Brenau University’s nationally competitive cheer and dance team this week will step onto a national stage of another sort with their appearance in Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee’s film “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” which opens nationwide in theaters on Friday, Nov. 11.
The movie tells the story of titular character Billy Lynn, a 19-year-old army private and Iraq War soldier, portrayed by actor Joe Alwyn, who returns to the United States to be sent on victory tours in support of the war. Back in the states, the soldiers are invited to make an appearance during the halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day game of the Dallas Cowboys, and Lynn’s ordeals overseas are recounted in flashbacks. The cast also includes Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker and Garrett Hedlund.
It was so exciting getting to meet the stars of the movie,” said Kaylynn Samples, a mass communications senior from Gainesville, Georgia. “Being a fan of Ang Lee, it was awesome seeing him in action. Everyone was so nice and wanted the best for this movie. I am so excited to see it, not only because we got to partake in it, but mostly because it looks like it’s going to be outstanding.”
The Golden Tigers cheer squad got the movie role through their head coach, Krista Britt, a professional dancer in college who had previously worked with the film’s choreographer while performing in many highly staged Bowl Games of America events. “We had one of the executive producers on the team from New York give me a call,” said Britt. “He said, ‘We’re shooting this movie in Atlanta. We’re looking for local cheerleading and dance teams, and you’re name came up as a college that has a really great program and great numbers. We looked at your national rankings, and would like you to submit a video.’”
Britt, who coaches the nationally ranked No. 3 Golden Tigers cheerleading team, already had a video on hand from a national championship that Brenau annually competes in. She sent the video on a Tuesday and received a call by Friday, saying that Lee had previewed the video and wanted to give Brenau the first option – and therefore was the first cheer team and dancers – to accept participation in the film.
The movie is notable as it is the first film to be shot entirely at 120 frames per second, while most movies are filmed at 24 fps. This gives the movie a more “as reality” quality, as if the viewer is watching actual events unfold in front of them as opposed to watching a film recording. Lee, a two-time Academy Award winner, is hoping this movie will garner him a third award.
Filmed at the Georgia Dome in April 2015 over the course of nine days (three days of rehearsal and six days of filming), each shoot with the cheer team went from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. The scenes take place in the late evening at a football game, so the crew had to film during the night hours.
Sydney Micah Rhodes, a junior pre-physical therapy major from Cleveland, Georgia, remembers it being one of the most thrilling, as well as hectic, experiences she has had on the cheer squad. “We were taking our final exams during the day, leaving Brenau at 4 p.m., getting to the dome around 5:30 p.m. and not leaving until the next day at 6 a.m. for an entire week,” she said. “But I wouldn’t trade that week for anything in the world. Even though that week was a difficult one to say the least, our final day there was such a sad goodbye. We had grown accustomed to everyone there, and even though we didn’t have time to become super close with everyone we were still a ‘movie’ family.”
Britt said that the Golden Tigers cheer team and selected dancers received the “star treatment” from Tri-Star Productions. The company chartered a bus every day to transport the girls between Gainesville and Atlanta, where filming occurred, had all their meals provided on set and gave them their own liaison.
Britt also said that Brenau President Ed Schrader and Provost Nancy Krippel fully supported the team’s involvement in the film. “It was right before finals week, and they were instrumental in having this work out so that we could do it,” she said. “For Dr. Krippel to say, ‘College life is about experiences, and this is such a wonderful experience.’ So it’s remarkable to have the administration behind us, supporting the girls in the opportunity given to us.”