First-time director Amy Heckerling said she was seeking to make a comedy that was less structured than conventional ones, and more like American Graffiti (1973) so that "if you woke up and found yourself living in the movie, you'd be happy. I wanted that kind of feel."
Near the beginning of the movie, right after Mr. Hand sends Spicoli to the front office for being late to class, Mr. Hand passes out the class schedule of quizzes. After the paper is passed out, the students put the page up to their noses and deeply inhale. This was a popular school ritual of the '60s, '70s and early '80s as photocopying machines were very expensive, so spirit duplicators were used. The spirit duplicators used a colored wax as the "ink" and a noxious solvent as a transfer agent to impress the ink on the paper. These solvents sometimes took a long time to dry, hence the students' use of these solvents as a short-term "high".
Nicolas Cage was originally considered for the role of Brad Hamilton, but the studio thought his performance was too dark. Cage was also 17 at the time, and could not work as many hours as 18-year-olds.
A scene where Mike Damone was full frontal nude was originally in the movie, but had to be cut due to getting an X rating. It was either that or the 'carrot scene' had to go, and 'Robert Romanus' was happy for that.
The mall scenes were shot during the night from when the mall closed at 9:30 to when it opened at 9. The two kids who Damone scalps the tickets to were under 18 and due to labor laws couldn't film past certain hours so they only had a 10 minute window to shoot their scenes.
Nicolas Cage actually taunted the rest of the cast by bragging about his uncle Francis Ford Coppola. He told all the other young actors that he would be famous faster than any of them, because he had the connections. After a few weeks of this, the cast started to strike back at Nicolas by doing imitations of Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now (1979), which finally got Cage to stop bragging about his famous family.
Sean Penn had to fly back to LA, in between another job in Chicago. Because Cameron Crowe wrote the lines the day of the shoot, they used cue cards offscreen to help Penn. The cue cards of the infamous lines 'Those guys are fags!' hang to this day on the walls of Cameron's home.
During a July 2008 interview with the Orange County Register about Pineapple Express (2008), the interviewer told Seth Rogen and 'James Franco' that he prepared for the interview by watching the classic stoner comedy "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" the night before. When he asked Rogen and Franco if they prepared likewise before making "Pineapple Express," Franco said he prepared by making out with Spicoli (a reference to his having shot Milk (2008), in which he and Sean Penn play lovers).
Mike Damone's nude scene with Stacy that was filmed and never used was stated by director Amy Heckerling to show the natural vulnerability between two young teenagers. The intent was to show each of them undressing, and then show them standing before each other fully naked, full frontal, vulnerable, and nervous. The scene was pulled due to an impending X-rating and has never been released.
In the tradition of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Reese's Pieces, this movie product-placed an obscure brand and it became famous: The checkerboard canvas decks Spicoli hammered himself with, Vans, became a national brand soon after.
According to Amy Heckerling, Phoebe Cates was initially reluctant to carry out her character's poolside topless scene at the house in West Hills because she thought the neighbours might be spying on the set from the surrounding rooftops.
Mr. Vargas was based on Clairemont High School biology teacher George L. Jones. Jones kept many animals in class (rattlesnakes, entire beehives, bats), and would regularly take students on strange field trips, such as visiting the San Diego sewage treatment plant, or to watch surgery on pigs at the University of California, San Diego. Jones taught at Clairemont from 1962 to the 1982.
According to Brian Backer, Jennifer Jason Leigh and her family allowed him to stay at their house for no charge till filming wrapped being that he flew down to star in the film from his hometown of Brooklyn and was pretty broke.
Sean Penn improvised during his takes and tried to find ways to aggravate actor Ray Walston, who played Mr. Hand, even off camera. He also did things to get genuinely startled reactions from the extras who played his classmates through unexpected improvisations.
Andy Rathbone was the student Cameron Crowe based Mark "Rat" Ratner on. Rathbone was known as "the rat" in high school, and was initially extremely upset at the portrayal of his character. He said that Crowe only accentuated his bad attributes and gave cool things he had done to other characters, such as ordering a pizza during class - that was done by Jeff Spicolli in the film but done by Rathbone in real life. Crowe said he worked diligently to "disguise" all the characters and give them mixed personalities so as NOT to point to anyone specifically. Rathbone has since grown to appreciate the role.
Spicolli's dream sequence was actually written and filmed after the film was wrapped. After beginning the editing process, Amy Heckerling, Art Linson and Irving Azoff realized how great Spicoli had been acted by Sean Penn, and that they needed to beef up Penn's role in the film.
Cameron Crowe wrote the screenplay based on his book. Cameron Crowe attended University of San Diego High School, he posed as a student at Clairemont High School. The principal then was not thrilled with the idea, but when he asked Crowe about musicians that he had met, he mentioned Kris Kristofferson. The principal was a big fan of Kristofferson and agreed to let Crowe on campus.
In the novel, Spicoli dreams he's singing "Highway to Hell" by AC/DC on The Tonight Show (1962), but Johnny Carson refused to do it for the movie, and other talk show hosts (including David Letterman) also turned it down (Letterman apparently was willing to do it, but his agent wouldn't let him appear in a movie where the characters did drugs). In its place was the scene where Spicoli is interviewed by sports announcer Stu Nahan.
Ray Walston was at the time, best known for his role as Uncle Martin on My Favorite Martian (1963). Unfortunately Walston, like many actors of that era, was typecast in the role and couldn't book serious roles until the decade ended. Walston said that after the release of this film, he'd be walking down the street and young people would see him and shout "Mr. Hand!". Walston was grateful for that, as it finally meant that he had torn away from being only associated with playing Uncle Martin.
There are numerous references to rock bands throughout the film (shirts worn by characters, posters on walls, Damone is a ticket scalper, etc.) This is because Cameron Crowe started his career as a writer for Rolling Stone magazine.
Universal originally planned to only release the film in the Western part of the United States for a few weeks before sending it off to cable (regional releases were still common at this time) due to the belief that there was no audience for it. After an excellent response, the film went wide three weeks later with a big opening in the Eastern United States and had a long run in theaters.
When Mike Damon gives Rat his "five point plan" he says, "And five, now this is the most important, Rat. When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV." However the sound track plays "Kashmir" which is not on Led Zeppelin IV, but Physical Graffiti. This is because the producers couldn't get the rights to Led Zeppelin IV.
The mall scenes were filmed at the Sherman Oaks Galleria. It was damaged by earthquake in 1994, but still stood until 1998, when it was renovated and extensively re-designed by the architectural firm of Gensler for developer Douglas Emmett. Other than the parking structure, nothing recognizable from the 1980s era mall remains, the building having been converted from an enclosed, multi-story space to an open, mostly single-story mall.
At the beginning, outside the movie theatre when Ratner is taking ticket stubs, Damone asks Ratner if Dolly Parton is giving him a percentage of the profit. He asks this because the theatre Ratner works at is playing The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) which stars Dolly Parton.
Ridgemont High scenes were filmed over eight days at Van Nuys High School in Van Nuys, CA. Although classes remained in session, the school allowed students interested in filmmaking to observe production. Additional locations included a rented house with a pool in Canoga Park, CA, the girls' gym at Canoga Park High School, Morningside Memorial Hospital in Inglewood, CA, All American Burger in Brentwood, CA, and various streets in the San Fernando Valley. The final week of filming took place on four sets constructed on Stage 3 at the Universal Studios lot in Universal City, CA, which served as the poolside changing room and the bedrooms of "Mike Damone," "Linda Barrett," and "Jeff Spicoli".
Prior to the film's 19 August 1982 Los Angeles release, a news story reported that the 5 July 1982 Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) bulletin had granted Fast Times at Ridgemont High an X-rating, due to a love scene between Stacy Hamilton and Mike Damone, which featured full-frontal male nudity. As the picture was "the first major studio film in some time" to be given an X-rating, Universal agreed to edit the scene, allowing the MPAA to re-issue the film as R. Jennifer Jason Leigh explained that teenage test audiences had found the scene "too graphic," and the actress expressed her disappointment that the re-cut version eliminated the sense of awkward hesitancy between the two characters, who weren't ready for sex.
The World famous "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" VW Bus is now owned by Robert Skinner who operates Skinner Classics VW Restorations in Vacaville, California. Mr. Skinner welcomes visitors to stop by and have their picture taken with the bus.
Brad's job, requiring him to wear a pirate costume (which he hates), may have inspired a series of commercials for a credit report service where the spokesman is identically dressed, running as of 2008.
Stacy's notebook says Mike Damone Good Points- great trust, good looking (great body), knows music, can be nice, really cool, funny Bad points- High school boy, can be mean, sarcastic, can't tell when j (her hand covers rest of the word), big ego, virgin?, don't know if he (again her hand covers the rest) Stacy Damone Mrs. Stacy Damone Mike and Stacy Mrs. Damone
In the dugout scene, the words 'Disco Sucks' are seen in the background. This is a reference to Disco Demolition Night where Chicago Radio Legend Steve Dahl, a favorite of a few members of the cast, blew up disco records at Comiskey Park while leading a cheer of "Disco Sucks"
Lois Brandt, who portrayed guidance counselor Mrs. O'Rourke, was shown in the end credits but she wasn't seen in the final cut. She was shown in the television version of the film talking to Judge Reinhold's character about his life.
Hallie Todd, back when she was known as Hallie Eckstein, had a bit part in the movie as a fellow mall employee who asks Linda for advice how to have oral sex without getting pregnant. This scene was cut from the final version, but shows up on the original network broadcast and some cable TV airings.
Amy Heckerling, in the DVD audio commentary, states that the 1970s "classic rock" artists, like The Eagles, were introduced by one of the film's producers. Coincidentally, Irving Azoff, one of the film's producers, was the personal manager for The Eagles.
4 Songs in the film can be considered themes for four different characters. "I Don't Know",(Jeff Spicolli) "Moving In Stereo", (Linda Barret) "Somebody's Baby",(Stacey Hamilton) and "Waffle Stomp". (Brad Hamilton)
Filming lasted a total of eight weeks, in various Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley, CA, locations. Night shooting took place after hours at the Sherman Oaks Galleria in Sherman Oaks, CA, from 9:00 pm until 9:00 am. Hundreds of extras were hired to portray shoppers, while the fast food restaurants remained open to provide snacks for the cast and crew. During the first week of the schedule, the mall was decorated with "Ridgemont High" signs, pom-poms, and banners. The crew returned for an additional week of filming, when the location had been decorated for Christmas. Production designer Dan Lomino worked with director of photography Matthew F. Leonetti to develop an interior lighting system that would resemble normal mall lighting, but would still fully illuminate the scene. The setup reportedly saved a full day of shooting.
One of the pinups shown predominantly on the wall of Spicolli's bedroom is Dorothy Stratton, who was tragically murdered by her estranged husband two years prior to the films release. The story is told in full in the movie Star 80 (1983).
Brad Hamilton works at two different restaurants, with each one having a view of a fried chicken location visible outside of the window. At All American Burger, a Pioneer Chicken can be seen, and a Kentucky Fried Chicken (now KFC) can be seen outside the window of Captain Hook's.
According to producer Art Linson, at the first screening of the finished cut, then Universal Pictures head Robert Rehme shifted uncomfortably in his seat at all the crude language and sexual situations and eventually walked out before the film was over. Linson also said that the brass at Universal, who were old conservative types, hated the picture and wanted nothing to do with the release.
Amanda Wyss plays a character who dumps her boyfriend Brad Hamilton. She would do so again to Lane Meyer in Better Off Dead... (1985). She apparently has a history of playing a high school girl who dumps her boyfriend.
Hallie Todd (back when she was known as Hallie Eckstein) and Forest Whitaker actually attended high school together in the late 1970s in Paliasides, California. Whittaker plays a high school linebacker in the film and Todd plays a Toys r' Us employee at the mall who asks Linda for advice about sex and birth control. Unfortunately, Todd's scenes were seen only on the original theatrical version and removed from later prints, but they showed up on some TV airings as deleted footage.
For the dream sequence, where Spicoli is discussing his big win in the surfing contest, Sean Penn ad libbed the part where Spicoli praises the interviewers jacket. The reaction of those around him are genuine.