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.”