This past weekend, members of Brenau University’s cheer and dance teams shared the silver screen with actors Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker and Garrett Hedlund, sort of.
About 50 members of the competitive cheer, dance and spirit teams and a few dance majors from the Gainesville-based college were selected to take part in the film “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” The movie opened nationwide Friday, but is not playing in Gainesville.
While the cheerleaders never met the famous actors in the film, they experience a candid moment with its director, Academy Award winner Ang Lee, who was on the set.
“To see him in action was such a privilege,” said Krista Britt, Brenau dance and cheer head coach.
She said Lee was humble and took a group photo with the cast when shooting was complete.
In April 2015, Brenau’s cheer and dance teams spent about a week shooting scenes for the film, which tells the story of Billy Lynn, a 19-year-old Army private and Iraq War veteran. Lynn, played by newcomer Joe Alwyn, returns to the United States to be sent on victory tours in support of the war, according to a Brenau University press release. Part of that includes the soldier making an appearance during the halftime show of the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day football game. The cheerleaders are part of the halftime show and dance as pop stars perform for the crowd.
KayLynn Samples, a senior cheerleader, said the team was looking forward to seeing the movie together during Thanksgiving break.
Brenau’s cheer and dance teams were cast as dancers after Britt submitted a video showing the girls’ cheerleading and dance skills. Cheerleaders and dancers from the University of Georgia, Mercer University in Macon and Alabama State University in Montgomery, Ala., also were selected to participate. In all, about 120-130 dancers were on the field for the movie and will receive film credits.
All the dancers filmed the scene at the Georgia Dome. Since their scenes are at night, it meant the college students were at the stadium every day from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. for a week, Britt said.
But there was one slight complication. It was also finals week for the student-athletes. The university was supportive of the women’s roles and worked to accommodate the schedule.
“If it wasn’t for our university being so amazing about it and letting us reschedule different (test) times, we would have rolled back up here at 8 o’clock and had to take a test at 8 a.m.,” Samples said.
She had one test postponed from morning to afternoon to allow for a few hours of sleep.
“Our (administration) was so supportive of us doing this, and I think it’s a testimony to just how awesome Brenau is,” Britt said. “(They said) this is a life experience you guys have the opportunity to do. So let’s take it, and we’ll work it out. They were fabulous in doing so.”
Dancing all night was hard work, but a memorable experience, Samples said.
“I love doing the dances,” she said. “But I’m sure by the fifth night I was kind of over dancing, because we had to do it so many times.”
The film production company for the movie, TriStar Pictures, chartered a bus to shuttle the women from Gainesville to Atlanta each day. After three days of rehearsal, they began shooting.
During the movie, Destiny’s Child performs the halftime show. The girls did a hip-hop routine on the field wearing blue sweatpants and yellow-orange sweatshirts.
The women styled their own hair and applied their own makeup. Their pictures were taken the first night of shooting to ensure they looked the same throughout filming, Samples said.
Then the cheerleaders danced over and over, allowing producers to get just the right shot.
Samples and Britt said they enjoyed their time on set.
Britt, who has experience dancing in big productions, such as two Super Bowls, was in the stands observing. She said it was great to see her team participate in the movie, because not many people have.
“To have them be able to experience that was really cool. And being on the other side of that and not being in it was just kind of bittersweet and fun to see them experience it,” Britt said.
Samples, a mass communication major at Brenau, was excited to see her class lessons transfer to the movie set.
“While we were filming, I was in classes that had to do with film production. And we were talking about all of that. So just to see it in action, it helped me a lot,” she said. “It gave me a look at what I want to do with my life. And, of course, meeting the actor who played Billy Lynn, he was just precious.”