I ran into an independent film maker at Fan-X on Thursday named Thom Rockwell. Thom was very excited to tell me about his local Utah film in production involving crime fighting and cheerleaders. He was passionate about the project and, though the odds may seem against him, he’s hoping that the love of film and super-hero’s at the convention will help bring him the final funds he needs to finish his movie. We sat down for a brief interview to talk about his film and what his plans going forward were.
Mark Avo: How would YOU deﬁne Spirit Squad: Crime Fighting Cheerleaders?
Thom Rockwell: Spirit Squad is a super-hero movie about crime-ﬁghting cheerleaders done in the grindhouse style. Itʼs in the grindhouse style, but itʼs not exploitation, and itʼs not camp or parody either. Although the style is grindhouse, and the premise is pretty far-fetched, we are treating it as if it were real. We have the advantage of the ease of modern movie making technology. So, while the grindhouse and exploitation movies of the 70s were pretty weak on the ﬁght scenes and special effects, we are not. Because of today’s digital technology, we are able to deliver some pretty exciting action and effects while still shooting in the spirit of 70s grindhouse cinema.
Mark Avo: Super-heroines outside of the actual comic books seem few and far between. Your ﬁlm isn’t based on a comic book. So why make a movie with female super-heroes?
Thom Rockwell: Why not? I mean, every time we talk to people about this project or show them the trailer they’re excited. They ask when they can see the whole movie. Half the time they aren’t aware that we haven’t even made the movie yet.
There’s already an audience. There are plenty of people out there that love super-hero movies and would love to see something done on the independent level. I love female super-heroes, and if Hollywood is afraid to make a Wonder Woman movie - I’m not. Our movie has ﬁve Wonder Women in it. Isis wasn’t a comic book ﬁrst. Neither were Buffy or Xena. Comics are great, but great characters can start anywhere.
MA: Plenty of action ﬁlms have female protagonists. Many of them, like the Hunger Games series, are extremely popular with the female demographic. Do you think Hollywood is afraid to make a ﬂick with a super heroine lead?
TR: I would disagree that there are plenty of action ﬁlms with female protagonists. Hunger Games is far more the exception than the rule. What would you say are your top 10 favorite action movies with female leads made in the last 5 years? Probably canʼt name any more than the Hunger Games, right? But, it’s easy enough to rattle off a list of action movies with male leads. Our planet is 50% female. We have female cops, female ﬁre ﬁghters, female teachers,
female doctors and female politicians. On the big screen it’s always men that solve all the problems. When in truth, itʼs usually men that cause the majority of the worldʼs problems, and yet corporate Hollywood is too afraid to put a strong female heroine on the screen. Theyʼre not listening to the people, I tell you, I talk to people about Spirit Squad every day and there are plenty of women that are behind this concept and want to see these heroines on the screen.
MA: Speaking of leads, when we talked earlier you had said that Shay Williamson is the only lock for a role when ﬁlming begins for Spirit Squad. What about her guarantees her the part as the leader of the crime ﬁghting squad?
TR: Well, it’s really up to Shay, but she knows the part is hers as long as she’s interested, and sheʼs been interested since the beginning. Shay is here with me and Comic Con Fan-X to promote our Indiegogo campaign and sheʼs been very vocal in support of the ﬁlm. She wants this movie to happen as much as I do. Shay is not only a great talent but sheʼs extremely dedicated and driven. In addition to acting, Shay has a dance background and practices meticulously. We had three ﬁght choreography rehearsals for the Spirit Squad trailer and I know that Shay practiced a lot more than that. Sheʼs a dedicated professional and wants perfection. I respect her standards and after four movies together, Iʼm pretty sure she respects mine. We love working together so sheʼs the leader of the Spirit Squad unless she tells me different.
MA: I did some quick research and according to IMDB, Shay worked with you previously in Terror Island, Special Features and Zombie Prom and was the lead in the Netﬂix hit HottieBoombaLottie. Will she and the rest of the Spirit Squad be a group that men can root for and women can look to as role models?
TR: I donʼt think that men are going to have any problem rooting for these women. No offense to my own gender, but men are pretty easy to please cinematically speaking when it comes to women on the screen. It’s the female audience that Iʼm most concerned about, particularly the younger crowd. It is extremely important to me that these characters are people that women and younger girls can look up to and I’ve crafted the story toward that end since the very beginning. The girls are sexy, sure. But, when you watch the movie, you’ll see that there sexiness comes not from their looks or their physique, but from their self-conﬁdence. There’s nothing more sexy or empowering than conﬁdence, and that’s what the Spirit Squad embodies. Sure, they’re good looking and ﬁt, but, hell, they’re high school cheerleaders, what do you expect? But, theyʼre a lot more than that. These girls get the job done on their own. Itʼs their story. They are in charge. Thereʼs no Nick Fury or Charlie telling these girls what to do.
MA: After viewing the trailer earlier, I was anxious for more.
TR: Thanks, Mark. That means a lot. Iʼve been making this movie in my head for the last ﬁve years, and Iʼm dying to see it get made. We worked really hard on the pitch trailer and that was the idea. The idea was give people a taste of what kind of movie we intend to make. So it deﬁnitely means a lot to me that you want to see more.
MA: I think most people donʼt realize that Ogden Utah is the location of a thriving indie-ﬁlm industry. Is that the reason youʼve chosen to launch your ﬁlm out of Ogden?
TR: Iʼve chosen to make this movie in Ogden because this is where I live now, and I love this town. It has amazing locations and it has amazing people. I grew up in L.A. and Hollywood and I couldnʼt get this movie made there. Ogden has everything we need. We shot parts of the trailer at Ogden High School, the same school were they shot 3 OʼClock High. And thatʼs where we intend to shoot the feature as well. The locations are amazing here. Itʼs like San Pedro, Pasadena and middle America all rolled up in one. Short of not having beaches, thereʼs not much we canʼt ﬁlm here.
MA: Youʼve decided to go with IndieGogo to fund Spirit Squad. Whatʼs your hope for the connections you make with people through crowd sourced fund raising? More speciﬁcally, what role do you see people ﬁlling in the creation of your ﬁlm?
TR: Well, ideally weʼll get our funding through contributions made from the Indiegogo campaign. After all, without the funding contributions, we canʼt continue forward. Weʼre asking anyone that gets exposed to this movie to do what they can by spreading the word. The more people that talk about this movie and let others know about it, the better chance we have of hitting our funding goal. But, itʼs not just the funding participation weʼre looking for, we are also very interested in crowd participation. What I mean is that we have a great need for props, post-production special effects, CGI, etc. Those are all things that can be done by people all over the globe and weʼre totally open to that. It would be amazing if we could not only make a ﬁlm that was crowd-funded, but that was crowd-sourced as well. We really want to get as many people on board to help out with this sort of thing as we can.
MA: If anyone wanted to offer their services or their help in whatever way they could outside of the fund raising, is there a place I could send them?
TR: Absolutely. Anyone interested in helping out with this project can contact me directly at spiritsquad@crimeﬁghtingcheerleaders.com.
MA: Thank you for your time, good luck with your ﬁlm.
TR: Thanks so much, Mark. It was a pleasure.
Thom Rockwell and his Spirit Squad are currently at booth H6 over in the Artist Alley area. You can reach out to him through social media at their Facebook page here and the Spirit Squad’s website at www.crimefightingcheerleaders.com. To see their Indiegogo campaign please follow this link.