Thursday, June 11, 2009

Picking Up Dancers in Kankakee

Last Thursday, I picked up some dancers in Kankakee.

Wait, that sounds incriminating. How about this: Last Thursday, I had some semi-famous dancers in the back seat of my van.

Maybe I should back up. I guess this story starts where many tales of fame-seeking and lost innocence start: with a bribe.

We bribed our good friends Dave and Jenna Weglarz-Ward last year. Our daughters have been friends since kindergarten but they were due to go to different middle schools. Dave and Jenna were wavering though, and we used this as an opportunity to bribe them: send Madeline to Jasmine’s middle school and we would host them for dinner once a month. They accepted these terms, and it has worked out well for everyone involved. The girls like hanging out together. The Schreibers like having the Weglarz-Wards over. The Weglarz-Wards like free food.

A few months ago, we learned at one such dinner that Dave had somehow used his magical powers of hypnotism (or perhaps some other occult power) to become location manager for a movie that was going to be shot here in Champaign-Urbana. Plus, Jenna was going to be the extras casting director. It turns out that Dave and Jenna have a social life outside of coming to our house once a month for dinner, and that they are good friends with Dan Beahm and Erika Randall Beahm, who used live in town and are producing and directing the film. Also, Erika co-wrote the script with Jennifer Bechtel, who we know from local theater productions. As usual, it’s a small, small, Champaign-Urbana world.

We must have served especially good food one night, or more likely, served too much beer, because Dave and Jenna asked if we wanted to be extras in the movie. Also, if we wanted to help out in other ways, they would let us. This sounded like a great deal to me. I’ve always wanted to be on the set of movie.

I had assumed the movie would be one step up from teenagers running around town taking videos on their cell phones. After all, this is my friend Dave, who needs me to transfer his high school videos into mpeg format so he can see them on his computer. He’s not exactly on the cutting edge of the digital world. Also, his videos are exactly what you’d expect of high school friends being hilarious to each other.

So I was impressed when I found out some big-name dance stars were involved, as well as an experienced crew. The movie is called Leading Ladies, and is about an overbearing dance mom and her two daughters. They had signed on Melanie LaPatin (who dominated Latin and Ballroom dance circles for 20 years) and Benji Schwimmer (winner of So You Think You Can Dance). My entire exposure to the world of dance is the four episodes of Dancing with the Stars I watched during spring break this year with my daughters, so I had no idea who they were. But I do have access to the internet. And I am now duly impressed.

Plus, they recruited a real cinematographer in Peter Biagi, who worked on some Robert Altman films. Apparently, being a location manager (finding locations for all the scenes in the movie) is different from being a producer, director, actor or a cinematographer. And Dave is a great location manager, having secured various locations around town at little or no charge. It eventually dawned on me that this was a real movie, as they are planning on submitting it to Sundance next fall.

As the time got closer, we asked Dave and Jenna whether there was anything we could do to help. It turns out there was: we have a big house, and they wanted to have a “Welcome to Champaign-Urbana” party for the cast and crew. Would we be willing to host? Heck yes! We love filling our house with large numbers of people.

The cast and crew were all very gracious. And everyone was enthusiastic about the start of filming. At the party we learned that Melanie likes children and pets (or at least she like the Schreiber kids and our dog Jac, but really, who could blame her?). Benji likes old houses and regularly goes on humanitarian trips to Mexico. Peter Biagi is interesting to talk to but is a terrible basketball player. There were a bunch of Dans, Daves and Bretts involved in the production, but I had no idea who was who, which was good. I hoped not to fawn over or ignore anyone unduly.

We really hit it off with Dan (and later Erika) Beahm, the producer/director. The Weglarz-Wards have good tastes in friends, even if you discount their association with the Schreibers. At this point in my life, I should not be surprised by such things, but we learned that Dan Beahm’s mom lived on the same dorm floor as Jill’s Aunt Judy when they went to college. Also, his mom and dad see Jill’s aunt Bev and uncle Joel semi-regularly at church events in Indiana. It’s a small, tiny, miniscule Champaign-Urbana world, especially if you are married to Jill.

So, I’ve been trying to help out with the movie as best I can. One day, my task was to find a cello. Another day, provide a glue gun. I failed to produce enough liquor bottles in the quantity desired for one scene, but did manage to find enough futons for a different scene. Much earlier, we had provided the name of our neighbor with a 70s era kitchen as a location for the movie. Their house was on the market and they had already moved to Chicago, so it was perfect as an empty place with the right look. Also, I’ve been encouraging people to sign up as extras.

So, as I mentioned before, last Thursday I found myself driving up to Kankakee to pick up dancers, who were in the back of my van for an hour and a half. True be told, it was Dave’s van we were in, but having dancers in the back of Dave’s van is not nearly as fun to say.

The dancers were being brought in for a big dance scene at a local Jerry’s IGA (because when you make a dance movie in Champaign-Urbana, there's no better location than Jerry’s IGA). They were all on So You Think You Dance, but I had no idea who they were (see dance world knowledge, above). Dave chose me to pick them up partially because I wouldn’t embarrass myself and partly because I was the only one available. Had it been Bonnie Hunt or Marisa Tomei, I would certainly have embarrassed myself, but luckily for me, they were not asked to dance in this movie.

Why Kankakee? The dancers flew into O’Hare from LA and Dave’s dad drove them down to Kankakee, where I met them to take them the rest of the way. It is what I would imagine smuggling immigrants is like. Except that these immigrants were semi-famous dancers from LA with a lot of luggage who watched Real Housewives for most of the drive. They crammed themselves into the very back seat, probably so as to be as far away from the middle-aged chauffeur/dad/grunt/nerd guy as possible. But they were very polite about it. For posterity, the dancers were Katee Shean, Courtney Galiano, and Kherington Payne. I am sorry to report that the reality of picking up dancers in Kankakee is about as exciting as the reality of getting picked up in Kankakee by a middle-aged man.

The movie production is just over half-way done and wraps up the last week of June. Things seem to be going well. I wrote a piece for Smile Politely about being on the set, available here.

Also for posterity, I’ve been an extra in one scene, and plan to be in two more. My roles are as follows:


  1. Awkward Guy Standing Near Bar at a Gay Nightclub. Words cannot describe my lifelong lack of personal fabulousness that causes no one to ever mistake me for a gay man. With truly fabulous people dancing and milling about, I wisely hung out near the bar and talked to the guy who played drums in the fake band. My only hope is that I might pass for awkwardly bi-curious. Mostly, I am hoping not to make the cut for this scene.
  2. Single Dad of Two Teenage Daughters at a Pizza Parlor. This was supposed to be the father of a family of five at a pizza parlor, but Jill will be at a conference that week and Anthony will be at summer camp. I am hoping the girls will act bored and/or uncomfortable being in public with their dad, so it will be a realistic scene.
  3. Face in the Crowd at Ballroom Dance Competition. They are hoping to get over a hundred people there, and I promised to bring as many people as I could.
I didn’t get the one extra role that I truly desired: the off-screen one-night stand of Sheri, the overbearing dance mom. I’ve never had a one-night stand in real-life, so I thought it might provide some closure to be the fake one-night stand of Melanie LaPatin’s in a movie. Plus, the only thing this character has to do is snore off-screen, which I am confident I can nail as a part, especially since it will likely be dubbed in later. But, it turns out they don’t really need an extra for someone snoring off-screen.

Oh well. In the Leading Ladies universe, I’ve decided that Single Dad at Pizza Parlor went to a gay nightclub one night to become Awkward Guy Standing Near Bar, only to be picked up by Indomitable Dance Mom, resulting in his becoming One-Night Stand Guy Snoring. Maybe his backstory needs to involve dancers from Kankakee too. At any rate, this would provide all the backstory anyone would ever need for why Single Dad at Pizza Parlor is single, and why he might later show up by himself at a regional ballroom dance competition. That is plenty of closure for me.

6 comments:

PG said...

Can't wait to see it. Esp. the gay bar scene.

Jenna said...

You crack me up....and yes, free food drives most of our actions.

Dan S said...

Yes, but at least you are passing good taste onto your kids.

Shay said...

Speaking as someone who has shopped at Jerry's IGA once or twice in the past, why are they filming a dance scene there?

brownie "the bungled and the botched" said...

Ok, that's it. You're officially closer to "fame" (not Fame) than me now, despite my endless years of songwriting (and I can whine with the best), rock-band forays, and pointless peddling of my "novel". That being the case, it would probably be best if I didn't associate with you anymore (at least until I get my book published, even if it is through a POD) lest I be mistaken (or perhaps taken) as someone who only hangs around the "famous" to get the crumb droppings from the table at which you now most nobly dine (or at least beg).

Dan S said...

They have a scene in the movie where everyone starts spontaneously dancing in a grocery store, and Jerry's IGA let them film it there.

Brownie, the movie folks will leave town, but you'll still have a finished novel. Plus, even with your back injury, you still dance better than I do.