The Wisconsin Film Festival will showcase some 158 films when it opens this week, many of them from around the world.
But there’s only one that stars Madison’s funniest couple as lovers who’d might as well be living on different planets.
“Long Distance” is the witty and heartfelt film by UW-Madison student Steve Tooke and recent graduate Corey Dome. The two wrote and shot their 40-minute feature in less than two months last summer, then pooled $10 to submit it to the Wisconsin Film Festival.
At the start of their movie-making process, “We basically just wanted something to put on a reel so we could get a job afterwards,” said Dome. “By the second week (of filming) I think we both realized we really had something here. It wasn’t just a couple guys making a movie. It turned into a real film. And I think we both kind of surprised ourselves with it.”
Today Dome, 24, already landed a young filmmaker’s dream job as the associate producer of a new TV show for the Investigation Discovery (iD) network. Tooke, 21, is working as a production intern on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, also in New York.
Both plan to return to Madison for the sold-out film festival screening of “Long Distance” at UW Cinematheque Saturday evening.
“Long Distance” joins a handful of other student-produced films for the festival, including documentary shorts by UW-Madison students Billy Johnson and Ayla Larson.
Larson, a UW-Madison senior, created her five-minute film “Flog Therapy” as an assignment for an Introduction to Media Production class. Students were told to make an observational documentary with no talking heads or voice-overs.
Larson filmed at the Inferno nightclub and also followed a local man for an inside look at part of Madison’s bondage subculture. “Flog Therapy” will be featured along with the full-length documentary “I Am Divine,” about the famed drag queen Divine, on Thursday in the festival’s UW Elvehjem Building theater and again Friday night at Sundance Cinema 5.
“The instructor said don’t shy away from subversive or racy topics,” Larson said. “I think that really gave me the courage” to explore the themes in “Flog Therapy,” such as transgenderism, queer politics and her own feminist ideologies, she said.
Inspiration for a film
For fans of romantic comedies and racy humor, “Long Distance” is a polished 40-minute feature with high production values and stellar performances by lead characters Stacey Kulow and Bryan Morris. The pair plays a longtime couple trying to make a long-distance relationship work, even as their frustrations mount.
The film’s creators, Tooke and Dome, became friends while working for University Communications, the public relations department at UW-Madison. The two hatched their plan while working on a video project for the university’s website.
“It was the summer and we were doing a long series highlighting different parts of Madison. We were waiting for the sun to set on the Terrace, because we wanted to capture that (image),” Dome said.
“Steve said, ‘I’ve been wanting to write this movie.’
I said, ‘Well, start writing it, and let’s do it.’”
Tooke wrote the script in two weeks with input from Dome. Dome had a lead actress in mind: Kulow, whom he’d seen perform at the Comedy Club on State.
He asked a friend on the comedy scene for an introduction.
“I said, ‘This girl seems perfect for our film. She’s funny, she’s cute, so we’d like to get her in the movie,’” said Dome.
And it turned out that Kulow’s boyfriend was also a perfect fit for the film — Bryan Morris, who’d recently won the title of Madison’s funniest comic. Both comedians are members of the Atlas Improv comedy company and improvised much of the dialogue in the film.
“It worked out perfectly. They’re a couple in real life, so playing that role was not difficult,” Dome said.
Though the film has plenty of raunchy language and dwells a lot on sex, it has poignant moments, too — something that came almost as a surprise to the filmmakers.
“At first, we were like, ‘Oh yeah, there’s going to be a scene where Bryan and Stacey have phone sex. That’ll be funny,’” Dome said. “And then we move on to these big fights and them missing each other. I think for a comedy it also has a lot of serious moments that we didn’t expect going into it.”
Real-life experience informed script
Drafting the plot came easily for Tooke, who’d recently gone through a similar relationship himself.
“We struggled to make it work through Skype and phone calls and social media,” he said. “I thought it was a pretty interesting and sort of modern relationship and seemed like something I’d like to make a movie about, and that there weren’t many movies about already.”
Viewers will note a lot of Madison settings, some that serve as stand-ins for Seattle. Tooke and Dome borrowed video equipment and enlisted the help of friends for the project. The film’s cost — only $200 — mostly went toward props and food for the actors and crew.
“Most of the actors we found through Facebook postings,” Tooke said. “It was really helpful to have the networks of Madison-based filmmakers and people who are interested in comedy and film in Madison. A lot of local businesses really helped us out.”
Though the sole screening of “Long Distance” quickly sold out, Tooke and Dome are looking at other ways they might distribute the film and plan to submit it to more festivals. More information is available on their website at www.facebook.com/longdistancefilm.
“Steve’s really busy now at The Daily Show. I know where he’s been. It’s long hours,” said Dome, who also did a Daily Show stint as an intern.
“We’ve both talked about doing a bunch of comedy shorts. I think that’s definitely in the future. We work very well together.”