Another sequel to the Bring It On franchise, Cheer or Die is a story whose themes are, quite literally, about the promise of its premise: master your cheerleading or get brutally murdered. Without giving away spoilers, this movie could be best described as like salt in your coffee, a surprisingly bittersweet blend of genres that seems naturally rife for conflict.
On one end, you’ve got the mysterious slasher, dressed in bloodstained costume and seeking its next victim. On the opposite, you’ve got a squad of cheerleaders, often the victims of said slasher-killers, trying their best to prepare for the next big competition in a way that Bring It On can only deliver. Toss in a school that’s playing footloose over the squad (they banned stunts practice in school due to a ‘deathly cheerleading accident’ years ago) and Bring It On: Cheer Or Die is a film about overcoming the… deathly odds.
It’s a wacky premise but one that fits a teenage Halloween theme. Given SYFY’s success withSlumber Party Massacre, of whom we interviewed director Danishka Esterhazy last year, the network has proven its ability to reinvent itself. And Bring It On: Cheer or Die has recruited some great talent.
The movie is co-written by on-the-rise writer Dana Schwartz, known for her NYT Bestseller, Anatomy: A Love Story, and for being staffed on Disney’s currently popular TV series, She-Hulk: Attorney At Law. It’s also directed by Karen Lam, a proven story editor that’s worked on SYFY’s Van Helsing and Ghost Wars, and stars Kerri Medders, known for her starring TV roles on CBS’s Seal Team and ABC’s Promised Land. We sat with actress Kerri Medders and director Karen Lam to talk about the film, cheerleading, direction, and more.
Note, this interview is shortened for clarity.
One of the first things that stands out are the amount of cheerleading “accidents” featured in the film. Were there any actual ankles hurt in production and can you share what your experience was like regarding choreography?
Kerri: “Well, let’s start with… I had no cheer experience prior to the making this film. I remember thinking <cringes on camera> Cheer? But… I don’t exercise.
Then I spoke with Tony Gonzalez, who choreographed all our cheers, saying how I don’t know if I can this but I’ll do the best I can do! He replied, very confidently, ‘Well… in three weeks. You’re gonna be a cheerleader!’ So I replied, also very confidently:
Alright let’s go! Haha!
We did 7 to 5 rehearsals for three weeks learning all of these cheers. We wanted people to look at this and be like: Yeah, they’re cheerleaders! I remember one of the lifts I was doing where I forgot to suck in my core while being elevated and I took a tumble and fell on my wrists. That was an accident that could have been more extreme but I was okay! I respect cheerleaders so much more now because it’s such a strenuous thing.”
Karen: “They’re so coordinated and I am so not coordinated. I spent a lot of time at the front watching them, and with my director brain, I also thought to myself:
Yeah, I got this too!
So I remember going back to the condo at the end of one of the cheer camps. I crank on the music and I’m like… ‘I got this’! Then, I start doing one of the routines myself and quickly realized: no, no, I don’t got this! I went into this plank but then quickly stayed down. Whatever they got… thank god for them. It’s so much harder than it even looks.”
Kerri, What preparation did you do for this role and did you have to learn any of the stunts yourself?
Kerri: “Yes! I had to learn cheerleading, because as I said, I had no experience, so I got the form down in three weeks. I do love how patient the trainers were with me and made sure I felt comfortable. The stunts I was so adamant about doing on my own because I like to immerse myself, but I did have stunt coordinators. They made sure I was harnessed on everything to climb and do all that.
I do have to say, incorporating cheerleading, at one point in time there’s an arrow flying in the movie and I’m supposed to do a backflip to dodge it. I was like, guys, at the end of the three weeks, I don’t know if I can backflip by now. But I can do a mean cartwheel?
… So that’s why the cartwheel is there!”
<Laughs> That’s awesome. Alright, so Abby is definitely the focal heroine of this story. What do you think was the most challenging thing about playing her?
Kerri: “I think it was all about finding the arc. I think in the beginning she’s eager and loves her team, but she’s very comfortable with being the co-captain. I think she’s kind of underestimated that she could be a captain and I think it was finding the balance of how, in the middle of the film, we’re kind of transforming her to becoming more confident.
Yeah, i can protect you, I got this!
I think that was the challenging part in finding the balance between awkward and being someone not very seen into being a leader. Where everyone is following her and seeing her take action.”
The final girl trope is the label saved for the most hardcore survivor. What do you think you, as Abby, uniquely bring to the trope: aka what makes you badass?
Kerri: “I was gonna say I bring a lot of myself into it <laughs>. I think that’s pretty cool, she just really wanted to protect her whole team and I think it really showcases how determined she is to make it out alive. It brings out the cheer and team player effort of the Bring It On films but also the final girl aspect.”
Karen, Bring It On has been such a longstanding series with numerous sequels. Can you get into whose idea it was in adapting the series for a PG-13 slasher flick?
Karen: “I think Glenn Ross came up with this. It was an idea that they had and the team had been basically been adapting and developing it as an idea for two years before it came across my desk. Of all things, they approached a horror director, not a cheer director. They wanted it to be fun horror as a nod to both.
I knew that all my research wasn’t going to be in horror films. So I had to watch a lot of cheer. I had to watch all the Bring It On films, I watched Cheer on Netflix, Athlete A on Netflix, and a lot of YouTube channels that basically had a lot of behind-the-scenes in the lives of Cheerleaders. I even went on cheerleader Pinterest boards!”
Finally, what was more challenging to direct? The actors, the cheer choreography, or the horror movie elements of the movie?
Karen: “The Cheer. Doing those big choreographies’ sequences was nothing I’ve ever done. Once we got to the gym and doing the horror elements that’s something I’m comfortable with, but the hardest day for me was the opening football sequence.
I don’t know football along with not knowing cheer. So we had a football game, with 300 extras sitting in the stadium. Our full ensemble cast, plus we also had the competing cheer team. That’s the biggest set I’ve ever been on, I think we had three cameras. it was the biggest crew and the biggest ensemble cast I’ve ever had to deal with as well. That was something we tried rehearsing again and again but you kind of don’t know until you get there on the day.
That was by far… harder than killing anyone.”
Bring It On: Cheer or Die airs Saturday, October 8th on SYFY