Director Karen Lam Talks Scaring SYFY’s “Bring It On: Cheer or Die”

There is a first time for everything in this world, so never say never. Take, for example, horror director Karen Lam who is being asked to helm the latest installment in the long-running Bring It On cheerleading franchise. A sincere, “Wait, what?” offer until producer Griff Furst explained to Lam that the franchise wanted to try a horror title with Bring It On: Cheer or Die and they thought she was the right woman to make it happen.

She said yes!” and now Bring It On: Cheer or Die premieres October 8 on SYFY. Curious to learn how the cheerleading franchise transitioned into an entirely new genre, SYFY WIRE reached out by phone to Lam to talk about turning mean cheerleaders into horror scream queens.

Since you were new to the world of cheerleading, how did your research influence the fusion of the sport with the horror genre?

I wanted to really capture, if possible, what joy felt like now. What I really noticed was how athletic he has become. I honestly thought it was pom poms and size zero girls. But they are athletic. They are all different sizes, ethnicities and genders. It was amazing to me how acrobatic it has become, and that it is a sport. My respect for the sport actually increased as I researched more and more. It was lurking on cheerleaders’ Pinterest boards. When I received the script, I didn’t know half of these positions. What are they doing? The more I researched, the more I wanted to make sure the film honored the spirit of modern joy.

Were there creative mandates for how far you could go with horror in Bring It On: Cheer or Die?

The first thing that came to mind was the fact that this is PG-13. Suddenly, I can’t go bloody on this. I can’t just throw in the usual horror tropes that we use. But to me, if you don’t care about the characters, it’s not scary. It was very important for me to lean on the “team boats”, which are the important friendships and who are loyal to each other.

There is always a physicality required of the actors in all horror movies. Did you lean on the athleticism of the cheerleaders to inform the physical scenes?

I was constantly going through the entire script asking, “Can I physically do these things?” For example, if I were a real athlete, and I could actually be coordinated and not knock myself out, what am I capable of? How do I really defend myself? Do I like ninja moves? I worked with choreographer Tony Gonz├ílez, who has been with the franchise throughout the entire process. He is amazing. What he wanted and what I worked on with him was that he wanted every defensive move to be a joy move. I wanted to make sure that every fight sequence, everything we did, was something that cheerleaders had in their arsenal. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the fact that this is an animated movie, and that I wanted to respect the fact that whatever they were fighting would be their salvation in the end.

The film takes place in an abandoned school. Did you build one in a soundstage?

No. The good thing was that we were literally filming in an abandoned school. Literally, that helps. And then the second thing that really helped was because of the COVID times and shooting, we were doing opposite hours. I think our four weeks that we had to shoot, three weeks of those were night shots. It was night for night, so it definitely helps because you’re already in a heightened state from the weird hours.

How did working in that real space influence how you framed the look of the film?

As a horror filmmaker, I love suspense. I love those weird low tracking shots; That’s what I like to do the most. Our production designer, Nick Richardson, really gave me weird atmospheres to play with. We had limited space, but I wanted the school to feel like a maze. There were like two hallways that we had to work with. We kept fixing it and it was a lot of fun doing it. I wanted to create an atmosphere more than just relying on gore sequences and blood. It’s like toothpaste in that once it’s out of the toothpaste tube, you can’t put it back in there.

Check back after Bring It On: Cheer or Die premieres on SYFY on October 8 for Part II of our spoiler-filled interview with Karen Lam.

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