Television producer taps into filmmaking

'Matlock' director to showcase film he's taking to Sundance

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Jeff Peters' story sounds like the making of a student film. He and his partner had a small budget and six days to film. They begged and borrowed the film and all of the filming equipment. They could barely afford to pay the cast and crew, but everyone worked for them anyway.

But "Tap Heat," the 14-minute short film made by part-time Steamboat resident Peters and his business partner Dean Hargrove, is anything but a film-school piece. It was the work of an established Hollywood TV director and producer who wanted to make the switch to film.

But they only had $100,000 out of their own pockets to do it. It was time to call in favors, dust off filed-away business cards and use contacts.

Peters and Hargrove have been in television together for 20 years and are best known for producing and directing the long-running series "Matlock."

"Tap Heat" is their first film, which they plan to enter in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and use as a calling card to prove they have what it takes to leave "the little screen."

The idea came about more than a year ago. Last October, the men were having lunch in Los Angeles, and Hargrove slid two pieces of paper across the table. They were the script for "Tap Heat."

"Two pages. I laughed at first and then I read it. It is two pages because nobody speaks," Peters said. "It's all about dance."

From the start, Peters and Hargrove had some credibility issues to overcome. They had never made a film, and they were not dancers. "Especially, we don't tap dance."

The solution was to surround themselves with big names in the dance and film worlds.

By the time they got around to making "Tap Heat," it was April and Los Angeles was entering its version of the slow season, known locally as "hiatus."

Everyone was taking time off between big projects.

The men called Stephen Poster, director of photography for "Daddy Day Care" and "Stuart Little 2." Poster was taking a break after the filming of "Looney Tunes" and agreed to help with "Tap Heat" during his down time.

"Once we had him aboard, we were able to pull in an A-list feature crew," Peters said.

Kodak donated the film, and Panavision donated $150,000 in equipment. Crew members agreed to work for less than $100 a day, pennies compared to the amount they usually are paid.

"They knew it was going to be fun," Peters said. "And they would get a chance to show their craft."

The last piece crucial to making "Tap Heat" a success was to find a good choreographer. The dialogue of the film is in the feet.

"It's nonstop tap dancing, but manages to tell a fable without using words," Peters said.

They found Tony Award-winning choreographer Danny Daniels.

"The man is in his late 70s but he is in phenomenal shape. He has a studio in his home and gets up every day and taps for a couple of hours," Peters said. "He jumped at the chance to make a film about tap dancing."

"Tap Heat" is a story about two styles of tap dancing -- traditional and the newer street style tap. An older man and a younger man duel in a kind of dance-off.

After making the tap dancing film, Peters said he has a new respect for the art.

"I'm amazed by tap dancers," he said. "I kept trying to figure out why someone would dedicate themselves to something that won't make them a million dollars. It's just the pure love of it."

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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