Before last Friday’s showing at the Hollywood 11 theaters of Ask Me to Dance, a rom-com partly inspired by Sarasota’s woeful dating scene and produced by local cryptocurrency investors, I had never attended a movie premiere.
I went on an empty stomach, unsure of whether there would be hors d'oeuvres or pizza or caviar or whatever banquet red carpet events provide to their attendees. Unfortunately, there was no food. But there was a lot of beer and candy and I had to put something inside me.
Full of lager and licorice, I met the two people at the premiere most responsible for making the movie happen—husband and wife, producer and one of the film’s stars, Charlie Shrem and Courtney Warner. Shrem wore a blue-sequined tuxedo jacket.
“Who are you wearing?” I asked.
“Party City,” he said.
Last year, I wrote a story about Shrem and Warner’s involvement in the burgeoning cryptocurrency culture here in Sarasota. They used their financial know-how to get the movie production up and running. “The two other producers are all Bitcoin OGs,” Shrem said.
But it was Sarasota’s abysmal dating scene that compelled the couple to make the film.
“Courtney’s mom, who lives here, was having a hard time meeting guys and finding dates,” Shrem said.
“We followed my mom around a lot of the dates,” Warner added. “The dates you see in the movie are bad dates from actual experiences here in Sarasota!”
I asked why it’s so hard to date in Sarasota.
“There’s a lot more women than men,” Warner said. “And the men here go for younger women, for some reason.”
I told them that they were lucky they don't have to worry about dealing with the local dating scene.
"No, I'm the lucky one," Shrem said lovingly. He and Warner have their own beautiful love story. When Shrem spent time behind bars for some crypto-related shenanigans, Warner stuck it out with him and even abandoned her New York acting career to mov near his prison in Pennsylvania. Since then, the two have formed an unbreakable bond and brought their love story to Sarasota—where they see potential for change.
“It’s been a retiree community,” Shrem told me. “But now that it’s younger, it’s easier for couples to fall in love. There’s a lot of hope that there is love out there.”
The movie is certainly hopeful. It follows Jack and Jill, two love-starved singles on the verge of giving up on finding their soulmates who go on a series of dating misadventures after a bohemian woman with a black cat (who is actually just a homeless person with dementia) tells them they will meet their true loves before midnight within five days.
Jack, who is played by writer and director Tom Malloy and looks like Steve Buscemi if he was constantly eating something very bitter, just wants to find a nice girl he can dance with. But each date gets progressively worse. The women are either insane, suffer from a personality disorders, or have a history of stabbing their partners. Jill’s dates aren’t much better, filled with men who brazenly ask for sex within the first few moments of meeting.
But the worst part of all is that none of the dates can dance.
All that beer I drank made me have to pee, but I didn’t want to leave and miss any plot points. Fortunately, I didn’t miss any of the scenes that starred Warner, who plays Amy, a bride-to-be and cautionary tale who has stopped looking for love and settles for a handsome but very dumb man. Shrem also makes a silent cameo alongside former professional wrestler Kurt Angle.
I won’t tell you how the movie ends, but I will tell you that there is a full cast choreographed dance scene at the end.
Shrem and Warner plan on making the sequel to the film here in Sarasota, so long as they can convince our local government to provide some financial incentives.
“We had to film in Rochester, New York,” Shrem said. “We would have shot it here, but Sarasota has no movie tax credits. We are meeting with the Sarasota Economic Development Corporation to see what we can do. Former congresswoman Katherine Harris has been helping us with a film commission here. Every other state has one.”
Cities that subsidize films get a lot of great publicity in return. Sarasota can advertise its beauty by being the backdrop in movie scenes. I asked the couple where they'd like to film in Sarasota.
"Marina Jack, with all the boats," Warner said. "And of course all the beaches we have everywhere."
In the end, I feel like I got the full movie premiere experience but for the absence of celebrities on the red carpet, unless you consider vice-mayor Kyle Battie and former mayor Hagen Brody superstars. There were a few people in attendance who had soap opera good looks, and I wondered if they were celebrities, but upon closer inspection, they turned out to just be attractive people who go to the gym a lot. Perhaps a film like Ask Me to Dance can make Sarasota a Hollywood on the Gulf. Or perhaps Shrem and Warner will make a movie about their own love story—probably with less dancing.