Delivering 100% pure adrenaline, Point Break is one of the best films in the action genre. We’re heading to the beaches of LA with 20 incredible facts about Point Break.
Point Break came at the tail end of the action movie boom in the 80s and 90s. Unheard of in the era, Kathryn Bigelow was the women behind the camera, bringing spiritual enlightenment and sensitivity to the ultimate macho genre, and in doing so, made a cult classic.
We’ve got the full behind the scenes story of Kathryn Bigelow’s wet western, by way of 20 incredible facts about Point Break.
1. The origins of the screenplay
The idea for Point Break came from co-producer Rick King, who has a story credit. When taking a break from learning to surf, King read an article in LA Weekly about Los Angeles being the robbery capital of America. He thought, surfing…and bank robbery? Genius.
Peter Illif was drafted in to write the screenplay, having previously wrote the screenplay for sci-fi skate classic Prayer Of The Rollerboys (1990). Rick King pitched the film as ‘Tom Cruise joins the FBI’. Illif was only paid $6000 for the screenplay. He had to continue his day job as a waiter, and wrote the screenplay at night. Even though he retained sole writing credits, producer/director team James Cameron and Katheryn Bigelow did drastic re-writes to the script.
2. Kathryn Bigelow wasn’t the original director
The film had a long gestation period before hitting the screens in 1991. In 1987, Ridley Scott was contracted to direct, and spent 5 months in pre-production before backing out. Rick King said that Scott spent more time in pre-production than he did on the entire film.
Ridley Scott directing Black Rain, the film he chose to work on after Point Break
3. Bigelow was attracted by the relationship between the two lead characters
Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron were the new power couple in Hollywood, they were looking for her next directing gig, and came across the Point Break script. Bigelow was attracted to the relationship of the two leads, saying “it’s a little more complicated when your good guy is seduced by the darkness inside him and your villain is no villain whatsoever, he’s more of an anti-hero.”
This was Cameron’s first executive-producer credit, he was also making Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) at the time. He described being married to another film maker as a very good thing, saying “I had to look at every foot of her dailies on Point Break and she had to look at every foot of mine on Terminator 2. We see things the same way a lot, and differently a lot, which is nice. Because you can learn from that.”
Bigelow and Cameron together on the set of Strange Days (1995)
4. The cast gushed with praise for their director
On set, Bigelow emersed herself into the action, she was in the plane directing the actors, or on a surfboard, just out of shot during the surfing scenes.
All the actors on set loved working with her. Swayze said “women often do macho guy movies a lot better than guys do ’cause they have the ability to stand back. And when they don’t pass judgment and bring a deeper level of truth to it, wonderful things can happen.” Gary Busey had a more layman’s terms view about working with a female director, “women are better with details, they just have that over men. That’s just the way it is.”
Bigelow with Swayze and Reeves on set
5. Casting Utah
Keanu Reeves wasn’t the only one in the picture as the quarterback punk Johnny Utah. The other actors in the frame were Charlie Sheen, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Val Kilmer and Matthew Broderick.
Bigelow insisted that Reeves was the best fit for Utah, despite Swayze himself auditioning for the part. Bigelow saw an action star in Reeves, but the studio wasn’t so sure about, based on his dramatic roles in the likes of River’s Edge (1986), Dangerous Liaisons (1988). And, of course, his radical turn as Theodore Logan in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). But that all changed when they saw the dailies of Reeves in action.
Keanu Reeves in River’s Edge
6. Alternative titles
After the studio came round to the idea of Reeves in the lead, they even considered changing the name of the film to Johnny Utah. Another option was Riders On The Storm, but it was decided that, as that is the title of a Doors song, it would confuse cinemagoers. It was changed to Point Break near the end of the shoot. Point break being a surfing term for a wave that hits a piece of land extended from the coastline.
7. Reeves’ preparation for the role
The character’s name was based on legendary NFL quarterback Joe Montana. UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel trained Reeves how to throw the ball, but in Neuheisel’s words, Reeves was hopeless. He couldn’t complete any passes, which is why there are no wide shots of Utah launching the ball during the beach game.
Reeves was also trained by FBI Special Agent William Rehder. He gave him the inside track on the methods of the FBI but later said, “unfortunately, none of those pointers came within a million miles of the finished film.” He also said that Point Break is “one of the dumbest bank robbery movies ever made.”
Keanu Reeves surfing the break
8. Patrick Swayze injured himself on set
Michael Biehn tested for the part of Bodhi but Patrick Swayze was the clear favourite. He was a big name at the time, having set hearts a flutter in Dirty Dancing (1987), and ripped out throats in Road House (1989).
Although he tested for Utah, Swayze was much more drawn to the character of Bodhi because his spirituality and philosophical learnings were reflected in the character. Unlike Reeves, Swayze dove head first into the stunt work in the film. So much so, that he cracked four ribs and had to have fluid drained from a swollen knee daily, all because of the surfing. He was already an avid skydiver, and took full advantage of this by making a total of 55 dives without the studio’s knowledge. He even roped Gary Busey in to do some dives with him.
9. Swayze got to skydive on camera
The studio were concerned about Swayze’s diving activities, for insurance reasons. So, they made him a deal, don’t do anymore unscheduled dives, and we’ll film you for real for a scene later in the film. True to their word, the final jump in the film saw Swayze free fall from a plane. The action is all caught on camera in one shot, with Swayze signing of with his classic line, “adios amigo!”
Reeves said “he did the flips and falling to the ground and he did it with an open heart. He was a beautiful person, an artist. Patrick, he just wanted to experience life and for his work he wanted to take the opportunity of the film and it gave him that sense.”
10. The character of Tyler was originally written very differently
Tyler was more your typical blonde beach babe of the era but Bigelow wanted to give the character a more athletic, androgenous look. After testing a lot of potentials, Lori Petty came in and became Bigelow’s first choice very quickly.
11. The ex-presidents weren’t all professional actors
The ex-presidents in the film are Patrick Swayze, of course, James Le Gros, Bojesse Christopher and John Philbin. Christopher and Philbin were real surfers who did some acting on the side to fund their passion. A nice reflection of their characters.
12. A rock star was part of the cast
One of the nazi surfers, Tone, is played by Red Hot Chilli Peppers lead Anthony Kiedis. He followed in his dad’s footsteps who has a small but brilliant role in Lethal Weapon (1987), 4 years prior.
The second unit director and stunt co-ordinator, Glenn Wilder held fight training with the actors on weekends because Bigelow wanted to do as much of the action in the film without stuntmen. Kiedis was the only one who skipped training, which is the reason he gets wiped out first.
The beach fight scene
13. Bigelow got creative with the epic foot chase
Bigelow filmed the foot chase scene with what she described as a “pogo-cam”. Basically, a hand held 35mm camera with a gyro stabilized borrowed from a Steadicam. It allowed camera operator, James Muro, to keep up with the chase and get as close to the action as possible. Bigelow said “what excited me about that is how absolutely alive it made the frame.”
John C. McGinley, who plays Harp in the film, agrees with Bigelow, he said she made it “infinitely more interesting. She made a foot chase as exciting as a car chase.”
The epic foot chase scene
14. Swayze missed out on filming the foot chase
Swayze was not in this scene though; the mask hid his non-attendance. He was in Europe promoting Ghost (1990), so this scene was shot with his stunt double, Scott Wilder. Swayze didn’t see the scene until the premiere and said he was glad that he missed out.
One of the most outrageous moments is when Utah is thwarted by a Pitbull being thrown at him. There’s a quick edit where a real dog is thrown. The dog was thrown by a trainer, around a foot away from Reeves and there were protective mats on the ground. The fake dog comes in when Utah drop-kicks it.
15. The actors didn’t free fall for the skydive scene
The whole thing looks like the actors themselves did the dives, but sadly they didn’t. The four of them were hooked up to a crane rig, about 10 feet from the ground, all held in place by a telescopic arm. And there were huge industrial fans underneath them to get the desired wind effect. The cameramen were on the same rig so they could get the shots.
Filming the skydiving scenes
16. Artistic licence was used, but not all the time
It has been pointed out many times that it is impossible to have a conversation while free falling. Swayze said “you’ve got 120-to-200-mile-an-hour winds, which is nothing but a giant roar.” It’s also impossible to free fall for 90 seconds from 4,000 feet.
However, catching up to someone in the air with a 15 second head start is apparently entirely possible, by streamlining your body.
Utah closes in on Bodhi
17. An accident threatened the safety of the crew
The ariel shots were captured by a camera crew in a separate plane. There was also a helicopter in the air, with other crew members. The helicopter actually hit the plane and both had to do an emergency landing, but not before everyone in the plane was forced to jump, a lot of them with no diving experience. Thankfully there were no casualties.
18. A surfing legend double for Swayze
Surfing maestro Darrick Doerner acted as Swayze’s double in the Bell’s Beach scene. Doerner said “Patrick Swayze called me and said, ‘I need you to die for me.’ I said, ‘I don’t die for anybody, man.’ He’s like, ‘No, come on, I really need you to die for me.”
He added, “when it came to my stunt work, there was no storyboard, no plan, no contract. The worst part was that I had no representation, which was a big mistake. That was like a $50,000 stunt, and I got nothing for doing it.” He did get something though, the Guinness World Record for the biggest wave ever bodysurfed.
The Bell’s Beach scene
19. A sequel was planned immediately
Before Point Break was released, Fox were planning a sequel. A script was written and pre-production started, but due to the film under performing at the box office, the plans were promptly scrapped. It returned $83 million from a budget of $24 million.
It did face strong competition, James Cameron’s Terminator 2 released the week before and went on to gross over $500 million, becoming the highest grossing film that year. Bigelow had the last laugh by beating her former husband to the Best Director Oscar in 2009, when she won for The Hurt Locker (2008).
Bigelow winning her Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker
20. Point Break was adapted for the stage
In 2003 the stage show, Point Break Live, premiered in Seattle and has travelled across the US. The show places it’s tongue firmly in cheek, with the role of Johnny Utah going to a different audience member for each show, decided at random on the night. They read their lines through cue cards throughout, no doubt a reflection of Reeves’ stiff line delivery.
Keanu Reeves talking about Point Break Live
And that’s the end – 20 interesting facts about Point Break, Kathryn Bigelow’s action movie classic. Please share on your social media channels, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for lots of great video content.
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