Making His Mark
Can the Short Film ‘Cheerbleeders’ help spell success for Peter Podgursky? Recent ISU theatre graduate gives Tinseltown his best shot
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – The 11-minute film Cheerbleeders has some elements you might expect in a low budget, grad-student horror film, including violence, lots of blood, scantily clad cheerleaders and a sense of humor. It also features one of the most interesting field-goal kick attempts in the history of American cinema.
Beside these elements, its creator, Peter Podgursky, a 2003 graduate of Idaho State’s theatre program, says it has its roots in ancient Greek drama and has deeper roots still in Idaho. He produced the film for his 2007 master’s thesis at the prestigious University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.
“If I hadn’t gone to Idaho State and been in (ISU theatre professor) Norm Schroder’s class, I would have never read Euripides’ play ‘The Bacchae,’” said Podgursky, a 1999 graduate from Blackfoot High School. “In that play the god Dionysus seeks revenge and turns women into vicious monsters. My movie is based on ‘The Bacchae’ and features a kid who turns cheerleaders into monsters who wreak havoc on a high school. It is a take-off on a play I read at ISU.”
Cheerbleeders (“It is definitely rated ‘R,’” notes Podgursky) is set at Blackfoot High School in Podgursky’s hometown in Idaho, and features footage shot at a homecoming game pitting BHS against Idaho Falls. The athletic departments at both schools lent Podgursky uniforms that he took back to California for actors to wear as he finished his film.
The film is about Idaho in other ways, featuring an outcast punk rocker in the lead role, something Podgursky said he was in his high school years. The female lead in the film, Laurel Vail, is a friend of Podgursky’s from Idaho Falls. The closing credits of Cheerbleeders features the song “Face Against the Wall” by the Pocatello punk band the Teen Meanies. The film also may be a catharsis to some of the angst Podgursky felt growing up as a teenager in Idaho and facing some challenging times beyond the scope of this article.
Cheerbleeders, particularly as a master’s thesis, has done well, winning awards at seven horror film festivals, including Best Short at the Phoenix Fear Film Festival. However, for the 27-year-old Podgursky the creation of the film is just one step to achieving his professional goals.
“I want to write for television, or write and direct horror movies, or anything that gets me close to that,” Podgursky said.
His former ISU theatre professor, Schroder, said he believes Podgursky has the talent to pull off those feats. Schroder taught Podgursky in the classroom and directed him in plays at ISU.
“Peter is one those people that really does think out of the box,” Schroder said. “Although he is very rooted, he sees the world through a variety of perspectives and he is immensely creative, which are very good characteristics for someone going into film.”
If Podgursky doesn’t succeed, it won’t be for a lack of trying. Just as his film may have less frivolous roots than one would expect on first impression, the same could be said for Podgursky.
He achieved a 3.9 GPA while attending ISU, and lives an energetic lifestyle. He now works 50 to 60 hours a week, sometimes more, as a receptionist and office manager at JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions, which produces America’s most popular television show, “Lost,” and is producing the next Star Trek movie, among many other endeavors.
“It’s a really cool place,” Podgursky said. He interacts with famous people on a regular basis and is surrounded by pros in his chosen profession. When he is not working, he is busy writing movie and television scripts and producing YouTube videos. He has co-written a full-length script from his short and is working on another. He also recently had a small part as an actor in one of his friend’s films.
“I’m just hustling, with a lot of irons in the fire.” Podgursky said.
One example of his strategic nature, his energy and thinking outside the box was his writing of 100 letters to people he admired, asking them for input on Cheerbleeders.
“It’s amazing what you can get from people if you just ask them,” he said. “And all it cost me was a 42-cent stamp.”
His letters were productive. He had dinner with John Carpenter, the director of Halloween and many other films. He also had coffee with Jessica Bendinger, writer of the cheerleader comedy, Bring It On. Both gave Podgursky advice on bettering his film. He also wrote Sam Raimi, director of the Spider-Man movies, who invited Podgursky to the set of Spider-Man III, where Podgursky met Raimi and actor Tobey Maguire. Other people he wrote letters to also offered their time and provided their advice.
“You try to set yourself up for success so when it comes your way, you don’t mess it up,” Podgursky said. “I’m trying to be as ready as possible for any opportunity that is coming my way.”
Schroder is among those who have faith in Podgursky.
“I would certainly never write him off,” Schroder said. “He has immense potential and I suspect he’ll do us proud.”
Peter Podgursky’s Top Five Hollywood Moments (so far):
- Having Sam Raimi, director of the Spider-Man films, ask why him why he wasn’t wearing a tie.
- Having a “real job” in Hollywood — with a 401k and insurance — working as a receptionist at JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions. Abrams, among other feats, produces “Lost” the most popular TV show in America, and is making the next Star Trek movie, Star Trek (2009).
- Having his own office that has its own private bathroom at the Paramount Studios lot.
- Having dinner with famous horror movie director John Carpenter, who directed Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, and many other popular audience and cult hits.
- Having Gremlins director, Joe Dante, visit his set to personally wish him good luck with his shoot.
Best Peter Podgursky Movie-Review Quote (so far):
“If you only see one 11-minute cannibal-cheerleaders-under-the-sway-of-a-Greek-god-of-the-revels-high-school-outcast film this year, let it be Cheerbleeders.” – by comedian Patton Oswalt, who featured Podgursky’s movie at a live Halloween comedy show in Los Angeles.