Painful past lives again in 'You Again'

Film reunites director Andy Fickman and Kristen Bell

Until recently, whatever happened in high school stayed in high school.

Now instead of remaining shadowy memories, everyone who tortured us as kids can re-enter our adult lives via Facebook and Twitter.

That's why it's so easy to relate to Touchstone Pictures' comedy "You Again," opening Friday, with its in-person reconnection.

In "You Again," directed by Andy Fickman and written by Moe Jelline, Kristen Bell's character learns her brother's marrying her high school arch nemesis. Its ensemble cast includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Odette Yustman, Kristin Chenoweth, Victor Garber and Betty White.

Fickman says the story's relevance in the age of social networking is "why so many actors responded to it. Sometimes there are people from our past and maybe our memory of them is not as wonderful as their memory is."

What's more, he adds, "maybe that's the person who caused me a great deal of pain that I never shared with them. In talking to our cast everybody told me about somebody from their past who did something not so great to them in high school or junior high and it has stuck with them."

The project came about ultra-fast for Fickman while he was doing the press tour to launch his 2009 hit "Race to Witch Mountain."

"Disney asked me to take the script with me," he told me. "I read it and I just found myself so utterly charmed by it. I knew they were interested in Kristen Bell for the lead and K-Bell was somebody I'd worked with for a decade."

Fickman had cast Bell in New York in his 2001 stage production "Reefer Madness: The Musical" while she was a student at NYU.

"We were always looking for any chance over the years where K-Bell and I could find something to work together on. I read that script and thought she would be perfect."

By the time he finished promoting "Witch," he said, "we had finished the deal and I jumped straight into prep for the film. I had a big plan for a vacation and some time off, but we had a window in which we thought we could gather everybody up and sort of do summer camp."

He'd never had anything come together so quickly.

"I got off the plane and the very next day had my first production meeting with everybody."

Actually, Fickman's the kind of director who could handle the rigors of development because he started his career as a development executive for stars like Gene Wilder and Bette Midler.

"My decade of being a development executive really put me through the paces of what works in development sometimes and what doesn't work -- you know, the sheer number of projects I fell in love with as an executive and developed that just never saw the light of day."

When he approaches material now as a director, Fickman adds, "I can't shake that decade of development in me. So I'm always wondering, 'Is this the one that's going to take 10 years before it sees the light of day?' Then something like 'You Again' comes along and sort of defies all time and logic."

They shot for a fast 35 days in the summer of '09.

"The thing that was unbelievably awesome was that we shot all in Los Angeles."

For most of the cast and crew, it was a great incentive to be able to work where they could see their families every night.

"We were under $20 million on this and it was 'use every penny that you can' and 'call in every favor that you can.' I have to say our department heads just made magic happen. Every time you're working in that sort of $19 million budget range there are things on the page that in your mind would work great in the $40 million budget range."

When you only have about half the money to work with, he noted, "you start thinking what are your compromises? And my crew just never allowed it to feel like a compromise."

How did he manage to shoot in L.A. on so little money?

"We got lucky because we were a recipient of the California tax credit and we found a lot of people in Los Angeles in this economy were very open and wanting to work with us and keep the film here."

While observing that shooting in L.A. is great not only for a movie's cast and crew, but also for the local economy, he explained that if the tax credit hadn't worked out he would have gone elsewhere.

"I've had multiple great experiences filming in Vancouver and a great experience filming in Boston and I was fully ready if we had to move to figure out the best city to film it in."

One of his challenges shooting in L.A. was how familiar so many parts of the city are by now given all the filming that's been done here over the years.

"Our production designer Craig Stearns and location teams really scoured for various looks. I found myself filming on locations I'd never seen before and parts of locations where, maybe, you had seen one area, but if you went two blocks east you had never seen that area."

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