Filmmaker Invites St. Louisans to Appear in Movie About AIDS Crisis

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A still from one of the scenes in  Million Dollar Razzle Dazzle, a film St. Louisan Dan Steadman is making. Steadman invites St. Louisans to be part of it. - COURTESY DAN STEADMAN
  • Courtesy Dan Steadman
  • A still from one of the scenes in Million Dollar Razzle Dazzle, a film St. Louisan Dan Steadman is making. Steadman invites St. Louisans to be part of it.

Filmmaker Dan Steadman has worked with actresses such as Octavia Spencer and Jennifer Coolidge, but after moving to St. Louis, he found a love in working with local talent. His next movie, Million Dollar Razzle Dazzle, is being filmed across Missouri, and there's an upcoming opportunity for St. Louisans to appear in it, whether or not they have an extensive acting background.

Million Dollar Razzle Dazzle is an anthology film and friendship tale that takes place in St. Louis in the late 1980s during the height of the AIDS crisis. The story follows a man who has just found out one of his friends is HIV positive — a death sentence that, back then, usually meant the person had about twelve months to live, Steadman explains. The main character goes on a game show in order to raise money for a car to drive his friend to Mexico where he can receive a popular, but later proven ineffective, treatment for the virus.



Steadman is planning a scene in Grafton, Illinois, for New Year’s Eve. He’s looking for fifteen to twenty people in the queer community to play the lead characters’ support system as they all celebrate New Year’s Eve in 1987. The director is open to actors of all types. Age, gender and race don’t matter.

“It's important for me that LGBTQ actors, or even just people who wanna do it for fun, they’re playing the friend group around our lead characters. They're their support system,” Steadman says. “They're referred to as family because back then, sometimes the only family you had were your friends. And I think that's a big theme of the movie.”



For Steadman, a gay man, this film is in line with his mission to make progressive movies in the Midwest about marginalized communities. He's created nine movies around Missouri and Illinois, including films about underrepresented people in the LGBTQ community, women and men over the age of 50 and those who don't look like the conventional movie star.

Ultimately, the movies he makes are the ones he would want to watch. While Steadman doesn’t usually like to watch AIDS dramas as they hit “too close to the bone,” the film also serves as a reminder to the public about HIV and AIDS during a different pandemic.

“During the past two years of this pandemic that we've been in, people talk about ‘This is the worst pandemic of our lifetime.’ And as a gay man, I think ‘Not really,’” Steadman says. “I was young when in the '80s, I was a teenager. So I mean, I wasn't part of it. I'm not trying to pretend like I was part of that, but I came of age right after it. It's not like it's gone away, but I came of age in the '90s when it was still terrifying.”

Steadman says during the AIDS epidemic, specifically the late '80s, life was really hard for those who came before him because everyone was scared when another person coughed, much like COVID-19. So he decided to juxtapose that real fear with the fakest thing in the world: a game show.

Recreating the feel of the '80s — both the terrifying and fun aspects of it — as well as producing a glitzy game show to center the film around is a key part of making his movie. Shoulder pads, a cassette player, big hair and grounding yourself before you turned on a computer so you didn’t get an electric shock are just some of the pieces of the movie Steadman has made sure to include to transport his audience back in time.

“I'm loving the wardrobe, I'm loving the hair, the makeup,” Steadman says, “and just that general like super optimistic vibe that so many people had in the late '80s where they just thought everything was going great and nothing bad was ever gonna happen again in the world. But the fact that this culture was going on, as my culture was dying by the thousands, you know, that's the crazy thing.”

When the film is available to watch, Steadman hopes the audience will see the evolution of time. People think everything right now is bad, Steadman explains, but we don’t give enough credit to the progress that’s been made in the past. People say that this is the worst time in American history, Steadman says, but he disagrees, saying this is the best time — although, it could be better and hopefully, will become better.

At its heart, Steadman says Million Dollar Razzle Dazzle aims to compare time periods and tell a story of friendship — one that reflects genuine relationships Steadman has had over the years, forming a community or family that someone chooses, and steers away from the stereotype people hold of the LGBTQ community being all about sex and camp.

“Everybody knows going in and coming out of the holidays, you choose to build the life and family you need,” Steadman says. “That is really what this movie is about. I would say it touches other stories, but it really is that you create the family you need to get through this challenging life.”

If you’d like to be involved in the filming of Million Dollar Razzle Dazzle, please email Dan Steadman at [email protected] One scene will shoot in Belleville, Illinois at 7 p.m. and another will be shot in Grafton at 10 p.m. on December 31. Other opportunities to join in filming may be available in the next few months, as well.

Follow Jenna on Twitter at @writesjenna. Email the author at [email protected]
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