With the immortal phrase “This would make a great movie,” freelance writer Sewell turned an article on ballroom dancing in New York City grade schools into her first film, “Mad Hot Ballroom.”
“I’d already written an article about it for a local paper,” she explains. “And I thought this would make a good documentary. I’d just turned 40 and was jonesing to get out of the house — I had two 5-year-old twin girls at the time — and try something new. So my husband said, ‘All right, go ahead.’ I went to the bookstore and bought seven books on filmmaking, including ‘How to Write and Produce Your Own Documentary.’ ”
She called the only friend she knew with filmmaking experience, Marilyn Argelo, who was making industrial films at the time, and convinced her to direct.
“I scouted 20 out of 60 schools. I was doing most of the pre-production,” she says. On set, she worked as scheduler and line producer and got 700 release forms from parents. She also did all the music clearing and fund-raising.
“It was really crazy, but by the time we were ready to shoot, we hadn’t found any funding. I went back and borrowed from my family. I love to play poker, and boy, is it one big risk,” she laughs. “If I had known a lot of this going in, I’m not sure I would have done it. Naivete played a big role. I’m very proud of our team, mostly women over 40,” she says.
When Cinetic Media stepped up to distribute it through Paramount Classics and Nickelodeon, she says, “I felt like I’d just stepped into the ocean without any kind of swim floaties on. The biggest thrill was paying back the investors, our family members. I expected to go through the next 20 holiday meals with the feeling like I owed them something besides a crappy VHS.”