Coffee Shop Dance Off – Elle Latham

I came up with Coffee Shop Dance Off a little under 2 months ago. I was getting restless in my not so burgeoning career and had the notion to come up with a sketch I could make involving my friends Dan Engel and Cat Doss. I had worked with them on two projects before; Super Awkward Fun Time (a little web show I created and invited Cat to cohost on several times) and DangleTV (Dan’s paparazzi show that I pretended to intern on in an over the top version of myself).

At the time I sat down to that table right across from Starbucks at Santa Monica and La Brea, I started to think of weird, funny things that occur in that kind of setting. I was listening to music on my phone at the time and then an idea popped into my head. It was crazy, dumb, simplistic, but different from anything I’d seen before. It consisted of two servers in a coffee shop that just started dancing, trying not to spill their coffees and one-upping each other.  Soon, I had a first draft script.

I had to think of a song to play during the dance off. The first song that came to mind was Starships by Nicki Minaj.  But I had to let that one go fast due to copyright and all that shit. It sucked cuz I thought that would’ve been hilarious. The irony is the song I ended up going with had someone claiming copyright even though the composer had been dead for over 80 years. I didn’t do the math. Okay. Anyway, that’s another issue entirely. The point is I couldn’t use Starships even though I thought it was perfect for the short.

Then, I focused on casting. I already knew I was playing Patron #1. That wasn’t negotiable. The problem was finding the dancers and seeing if Cat could play Patron #2. When I told her about the project and the part, she quickly said yes. I offered her no money but did ask for help producing since she had more experience in that area whereas I had zilch. She was an asset to me in the producing process and was made Associate Producer. I soon asked Dan if he’d DP for me as well as edit, knowing how good he was at both. He said yes. I told him I couldn’t pay him and he still said yes. So now, I needed two dancer/actors who were male and a location.

I tried to think about a restaurant that might let me film there without charge and quickly found Doomie’s, a little vegan/vegetarian restaurant I had been frequenting for the last two years. It was perfect.

Then, I approached Doomie, the owner, and he told me projects had been filmed there before and that it was cool if we did. I’m paraphrasing, of course. I thought SWEET! Location acquired.  I still needed dancers. At the same time, my AP Cat Doss asked if I could make Doomie a character in the short and so a second draft script was written in which he would announce the winner of the dance off as himself, basically. I named him Manager, of course. While I was at it, I decided to create a character for my DP Dan and give him the tag at the end referencing that infamous scene in Where Harry Met Sally when Reiner’s mother said she’d have what Sally was having.

Then, I looked at every public domain song list I could find and saw Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin on every one of them.  I knew, as soon as I heard the tune, it was the one.

I was also in the process of SAG-ifying the project and yes, it was the first SAG project I have ever worked on.  I do see the irony in that the first SAG project I worked on is my own.  I also see how sad that is.

The next task was filling in the most important roles of the short. That was without a doubt, the most challenging part. I posted a casting notice on LACasting, the standard casting site. I needed a room to audition them in so Cat suggested a free space in which you would just choose from their pool of talent and fill up a certain amount of spots with those actors in the audition and in exchange they wouldn’t charge you. This wonderful place is called CAZT.

This process led me to two very awesome dudes who would become the servers. Those dudes are Nick Baga (a Justin Bieber backup dancer and Dunkaccino from the only funny clip in Jack and Jill) and Phil Kruse (who encompassed everything I didn’t know I was looking for in his audition.) It took me a few days to decide on them but I believe it’s the best choice I could have made. They were available and knew there was no pay and everything was a go.

We went into production at 6:30am (before the restaurant opened) 08/26/12. Cat transported me and the crafty to the set and everyone basically arrived on time. I was just glad they came at all. (As is always my astonishment in life) Anyway, Doomie let us in, and we filled out paperwork for 30 minutes and ate breakfast that I provided out of pocket. Literally the least I could do. We began shooting around 7 with Dan as the AD.  He, Phil, and Nick came up with the sugar and coffee stuff at the beginning and he also added some shots that ended up looking great.

It took two hours to shoot the stuff with the entire cast and Cat, Dan and I filmed the tag scene after wrap. I shot the tag since Dan was in the scene. We wrapped filming at 9am. Not long after, we all went into the editing room.

Editing took a while to finish. Dan had to do a lot of cropping to insure Doomie’s signage was not visible and the end result was what was originally posted to YouTube. The only problem was two companies claimed copyright of Maple Leaf Rag and The Entertainer, respectively. So we changed Maple Leaf Rag to a version that was previously posted on YouTube. The Entertainer was removed from the video entirely.

As it turns out, the same company that claimed copyright on our original version of Maple Leaf Rag was back claiming copyright on the new one. So now, we can’t monetize the video. I ain’t got no money so I’m not disputing it. The point of this whole endeavor is; the thing I want you to take away from this is: don’t use music in your video unless you created it. (Even if it sounds like shit.) It’s worth it to not worry about copyright cuz that is a major bitch. I mean damn…



Elle Latham
Producer, Writer, and Director of Coffee Shop Dance Off


  1. Nice piece. Who knew that so much work went into a short video like that? Wow!

Speak Your Mind