Go to the local bingo hall in any Wisconsin town and you’re sure to find plenty of senior ladies with multiple game cards in front of them, dobbers in hand and focused looks on their faces.
But what if somewhere in the crowd, there was a grandma with a scheme emerging in her mind? What if she decided to forget about winning straight up and made a plan to take the jackpot for herself?
That’s the idea behind an upcoming short film, shot in Wisconsin and starring some familiar faces.
Filmmakers Jordan Liebowitz and Ryan Heraly shot Bingo Night in Madison over the summer. They met while attending UW, and both have since made the move to Los Angeles, launching careers in the movie business.
Now the film is heading into post production and then on to the festivals. But before that happens – these movie-makers are hoping others with a love of independent films will show them some support.
The Birth of Bingo Night
Heraly says the grind of being freelancers in Los Angeles, a place with plenty of competition, was starting to wear on him and Liebowitz.
“Both Jordan and I felt a certain amount of stagnation. We were either working or looking for work, but not really doing anything of our own,” says Heraly.
So they took things into their own hands, meeting every night, bringing at least one page of a script and discussing ideas for their own projects.
“Creativity doesn’t just happen, it takes practice,” Heraly explains. “This writing exercise was a challenge we gave each other as a way of breaking out of that lull.”
Another thing about creativity, often those lightning bolts of insight, the inspirations that seem to come out of nowhere, happen during times of complete frustration. That’s exactly how it happened to Jordan Liebowitz. A few days after starting the writing challenge, he had what you might call a breakthrough.
“I was walking down the street thinking about how stupid it was to waste my time writing silly little scripts that wouldn’t go anywhere when this idea popped into my head: ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if a gang of old ladies robbed a bingo hall…It could be called Bingo Night.'”
Liebowitz immediately called Heraly to tell him the idea, and then went straight home to start writing. He says he revised the screenplay 15 times over the next several months. It was decided that Liebowitz would direct his brainchild.
“This is the first professional project I have written and directed. Directing has always been my passion and I’m very excited about getting the opportunity to do it on a professional level,” he says.
Heraly is the film’s producer. In the past you’d be more likely to find him operating the camera. That’s what he thought he’d be doing on Bingo Night. But the further they got into the project, the more Heraly realized someone with close ties should be producing.
He knows from experience that when a film ends up in the wrong hands, it can be a bad experience for everyone involved.
“It had become a priority for me that the film was not only planned and executed well, but that the production environment was one in which everyone could do their jobs to the best of their ability,” Heraly says. “That was a responsibility I could only take on as a producer, and something I could only do well if I was committed to it full time.”
Watch a Behind the Scenes Sneak Peek of Bingo Night
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Bingo Night and the Wisconsin Connection
Ryan Heraly grew up in Appleton before moving to Madison to attend college. On the other hand, Jordan Liebowitz comes from New York. So you can’t exactly call him a “Wisconsin filmmaker.”
However, in many cases, the perspective of an outsider is exactly what’s needed. That’s the person who is able to see the forest for the trees.
Liebowitz spent six years attending UW and working on video shoots in Madison. He admits he felt some culture shock when he first moved to the Badger State.
“There is an intense yet effortless sincerity that in my experience is completely unique to Wisconsin,” Liebowitz says.
“I still remember walking into a store my first week there and at checkout the cashier said to me ‘Have a good day.’ And I could tell she wasn’t saying it just to say it. She actually meant it. She legitimately wanted me to have a good day.
I didn’t grow up with that and, as silly as it sounds, it was unsettling to me at first.”
Overall, Liebowitz says Wisconsin left an “indelible impression” on him.
“As much as Bingo Night is supposed to be a fun, entertaining little film, I think it was also my attempt to capture a piece of that culture and attitude.”
He adds that you just can’t “fake the feeling” of a Midwestern bingo hall – even with all the movie magic in Hollywood. For that reason, Heraly and Liebowitz chose to shoot their short film back in Wisconsin.
Bringing Bingo Night to Life
One thing most people will notice right away about this film is the recognizable faces of some of the stars – in particular the leading ladies.
Bingo Night features actress Lynne Marie Stewart as Ethel – the desperate grandma with the plan.
Most recently, Stewart has been playing the part of Charlie’s mom on the FX comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
She also played mom to Maya Rudolph’s character in the hit comedy Bridesmaids. She’s had many other roles, but certain readers will likely remember Stewart as Miss Yvonne from Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
Another veteran comic actress in the film is Mindy Sterling who plays Ethel’s best friend, Vivian.
One of Sterling’s most unforgettable movie roles is Frau Farbissina from the Austin Powers trilogy. Both Sterling and Stewart have connections to The Groundlings – a renowned improv comedy theater in Los Angeles.
Brenda Pickelman rounds out the trio of bad grandmas as Ruth – an older women who is slightly senile.
It’s not often you find such an experienced cast in a short film – especially one being shot in Wisconsin by somewhat untested filmmakers. Liebowitz says his actors were a big part of making the production successful.
“I couldn’t be happier with how things have gone so far. Our cast was amazing. Lynne and Mindy took a risk flying out to take part in our crazy little project. I’m very proud of what we made together,” he says.
The flimmakers have also been pleased with their director of photography, Megan Richardson, who brought yet another perspective to the production.
“In fact, much of her experience is in the horror genre, so I believe she gave the film a really unique vibe in terms of what one expects from the ‘look’ of a comedy,” Heraly says.
Cast and crew aren’t the only part of the project that Liebowitz and Heraly took extremely seriously. Many filmmakers decide to take what starts as an idea for a short film and turn it into a feature. But according to Heraly, sometimes that’s a mistake.
“While you can make a feature with $5k or $10k or even $30k, the likelihood of that turning into a picture people want to see, or even have an opportunity to see, is slim to none. A rare exception. It came down to producing a feature on a shoestring or a short with some quality behind it.”
Still, Heraly admits there is “no money in short films,” and he actually avoided those kinds of projects for some time. The expectation is that the quality of this short film, including the blood sweat and tears that went into it, will pay off in the end.
“We both have features we want to produce, and I think Bingo Night is going to say a lot about our ability to take that next step,” Heraly says.
The next step for Bingo Night is post production. The film still needs to be edited and a score needs to be composed. Plus, Liebowitz and Heraly need funding. That’s why they’ve turned to Kickstarter – a crowd-funding site that’s been popular and successful for independent artists and creative projects.
“What I love about Kickstarter is that it gives you the chance to become involved with artists and creators of anything you can possibly imagine. It’s always exciting to see the results of donations,” Liebowitz says. “It has completely changed the game for projects like this.”
- CLICK HERE to visit Kickstarter and make a pledge
The hope is that supporters will help them to get the funding they need to finish the film by Spring of 2014. Then it’s off to film festivals – starting right here in Wisconsin.
“I’m absolutely intent on seeing this screened at one or more of the various festivals in Wisconsin,” Heraly says. “It’s still my home, even if I don’t live there. And having started as a filmmaker there, I’ll always be a proponent of filmmaking in the Midwest.”
Liebowitz agrees. “We plan on submitting it to a range of festivals across the country but feel it should start its journey in the place where it all came together.”
“There were moments on set that were absolutely surreal. However, being able to experience all of that and see the project come to fruition in Madison, where Jordan and I both met and began our careers, was likely the most satisfying part of the entire experience.”
Could Bingo Night ever turn into a feature-length movie? Liebowitz says that’s not his intent – but he’s not ruling it out either.
“I do think that the story functions quite well as a short. It would certainly have to one up itself. Maybe if we added a hostage negotiation and a slow moving car chase into the mix.”