Interviews: Writer/Director/Star Stephen Kogon Talks About His Upcoming Feel-Good Film Dance Baby Dance

His Dream Was to Tap. This January experience the joy and spectacle as writer-director Stephen Kogon dances towards his dream. 

Beverley Mitchell (Seventh Heaven), Jim O’Heir (Parks and Recreation), Carlos Alazraqui (Despicable Me 3) and Stephen Kogon star in the first feel-good film of 2018, Dance Baby Dance.

Have you ever had a dream? JIMMY PERCER did. His was to be a professional tap dancer. And in his early 20s, he was on his way … until a horrible knee injury stopped him in his tracks. He rehabbed like crazy to get back to where he had a chance again … only to re-injure the knee. The dream never died, but life happened. He met a pretty girl (TESS), they got married, he got a job and the years went by. 

Now in his mid-30s, and still happily married, he sees one last chance to still go for his dream. A showcase for a touring dance show is coming to his town. To be chosen in this showcase means being a part of the touring show for a whole year. He’ll have to compete against younger and better dancers to be chosen. And to make it even harder, his surgically repaired knee never recovered 100%, making it difficult to do moves that once came so easily. But no one wants it more, and no one will work harder. 

As that’s going on, Tess’ sister LANIE and her 9-year-old daughter KIT come live with them. Kit is upset about her mom and dad splitting up, and won’t talk to anyone. However, she loves to dance, and sneaks off one day to watch Jimmy practice. They end up doing a little tap dance routine together and as they bond, she starts coming out of her shell, and in turn she starts gaining self-esteem. 

As the day of the showcase nears, the obstacles keep mounting for Jimmy. His knee starts feeling sore, a new amazing tap dancer enters the competition, and Tess and Jimmy’s financial situation worsens. Due to all this, Jimmy’s confidence starts to fade – until Kit returns the favor and helps get Jimmy back on track. 

When the big day of the showcase arrives, it becomes all that much clearer how brilliant the competition is. Even those who believe in Jimmy the most, know the odds are great. 

And now it’s his turn to dance. Will he be able to rise above all the competition, and his own shortcomings, to dance the performance of his life? If so, then his lifelong dream will be realized. Dance Baby Dance will be released in theaters and VOD on January 19th from Indie Rights.

A dance film is similar to an action film, explains Stephen Kogon, writer/director/star of the upcoming Dance Baby Dance

TMS: Is this a movie you wrote or co-wrote? How long did it take to get out that initial draft? 

SK: I wrote it. I’m a fairly fast writer and I believe with first drafts it’s more important to get it done than right. I then look at it as a sculptor would look at a lump of clay and start molding it via rewrites… So the initial draft probably took about 6 weeks. 

TMS: How much did the script change over the course of the next few drafts? 

SK: The plot stayed mostly the same. In rewrites I focus mostly on characters and dialogue. Once I get the voice of a character in my head, those rewrites also happen pretty quickly. But I always constantly tinker afterwards to continue to sharpen everything. 

TMS: Is there anything you found more challenging when penning the screenplay? 

SK: The challenging thing was making it feel like it was long enough. A dance film is similar to an action one in that the actual dance or action scenes will take up a lot more screen time than they do on the page. So a 75-page script will actually be around a 90 minute movie. But when you’re used to writing 100 page scripts, it’s a little discomforting when it’s only 75 pages. You’re tempted to add more just to pump up the page count. Thankfully, I didn’t give in to the temptation. I just had to trust that it would be at least 90 minutes, and we ended up at about 93 minutes. 

TMS: When working on the screenplay do you have actors in mind for some of the characters, as you write them and their dialogue, or did that come later? 

SK: Each script is different, but for this one the only one I had in mind was me, as I knew from the outset I wanted to play the lead. So none of the other characters were written for any specific actor. However, after our initial shoot we did two sets of 3-day pickups – and that allowed me to write extra material for most of the characters, especially Hector the dance studio owner (played by Carlos Alazraqui) and his assistant (played by Clare Grant). And I mainly did that because I so loved all that they had done in our initial shoot. I felt the movie would benefit from seeing them more. 

TMS: Can you talk about some of the initial ideas for casting? 

SK: Since I did write the script, I had specific ideas for what I wanted from each character. This played out mostly with Hayley Shukiar (who played my character’s 9 year old niece). Her and my scenes were vital to me so I wanted to cast her as early as possible, so we could rehearse as much as possible. And I’m glad I did, because it helped both of us. And also, since this is my first film, and I’m unknown, I knew it would be a good idea to add name actors. With Beverley Mitchell (who played my character’s wife), I thought she’d be good in the role, so we sent her reps the script and she liked it… And with Jim O’heir, I’m a big Parks and Recreation fan, so I wanted him to play my character’s boss. And same thing, we sent his reps the script and he jumped on board. 

TMS: And did you always envision playing the lead? 

SK: Yes. While it wasn’t autobiographical at all, I very much related to the underdog aspect of the character and knew exactly how I wanted him portrayed, so I planned from the outset to play Jimmy. 

TMS: Any advice for those looking to make a movie – should they just 'go out and do it' or do you advise they get educated first? 

SK: I would say a little bit of both. You’ll actually learn the most through hands-on doing. But some of the mistakes you’ll make could be costly, so I’d suggest getting yourself at least somewhat educated first (as that will help eliminate some mistakes) – and then starting off with smaller projects (shorts, webisodes). I’m actually just finishing up a book about the making of the film, in which I give a lot of advice through the eyes of a first-time director/producer. And I detail in it all the things that I think worked, and all the mistakes I made along the way (plus I include our shooting script with notes I made about each scene). 

TMS: What about tap dancing? What can you say are the benefits or positives of taking tap up? 

SK: One of the benefits is it’s great cardio! I can honestly say I got in the best shape of my life because I spent 5-6 days a week (for two years) practicing my tap dancing. Other benefits are, if you find you enjoy tapping, there are more tap classes than people realize and you’ll get to meet new people to share this fun experience with.