The Bentfootes in New York City

So this movie I wrote and co-directed is going to be playing at the fabulous Walter Reade theater in swanky Lincoln Center this weekend. If you live in New York, this is the place to be this weekend.

The Bentfootes is a mockumentary about a family of American choreographers who, generation after generation, tried, and utterly failed, to leave their mark on the landscape of dance. It is both a scathing satire of the dance world and a touching tribute to, you guessed it, the unstoppable will of the human spirit.


   fans, the movie stars James Urbaniak as a man trying to put together an evening of these dances. For New York dance-world denizens, it co-stars (and was dreamed-up by) Kriota Willberg as the choreographer whom Urbaniak slowly drives crazy in the process of putting this show together.  For Indie Comics fans, it features extensive graphics designed by master cartoonist


Showtimes are Saturday, Jan 5 at 4:00pm and Sunday, Jan 6 at 8:30. And yes, your humble correspondent will be there to introduce the movie and accept free dinners.

For more information, I direct you to the Dance On Camera website. For those who want to know who the heck Kriota Willberg is, I direct you to her fancy-schmancy website. And for those interested in the art of film scoring, I direct you to the movie’s extrarordinary composer Carmen Borgia’s article on the scoring of the movie. hit counter html code

Bentfootes wrap-up

This photo has nothing to do with today’s entry.  But it looks cool. It’s a real cat!

I am back in my basement in Santa Monica. My plane barely skittered out of JFK ahead of a bank of thunderstorms. My colleague and co-director Kriota Willberg was not so lucky; she was to have taught a workshop in Toronto this weekend and instead spent $200 going to and from the airport in taxis, only to learn that her flight was cancelled due to the weather conditions.

I fear that this sort of occurrence will become more occurrent as the global-warming thing asserts itself.

In any event, The Bentfootes is in the can. Thursday morning was the last chance we had to work with Mr. Urbaniak, who, in contravention of earlier days, showed up not drunk but hopped up on goofballs. He was so manic and out-of-control that we had to speed up the camera in the hopes of his performance looking “normal” when we slow it down and loop it. We shot six scenes in forty-five minutes, with Mr. U rushing from set to set, not even stopping for lighting or to make sure the other performers were in place.

Gary “gazblow” Schwartz came for his cameo, and since he’s a bigger guy we put Mr. Urbaniak in a corner and had Mr. Schwartz block his way to the door, and thus pinioned Mr. Urbaniak was able to deliver something like a real performance.

Friday, Mr. U was supposed to shoot another day on “Kidnapped” but apparently his William-Burroughs-level of drug consumption got him sent home from that project for the weekend, so we got to shoot a scene where Mr. U has a friendly conversation with some dancers.  Because Urbaniak is who he is, the scene developed into a paranoid shouting match.

We tried to get the orange tape-on-a-stick to do the scene instead, but its agent would not return our phone calls.

Obviously, still no projector bulb.  But I have Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz playing in my head, if that counts.
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Ankle-deep in Bentfoote-land

My apologies to my faithful readers, I have been ensconced in the Jack H. Skirball Theater shooting the dance sequences for The Bentfootes. James Urbaniak has been “unwell” and unable to attend the shoot up ’til now, so we need to shoot around him. In his place, a PA has been holding a stick with a piece of orange day-glo tape at the end. Mr. Urbaniak will be digitally composited in later.

For those interested in the history of this unique and bizarre project, factoids and whatnot may be found here.

Be back soon!
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The Bentfootes, day two

A long day, set in the apartment of r_sikoryak and his wife Kriota Willberg, creator of The Bentfootes.

Mr. Urbaniak showed up sober this time, but soon was seen pouring some mysterious liquid into his “morning coffee” from a ceramic jug marked “X X X.”  We had nine pages of dramatic scenes to shoot but he simply couldn’t concentrate on the actor he was performing opposite and instead kept wandering off his mark to grab some more Dunkin Donuts “Munchkins” from craft services.  Finally we had to simply write the other actor out of the scenes and strap Mr. Urbaniak down to a chair, turning all the scenes into a long monologue.

We had 60-minute tapes in our digital cameras, and we just pointed the lens at our lead and kept rolling.  He was angry at first at being strapped to the chair and started swearing, yelling and shouting the most alarming imprecations.  The demon alcohol was coursing through his veins and we got it all on tape as he went from outraged to pathetic to finally weeping openly, calling for his “mommy.”  That took from 10 until 2, giving us four hours of random shouts, curses, animal noises and rueful sobbing to somehow turn into nine pages of snappy dialogue and action.  It was real, but was it art?

After lunch, we untied Mr. Urbaniak, who was now sober and seemingly ready to work.  We got a couple of takes of a scene where he must stand at a table, but standing became too much for him and all subsequent takes had to be with him sitting down.  Because he is incapable of memorization, his dialogue was taped to the forehead of the actor opposite him.  He insisted that that is the way “Brando” did it, and then produced a clipping from the New York Post where a critic referred to him as “the nerd Brando.”  (this is true, I swear, he never stops talking about it.)

Soon, a kind of tiredness had washed over Urbaniak to the point where he could no longer remain at the table and the scenes had to be moved to a couch.  He asked if perhaps he could do all his scenes lying down, with the rest of the set tilted on its side to make it look like he was “really” sitting up, but we had neither the budget nor time to do that today.

We borrowed a cattle prod from Mr. Urbaniak’s security team and used it to “wake him up” just before a take.  Our lovely and talented DP Melissa G. would say “rolling” and I would crouch near Mr. U as he dozed off.  I would thengesture to Melissa, who would whisper “action” and I would jab Mr. U harshly with the prod, thereby getting him through another take before he started tilting forward again in a manner to indicate a strong desire to sleep.

Finally, he was incapable of delivering any dialogue at all and all his dialogue had to be given to another actor, who had to do the scene by herself with Mr. U slumped against an apple box in her eyeline.  We changed the dialogue so that lines that used to be Mr. U’s, like “You killed my mother!” and “Give me all you got!” were instead the other actor saying “You may think I killed your mother, but in fact I did not” and “I suppose you now want me to give you all I’ve got; well, you have another think coming.”

Squid, who was running sound and serving as clapper/loader today, finally stomped off the set when Mr. Urbaniak dumped a hot cup of coffee on his head during one of his slumpings.  Now my evening will be spent trying to coax him back to the production.
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The Bentfootes, day 1

Mr. Urbaniak relaxes during the shoot with an admirer.

The crew was ready, the cast members were in place, the atmosphere was electric.  It was our first day, shooting a brand new movie!  Somehow, news of our humble location had shot across the world on the internet, and scores of the teen girls I like to call “Jimmers” were already camped out outside the doors of the studio.  Why don’t these fresh-faced, nubile young ladies have boyfriends?  Or school?  Or parents?

Everyone was riding a high that only months of preparation and keen understanding of the script can bring.  The only thing missing was our star.

His call time was seven am.  Seven came and went, and then seven-thirty, eight and nine, then ten.  I paced the floor of the studio and worked out the camera moves for the umpteenth time.  Squid, our DP, and his crew were starting to get testy with me.  They were champing at the bit, ready to shoot.

At 10:30, a roar went up from outside.  The cast and crew rushed to the windows to see a huge crush of humanity swarming over the hood and roof of Mr. Urbaniak’s custom-built Hummer, 32 feet long and featuring a wet bar, a sauna and a hot tub.  Mr. Urbaniak had tried to get me to go “cruising” with him one night in this vehicle, but I had just seen Al Gore’s movie the night before and could not bring myself to get into this behemoth.  It was a lucky thing, as that was the evening that a twelve-year-old girl almost drowned in the hot-tub (she was not the only one in hot water that night).

Studio security, using cattle-prods and machine guns (rubber bullets only!  My contract insists upon no fatalities to fans!) cleared a path through the Jimmers from the Hummer to the studio doors.  After that, of course, he had to make it through the studio itself and all the hangers-on and sycophants that naturally cling to a star in the middle of a meteoric rise.

He got up to our studio around 11:00am.  His subdued demeanor and unwillingness to take off his dark glasses made me fear the worst: he had shown up drunk once again, if not worse.

He staggered over to the craft services table and collapsed.  A melon ball, lodged in his ear, had to be extracted with a plastic spoon.

This was an inauspicious beginning indeed to our seven-day shoot.

The scene was a simple one.  Mr. Urbaniak (we named hischaracter “Jim” to make it less confusing for our lead) had to simply watch a pair of dancers run through a routine.  No acting required.  We found a chair for Mr. U to sit in and blocked out the rehearsal.  Barely able to keep his head upright, and certainly unable to discern the dancers, who were over ten feet away, a PA held a stick with bright day-glow orange tape attached to guide the star as to where to direct his attention (the PA will need to be removed digitally later).

Now we were running over six hours late and we didn’t yet have a take in the can.  Mr. Urbaniak was incapable of remaining upright, even when harnessed to the chair, and insisted on holding a huge prop “martini glass” because he thought it was “funny.”  (“It’s a comedy, right?  Then LET’S BE FUNNY!” is his motto.)

We ran through a total of sixty takes as the sun set and Mr. Urbaniak slumped further and further down in his seat.  When a large rope of drool began to make its way to the floor, I knew it was time for medical intervention.  A couple of shots later and our star’s arms starting moving again without the aid of what I call “Muppet sticks”.

That’s when the trouble really began.  Although the script merely calls for “Jim” to sit and watch the dance, Mr. U could not restrain himself.  Pacino-like, he ignored his blocking and text (or lack of it) and launched himself into the scene.  Normally I encourage ideas from my actors, but this was utterly contradictory to the intent of the scene.  First he started pestering the actress playing the choreographer, then he started “giving notes” on the dancer’s performance.  This wouldn’t have been so bad, but for some reason his “notes” all revolved around whether or not the dancer’s nipples were “visible” enough for his liking in the cold room.

Everyone was getting a little testy, but I kept the camera rolling, hoping that something, anything, might be salvaged from the day’s shoot.

Mr. U then grabbed the dancer and, well, let’s say he “did something inappropriate” that involved touching what I like to call “her breasts.”

The choreographer, outraged by this breach of etiquette, had had enough.  Star or no star, she would not stand idly by and chuckle at the brutish antics of Mr. U.  She took him aside, where an argument quickly developed.  I caught the whole screaming match on film, and it’s good that I did, as that was it for Mr. Urbaniak today.  He stomped off the set and headed off into the night with a Jimmer.

So, Day 1 was exciting, but of course now I’m going to have to stay up all night to revise the script.  Mr. Urbaniak is the star and lead, and now the story must be changed to keep up with his destructive whims.

Of course I could fight him, but then someone else would be directing this turkey.
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The Bentfootes

Here’s a real rarity for the pages of this blog: notes from an actual film shoot.

The Bentfootes is a “mockumentary” about a fictional American family who, for the past 200 years, has toiled in the margins of American dance, all to no avail.  

Why to no avail?  Well, because each generation of Bentfootes, for one reason or another, just hasn’t gotten the breaks.  Sometimes it’s lack of talent, sometimes it’s being ahead of the times, sometimes it’s cruel twists of fate, sometimes it’s over-reaching.  And sometimes it’s because you get hit by a bus.

The Bentfootes was conceived as a dance piece by Kriota Willberg (Mrs. R. Sikoryak), and is now being expanded into a feature-length film, written and directed by yours truly (toddalcott), with a piece of animation by r_sikoryak and starring none other than James urbaniak, with a cameo appearance by Gary “gazblow” Schwartz.  It’s a regular Livejournal lovefest!

Mr. Urbaniak plays Jim Raritan, the “producer” of the movie you’re watching and the boyfriend of Susan Bentfoote, the “last Bentfoote,” whose tragic death is the catalyst for Jim to make a documentary about Susan and her family.  It’s a funny, bittersweet meditation on art, life, and what it takes to “make it” in American culture.

Today’s work consisted of: watching the music documentary Dig!, in order to remind ourselves just how patchy a movie can be technically and still get by on story and content, and watching a rehearsal of two of the dances to get some ideas for camera placement and how many different takes we’re going to have to do for each dance to cover all the action.

Our schedule is very tight and our budget is, well, nonexistent.  We’re shooting James’s days starting on Saturday, and the big crowd scenes where we need everybody in one spot at one time next Wednesday.  That is, unless James has to shoot an episode of “Kidnapped” that day, in which case I will simply blow my head off and not worry about the movie any more.

Wish us luck!

In projector news, the store I ordered the bulb from said that it would take a week for the new bulb to come in.  That was over two weeks ago, and now I’m in New York for two weeks shooting this movie.  So it will be quite some time before I am reunited with my beloved projector.  But I shall my hands quite fulll with this no-budget film shoot.
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