“Bringing Down the House” got underway on a beautiful tree-lined street in Pasadena, California where Charlene invades Peter’s perfectly ordered house. The production then shifted to downtown L.A. for a South Central hip-hop nightclub scene where Peter insinuates himself into Charlene’s world. These early sequences set the comedic tone for the duration of filming.
Julio Macat’s cinematography was a key element in defining the film’s overall visual style. “A lot of humor in the film grows out of the juxtaposition of Charlene’s inner city environment and Peter’s warmer, suburban milieu,” says Macat. “In order for it to work, both worlds must look real.”
Also, Macat, who is no stranger to comedies (he was the cinematographer on Shankman’s first feature “The Wedding Planner”), thinks they should be photographed differently. “I light comedies fuller and richer to be able to capture the reactions of the characters. Reactions are the heart of the humor,” he notes.
Production Designer Linda DeScenna proceeded in a similar fashion. From the urbanity of Charlene’s sphere, to Peter’s downtown corporate office, to his stylish, pristine home interior built on a Disney sound stage, “Every set reflected its purpose,” she says.
Completing the overall look, Costume designer, Pam Withers, who also worked with Shankman on “The Wedding Planner,” collaborated with him and Queen Latifah on her unique wardrobe for “Bringing Down the House.” “I wanted it loud and ghetto,” states Shankman.
“We went over a lot of photos and tear sheets before we began production,” says Queen Latifah. “And I’m not a little girl, you know. I’m a big, sexy woman, so you have to dress me appropriately. Also, Charlene has a specific urban hip-hop style. So we wanted to capitalize on that.”
Withers concurs. “We tied up, cut up, and jazzed up her wardrobe with rhinestones, because Charlene has her own fashion flair but few resources. So she uses kitchen scissors or shoelaces to add some spice to her own ordinary clothing.”
For the point in the film when Charlene – fed up with Ashley’s racial slurs – engages her counterpart in a knock-down, drag-out catfight, Shankman enlisted the expertise of stunt coordinator John Medlen for the scene. The two talents had worked together on TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” so they had a built-in shorthand regarding the scene’s choreography, which took three days of rehearsals and two days of shooting for the two minutes of screen time.
“Adam wanted the comedy and action to be based on their two different worlds; Charlene’s street-fighting ‘I’m gonna get you’ moves versus Ashley’s stylized, Tae-Bo technique,” says Medlen.
Pyle, who is belted in Tae Kwon Do, was thrilled to have the chance to show her stuff. “Ashley thinks she can take on Charlene because she’s gone to Tae Bo exercise classes ‘two hours a day, five days a week,’” Pyle quips. Her real martial arts background helped her to “go the distance” during the two days of filming the fight.