Irving Franco's CHEERLEADER Is Not Your Typical High School Story at 2017 Winter Film Awards Festival
Clueless, 10 THINGS I Hate About You and She's All That are just a few of the films that come to mind when celebrating the 1980's and 90's as the era of coming-of-age films.
Cheerleader evokes a sense of 90's nostalgia via its archetypical characters (e.g. the Gossip Queen, the Head Cheerleader, the Jock, the Nerd), vibrant color blocking and a transformation plotline. However, the underlying dark tone of the film is a revolutionary differentiation as main character Mickey undergoes a mental unraveling while coping with the loss of her first love and the shock when she discovers the truth about who she really loves.
The film takes a journey through Mickey's adolescent psyche in the humorous, enthralling and deeply heart-wrenching first-person narrative. Cheerleader, a story about adolescent self-discovery, tells a different type of coming of age laden with heartache, peer-pressure, insecurity, empathy and a heart-rending conclusion. Although nostalgic of films in the past, Cheerleader is an entirely unique telling of teenage anguish with which people of all ages can relate.
Winter Film Award's Amanda Godman had a chance to speak with Irving Franco, the director of this enthralling film, about his process creating the film, his future projects, and other works that influence him.
Q: I enjoyed your film immensely. As a '90's baby, I found it quite reminiscent of the ever-so-famous 90's "coming of age" films. Although Cheerleader took a more profoundly introspective look within the deteriorating psyche of a "queen bee," did you take any inspiration from the classic 90's era films?
If I had to point to a specific high school film as an influence I would definitely point to The Breakfast Club, and there were definitely a handful of 80s/90s films that helped me shape the world in this story, but I think what helped set Cheerleader apart was the fact that most of my influences weren't directors who worked in this genre at all. ...It was kind of like I was taking what I really wanted to celebrate and incorporate from the already existing high school films / 80s / 90s films, and then applying what I could borrow from some of my favorite directors over that world of story. Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick, P.T. Anderson, Ingmar Bergman, Charlie Kaufman, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Jim Jarmusch, Wes Anderson, were all major influences here.
Q: You not only directed the film as your feature debut, but wrote, produced, was a production designer, and a composer for Cheerleader. As a "jack of all trades," how long did this film take from conception to debut?
I'm definitely a big fan of a very hands-on approach, so getting really involved in each department in that way is what feels right to me. Whenever I'm working with a department, in that moment, that aspect of filmmaking gets treated like my favorite part of the process. It's like being in a band and making sure that the bass line is as cool as the drum track which is trying to be as special as the keyboard melody etc. This way everyone steps it up and is fighting for attention... Then the result is a really well layered cake... This script took many shapes and forms before it evolved into Cheerleader, but I think in the end it was something like 3 years from start to finish. It really was my whole life for a while.
Q: Catherine Blades was quite engaging as Mickey, with a natural ability to cause one to empathize with her. What inspired your decision to cast her as the lead, and what was your inspiration behind the development and implementation of Mickey as a character?
Well this script really started as a multi-plot story. I'm a huge fan of Boogie Nights and the idea at first was to take that multi-character approach and bring it to the high school arena. So most of the characters you see in Cheerleader were originally at the center of their own stories, but it wasn't working because I didn't have a clear sense of focus and direction for the script... So I decided to dive into the mind of one of those characters and see that world through one pair of eyes. I chose what was then and still is my favorite character of the bunch, Mickey... When it finally came to casting there was an insane resemblance between Catherine and what we all had envisioned for Mickey, but I almost chose someone else for stupid reasons. My wife had the wisdom to push me in the right direction and I'm really glad she did. Catherine IS Mickey. She's amazing.
Q: What was your biggest challenge making this film?
We had a really bad hiccup during post-production that lost us a lot of time and almost brought the project to a stand still. I don't want to get into it, but if I was ever going to lose my mind... Let's just say that Dario Vejarano, Fabian Vejarano, and Stephanie Muscelli, really helped save the film and I'll never forget it.
Q: What was the coolest, weirdest, craziest, or most incredibly thing that occurred while making this film?
We snuck into a mall and filmed there illegally; that was fun. We also had perfect timing for real rain with one scene and that was awesome, but I think that having the cops block streets off for the film in our HOME TOWN was my favorite. There's something about blocking streets for a movie that is just so exciting. It reminds me of Dog Day Afternoon. I love productions.
Q: *Spoiler Alert*, Cheerleader's unresolved ending is atypical to the majority of "coming-of-age" films. What was the inspiration behind creating such a distinctive ending?
The ending is very important for me, and it's one of the scenes that I think prevents people from making the mistake of passing over the film as another light-hearted romantic comedy. I think people can get in the way of their own happiness as a result of it being too unfamiliar to them. That cycle of self-sabotage is heart breaking. That's what really makes me sad about Mickey. She's a girl who wants nothing more than to feel pretty and to be loved, but upon finding that love, she let's it go, and chooses to return to what she knows... She's human.
Q: Do you have any exciting future projects for which we should be on the lookout?
The next one is a road film. It's kind of an adventure. Out in nature... It'll be like Cheerleader, hopefully something new out of something really old. I'm really excited about it. I really love the idea of always working in a new genre. It keeps it fun and different each time, but what you really care about as an artist will always come through at the heart of it. That's the part that's you. That's the part people get to know over time. ...If you're honest enough when you do it.
Amanda Godman is a sophomore at Emory University studying Film Studies and Media Studies. Her favorite director is Quentin Tarantino because his comic book-esque action sequences not only challenge conventions, but serve to entertain within a satirical yet deliberate plot line. Amanda's spirit animal is a sloth, and she hopes to one day be the next Roger Ebert.
Winter Film Awards Is New York City. Like the city itself, we showcase the eclectic diversity and excitement of the independent arts world. Winter Film Awards is proudly one of the Top 10 Best Reviewed Festivals on FilmFreeway.
The rapidly growing Winter Film Awards Indie Film Festival, now in its sixth year, is a dynamic and exciting event in the heart of the City. Winter Film Awards showcases films from emerging filmmakers from around the world in all genres with a special emphasis on highlighting the work of women and minority filmmakers. The Festival runs February 23-March 4 2017 in New York City.
Among the 88 Official Selections to be screened at Cinema Village in the heart of Greenwich Village (22 East 12th Street, New York, NY 10003), is a diverse mixture of 11 Animated films, 8 Documentaries, 11 Feature narratives, 10 Horror films, 12 Music Videos, 24 Narrative shorts and 7 Web series, including 12 student films and 33 first-time filmmakers. Filmmakers come from 30 countries; 42% of the films were created by women, 45% were created by people of color. Visit www.WinterFilmAwards.com for schedules, tickets and details.