Before he started filming “Bleed for This,” writer/director Ben Younger called fellow director David O. Russell for a little pep talk. Younger’s film looks at the life of professional championship boxer Vinny Pazienza, whose career was almost ended by an automobile accident. Russell had directed his own boxing movie with “The Fighter.”
Younger didn’t get the inspiring words he expected.
The moment he told Russell that because of budget and time limitations, there was only one day budgeted to shoot the fight sequences, Russell told him that was impossible. Creating believable fight scenes and shooting it in one day are mutually exclusive ideas.
Younger sees “Bleed for This” as a human drama that happens to unfold against a backdrop of boxing. But he still had to make sure that that the scenes shot in the ring resonated with the same truth he brings to all his work. He would not compromise on that despite the words of warning from Russell.
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“We were so rushed and under the gun that there was little time for me to be anxious,” Younger says. “We watched a lot of boxing movies, not for inspiration, but as a cautionary tale.
“The boxing always looks fake.”
To make sure he was able to present the most realistic fights possible, Younger turned to Darrell Foster, who after 18 years working with boxer Sugar Ray Leonard became a fight coordinator. It was his job to make sure that once the actors stepped into the ring, the punches weren’t faked but made real contact.
Younger stresses he didn’t go so far as to make his star, Miles Teller, take enough punches that no makeup was used to show the fight aftermath. But he does praise Teller for never using his fight double.
Teller helped provide the truth Younger demands in his project. The young actor, best known for playing characters who are faster with a quip than their fists, spent a year getting into shape to play Pazienza. That included almost a year of training and building up his body.
Even Teller would say that he was “a little doughy” before starting his training. That didn’t stop Younger from seeing Teller as the right actor for the role.
“It was 50-50 his acting chops and abilities,” Younger says. “The other thing was that I couldn’t have some pretty boy actor playing a boxer.”
Teller has some scarring on his face from a car crash in 2007 that nearly killed him. Younger saw that as a draw for casting Teller because he would fit in better with all of the non-actors being cast in the movie. It was just another part of trying to make his movie come across as feeling authentic.
“Bleed for This” is the third feature film directed by Younger. His next project, “Isle of Man,” looks at one of the oldest motorcycle races in the world. It’s another movie with a sports backdrop.
“I am not a fan of sports but there is another film about an American football team that I want to do. I guess there’s something about the drama I like,” Younger says.