December 29th, 2009 by thetvchick
When Make It Or Break It premiered last summer, the first thought that popped into my mind was…how did they know that has been my idea for a show for years? But in all honesty, one of my other loves in life is gymnastics. I follow the sport closely, and I used to be a gymnast. So when I found out about a show that combines two of my greatest interests, I could hardly contain myself. I recently had the chance to visit the amazing set of the show (I even got to step foot in The Rock), and speak with the creator, executive producer and the cast members. I got to see the Pizza Shack, sit in the Cruz mansion and the Keeler household, and I can tell you, this set is spectacular. The Rock looked exactly like a gymnastics gym. Sadly, I didn’t get to see any of the doubles. For those who are unaware, there are many incredibly decorated gymnasts who double for the regular cast when they do any sort of gymnastics move. It was an amazing visit and I’m so excited to finally be able to share with you all of the interviews. The mid-season premiere is less than a week away, and when I caught up with Holly Sorensen (the creator), we chatted about her motivation behind creating this show, the casting process and the research she did into the world of elite gymnastics before the show started.
So I’ve always said there should be a show about gymnastics. I love it, I was a gymnast. What was your inspiration and what made you decide to write this show?
I come from a family of sports people. I come from a sports background, but I’ve always liked the Olympics, the Olympic ideal. I’m one of those people who would just watch all of the coverage of the Olympics, watch every single night. During the Winter Olympics, I put on a fire in my house and watch it all. And I always looked at those people and thought what makes them do that. I don’t have that — we work really hard here — but I don’t have that single minded determination and focus. So those people were always interesting to me, and when I was a kid I had a friend who was trying to be a professional ice skater and I felt so sorry for her: she had to get up at four in the morning and leave school at three in the afternoon, and couldn’t go to any of the dances. And I thought it was like child abuse. And the older I got the more I realized there were people that just sacrificed big chunks of their life for that. So I thought the whole big picture idea of it was interesting. I had been trading my scripts with the ABC Family development department because the stuff I was writing — we could tell we were interested in working together — [but] we couldn’t really find the right thing. So I went and I said, you know I’m really interested in pre-professional children, I’m interested in professional athletes who are children — about what that is to a family — I think it’d be really interesting to do skiing or gymnastics.
Skiing might have been a little harder to shoot.
You know gymnastics is not — the reason why there hasn’t been a gymnastics show is because it’s a really daunting thing to do. It’s a lot more difficult. Hopefully it’s more difficult than it looks. Hopefully we make it look not difficult but it’s not easy.
In the process of writing and creating the show, did you do a lot of research into elite gymnastics?
I did. It’s a really interesting world. It’s an interesting personality type that tends to go into that. The kind of person that becomes a gymnast is probably exactly the opposite of my own personality, which makes it just even more interesting. And then what I thought was interesting from a storytelling point of view is that you have this facility: The Rock, filled with families. And we say on the show that The Rock is like a small town, because it’s filled with people that are just there by proximity, and kind of by coincidence. Because these girls probably wouldn’t be friends if they were all in high school together. And their families probably wouldn’t associate with one another. They’re kind of forced to be together. And as a storyteller, that’s really fun. Because then you’re putting combinations of people together that are interesting.
And you have Peri Gilpin and Candace Cameron Bure, these TV veterans. And then you have the girls who are not new to acting, but newer to acting. How did you put the cast together?
It was hard. I mean obviously the girls were the first focus. I wanted fresh girls that we hadn’t seen a whole lot of, and they had to be fresh, beautiful, great actresses, and sell gymnastics. That alone, is so much harder than you think it would be. Then on top of it, think of like every high school show you’ve ever seen…how do you distinguish their characters? Well, through makeup and clothes. Our girls had to have their hair completely back, all wear leotards…so not only did they have to have all those other attributes, they had to look distinctively different from each other. And to be athletic, or be able to mold them into athletic shape. Like some of them–I think that even Chelsea Hobbs [Emily Kmetko] would say when she started the pilot she wasn’t a super gung-ho athlete. I mean certainly she was in shape and beautiful, but she wasn’t gymnastic. Now I think you totally buy that Emily [does] gymnastics. Some had to do more work than others, but casting was probably the biggest challenge, and I know I saw every single girl in this town.
I know I did. The casting directors were really starting to get annoyed. I’m like there’s gotta be more, there’s gotta be more. And then Peri I knew, because I used to be a journalist and I wrote a story on her for In Style. And I just kept thinking this mom, I want her to be like Peri Gilpin. Why don’t we ask Peri Gilpin? And we were told that she was kind of retired from TV, so we were so pleased when she said yes. And Candace wasn’t originally in the pilot, we also heard that she wanted to come back to acting — I’m a big fan of hers, so that was really interesting to me. And then filling in the other characters. But what I like about our families is that I feel like our families are real families. When we are in the Keeler house, I feel like Brett and Peri are married. I believe that those are their two kids. I believe that Susan Ward is Chelsea Hobbs’ mother, even though she’d have to be a pretty young mom. I believe that the Cruz’s are married and those are their two kids. They all feel totally organic to me.
And you had to find actual gymnasts to film routines and difficult skills? How did that come about, casting-wise?
Never ending process. We have a full-time gymnastics coordinator, and we have two now. It’s interesting because these people are people who have spent their whole lives learning how to do one thing really well, and by whole life I mean in many cases, their whole life. Like no hobbies, no boys, so when it’s over for them–if you talk to them, they are fascinating people.
Ashley Postell is one of them right?
Yeah, Ashley comes. And some of them are college students and more well-rounded, but some of them like the Olympic track ones like Tasha and Jordan Schweikert, we have, and Courtney Kupets has a college-like background, but they’re like when it was all over we just kind of looked around and said what do we do now? You know what I mean? So for them, our show’s a bit of a Godsend. And for us, they are a total Godsend. We call them the real stars [of] The Rock. And it’s so fun to watch them come in, because they just are these superhuman people. They have the total respect of the crew and the girls and you know the parlance of their job is a double, but there’s so much more than that.
Do they ever give any input on what’s going on and how the girls might carry themselves?
A little bit. Our gymnastics coordinator — both of our gymnastics coordinators — were former high level gymnasts, nationally ranked gymnasts so they have a lot of that information and they funnel a lot. We can’t be exactly accurate, and we’re still getting our seat legs in terms of “oh that’s not an elite move, that is an elite move,” but it’s more than just — I think what’s hard for our gymnastics fans to understand — it’s more than just research. It’s like who is available to do this move at this time, because they’re not all sitting here working for us. They work at sea world, they work as sports commentators, they are still in competition in many cases. So you need a specific move by a specific girl, it has to be a gymnast who has that move, who has that body type, and is available for the time. And we always make those pieces move. So we do the best we can. And we acknowledge that we need to learn more all the time, which we do.
Can you give us a little teaser of what’s coming up?
I think a big story is obviously what’s going to happen with Payson, and how this girl [of] all girls learn how to be a normal girl, because there’s just nothing normal about her. And you know, we’re exploring can Kaylie keep the distractions at bay. Because she’s a girl, unlike Payson, Kaylie’s a girl that could see herself as a model, or could see herself as an actress. Gymnastics for Kaylie, if she was the injured one, you don’t see the same — I mean obviously she would have been crushed, but she’s a different kind of girl. So now that she’s kind of finding herself unexpectedly at the top, she’s faced with these questions like can she stay there? Is she for real? And Lauren comes upon a very interesting piece of information. (laughs) that will propel some of her antics and oh and Emily. Emily and Chloe are really about this year — like they’re a family who’ve just moved from gym to gym, from place to place, but now that Emily’s a national team member, we’re going to be at The Rock. Can we be a real Rock family? Can we fit in? Can Emily fight some of her inner demons to allow herself to belong and can she keep all the cute boys that seem to be hounding her all the time…
(laughs) It’s such a difficult choice.
Yeah, I know [it is]. It only gets better.
Be sure to tune in Monday, January 4th at 9 pm on ABC Family for the mid-season premiere of Make It Or Break It.Tweet