Bingo Night! Filmmakers and Stars Return for the Wisconsin Film Festival

Bingo Night comes to WI Film Festival

Two friends who started a filmmaking partnership while attending UW Madison are bringing their first big independent project back home.

Bingo Night! is a comedic crime-drama about a trio of grandmas who take matters into their own hands when they decide to take the local bingo hall for all it’s worth. (See the trailer after the jump)

When WhooNEW first wrote about the film last September, Jordan Liebowitz and Ryan Heraly still needed to finish the project and had turned to Kickstarter to raise financial support. The campaign was a success, and now the pair is bringing Bingo Night! back to where it all began.

“‘Where it all began.’ Sounds so epic,” Ryan Heraly laughs. “Honestly it was a lot of work to produce this in Madison. But I love Madison and have a lot of fond memories there, and I guess I just wanted a few more. Heraly, the film’s producer, is originally from Appleton.

“I have a lot of family and friends I haven’t seen in too long so it really means a lot to me that they are going to have an opportunity to see the film and maybe get a sense of what the hell it is I’m doing on the other side of the country.”

Bingo Night! director, Jordan Liebowitz, is from New York and attended college at the University of Wisconsin. But showing his work at the Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison still feels like a homecoming.

“I couldn’t possibly be more excited for Wisconsin. We sold out the screening in less than 24 hours!” says  Liebowitz “We’ve done our best to keep the film under wraps, and I absolutely cannot wait to sit in an audience with all the people in Madison who put in their time and effort to make this film a reality.”

The trip to this weekend’s 2014 Wisconsin Film Festival kicks off an 18-day trip to festivals around the country.

The Beginnings of Bingo Night!

Liebowitz and Lynn Stewart

Director Jordan Liebowitz with actress Lynn Stewart

Not long after their time at UW, Liebowitz and Heraly moved out to Los Angeles to pursue careers in the film industry. But the grind of looking for freelance work had them craving creative projects of their own.

So the two friends started spending their free time brainstorming and working on ideas for scripts. The idea for Bingo Night! hit Liebowitz like a lightning bolt and the filmmakers got right to work.

Even though they were living in the movie-making capital of the world, Heraly and Liebowitz knew they had to take this production back to Wisconsin.

In our first interview, Liebowitz told WhooNEW that part of this project was his “attempt to capture a piece of that culture and attitude” found in Wisconsin. He also said you just can’t “fake the feeling” of a Wisconsin bingo hall.

Despite being relatively new to filmmaking, Heraly and Liebowitz were able to land some veteran comedic actresses for the three starring roles – and got them to travel halfway across the country.

That included Lynn Stewart (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Bridesmaids, Pee Wee’s Playhouse), Mindy Sterling (Austin Powers films, Desperate Housewives, How the Grinch Stole Christmas) and Brenda Pickleman (U.S. Marshals, Groundhog Day).

Lynn Stewart played the lead role of Ethel, a woman who is facing life in a public nursing home after her son loses his job and can no longer afford to help her pay for a cushy retirement home. Liebowitz says Stewart thoroughly enjoyed her time working on the film in Madison, and is returning for the festival.

“I was just on the phone with Lynne today and she couldn’t stop raving about the place. Between the two of us, I’m not sure who’s more excited that she’s going to be coming back to Madison for the screening.”

Watch the Official Bingo Night! Trailer

Finishing the Film

Sometimes the hardest thing about a project is seeing it through to the end. Whether it’s a movie, a novel, a new business or an oil painting – you never have to face the fear of rejection and criticism if you simply leave it unfinished on the shelf.

But then again…you don’t get to reap any of the rewards either.

However, Heraly and Liebowitz had a bit of what you could call some serious positive peer pressure. Kickstarter supporters pledged more than $15,000 to help them with post production and festival submissions. That included finding an editor to put the film together and a composer to create an original score.

The filmmakers made sure they picked the right people.

“It never ceases to amaze me how many insanely talented people there are out there. We ended up looking at around 200 applicants, and I ended up scheduling interviews with a few before we settled on going with Tony Wise from 307 Films,” Liebowitz says of the search for an editor. “Theres nothing better than seeing something you shot exceed your expectations in the editing room.”

The filmmakers are also pleased with how the score, composed by Erik Desiderio, enhanced the feel of their film.

“The most exciting part was witnessing Erik’s process as he composed the score,” says Heraly. “I’ve worked with musicians before, but usually it’s the other way around; we’re filming a music video inspired by their music. But here, we got to give a musician a visual story from which he could pull inspiration. And what he came up with really elevated the film to another level.”

Instead of using stock sound effects, Heraly and Liebowitz even brought in a foley artist to create everything from footsteps to Bingo card punches.

It’s obvious both filmmakers are proud of their finished product. And they should be. Seeing an independent project through from start to finish is no small task. But the pair is also quick to give credit to the many people who helped them along the way.

“We were so lucky to get such a fantastic post production team on board with this project. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to them and all the generous backers we had on Kickstarter who afforded us the opportunity to work with such talented professionals,” says Liebowitz.

Heraly agrees,”We somehow lucked out in finding people who were passionate about the project and they really went above and beyond expectations.”

The Festival Circuit and the Future

Bingo Night Short Film

The Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison will actually be the second festival screening of Bingo Night! The first came at Idaho’s Sun Valley Film Festival in March.

The film was recognized as one of the “Best of the Fest,” which meant it was given a second screening.

“The festival response has been really positive,” says Heraly. “I don’t know how much more I can say without it sounding like hype. But it’s getting laughs and applause and people are offering unsolicited compliments and seem to genuinely enjoy the film.”

Other Scheduled Film Festivals Include:

  • Rochester Film Festival
  • Athens International Film & Video Festival
  • Arizona International Film Festival
  • West Chester International Film Festival
  • High Desert International Film Festival

Six months ago, when we asked Liebowitz about the possibility of turning Bingo Night! into a full-length feature, he seemed to think it was unlikely. But now, it doesn’t seem like he’s quite ready to say goodbye to the characters he created.

“I was initially hesitant to look into expanding it, but I really do think there is a lot more we can do with these characters. I’m really into the idea of doing a sequel, a second short film,” he says. “I think it would be a really cool way to continue the story while keeping it consistent with the original. Also, it would be fun to approach festivals with the idea of screening “double features” (double shorts?) of the two films.”

Liebowitz says he’s already got a concept in mind, as well as a working title – Bingo Night! 2: Bingo Casino.

While Bingo Night! advanced ticket sales are sold out for this weekend’s Saturday evening showing at the Wisconsin Film Festival, Liebowitz says rush ticket sales should be available to those who arrive early enough.

Meantime, the filmmakers plan on continuing to submit their film to other festivals including more venues in Wisconsin.

Find Out More About Bingo Night!

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