Gnarly! Classic Facts About Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a teen coming-of-age comedy directed by Amy Heckerling, written by Cameron Crowe, and released in 1982. The film follows a series of storylines of various characters attending Ridgemont High as they try to navigate through life and their wild experiences as teenagers. The film established many young actors as budding stars, although it was considered to be controversial for a number of reasons. Today, it is considered to be a cult classic and, in 2005, was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress. See why so many fans love the film today and some behind the scenes facts few people know!

It Was Originally A Nonfiction Book

Jusge Reinhold as Brad
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

While working as a freelance writer for Rolling Stone, screenwriter Cameron Crowe spent a year undercover at Clairemont High School in San Diego, California.

With the permission of the school’s administration, he went by an alias and emerged himself into the high school’s culture in order to conduct research for his nonfiction book of the same title. Crowe’s novel was published in 1981, and the book was adapted for the big screen just a year later.

Amy Heckerling Filled The Cast With People She Knew Personally

Spicolli and the band on stage
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Director Amy Heckerling made sure to include both her friends and others she had been romantically involved with. She asked Judge Reinhold to play Brad because he was Heckerling’s upstairs neighbor in Los Angeles. She also cast her ex-husband, David Brandt, and his band, Reeves Neevo & The Cinch, as the band at the school dance.

Furthermore, she had her ex boyfriend and fellow director Martin Brest as the doctor on the field trip toward the end of the film. Finally, the girl that pulls up to Brad while he’s wearing his work costume and laughs is screenwriter Cameron Crowe’s then-girlfriend and now ex-wife Nancy Wilson, the guitarist for Heart.

Things Only Older Audiences Would Understand

Students smelling paper
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Towards the beginning of the film, after Mr. Hand sends Spicoli to the front office for being late, the then hands out the class schedule for quizzes. As the papers are being handed out, the students put the paper right up to their faces and begin smelling it.

While this might seem odd to younger audiences, this was a common practice during the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s. Back then, because photocopying machines were expensive, ditto machines were used, which oddly made the papers smell good.

The Inspiration For Mark “Rat” Ratner Wasn’t Very Happy With The Character

Brian Backer as Mark Ratner
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Screenwriter Cameron Crowe based the character of Mark “Rat” Ratner on the real-life high school student at Clairemont named Andy Rathbone. Also referred to as “the rat” in high school, Rathbone was offended by his portrayal in the movie.

He claimed his character had all of his negative qualities, and everything cool about him was given to other characters, such as ordering pizza in class, which was done by Spicoli. However, Crowe insisted that he tried to disguise each of the characters, so it was hard to pinpoint one to an actual person. Rathbone has since come to appreciate his portrayal.

Nicholas Cage Makes An Appearance

Cage as Brad's Bud
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Initially, Nicholas Cage, a budding young star was supposed to play the role of Brad. However, during his audition, the filmmakers decided to move him to a background role after they thought his improvisations were a little too weird for the otherwise laid back character.

He can be seen as a worker at the burger hut that Brad works at and is credited in the film as “Brad’s Bud” under the name Nicholas Coppola. Cage would later go on to change his last name to avoid charges of nepotism since he is Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew.

Spicoli Had A Different Dream In The Book

Spicoli's dream
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

In the novel, when Spicoli has his dream, he imagines that he’s singing AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” on The Tonight Show. However, when approached with the idea of filming the scene, Johnny Carson declined the idea.

Other talk show hosts also turned it down, including David Letterman, who initially wanted to do it, but his agent wouldn’t let him appear in a film where the characters did drugs. So, the dream sequence was replaced with the scene when Spicoli is being interviewed about surfing by announcer Stu Nahan.

The Film Wasn’t Supposed To Be In Theaters For Long

Sean Penn and friend on set
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Initially, Universal only planned to have the film released in theaters for a short time before airing it on television, assuming there wasn’t going to be a large audience attracted to it. This was during a time when regional releases were still a norm.

Yet, after the film’s release on the West Coast, it was surprisingly well-received and was released across the country just three weeks later. It would go on to stay in theaters for an unexpected amount of time.

David Lynch Almost Directed

Spicoli in store
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

David Lynch was originally approached with the offer to direct the film before Amy Heckerling was chosen for the job. Although he admitted that the script was funny, he turned it down, saying that it wasn’t his thing.

Lynch went on to direct Nicholas Cage in Wild at Heart in 1990 and Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Brokenhearted. He would also direct Jennifer Jason Leigh in Twin Peaks in 2017. Nevertheless, Lynch turning the film down gave Amy Heckerling her first job directing.

The Film Helped Ray Walston Break Out Of His Typecast

Walston as Mr. Hand
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Ray Walston, who played Mr. Hand in the movie, was previously best-known for his role as Uncle Martin on My Favorite Martian. Although it was a successful role, Walston was typecast in the role and was unable to land any serious roles until the decade finally ended.

Walston recalled that after the release of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, he was pleased when people would yell, “Mr. Hand!” as he was walking down the street, taking it as a sign that he was no longer associated with Uncle Martin.

There Was A “Spiritual Sequel”

Jennifer Leigh as Stacy
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

After the success of the first film, Fast Times producer Art Linson and Cameron Crowe decided that they wanted to do what they called a “spiritual sequel.” It was a film titled The Wild Life that featured slightly older adults that included Sean Penn’s brother Chris, Eric Stoltz, and Lea Thompson.

The film was directed by Art Linson and unfortunately was a major flop. The movie was never even released on DVD because of music-rights issues.

The Soundtrack Isn’t Popular By Chance

Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Leigh
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Although Crowe would become well-known for his music choices in later films, he started off with a bang on Fast Times at Ridgemont High. However, most of the credit regarding the film’s soundtrack goes to Irving Azoff, one of the film’s producers who happened to manage The Eagles and Stevie Nicks.

Azoff managed to gather Nick, four of the five Eagles, Jackson Browne, among others to help record songs for the film’s two-disc soundtrack. On the flip side, Crowe was looking for newer acts, and managed to get the Go-Gos and Oingo Boingo.

A Musical Mix-Up

Backer and Leigh
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

In the scene when Mike Damone is giving Rat his “Five-point plan,” he states, “And five, now this is important Rt. When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV.”

Rat then plays the song “Kashmir,” which is not on Led Zeppelin IV, but Physical Graffiti. This is possibly because production couldn’t get the rights to Led Zeppelin IV. This mix-up could also be part of the story in the case that Rat is so clueless he doesn’t know which album to play.

Nicholas Cage Annoyed The Cast

Cage and Coppola
Lester Cohen/WireImage
Lester Cohen/WireImage

Regardless that Nicholas Cage had an insignificant role as “Brad’s Bud,” he wouldn’t let the rest of the young cast forget that his uncle was the acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola. Supposedly, he would brag that he was going to get famous before anyone else because of his connections.

After a few weeks of the non-stop heckling, the rest of the cast started to stand up for themselves and began doing impressions of Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now whenever Cage was around. He eventually laid off his annoying antics.

The Iconic Mall Is Still Around Today, Sort Of

Inside of mall
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

A lot of the film takes place in the mall, which production described as being the soda stands of the 1980s. Almost all of the scenes at the mall were filmed at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, which was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1994.

It was then renovated in 1998, and other than the parking structure, nothing of the 1980s mall remains. The layout was transformed from an enclosed multi-story structure into an outside, single-story mall.

The Film Almost Received An X-Rating

Damone and Stacy
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Before the film’s 1982 Los Angeles release, it was reported that the Motion Picture Association of America had given the film an X-rating. This was due to an intimate scene between Stacy and Mike that involved full-frontal male nudity.

Because this was the first major studio film in a long time to receive an X-rating, Universal edited the scene to bring it down to an R-rating. Jennifer Jason Leigh, who played Stacy, said teenage test audiences thought the scene was too graphic and was disappointed that it was edited.

Many Other Big Name Actors Were Considered For Roles

Sean Penn dressed as Spicoli
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

While Fast Times at Ridgemont High, may have featured numerous future Oscar-winning stars such as Sean Penn, Forest Whitaker, and Nicholas Cage, many roles were almost played by other actors. Tom Hanks was an early possibility to play Brad, while Matthew Broderick was considered for the role of Spicoli.

Furthermore, Jodie Foster was an option for Stacy with other actresses such as Tatum O’Neal, Michelle Pfeiffer, Lori Loughlin, Carrie Fisher, and others auditioning for various roles. Even The Munsters star Fred Gwynne was the first choice for Mr. Hand but rejected the position for the film’s crude content.

Sean Penn Helped To Boost Vans Shoes Sales

Spicoli with a new pair of shoes
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Throughout the film, Sean Penn’s character of Jeff Spicoli can be seen only wearing Vans shoes, and more specifically the checkered slip-ons. At one point, he can be seen opening a Vans box of the brand new slip-ons, which can be seen as nothing but pure product placement.

Incredibly, it worked, and Vans became a popular shoe for people all over who wanted to portray the California lifestyle of Spicoli, and the checkered slip-ons are still a popular product to this day.

There Are Differences Between The Theatrical And Television Versions

Shirtless boys at a table
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

There are several scenes in the film that only appear in the television broadcast version. These include when Brad has a meeting with his guidance counselor, Mr. Hand is seen signing yearbooks at the prom, and a story about Spicoli receiving a guitar pick from Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.

There are also several soundtrack changes made for television. Furthermore, The scenes featuring Hallie Todd, who used to go by Hallie Eckstein were only included in the theatrical version and removed from later prints.

Filming Didn’t Take Very Long

Spicoli and Mr. Hand
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

In total, filming took place over eight weeks, which is relatively short compared to some other productions. However, there was a lot of night shooting involved, which took place after hours at Sherman Oaks Galleria and typically lasted from 9 pm to 9 am and involved hundreds of extras.

During the first week of shooting, the mall was decorated with Ridgemont High signs and banners. The crew also returned for an additional week when the mall was decorated for the holiday’s to shoot the scenes in the movie taking place during those months.

The Role Of Spicoli Came Naturally For Sean Penn

Sean Penn as Spicoli
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Arguably, few actors on the planet would have been able to more convincingly pull off the role of Spicoli better than Sean Penn. He didn’t even have to audition for the role of the surfer either and was cast after a short conversation before his audition.

While on set, Penn stayed in character throughout the entire shoot, insisting that everyone refer to him as “Spicoli.” At times, his fellow actors would give him a hard time by calling him “Sean De Niro.”