Elizabeth Banks' 'Fight Song': How the Celebrity-Studded Video Came Together
Inspired by the 'Pitch Perfect' movies, Banks, producer Bruce Cohen and video creator Mike Tompkins corralled their celebrity pals to sing the Clinton campaign's unofficial anthem.
The idea for the celebrity-studded, a cappella video of Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” that served as a rousing centerpiece of the second night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia was triggered more than a year ago.
Actress-turned-director Elizabeth Banks and Oscar-winning producer and political activist Bruce Cohen (American Beauty) found themselves chatting at a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton at the home of Tobey Maguire and his wife, Jennifer Meyer, back on June 19, 2015. Banks' first feature directorial effort, Pitch Perfect 2, about an all-girl a cappella singing troupe, had opened in theaters just a month earlier and already was well on its way to its eventual worldwide gross of $287.5 million. And the two began talking about how they could help boost Clinton’s candidacy.
In 2008, Cohen had produced a video that went viral in which Jack Nicholson, slipping in and out of character in some of his signature roles like the Joker and The Shining’s Jack Torrance, endorsed Clinton’s previous run for the nomination. “I had it in my head to do something like that again,” Cohen recalls. As he and Banks huddled, Cohen says, “We got the idea right on the spot to do something inspired by Pitch Perfect.”
Once the convention neared, they took the idea to the confab's planners. By then, Platten’s “Fight Song,” first released in February 2015, had become an unofficial anthem of the campaign in conjunction with the slogan “Fighting for Us.” Banks previously had worked with Mike Tompkins, a Canadian singer-songwriter who found success releasing a cappella videos on YouTube, and she and Cohen enlisted him to help conceive and assemble the video. Visually, Tompkins suggested, its look should be simple but also bold and graphic so that it would stand out.
The actual production took place over the course of the past month. A couple of recording sessions were held in New York and Los Angeles, while other celebrities invited to participate shot their own self-videos and submitted them. Although the video has a heavy celebrity quotient, from Aisha Tyler and America Ferrera to Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Kristin Chenoweth, real people from various walks of life — like a young boy soprano who appears in a Hillary T-shirt — also were recruited.
“Part of the concept was that everyone would appear separately,” says Cohen. “Because if we had needed all of those people together in one ‘We Are the World’ session, that would have been really hard to organize.”
Most of those who took part performed solo turns. A few, like Banks and John Michael Higgins, who sang together in front of a greenscreen at one of the recording sessions, and Rob Reiner and his daughter Romy, who provided one of the self-videos, turned in duets. “We actually liked the creative thinking that some people did at home when they sent them in,” says Cohen. Some of the participants sang the whole song, but everyone took a shot at singing the chorus, clapping and dancing.
Tompkins then mixed and matched the individual video shoots together based on who sounded best on which parts. “There’s a great little bit in the middle when Ben Platt and Idina Menzel do this amazing duet,” says Cohen. “And Rachel Platten, whose song it is, she’s sort of the connecting tissue, singing the whole thing, and we were able to fill in around her.”
To tailor the song specifically to the Clinton campaign, a few lyrics were adjusted “to have it on message with ‘The Fights of Her Life,’ which was the theme last night at the convention,” Cohen explains. The lyric, “This is my fight song,” became “This is our fight song,” while Ester Dean offered a rap about Clinton in the middle of the video. When Sia agreed to take part, Banks proposed she provide the “Go, Hillary!” tag at the end, to which Sia agreed. “You couldn’t have a more exciting, more artistically legitimate ending than Sia saying, ‘Go, Hillary,'” Cohen says.
As the project took shape, it was designed to fit into the convention’s second-night program, and when the organizers subsequently asked Banks to host a portion of the night, Cohen says, “We were excited because we knew that would make the video an even more organic and integral part of the evening.”
In terms of the video’s celebrity “gets,” “We were all incredibly excited about [opera star] Renee Fleming. She self-taped. It doesn’t get much better than getting a self-tape from Renee Fleming,” says Cohen. “And Jane Fonda, of course, that was just iconic.”
Cohen was in Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center as the video played for the first time, and, he reports, “There was an electric response to the video in the hall, and when they saw Jane, everyone went nuts, as well they should.”
Going forward, the video’s producers hope that the Clinton campaign will continue to use the video to, in Cohen’s words, "inspire people throughout the campaign — wherever and whenever they feel it can be helpful between now and November.”
A complete list of the celebrities featured in the video follows:
Hana Mae Lee
Jesse Tyler Ferguson
John Michael Higgins