by Garry VanGorder
Chris Patak's first film is a bit of a dog.
Uh, wait. Make that a bit about a dog. And not the barking, Benji, Beethoven type, either. No, this type of dog, you can really sink your teeth into.
On the face of it, the concept for Footlong, a documentary on the influence of the hot dog on American history, seems kind of, well, silly. But Patak, a 1993 graduate of the cinema and photography program at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, and Gerry Beyer, Patak's partner and lifelong pal and the credited instigator of the project, couldn't be more serious. The duo has teamed up with another Ithaca graduate, Susannah Ludwig '93, to produce and direct the two-hour documentary profiling one of America's favorite comfort foods.
According to a study cited by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Americans purchased 752 million pounds of retail hot dogs in 1995, about $1.2 billion worth. That's a lot of beef, and New Jersey residents Patak and Beyer count themselves among the most avid consumers. The duo has already compiled more than 12 hours of footage and will hit the road in July for a cross-country tour, making stops at such shrines as the Hot Dog Ministry in Columbus, Ohio, the Oscar Meyer WienerMobile in Chicago, and the Hot Dog Hall of Fame in Fairfield, California.
During the six weeks of driving and filming, Beyer has pledged to eat 500 hot dogs --- more than 11 a day. He has already proved he can wolf 'em with the big boys. Last summer he ate 10 hot dogs in 12 minutes during the 82nd annual Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest at Coney Island. (He missed taking home the Mustard Yellow International Belt by 14 dogs.)
And Patak has it all on film. The contest is one of about 25 stories that the crew plans to include in Footlong. Other segments will include interviews with people like Frank (of course) Webster, proprietor of the Hot Dog Hall of Fame; a look at wiener businesspeople (some vendors gross as much as $60,000 a year); and a hot dog history segment that will feature a tribute to Coney Island and Nathan's. Believed to have been America's first hot dog stand, Nathan's opened in 1916 after owner Nathan Handwerker (father of former Ithaca College trustee Murray Handwerker, for whom Ithaca College's art gallery is named) borrowed $320 from Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante.
The cost to produce Footlong has been set at about $114,000, and while the team is still actively soliciting backers, Ludwig says the film will be made. Line producer Ludwig's job is to keep the project on budget and on schedule. A free-lance film producer in New York City, she met Patak when both worked at the Campus Center at Ithaca. "That's what's so great about this project," she says. "So many of us are Ithaca graduates, and we all loved Ithaca. The things we learned there are enabling us to go ahead with this."
Los Angeles Producer
Grip/electric swing (stand-by camera)
Photo credit: Kevin Miller '92