The Bronze: Screenwriters Melissa and Winston Rauch Talk About the Olympics Comedy

The Bronze

The KCET Cinema Series continued its spring season on Tuesday, March 8, at the ArcLight Cinemas Sherman Oaks with a screening of forthcoming comedy, "The Bronze." 

The film stars Melissa Rauch ("Big Bang Theory") as fictional former gymnast Hope Ann Greggory, who rides on bronze medal-winning fame in a small, Ohio town. Greggory's life changes when she's coerced into coaching an up-and-comer who may steal her place as hometown hero. 

Co-writers Melissa and Winston Rauch were on hand for a Q&A session led by Deadline columnist and KCET Cinema Series host Pete Hammond following the screening of the film. Listen to the full conservation in this week's Cinema Series podcast and read an edited version of the chat  here. 

The KCET Cinema Series is generously sponsored by E. Hofert Dailey Trust and gives audiences the chance to view films prior to their theatrical release and sit-in on conversations with the creative minds behind these movies. 

On the inspiration for "The Bronze."

Melissa Rauch: There were a couple things that inspired the idea, two little seeds. One was, we're huge fans of the Olympics and have always loved watching them and we always thought it was funny that the announcer would have to say, "Ah, they'll have to settle for the bronze." 

It's third best in the world! It's still amazing, but there's this negative connotation with that. We thought what if someone hung their hat on that. 

Then, there was this moment that happened, years ago, when I had one of my very first jobs on TV and I went back to my small town in New Jersey. We were at the mall and we went to the pretzel stand and the manager there said that he really liked the show and he gave me a free pretzel and Winston and I shared it. We were so excited. That pretzel tasted so good. 

Winston Rauch: I asked for extra cheese sauce. 

M: He did. He tried to get extra cheese. 

W: Pushing my luck. 

M: It tasted very doughy and delicious and then, a few months later, the show I was on was canceled. We went back to the same mall. The manager sort of acted like he didn't know me. He charged me full price for the pretzel. It sort of highlighted how I was feeling in my life for the moment. I was really scared that I wasn't going to get that next job and him not giving me the pretzel was like pouring salt into my wounds-- pretzel salt in my wounds. 

We just started talking about celebrity and the fickle nature of celebrity and what that could do to the psyche, especially on a grander scale, so we sort of melded those ideas together. 

On writing together as a married couple.

W: Our story is, 14 years ago-- that's when we became a couple-- I used us writing together as an excuse to hang out with this girl that I really had a crush on, but I think, for her, it was more about sharpening her craft and actually writing and taking it seriously. I like to write, but I wanted to hang out with her more. 

We actually ended up writing our first project in a 200 square foot New York apartment, fifth floor walk-up. When you do that and you don't have any place to write except your bed-- that's where we're writing-- it's like boot camp or the most extreme situation. 

Now that we're in L.A., space is a little bit more liberally allocated and everything feels palatial compared to the 200 square feet. 

M: We started writing together even before we were a couple, so we had this sort of best-idea-wins mentality that has carried us through, which should bleed into our marriage. I actually use it in an unfair way, "Best idea is for you to take out the garbage." 

On creating Hope Ann Greggory. 

M: It was important to us that the story we were telling was truthful to her circumstances and we didn't want to make her likable just for the sake of, well maybe it will be a little more palatable, she'll be a little easier to swallow, because she is in such a bad place in her life. She's bitter and she's angry. She's unable to reset and reengage in this stage of her life and she's not likable because she doesn't like herself and what's going on in her circumstances. 

We talked about it a lot. I think even for female characters, there's even more pressure for them to be likable, potentially. I think that's also because there's pressure on women to be likable in general. 

We didn't want her to make this huge journey to, all of a sudden, at the end of the movie, be a totally different character and put a big, fancy bow on it at the end. We wanted her to move baby steps. In real life we, many of us, if we're going through something and it could take years for us to move a little bit, much less in an hour-and-a-half. We wanted it to be truthful to her circumstances. 

On outlining their stories.

W: We do a lot of hard work, sort of structuring. The show you mentioned, the Miseducation of Jenna Bush, where Melissa portrayed the wayward daughter of George W. Bush. At the time, she had two drinking citations over a five-week period. We thought, this is pretty fertile for satirizing the presidency through a fictionalized perspective of the daughter. 

We did that by looking at the structure of the events that had happened throughout the Bush presidency and we used that as a way in of structuring what Jenna's experiences would have been like in a "Forrest Gump" kind of thread, as she watched all that happened. What was she thinking at the time? We just kind of imagined that. 

We try to structure the stories as much as we can. We do improvise some as well. Like that coach bait scene was Melissa improvising how a famous coach would try to teach the protoge stage presence. 

M: We outline like crazy. You can sort of tell our moods by where we are in the script because we both, we really love writing the dialogue, but the outline is always something where we're constantly thinking and because we live together, there's really no breaks from that. We can't lie to each other and say, "I'm busy this afternoon" and then you see them in the kitchen and you're like, "What are you doing here?"

We really outline like crazy and, after that, that's where we plug in the dialogue and improvise some. Sometimes we have to take out what we've once done. 

On the movie's wild gymnast sex scene. 

M: We write what we know, so that's really where the idea-- I'm just kidding. 

[The crowd laughs.]

That is far from what we know.

In the outline, we knew those two characters were going to get together, , but that scene wasn't in the outline. It was when we were sitting across from each other at our computers about to write that scene and we looked up at each other at the same time and smiled and we had this idea that-- oh my gosh-- of course this is what would happen when these two world class gymnasts got together. 

We wrote it in the script, it said, "the most crazy, epic gymnastics sex scene ever" with 20 exclamation points and underlined and we bullet-pointed what we wanted those moves to be. 

W: Upon finishing it, we said, there's no physical way that this could actually be shot because people can't do this, number one. 

It ended up taking two Cirque du Soleil performers, and I'm not even kidding, to pull that scene off. 

The original choreography for it looks like a lyrical dance piece. It's pretty impressive. 

M: Our stunt coordinator and our gymnastics coordinator, who is an elite gymnast herself, she did all of our gymnastics scenes. We didn't tell her, originally when we hired her, we didn't get into the fact that she was going to have to choreograph a ballet of sex. She did and she did a beautiful job. 

She did a dry run-- no pun intended-- with two very clothed athletes and we were thrilled. Our director, Ryan Buckley, did a phenomenal job shooting it so that everything was in shadows. 

W: And that hotel room actually exists. We did not trick it out. We've been asked the question. Those rings were on the windows because it was a handicap accessible room, which was exactly the kind of room you would need to do the scene, it turns out. 


Pete Hammond by Liz Ohanesian

On shooting in Amherst, Ohio. 

M: In the first draft of the script, it was Butler, Ohio. We Googled "smallest town in Ohio" and came up with Butler, Ohio. But, then, when we were doing location scouting, we were thrilled that we, like you said, got to shoot in Ohio. We had looked at a bunch of other locations in Ohio. We had a super low budget. We only had 22 days to shoot the movie and very little money, so when we found Ohio, they  offered a great tax incentive. When we were location scouting, they said, well, you can shoot in Butler, but Amherst, this town about an hour away, had everything we would need and it looked like a backlot. You can't believe that this town exists. It's this beautiful little main street and a super small town. 

In the script it said we wrote on the first page, "The kind of town where you drive past the auto body and the mechanic puts down what he's doing and waves." Winston and I drove into town when we got to Ohio and the mechanic put down what he was doing and waved at us. Winston and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes, we were so excited. 

On writing and starring in "The Bronze." 

M: When we're writing it, there is definitely the writer hat on, but this was a role that, when we finished it-- and I started to get very attached to it while we were writing it. There are other projects that we've written where I've said, okay, this is something I would be okay with another actress playing it. This one, I became very, very attached to and when we started going out to producers with it, there was some pushback. We had some producers who were interested in it and said, we want to do this and we could even get a lot of money to make it, but we want to put another actress in the role who can get us more money and we can make it on a grander scale. Just someone who has box office..

We had a conversation about it. As writers, we would've love to have our movie produced on a grand scale, but we kept on calling it our Rocky. I'm going to Stallone it, he held on to Rocky for himself. That's what we did. I'm very grateful that we had producers who were willing to take a chance on us both as filmmakers and take a chance on me in that role. 

On studying gymnastics for "The Bronze." 

M: I took gymnastics lessons in Culver City. I wanted to immerse myself in that world as much as possible, even though I knew that I had a body double for the sex scene, and other scenes as well, I wanted to make sure that we were technically accurate as much as possible. 

I went to this gym and took some private lessons. The coach there, it was this Russian lady who was very confused by what I was doing. I told her that I was coming in to research a movie, but she saw this 30-something year old woman who was coming in and starting gymnastics lessons and she kept saying, "You're very lazy. I don't know why you're starting so late in life. You have no shot." I'm like, "Are you talking about acting or gymnastics?" She's like, "Both, whatever, just stop doing what you're doing."

On the film's use of profanity. 

M: We didn't set out to write a raunchy comedy or put a bunch of profanity in there for shock value. It was important to us that everything was coming from Hope's character. She is in this horrible place in life. For years, before her dream was cut short because of her injury, she was told to act a certain way and look a certain way and eat a certain way and, now, she's cut off from what she feels she was put on this earth to do, so she's rebelling against that past. She's going to eat whatever she wants and she's going to say what ever the heck she wants. The language and the profanity was really about her emancipation from her former self and rebelling against that earlier version of herself where she was told to be a sweet little girl. 

On the film's co-star, Haley Lu Richardson. 

W: She ran in from the parking lot, out of breath, 20 minutes late to her audition. 

The first thing you want to do when somebody shows up late like that is, you want to be like, "Sorry, you lost it," but, she was so good. Technically, it was a bad audition, but she was so good when she actually performed her monologue. She stopped herself, gave herself a moment, started over and gave us the most bubbly, effervescent. That's what we wanted. We wanted somebody who was effusively bubbly to the point where you could kind of sympathize with Hope's annoyance with her and maybe understand a little more of, okay, I need to reign her in a little bit. 

M: She was also a competitive dancer. We needed to find someone who also had a dance or gymnastics background. She's a beautiful competitive dancer. 

W: She does the entire floor routine by herself as her. 

M: She trained with our gymnastics coordinator. I think she's such a gifted actress. When she came in, we were like, let's lock this girl down now. She's got a huge career ahead of her. 

On Melissa Rauch's talent for voices. 

M: I've always used the voice as a way into characters. It's where I start whenever I'm approaching a character is with the voice. From an early age, I was a really shy, weird kid that didn't really know how to express myself. I would always be hiding behind someone. 

I always found that mimicking people was how I was able to express myself or performance was how I was able to express myself. Early on, I remember watching an episode of "Three's Company" with my parents and imitating Don Knotts and got a huge laugh from my parents. 

My parents were laughing so hard and I started doing that and doing it for show-and-tell at school, which sometimes got weird. I think there was one time where I watched an HBO special with Whoopi Goldberg and she was saying some very inappropriate things and referencing her crotch a lot and I did it for show-and-tell in second grade and my parents got a phone call. 

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