Imagine playing bingo for a payout of one million dollars! Seven bingo-loving players got the chance in BINGO CONFIDENTIAL, an upcoming movie that proves: “It’s not a game for kids.”
“It all started with The Bingo Bugle. It sparked my curiosity, so when I drove a friend’s mom to bingo, I took a peek inside. It was packed!” says filmmaker Susan Noel Benfatto, who is finishing production on Bingo Confidential. “There were all sorts of people with dozens of colorful charms and markers.”
When the bingo hall manager explained how bingo helps schools and communities, Benfatto felt inspired to make a movie. It could it be funny, she thought, and could draw new players to the game. An encouraging conversation with Dennis Conroy of The Bingo Bugle convinced her that turning bingo into a film was a worthwhile idea. That was in January 2008. “I asked my friends-actors, camera people, crew-if they wanted to help make the film-for no pay. And so it began.”
Shot documentary-style, Bingo Confidential follows several players’ comical stories on the way to the big jackpot game. Real bingo players were also added to the cast to perform various roles - as themselves. “It’s a comedy, so we stretched the personalities, but everyone was in on the jokes...No bingo players were harmed during the filming of the movie!” she laughs. The film’s characters include Lois Huckabee (Alix Elias from Rock and Roll High School), a three-time widow who tries bingo and falls in-love with the game - and con man John Glatters (Richard Marshall); Estelle (actor/comedian Sheri Goldberg), a Jersey girl in the witness protection program; Pamela Carruthers (Pam Levin of My Date with Drew) who becomes addicted to bingo; her worried husband Hank (Al LeBrun); and Nigel (Tony Doran), a British online player; and Sister Mary Jerome (Mary Sanchez), an ex-bingo hall manger and nun - a true bingo player and the inspiration for Bingo Confidential.
“They’re all very funny actors,” Benfatto says, “but most importantly, they’re all my friends.” The quirky characters finally meet up for the climax of the film at the Million Dollar Bingo Game. An ad in The Bingo Bugle delivered real players for the scene. “One of the ladies informed me very firmly about the correct way to play bingo,” says Benfatto, appreciative of the “extras” willingness to help and passion for the game. “That scene was the biggest challenge to shoot. It was mayhem,but lots of fun” says Benfatto. “Non-actors can sometimes be stiff in front of the camera,” she explains. “But in Bingo Confidential, it’s difficult to tell the real actors from the real players.”
The film was shot in New York and Los Angeles in the homes and offices of friends and relatives, and any location that gave permission and fit within the film’s budget. Bingo proved a worthy subject for the film for many reasons. ”There’s money to be won, which is exciting. It’s also a great place to socialize with your community, and helps charitable organizations,” says Benfatto. “I think the movie will appeal to bingo players and pique the curiosity of non-players.” Bingo is not as easy at it looks, she admits. From the fast pace to assorted patterns and unwritten rules (eg - do not sit in someone’s regular seat!), it’s overwhelming to figure out. An extra section on the DVD explains bingo protocol to assist new players. “As a bingo game progresses, it gets very intense. At a certain point, everyone seems only a couple numbers from winning. So when someone calls “Bingo!” there’s lots of expression in the room,” says Benfatto. “It’s a fun game.” Bingo Confidential captures that spirit.
The DVD release of Bingo Confidential is set for Fall '09 and you can win a free copy at the movie's website.
This article first appeared in the May 2009 print edition of Bingo Bugle (Los Angeles County) and was written by Roberta Cruger .
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