Everyone loves a good underdog story. That especially holds true in the world of sports. Whether it be scripted film or a documentary, a good sports underdog movie can resonate with everybody. The Cheer Ambassadors is an example of this. It’s the story of the Thai National Cheerleading Team and their struggle to get off the streets and out of the rice fields, and make it all the way to the World Championships in Orlando, Florida.
The film had it’s World Premier at the 9th World Film Festival of Bangkok, on January 27th, 2012 and it’s European Premier at the 60°N Os International Film Festival, in Norway during the week of April 21-28, 2012 where it won the Best Documentary Award. The intention of the filmmakers was to roll the film out to iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix later this year, but the buzz and demand the limited screenings generated was too great, and they had to set up a limited release through Prescreen.
The film became a labor of love for first time Director Luke Cassady-Dorion. After thinking cheerleading was simply, “the girls standing on the sidelines next to the real athletes,” he quickly realized that it was so much more and to the competitors on the Bangkok University Cheerleading Team, it’s a way of life.
Cheerleading is one of the fastest growing sports in the world with over 3.5 million athletes competing in over 100 countries. Whether you believe it’s a sport or not, you can’t deny that the cheerleaders are athletes. Competitive cheerleading, which has only been taught in Thailand since 1995, combines dance, gymnastics, strength, precision, and cheering.
Luke, originally from America, but currently residing in Thailand, is an accomplished photographer that has had several exhibitions around Bangkok. He also co-hosts a television show in Thailand about travel from a foreigner’s perspective, Farang Pok Pok.
I had the opportunity to talk with Luke via email about The Cheer Ambassadors and his future plans. Check it out below
We Got This Covered – How much did your experience as a photographer influence the visual style of The Cheer Ambassadors?
Luke Cassady-Dorion – Very much so. Before making The Cheer Ambassadors I had worked exclusively with medium format cameras, video was something totally new for me. I was used to taking my time with a shot, slowly composing things and picking the right shot before pressing the shutter. With fast moving cheerleaders, that wasn’t an option … I had to be constantly shooting and reframing, however I took to it quickly. It all comes down to trying to capture a feeling and that’s pretty much the same regardless of the technology you use.
WGTC – You obviously got to know the cheerleaders both on and off camera, did you find them fighting the urge to “act” while the camera was rolling or were they able to keep it natural?
Luke – The real problem with these kids was getting them to open up for the camera, I mean really open up. They were so used to talking to reporters, so used to telling their story … that they could tell it in a very moving fashion, but I always felt like something was missing, that there was a deeper truth they were not willing to give me. I was really interested in the reasons that they were willing to dedicate so much of their life to this new sport from a foreign country. It took being with them for months and getting them to trust me first, then they slowly started to open up their hearts to me.
WGTC – Did you have an epiphany moment at some point during filming where you realized how impactful this story may be and how important the story was to tell?
Luke – We always kinda knew that it would be a moving, inspiring film … there were many times when the cameras were rolling that we had people crying as they recounted events to us. I do remember a day in the editing room were I found myself crying, even though I had seen the footage zillions of times … it was then that I knew we had something that would really grab audiences.
WGTC – In another interview you gave, it mentions that documentaries aren’t as popular in Thailand yet; Are there currently plans to hit any U.S. or Canadian film festivals with your movie?
Luke – We’ve sent it to a lot of festivals, heard some yeses and some nos. We don’t have any plans for USA or Canada yet, but there are festivals that we submitted to and haven’t heard back yet. The reason that we decided to to this special internet pre-launch with Prescreen is that we heard from so many people who don’t live near festivals, but still wanted to see the film and we couldn’t get it on iTunes and Amazon until the end of the year, so we rushed and put it out via Prescreen now.
WGTC – What was the reaction like when you screened the documentary at the World Cheerleading Championship in Florida?
Luke – People were really really happy that we did it. Cheerleading has been this sport that nobody really knows much about and the one comment that we heard over and over was that this would raise the general public’s perception of the sport. Beyond that, people were blown away with the commitment that the Thais have shown to training. Doing things like living on Florida time (getting up at 6pm and sleeping at 8am) for two months before the competition to fight the effects of jetlag isn’t something most teams even consider doing, but the Thais do it ever year before going to USA.
WGTC – What’s next for you and your production company (A Single Production Company)?
Luke – We’re still working on marketing the film, but we’re also starting pre-production on a new film. I don’t want to tell too much yet, but it’s going to focus on some really amazing dancers that we’ve met.
Thanks to Luke for taking some time to fill us in on his incredible documentary.