Blades of Glory: Behind the Scenes

October 2, 2007

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I think the DVD is one of the more splendid modern inventions. (Perhaps only second to…the blog.) Not only do I appreciate the sleek design of these discs and their ability to swiftly arrive in my mailbox via Netflix every few days, I just can’t get enough of the Special Features, a.k.a. Extras, a.k.a. Bonus Material.

Even when I don’t particularly like a movie, I still immediately click around the DVD menu to find out how it was made or find some interviews with the cast. And when I really enjoy a film, I’ll often re-watch it right away while listening to the director’s commentary. On one recent occasion (Little Miss Sunshine), I was so enthralled by the screenwriter’s comments that I was strangely compelled to take notes. I’ve just always marveled at how great it must be to work in movies. I suppose, like any job, there are pressures (like an actor’s need to always look 25 years old, or a writer’s need to be ultra-creative then ultra-accepting when they completely change everything you wrote, or a director’s need to pull it all together) but, even if it isn’t all fun and games, it’s downright fascinating. At least from where I sit.

I was at a party recently with a friend whose boyfriend is a NYC fireman, and, as I’ve witnessed on previous occasions, everyone he met there had approximately 1,000 questions about his job: his hours, the frequency of fires, his smoke-filled adventures in the NYC subway tunnels, etc. I have found, as a skater and as a skating coach, this happens to us quite a bit as well. As much as I’d like to blab on about writing, the book I’m currently reading, my last vacation, or that crazy thing I witnessed on 2nd Avenue the other day, most people I meet tend to rope me into the topic they are most curious about: the world of skating.

This used to bother me and I’d try to skirt the issue by telling people ambiguously that I was a “teacher” or by answering the where-do-you-work question by naming a town. After all, I’d like to literally and figuratively escape from the rink every once in a while. But I’ve realized that it’s futile to resist the pull of widespread intrigue and might as well just embrace skating as the ultimate conversational piece that it is.

Many members of the general public claim that they can’t even hold their ankles upright (of course, we all know this is probably because they’re trying to skate in boots that are about as supportive as tissue paper). Therefore, they can’t fathom how we perform such acrobatic tricks on such skinny little blades. They do seem to vaguely understand, however, that it takes an insane amount of work and whole bushel loads of that clichéd skating commodity known as sacrifice. And it does.

People like to watch sports because athletes play out the human drama: the Us against Them, the Winners and Losers, the Triumph Against all Odds. We empathize with the struggles, the joys, the hopes, and the dashed dreams that sports demonstrate and figure skating has all of these things in spades. Besides, it’s beautiful, it’s sexy, and sometimes scary (especially pair skating and some of those ice dance costumes, my own collection included). To use one of Chazz Michael Michaels’s words, in Blades of Glory (when he’s on the treadmill and referring to a raunchy, nonsensical song he’s suggesting for a program), skating is Provocative. And this is one of the many reasons why Blades of Glory got the so-called “green light” (see all the lingo I’ve learned?) then became a box office hit, ranking first in U.S. ticket sales for two weeks running and remaining in the top 10 for 7 weeks.

As I mentioned in my last installment, the DVD Extras for Blades of Glory are worth watching. It’s entertaining to see these Hollywood stars trying our sport, loping around out there with the help of harnesses: I could watch hours of this footage. What I think is missing from these Extras is even more background on how they made the actors look like they are actually skating. Obviously, there was a lot of fancy footwork on the part of computers and digital editors, but there were also many skating stunt doubles doing real skating.

Since I wasn’t satisfied with the amount of insider information provided, I was thrilled to catch up with one of the stunt doubles, Tiffany Scott, who did the skating for Amy Poehler, the actress who played Fairchild Van Waldenberg. The questions I asked her are below. Tiffany Scott is a United States pair skater who, among many accomplishments, was a U.S. National Champion and a 2002 Olympian with partner Philip Dulebohn. 

                                                 ***

Jocelyn Jane Cox: How were you chosen for the part? 

Tiffany Scott: I was at 2006 Nationals, and Judy Blumberg came up to me and randomly asked me how tall I was. I had no idea why, so I told her, and went about my day.  Later that night, just as I was running out my hotel room door to catch a bus to the rink to compete in the short program, I got a phone call from the casting people (apparently I was tall enough).  It was such a strange phone call that I didn't really believe it, so I asked them if they could call me back the next day.  They did, and I got more details.  From there, I flew out to CA for some photos (to see how well I matched Amy Poehler).  I was literally there for 2 hours, and flew back home.  A few weeks later, I got the call that I was a match!

JJC: Where did the shoot take place? 

TS: My part was shot in L.A.

JJC: How long were you on the set?

TS: I was there for 7 weeks last summer.

JJC: What kind of skating tricks did you have to do? And, in the final cut, what scenes include your skating?

TS: The tricks that we did were really not technically difficult.  Actually, a lot of my skating was cut (because there wasn't enough time to include it all). Originally, we had a whole routine in the Marilyn Monroe/ JFK costumes at the end. As far as what was me in the final cut, it is hard to say.  There was such high-quality editing that they were able to use a face replacement technique.  They placed Amy's face onto my body!  They did such a good job that it is really difficult to tell when it is her skating and when it is me. In a few spots, they didn't have to use this technique because we look enough alike that it didn't matter.

And since I am a lefty, I have always done everything rotating to the right. But the skating double for Will Arnett, Patrick Hancock, was a righty, so I had to learn everything the other direction!  I even did a headbanger in the opposite direction.  No throws or jumps, though.  When I came back home and tried to skate lefty again with Philip, it felt really weird.

JJC:  What was it like wearing the hilarious hip hop costume of Fairchild's?

TS: The costumes were amazing.  The designer (Julie Weiss) was incredible. Also, because we look so much alike, I got to try on all of Amy's skating costumes and model them in front of the directors and cameras so they could figure out the lighting, and the look.

JJC: What was it like working w/ Amy Poehler and the rest of the cast? 

TS: I can't say enough about how great Amy is (and all the actors).  She was so sweet, funny, down-to-earth.  The first thing she said to me when we met was how much she admired my skating.  This really meant a lot to me. And all of the stars were so talented.  Will Farrell, John Heder, Will Arnett- they were all fun to work with.  Will Farrell was so funny - everyday he made so many people laugh that the camera men and crew, and everyone else backstage had to be careful not to laugh out loud when they were filming!  A lot of the lines he came up with on his own. I have no idea how he comes up with what he says, but it is really hilarious.

John Heder was really motivated when it came to learning how to skate. He learned a waltz jump and a toe loop.  I even taught him a bracket. He definitely has potential!

JJC: What was the best part about this experience? 

TS: The best part was learning about what life is like as an actor, and what goes into making a movie.  It is very interesting, and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn about it.  I never realized how much detail goes into movie making - every angle, every segment, etc.  They could spend an entire day setting up and filming for a 3-second shot!  The directors were so good that they captured every possible angle, and never missed even the most minute detail. 

JJC: What are you up to these days? 

TS: These days I am really busy coaching, going to school at the University of DE (I graduate in May), coaching the University of DE Collegiate team.  I am also producing a skating show at Longwood Gardens during the holiday season. (Yes- Philip and I are coming out of retirement for that one!)

                                                  ***

Thanks so much to Tiffany for her time and thanks to you, for reading. If you are still itching for more behind the scenes info from Blades of Glory, watch a great interview with Chad Brennan, the skating stunt double for Will Ferrell, at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwVpF65yY20 

And check back here next Tuesday when I will regale you with my impressions of the PSA Seminar at the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society (possibly the most scenic rink in the country).

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3 Responses to “Blades of Glory: Behind the Scenes”

  1. Spicedaddy Says:

    At first I thought “Tiffany did the stunt double skating for the John Heder character, WHOAH!” What a relief it was for the Amy P. part… Tiffany is such a wonderful skater, too bad they had to cut some of the footage!

    And as for costumes: Ms. Cox our fearless blogger seems to think she can simply hint that she once wore “scary” ice dancing costumes, and have that be the end of it. Her fearless readers want to know more! Perhaps she can work in more details in an upcoming installment, maybe if she does one on the coach-as-costume-advisor.

  2. Yussel Says:

    I remember Tiffany Scott as the most beautiful pairs skater of the last 25 years. Now she is a movie star? Has she no decency? Is there no shame? What do her parents think? What does her former partner think? Was her “success” the cause of their “retirement”? If these questions cut too close to the bone there is no need to answer them…but I urge you to look inward.

  3. GeorgyPorgey Says:

    Tiffany had a great opportunity, and it sounds like she made the most of it. Who wouldn’t want to be in a movie w/Will Farrell etc? It’s too bad they had to cut out so much of the skating – they should have put more of the skating footage on the DVD – skating fans would be totally into it, and probably general public would too.

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