As a recent film school graduate in Central New York, work related to my field was sometimes hard to come by. So when my friend and fellow film school grad texted me about an indie shoot happening in Troy, I didn’t hesitate to make the two and a half-hour drive from Syracuse.
I was excited to meet with director Micah Khan, an independent filmmaker who had made a name for himself making no-budget shorts around New York’s capital region. He’s had work featured on Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network, Cinemax's Urban Action Showcase, and PBS. Micah and his partner, writer and comedian Victoria Diana joined forces along with Fifth Column Features and Westfield Production Company to create their latest project Meetcute on Danceworld, a colorful and zestful short depicting a woman’s seductive quest to win a lover.
After meeting up at Micah’s house, we headed over to set which took place above a quaint coffee shop in downtown Troy. My job was to help set up lighting, (although I was more like a PA than a grip) while my friend Sydney began rehearsing scenes with the other actors. Rather than running lines, however, they were rehearsing dance moves.
Meetcute on Danceworld takes place in a universe in which no one speaks verbally but instead expresses themselves through dance.
“I wanted the dance language to be cohesive; there were certain words repeated, so it followed that certain movements would be repeated.” Laura Teeter told me. She was one of the two professional dancers working on set, holding a degree in dancing from Boston Conservatory at Berklee. She’s been dancing professionally for over sixteen years, specializing in ballet and modern dance, and currently dances for the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company, also serving as the Assistant to the Artistic Director.
Laura was the choreographer for the short and also starred as the main character, Baby. I reached out to her to find out more about the process of developing the choreography during preproduction for this unique no-dialogue short.
“The first thing the other dancers learned on set were the rudiments of this dance language. ‘Fabrizio’ was a head-swipe-leg-kick; ‘no’ or ‘don’t’ was a sharp-shoulder-roll-head; ‘sex’ was a leg-push-face-caress and so on. So ‘learning your lines’ meant something a little different in this film!”
Meetcute on Danceworld also stars novelist and professional dancer Jamal Story, as Fabrizio. Story has showcased his dancing talents on Broadway, and has also gone on tour with Cher and Maddona. Along with fiction writing, he also has experience in choreography, educating, and producing.
“Micah had met Jamal at a previous film event and was really excited he would be playing the love interest, Fabrizio,” said Laura. “I met him at our one and only rehearsal, a few weeks prior to filming. He’s lovely to work with, very professional and easy-going, but also disciplined and hard-working. I felt perfectly at ease with him, which calmed my ‘first time playing a lead in a movie’ butterflies. I knew a lot of the people working on the set on a more personal level — some of them had been at my wedding — so it gave the set a comfortable, familial feeling that I think everyone on set could sense.”
This is the true magic of well organized and very small budget indie films; most of the small group of people crewing on set are family, acquaintances, and friends of friends, there to help create art alongside you, not for big money or clout but for the love of the craft. The vibe is laid back, the pressure doesn’t feel as high and there’s plenty of opportunity for creative learning and problem-solving. As a bonus, crafty was provided by Micah’s parents in the form of delicious home-cooked meals including veggie burritos with a Pakistani touch. It’s these types of small, intimate sets that help me leave the stressful memories of film school behind and make me fall in love with filmmaking all over again.
Sometimes it’s this formula for short films that end up garnering the most attention and success over time. So far both Ben Stiller and David Benioff have praised Meetcute on Danceworld since its release.