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STICK IT

Prepping To Eat Mat
The same kind of meticulous research Bendinger undertook to initially pitch the project was also brought to every facet of the production. The goal was to present an accurate and colorful portrayal of the highly competitive world of elite gymnastics programs and their respective social and training habits. "I'm a total gymnastics groupie,” Bendinger admits.

In 2003, while working on the STICK IT screenplay, the writer/director contacted Paul Ziert, a noted gymnastics publisher, promoter and manager, with technical questions about the complex sport. As Ziert recalls in a publisher's statement in his International Gymnast magazine, "Though she [Jessica] had been a gymnast herself, she still sought advice to ensure the accuracy of her story. Of course, I deferred many of the technical judging questions to my dear friends, Pat Warren and Dona Jones (Pat's daughter). Both of these women are so giving and genuine that they were later hired to help find, test and train the gymnasts for the movie. We ended up with 19 post-college gymnasts, 13 foreign gymnasts and recent U.S. Classic champion, Nastia Liukin.”

Ziert says that one of the most important reasons he got involved in the project was to make sure the performance level would be of the highest order, yet safe for the gymnasts. For three months prior to the start of filming, the four lead actors—Missy Peregrym, Vanessa Lengies, Nikki SooHoo and Maddy Curley—attended "boot camp,” undergoing intensive daily gymnastics, conditioning and cardiovascular fitness training in Los Angeles; their training was supervised by the film's gymnastics consultants, mother and daughter team Pat Warren and Dona Jones, at both the All Olympia Gymnastics Center and Gold's Gym.

Warren and Jones trained them from beginner to intermediate levels, with the primary focus on proper technique to prevent any kind of injury—both during training and filming—and to help these filmic gymnasts appear like real gymnasts. The cast members worked five to six hours per day performing gymnastics, as well as undergoing cardiovascular training, stretching and working out with weights. Not only were the elites ready for camera, but Peregrym, Lengies, SooHoo and Curley wound up in the best shape they've ever been.

"Oh my gosh, they had to do a lot of preparation!” Jessica Bendinger asserts. "The fitness levels were tested of anyone we auditioned—they had to get on all the equipment and prove to us that they could reasonably ‘fake' being a gymnast. We put them through some tests—pull-ups and sit-ups, dance sequences, swinging on uneven bars, running down a vault runway, and walking back and forth on the balance beam. And then once Missy and Vanessa the other elites were cast, they went through really intensive training to build up their endurance, their muscle tone—it was exhausting. When I looked at the tape of their first day of training versus the finished product—it was amazing, they weren't recognizable. They were like totally different people.”

"Jessica really has a flair and a natural affinity for this age group, whether it's a drama or a comedy,” producer Lyon comments. "It shows in her dialogue and the way the characters inter-relate, as well as in the honesty about how some teenagers feel about their parents. And within the sport of gymnastics, and the bigger picture of the movie, I think we made it very real and relatable and fun for people who are that age or remember that age.”

"I didn't watch gymnastics very much, so I was a bit naïve before I got this role,” admits Missy Peregrym. A natural athlete involved in sports her whole life, Peregrym excelled at basketball and soccer, and she felt she was ready for the training involved with gymnastics. "Training? Great, perfect, I don't care how many hours a day,” she recalls thinking after landing the role and before training<

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