the most spectacular living spaces in the city. Montiel and DePrez were looking for a raw, unfinished location, and it fit perfectly. An added bonus was that it contained an expansive outdoor terrace with astonishing views of Manhattan’s surrounding bridges, high-rises and night sky.

“We wanted something that was under construction,” reflects DePrez, “because it was important to have the fighters crashing into and through various elements. What was great about this location were the vantage points—the views and the huge exterior and interior space.”

Filming of this complex, final fight sequence stretched out over the course of more than a week, much of it outdoors in bone-chilling winds. What was tough for the crew was even tougher for the actors, who were stripped to the waist throughout. Recalls Tatum: “I practiced martial arts as a kid, but preparing for fight scenes that are similar to backyard brawls, in which only one person can come out alive, was an intense experience.”

Fighting Movie: Fight Choreography

Masterminding the choreography of the fight sequences were veteran stunt coordinator MIC RODGERS (Fast & Furious, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the Lethal Weapon franchise) and fight coordinator MIKE GUNTHER (Underworld, Live Free or Die Hard, Fast & Furious).

They began working with Tatum five weeks before filming, teaching him routines that involved techniques from boxing and Greco-Roman wrestling to Ultimate Fighting and mixed martial arts. All quite helpful, because facing Tatum in each of the fight sequences were men who had been involved in combat sports, some professionally.

Up-and-coming Russian boxer Yuri Foreman plays Sean’s opponent in the scene at the social hall in Brighton Beach, while top-ranked mixed martial arts champion Cung Le squares off with him in the Chinese pleasure palace. His partner in the Bronx brawl is Stand Up’s DANTE NERO, who has extensive experience in multiple fighting techniques. Much like our film’s hero, Dante—in his early years—fought on the streets to make money. Sean’s ultimate opponent on the rooftop, Evan, is played by a man with extensive martial arts training.

“To come in and work with him was, from my standpoint, a dream come true,” says Mike Gunther. Tatum’s character is supposed to be trained in high-school wrestling, so the style that the fight coordinators created had to reflect that. Fortunately, they had a good student. “Channing’s a really great athlete,” says Gunther, “so he made my job very easy.”

In preparation for the role, White trained for three hours every day for four weeks. The former football player had to train to get the look and feel of his character’s fight champion moves down.

The coordinators trained White in moves derived from Brazilian jujitsu, muay thai and grappling techniques. About doing most of his own stunts, White says: “When you hire athletes, or actors that happen to be athletes who can do their own stunts, you add a lot of realism. You could be the best actor in the world but, as soon as there’s a shot of an actor from behind and we see a punch but never see his face, we know it’s not him.”

For Tatum, working with each opponent was a chance for camaraderie. As their fight scene had a number of different elements, Cung Le worked with Tatum for three days prior to shooting. The two actors performed a combination of dirty fighting and street fighting on their feet, as well as on the ground. The fight was not entirely choreographed, leaving them freedom to freestyle some of their moves.

As they staged the fights, ensuring safety for their actors was a serious responsibility for Mic Rodgers and Mike Gunther. The trick was to make the scenes look as real as possible, while keeping the actors safe from harm. Says Gunther: “If the actor goes down, everyone that’s working on this movie goes down. So the responsibility of keeping him safe added a lot of pressure. You definitely don’t want anyone to get hurt on your shift.”

Misher knows that the authenticity has paid off in the fight scenes captured in the film. “I’m a fight fan, and actors able to perform their own stunts is something I don’t see that often,” says the producer. “That feels rich and exciting to me. I enjoy the specificity and the gifts boxers and mixed martial artists have, so I love the way we were able to authentically bring that to the film.”

“The fights are not classic movie-style fights,” adds Rodgers. “What we tried to do was reinvent that. We worked closely with the special-effects department, so there’s a lot of breaking glass and knocking stuff over that’s special-effects rigged. We advised them on what was safe, and they came up with their ideas.”

Despite Tatum’s broad athletic experience, fight training was an entirely new beast. For an actor, it’s not simply a question of remembering the moves and making the fight look real. It’s also a matter of maintaining the performance, which requires equal concentration. “Keeping up the emotion in a fight is hard,” says Tatum, “because you’re filming one fight scene for 14 hours a day. You need to show emotion when you take a punch or grab somebody and slam them into a wall or a plate-glass window. Mic Rodgers pointed out to me that one reason the fight scenes in Lethal Weapon worked was because Mel Gibson is so good at selling it in his face and in the emotions. He’s not just going through the physicality of it.”

Adding to the illusion was director of photography Stefan Czapsky and editors Jake Pushinsky and Saar Klein. “We shot the fights with a handheld camera—three cameras simultaneously, in fact,” says Czapsky. “That gave Jake plenty to work with in the editing room. And you have to find camera angles that make the punching look real. During our first fight, Channing actually got hit; he wound up with a bit of a black eye. He learned after that why there’s a good reason to fake it. It doesn’t hurt as much.”

The editors had the challenge of combining the editing with sound design in order to make the fight scenes look realistic. “The combination of editing and sound design can make or break a fight scene in a movie,” believes Pushinsky. “People hear a good slap or a good punch and, even if it’s not there visually, they still believe it. With sound and editing, you can do a lot of tricks.”

In addition to quick cuts, the editors also rely on the actors to portray the throwing and receiving of a punch. Continues Pushinsky: “People’s eyes aren’t as fast as they think. One thing I learned was that it’s more the person getting hit who has to do this real acting of selling the reaction to a punch than the person throwing the punch. Everybody can throw a punch into the sky, but not everybody can act like they just got hit.”

Pushinsky also believes in the importance of music, especially when doing his editing work. For him, a big part of these fight scenes is rhythm. The editor comes from a music background, and music always plays a huge part in his process. Pushinsky plays music while editing, even if it’s music that’s never going make it into the scene, as it adds a rhythm, a feeling and a pace to a scene that he believes audiences feel subconsciously, because everyone listens to music.

Agrees Montiel, an avid musician who finds filmmaking and making music very similar, “I know what feels right when I play music. When you’re writing music or writing a film, you’re picturing everything that goes with it.”

Fighting: Tatum, seen in Stop-Loss, Step Up and G.I. Joe

Tatum, seen in Stop-Loss, Step Up and the upcoming action film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, was excited to reunite with his Saints director. Of working on the film with Montiel, Tatum says: “Dito and I wanted to make a film about lonely people…about two guys who find each other and common ground—even though they represent two different ends of the spectrum. They both have something they need from each other.”

The troubled, sensitive and good-natured Shawn is a character far removed from Saints’ violent, streetwise Antonio, but Tatum was eager to challenge himself as a performer. He and Montiel created a detailed backstory for the character who has fled his roots in Birmingham, Alabama, in order to try his luck in the city.
“Shawn’s dad was a tough college wrestling coach,” Tatum explains. “Since he was a very athletic guy, he expected his son to be athletic, too…so Shawn wrestled. A lot of parents want to live through their kids and want them to do better than they did. That was a real source of friction for him and his father.”

Since working together on Saints, Tatum and Montiel have evolved an easy kinship. “Dito and I don’t need to talk much when we’re working,” Tatum explains. “We get each other. Sometimes he’ll act it out for me. He’s a mirror for me that I can look into and say, ‘Okay. I get it.’”

Adds producer Misher: “Channing’s performance in Saints was groundbreaking, something that marked him as a star on the rise. That’s why we were so keen on putting Channing and Dito back together for a movie like this. What we have is the intensity and the honest emotions that Dito brought to Saints, which he now brings to a genre movie.”

Terrence Howard’s Harvey, in a situation inspired by Midnight Cowboy, takes Shawn in and becomes his mentor. The filmmakers were eager to work with Howard, whose role in Hustle & Flow earned him an Oscar® nomination for Best Actor. His versatility extends to his role in the box-office smash Iron Man. Of Howard’s character, Montiel says: “When Channing first had to go with Terrence in that early scene, I wondered how we were going to make anyone believe that Shawn would follow this guy down the street. Then I remembered, when I was a kid in the street, if I thought you had $20…I didn’t care if you were some guy telling me the craziest story in the world, I was going to figure out how I was going to get that $20. Harvey is a decent person and Shawn is a decent person, and there is an aura about decent people that makes it so you might follow them. I knew that feeling of waiting so long and hoping for something good to happen.”

Howard wanted to work with Dito Montiel ever since the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, when he was part of the jury that awarded Montiel that year’s Dramatic Directing Award for A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. “The chances he took in putting that film together! It was one of the most original and unique ways of telling a story I’ve ever seen in my life,” commends Howard. “Alan Rudolph and I were judges at Sundance that year, and that was the first film we saw. We walked out of it and Alan said to me, ‘We could go home right now and come back nine days later, without having seen any of the other films, and give this film the award and be right doing it.’ Of course, we stayed and watched all the other films, but none of them came close to what Dito accomplished. That’s what brought me to this film. I knew I was betting on the right horse.”

Howard responded to the fact that both Shawn and Harvey have reached a desperate point in their lives and are looking for one good break. “Harvey is somebody who’s down-and-out and trying to find his way,” says Howard. “Any time the door of opportunity opens, he’ll walk in there—whether it’s selling shoes or socks or helping somebody do some street fighting. But Harvey’s no street fighting guru; he’s new to the game, like Shawn.”

The filmmakers cast Luis Guzmán as Martinez, Harvey’s former childhood friend and a fight promoter. Montiel met Guzmán at his apartment to go over the role as well as his style of directing. Guzmán was impressed by the director’s ability to inject real aspects from his life and put them into a believable story. Says the actor: “I was turned on to Saints because it was such a character-driven movie with amazing characterizations of real people from Dito’s life. Someone like me who grew up in the streets in New York can really identify with that.”

Shawn also embarks on a romantic relationship with Zulay (sounds like July), a single working mother who is struggling with her own trust issues. When Zulay Henao auditioned for the role, the character was named Tasha. The day of her audition, Montiel heard someone at the audition make the mistake of mispronouncing Zulay’s name, at which point she corrected him. “At that moment,” Montiel laughs, “I said to myself, ‘She’d be really good.’ I liked that she corrected the person who asked and said her name wrong. We decided to use her real first name, and she really became the character. She brings a true decency to the role.”

Though they share a name, Henao found her character quite different from herself. “Of course, she’s a New Yorker, so I understand her, even though I’m from New Jersey. And she may have a bit of an attitude,” she laughs. “Though she’s going through a lot of things I’m not going through, I can definitely relate to her. All of us have made bad decisions that have marked us. She knows she’s made a lot of mistakes and that she’s paying for them. She’s a single mother working in a nightclub, living in the projects and supporting her family. So often in life, we walk around wearing masks and pretending everything’s okay, but these three characters [Shawn, Zulay and Harvey] strip each other down to the bone.”

Actor Brian White was cast as Evan Hailey, Shawn’s former wrestling teammate from Birmingham who has become a powerful professional fighter. White, who recently demonstrated his athletic ability and dance skills in Stomp the Yard, looked forward to playing a character who is an expert at mixed martial arts—a sport White practices. Of his character, White says: “There’s a seed of antagonism between Shawn and Evan, which stems from their days as high-school wrestling teammates. Evan kicked Shawn’s butt when they were younger, and he’s now a champion, so he underestimates Shawn’s ability to win.

“I love Dito’s sensibilities as a director, and he’s a real artist,” White continues. “Any director who can write a story about himself and make it entertaining and objective is special. Something so close to home is usually hard to put on to celluloid in an entertaining way, and Dito was able to do that and maintain his integrity.”

Rounding out the cast are other Saints alums, including PETER TAMBAKIS, MICHAEL RIVERA and Pride and Glory’s FLACO NAVAJA as Harvey’s crewmembers Z, Ajax and Ray Ray, respectively; Beer League’s ANTHONY DESANDO as fight promoter Christopher; American Gangster’s ROGER GUENVEUR SMITH as the organizer of the underground fights, Jack Dancing; and professional fighters YURI FOREMAN (middleweight boxing champion) and CUNG LE (MMA Strikeforce middleweight champion) as, respectively, the Russian fighter and Korean fighter.

Fighting: Dito Montiel and Channing Tatum together on another project

While serving as an executive at Universal Pictures, producer Kevin Misher became intrigued by the underground world of illegal street racing and created the studio’s action-thriller hit The Fast and the Furious. Wanting to develop another film about an underground group that comes together despite differences in race and age, Misher considered his next project. Explains the producer: “I thought there was an opportunity to find another world where everybody participated in a sport, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds—where it was the activity that mattered, not what people looked like or how they spoke. I also wanted to find something that had the adrenaline rush The Fast and the Furious provided.”

After seeing A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Misher was keen to put writer/director Dito Montiel and actor Channing Tatum together on another project. Misher knew he’d have a good working relationship with Montiel from the start, and they began developing a script together that explored extreme sports, with the city as its backdrop. “He’s a kid from Queens, and I’m a kid from Queens,” says Misher, “so I knew it would be a very easy fit. What people loved about A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints was that it felt like an honest portrayal of a life…rather than a depiction of events for the purposes of a movie.”

Montiel and Tatum were looking to work together again as well. Tatum suggested they consider a storyline about street fighting in which he could use his raw physicality. Using inspiration from his childhood, Montiel considered the suggestion and crafted a story that explored the world of underground fighting. “This is a really good version of a big, pop movie,” says Montiel. “I knew it would be great to put the right people together and have fun making a film that I could be proud of.” Though Fighting is a bigger production than A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, it is still a story rooted in Montiel’s world. Saints was autobiographical in nature and focused on the years Montiel spent growing up in Astoria, Queens. Like Shawn, Montiel sold what he could on the streets of Manhattan in order to make a buck.

“When I was a kid,” Montiel explains, “I sold peanuts on 42nd and 8th, and I sold fresh-squeezed orange juice on 45th and Broadway. I was always in the streets, doing things like that. Sometimes I didn’t sell enough to make the subway token home, so I’d sneak on the train. It could get pretty bad, but it was also a lot of fun, and I’ve tried to bring a bit of that late-night New York City excitement into the film. You put a little of yourself into everything, and in this case, when Shawn is on the streets waiting for something good to happen—a lot of that was me.”

In Fighting, the writer/director weaves a tale of two men headed straight for failure

New York native and Sundance Directing Award winner DITO MONTIEL (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) has long been on intimate terms with the complex city and its intricate rhythms. In Fighting, the writer/director weaves a tale of two men headed straight for failure…until they cross paths and realize each has exactly what the other needs for big success.

Small-town boy Shawn MacArthur (CHANNING TATUM, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Step Up, upcoming G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) has come to New York City with nothing. Barely earning a living selling counterfeit goods on the streets, his luck changes when scam artist Harvey Boarden (TERRENCE HOWARD, Hustle & Flow, Iron Man, The Brave One) sees that he has a natural talent for street fighting. When Harvey offers Shawn help at making some real cash, the two form an uneasy partnership.
As Shawn’s manager, Harvey introduces him to the corrupt bare-knuckle circuit, where rich men bet on disposable pawns. Almost overnight, he becomes a star brawler. He learns he must fight his way—in a series of staggeringly intense bouts—through the city and take down local opponents who come at him with a variety of skills. But if Shawn ever hopes to escape the dark world in which he’s found himself, he must now face the toughest fight of his life.

Joining Montiel for the action film is producer KEVIN MISHER (upcoming Public Enemies, The Interpreter). The cast includes LUIS GUZMÁN (Traffic, Nothing Like the Holidays) as fight promoter Martinez; ZULAY HENAO (Grizzly Park, Racing for Time) as Shawn’s love interest, Zulay Valez; and BRIAN WHITE (Stomp the Yard, The Game Plan) as Shawn’s rival and former wrestling teammate Evan Hailey.

Rejoining Montiel are key members of his Saints team, including editor JAKE PUSHINSKY (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Columbus Day) and composers JONATHAN ELIAS (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Pathfinder: The Legend of the Ghost Warrior) and DAVID WITTMAN (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, The Tripper).
Joining the behind-the-scenes team are cinematographer STEFAN CZAPSKY (Blades of Glory, Batman Returns), production designer THÉRÈSE DEPREZ (Summer of Sam, upcoming Brooklyn’s Finest), editor SAAR KLEIN (Almost Famous, The Bourne Identity) and costume designers KURT AND BART (Shortbus, Phoebe in Wonderland). The film is written by Dito Montiel and ROBERT MUNIC (television’s Dawn Anna and The Cleaner).

LISA BRUCE (upcoming Case 39, A Lot Like Love) and ANDREW RONA (Scream 3, The Brothers Grimm) serve as executive producers.