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Students bring 'Sergeant Cheerleader' to the big screen

  • Matt Pinsker ('09)
    Matt Pinsker ('09)  Matt Pinsker ('09) wrote a screenplay based on his experiences at William & Mary as both a male cheerleader and Army ROTC cadet. "Sergeant Cheerleader" is set to premiere at the Sadler Center on Feb. 28.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Sergeant Cheerleader
    Sergeant Cheerleader  The main character in "Sergeant Cheerleader" is a student named Will who is busy preparing for the ROTC's Ranger Challenge competition when he is recruited to onto the school's cheerleading squad.  Courtesy photo
  • Sergeant Cheerleader
    Sergeant Cheerleader  Will struggles to find a balance between his ROTC friends and responsibilities and the cheerleading squad and a blossoming romance with one of his fellow cheerleaders, Mary.  Courtesy photo
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Matt Pinsker was usually easy to spot as he sat among his fellow Army ROTC cadets at dinner each night. While everyone else around the table sported camouflage, he proudly donned the Tribe cheerleading uniform.

"It got many odd looks, many fun comments, and I couldn't help but feel there was some sort of story behind it," he said.

And so the William & Mary student, who was both an ROTC cadet and a cheerleader, decided to write about his experiences in bridging the gap between the two little-connected worlds. The result is now the feature-length movie "Sergeant Cheerleader" which premieres in the College's Sadler Center on Saturday, Feb. 28 at 8 p.m.

The movie's screenplay started out as a novel that Pinsker, now a senior, worked on over winter break of his junior year. About three-quarters of the way through it, he decided to turn it into a screenplay instead. Pinsker contacted M. Fonkijom Fusi, an assistant professor in the theatre, speech, and dance department at William & Mary, and asked for his help. Fusi took him on as an independent study and guided Pinsker's efforts.

"Through his mentorship, the screenplay really improved, and I was sharing it with my friends," said Pinsker, a government major.

By the end of the semester, Pinsker had something he was proud of, and he was ready to get it made professionally. He got a list of contacts in Hollywood, but in the process he realized that everything he needed to make the film was already available to him at the College.

"And so I made the decision, after I was able to secure enough funding, to go ahead and make it on campus," he said.

Fusi, who finished shooting his own independent film "The Outsider" in the area last year, allowed Pinsker to borrow his filmmaking equipment. Thomas Baumgardner ('09), a student highly-regarded among the campus' filmmaking community, was hired to direct the film. Other students were recruited to work as members of the crew and production team, and auditions for the cast were held in August 2008.

Though the screenplay was written so that it could take place at any college, Pinsker and his fellow students decided to feature William & Mary in the film. The film was shot on the campus, and the cheerleaders wear real Tribe uniforms, borrowed from the athletics departments.

"We decided that this is our school. This is us. Let's make it for William & Mary," said Pinsker. "If you're from outside of the College, you'll fully appreciate the film, but we have a few references here and there that you'd have to be from Williamsburg or the College to understand."

Along with those references, locals will also recognize a few familiar faces in the film. William & Mary President Taylor Reveley, Athletic Director Terry Driscoll and Williamsburg Mayor Jeanne Zeidler all make appearances.

As production continued through the fall 2008 and spring 2009 semesters, Pinsker took his story to the news media. He has been featured in various publications, including USA Today, the Daily Press, the Virginia Gazette, the Richmond-Times Dispatch and Charlottesville's Daily Progress. American Cheerleader magazine is also planning to cover the film, said Pinsker. Additionally, the film's crew created a Web site, a Facebook group, a viral video on YouTube and a trailer to spread the word.

Pinsker said that this production is bigger than anything similar that has taken place on the campus before.

"Students make films all the time," he said. "There's a small filmmaking community, but we've taken things to a whole new level - the number of people involved, the equipment - even schools with large filmmaking programs, they still haven't done what we've done here."

In addition to the Sadler Center premiere, Pinsker would like to submit the movie to film festivals and send it to soldiers serving overseas.

He said the people involved in the film can use the experience to "leapfrog into other roles in the industry."

"I'd love to see that happen," he said. "To know that this film we've made has helped someone else in their career would be a great feeling."

As for him, Pinsker, who has a small role in the film in addition to serving as its executive producer and writer, said the experience has been draining but incredible. Now, as he prepares for law school and commissioning through the Army, he still has an eye on entertainment. He has already written a sequel to "Sergeant Cheerleader," and the filmmaking experience will always remain as one of his favorite memories of college.

"It's been a tangible educational experience for me, but also it's the joy of seeing something I wrote come to life," said Pinsker. "The feeling is absolutely surreal."