Because Allan Carr had such a positive experience opening Grease (1978) in Australia, sneak previews of this film were released in the United States and Australia. The Nine Network in Australia also started a long-standing tradition of airing this movie annually on January 1st.
Nancy Walker's only theatrical feature film. Publicity for the theatrical release stated that Walker was the first woman to direct a multi-million dollar musical, and had been signed to a three-picture contract, which was rescinded when the film tanked.
David Hodo was injured while filming "I Love You to Death". Hodo missed his footing on the scaffolding and fell to the studio floor. His helmet fell off during the fall, and he received twelve stitches to his head. Reportedly, he returned to the set for work the next day.
After the movie's theatrical release, The Village People member David Hodo said "When I first read the script, I threw it across the room. I though it was a piece of crap. It read like one of those stupid old Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney pictures. We didn't believe in the movie, but no one would listen to us! You can only go on for so long being a joke."
Ray Simpson's role was originally intended for Victor Willis, the original lead singer of The Village People, who quit the group during pre-production of this film. Wanting to assert his heterosexuality amongst the gay-themed group, Willis had insisted his then-wife, Phylicia Rashad, be written into the film as his girlfriend. When he quit the group, Ayers-Allen was fired and replaced by Altovise Davis.
Bruce Jenner's feature film debut. His only film roles since then have been cameos in A Man Called Sarge (1990) and Jack and Jill (2011) (which, like this film, won a Razzie for Worst Picture), though he has worked extensively in television.
Producer Allan Carr once described this picture as "pure entertainment in the great MGM musical tradition". It was shot on two soundstages at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Culver City Studios in Los Angeles, where many classic MGM musicals had been filmed.
The Village People consist of six members, each representing an identifiable character: a Native American, a construction worker, a police officer, a cowboy, a leather-clad biker, and a soldier. Member David Hodo has said that "Back in the '70s, the characters were chosen to depict stereotypical gay fantasies of the time". The "Village" of the group's title refers to Greenwich Village.
It has become a solid tradition that this film is screened every New Years Eve by Channel Nine, a national television station, in Australia. It's become such a much-loved tradition in Australia, that it's even mentioned in the film's Wikipedia entry.
Despite the fact that the film received a PG rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, there are flashes of male full-frontal nudity in the "YMCA" number. Some cuts of the film remove those shots, as well as footage of a topless Valerie Perrine in a hot-tub during the same number.
The film does not include two of The Village People's three biggest hit songs, "Macho Man" and "In The Navy", though in reference to the former, Valerie Perrine wears a t-shirt emblazoned with the words "Macho Woman" as she jogs through the men's locker room at the YMCA.
Location shooting in New York City was somewhat complicated by adjacent protests by gay activists over Cruising (1980), which was filming on-location nearby. The two productions were mistaken for each other more than once, with protestors disrupting the location shoots when they intended to halt production of Cruising (1980).
In later years, some members of The Village People said they disliked the way the film distorted the formation of the group and toned down the influence of the gay male subculture. However, the film was not meant to be a biography of the group.
Jacqueline Bisset, Olivia Newton-John, Cher, and Raquel Welch were all considered for the role of Samantha. Bisset was the first choice for the role but turned it down. Newton-John was next offered the role but had concerns about the script and music and wanted her songwriting partner John Farrar to be involved. She ultimately turned it down in order to star in Xanadu (1980). Welch was vetoed by the Village People because member David Hodo, who had a musical theater background, apparently heard "horror stories" about her.
Tensions between Nancy Walker and Valerie Perrine rose on the set to the point that Walker would not be present for scenes featuring Perrine, leaving Director of Photography Bill Butler to direct in her place.
Jack's song "Samantha" is credited in the film as being sung by David London, a pseudonym for rock singer Dennis Frederiksen, who was the lead singer for several popular rock bands during the 1980s. London/Frederiksen also sang a second song on the soundtrack, "The Sound of the City".