Ron Holiday, Cat Dancers

/*--- holy mAcar00ns!! --- */

I watched a fascinating HBO documentary last night about some big cat trainers/dancers/entertainers (Ron Holiday, Joy Holiday, Chuck Lizza), operating under the name of Cat Dancers, who got attacked, killed and eaten by their own white tiger, Jupiter, who is something of an inbred retard of a tiger (he eventually gets shot by the SWAT team that comes to rescue Joy Holiday).

ron holiday, cat dancers, joy holiday and chuck lizza

eflimcritic interviewed Harris Fishman, the film's director.

How it came to be:

Well I hate to admit it but it started one summer afternoon when my mom called and said, “You know that place in Florida where your brother is?” I said, “Yes,” and she said, “Well, the man who is teaching your brother has this amazing story and it would make a great film.”

Of course the last thing one wants is for their mother to tell them what to do, but she was right as most mothers usually are and I knew after I looked more into it that Ron’s story would make an amazing film. It was the summer of 2000 and I remember going to brunch with a few a friends and sort of casually “pitching” them the story. One of my first very close friends who I met when I moved to Los Angeles, Chris Keenan, immediately said, “This story sounds amazing….let’s go down to Florida next week.” Chris, one of the co-executive producers of CAT DANCERS gave me the first monies needed for me to go down to Florida and shoot some initial interviews to determine whether the story would work on film. In Florida, we also got to see the animal sanctuary where Ron had moved to heal after the tragedies. I then spent months reviewing, cataloguing, cleaning and combing through Ron’s home video, super 8mm, photos and other archival materials in order to peel back the layers of Ron’s story so to speak and figure out how to tell his story using those materials. After that initial period I worked intermittently on the project over the course of the next 5 years. I would meet very smart and sensitive filmmakers along the way who would come on board to work with me and help to move the doc forward. Perhaps most importantly, it was my old friend and creative collaborator, Silas Weir Mitchell, who helped finance the second round of shooting and was with me during all these years of making CAT DANCERS.

I was able to make a trailer and a few assembled scenes that I took to the IFP Market in NY and showed as a work in progress. The trailer attracted some nice attention and I was then introduced by Caroline Libresco (Sundance Programmer and Associate Producer) to my now Executive Producers, Josh Braun of Submarine and the wonder women at Cactus 3. They loved the samples I had and were able to attract HBO to giving me a nominal amount of development money to again move the project forward.

At that stage, I also was introduced to an amazing DP, Amanda Micheli, who went on to shoot a trailer with me that eventually led to HBO providing completion money for me to finish CAT DANCERS. Once HBO came on to help me finish CAT DANCERS, I recruited Amanda to not only finish shooting the film with me but also to be my producing partner on the project. Shortly thereafter, I was introduced to a very talented editor and filmmaker, Alexis Spraic, by Submarine and Cactus 3. We both immediately clicked on my vision for the film and she never stopped challenging me which was enormously important. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Herculean efforts and pure genius of Mirabelle Ang, who was our Assistant Editor, and wonderful filmmaker in her own right, who oversaw with me the labyrinth of technical details associated with finishing a film on Final Cut Pro. As I hope you can see, I am enormously grateful to every single creative person who has helped me along the way…I wish I had more time to enumerate everyone’s contribution…please see my “thank you” list. Its 7 years of acknowledgements!

Technical stuff:
My producing partner and DP, Amanda Micheli, will answer this one: CAT DANCERS inter-cuts constantly between the present and the past, which is represented by archival footage of greatly varying quality from consumer video, Super-8 film, and dubbed VHS sources. The present-day material was shot on the Panasonic SDX-900 at a 16:9 ratio and 24 frames per second, to set it apart from the archival clips and give us a more controlled voice amidst this collage of formats. The SDX-900 is great for smooth handheld work and lowlight situations, and comes as close as we could get in standard def to a truly cinematic look with video.

There's a cool song at the end of the film from The Magic Show by Stephen Schwartz called Lion Tamer. I know the song's been covered by Kristin Chenoweth, but I don't think this is her version. If you know who did the version in the film, please leave a comment!

I'd like to be a lion tamer,
Sequins and tights and silk top hats.
I know I could be a lion tamer,
I've always gotten along with cats.

I'd have a whip but never use it,
I'd simply hold it in my hand.

I'd like to be a lion tamer.
If I could be a lion tamer
I would be someone grand.

I couldn't be a ballerina,
I never could stand on my toes.
I couldn't be a Spanish dancer,
I'd look ridiculous with a rose.

But ev'ryone has a special calling,
Something that only she can do.

I could be such a lion tamer.
If I could be lion tamer
I would be special too.

I could begin with baby leopards,
Move on to tiger cubs and then,
After I learned to handle lions,
Maybe I could work up to men.

I never wanted fancy mansions,
Butlers and footmen liveried.
I never wanted lots of money,
Money can't buy what you really need.

I never prayed for any favors,
But here I am on knobby knee.

Please let me be a lion tamer.
If I could be a lion tamer,
Wouldn't he have to finally notice me?


all your bases ar--

ping moi pleeez

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pacman is coming

nuck nuck

e belong to us!