The HeadlinerOct 22, 2023 02:04AM ● By Kara Schweiss
Photo by Bill Sitzmann.
Tony Bonacci was still a teenager when he started making short films and dabbling in public access television. More than two decades later, he’s finally introducing his first feature film, The Headliner, after what he describes as “long and hard years of making music videos, short films, and commercials while at the same time working in the film production and photography industry in Omaha.”
“I started making short films when I was at the Omaha Public Schools Career Center. That’s when I really knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. A friend of mine introduced me to fellow Omaha filmmaker, Nik Fackler, and we became friends and started making short films together. He went on to make Lovely, Still (2008) and I sort of ended up focusing on band photography throughout my early twenties,” Bonacci recalled. “After living in Kansas City and Lawrence, Kansas, in 2008/2009, I moved back to Omaha and started doing production assistant work in Omaha while continuing to do photography, short films, and music videos. I learned a ton while working on set. It’s been quite a struggle and time goes by quickly—but here we are.”
The Headliner originated as a 2017 short film Bonacci worked on with friend and screenwriter Christine Burright in hopes that it could serve as proof of concept for a feature film. The short version was well-received, and Bonacci and Burright partnered again for the feature version, also bringing back Darrick Silkman to play the lead character.
“It was one of the first screenplays I’d ever written and I don’t think I actually wrote what they were looking for, but at no point did Tony say no to me. It was the same for the feature. He trusted the characters and tone I set for the screenplay and put his own spin on it for the film. It was a true collaboration, which, honestly, isn’t always how film goes,” Burright said. “As a screenwriter early in my career, it’s a dream to get a feature film produced with a director like Tony and a lead actor like Darrick.”
“I love working with Tony. He involved me in the preliminary stages of this project regarding character development and storyline,” Silkman said. “Tony keeps things lighthearted, casual, and fun on set, which is beneficial to the actors, especially in a comedic project such as this one. I can’t remember ever feeling any tension on the set, even during the times that we were pressed for time. He has also kept me in the loop regarding post-production, letting me view the film in several editing stages over the last few months.”
Bonacci, who admits to favoring “awkwardness and weird relationships” in his projects, said The Headliner is about a stand-up comedian, Chad Allen, trying to find his voice and break out of the Omaha scene. As he develops material and his career, the character also attends to relationships with various people in his life and a major career opportunity that leaves the comic conflicted.
“Zach Peterson, who is one of the biggest and best local comics, wrote all the stand-up material for my main character,” Bonacci said. “He's also in the movie performing his own stuff.”
Other local comics featured in the film include Rachel Ware, Carmela Anderson, Megan Malone, and Tyler Walsh. The film was shot locally.
“I hope people in Omaha and Nebraska see it and know how much Tony loves his local community. He was so intentional about featuring the incredible bars, clubs, comedians, actors, et cetera we have here,” Burright said. “It’s a film that really speaks to the complexities of life and adulthood beyond your 20s and 30s which—if you know, you know—can be both miserable and hilarious at the same time.”
“It has a really nice balance of somewhat crude humor and heart. It also offers a nice blend of storytelling and stand-up performances, toggling back and forth between the two,” Silkman said. “One of my favorite things about The Headliner is how the stand-up performances tend to comment on what is going on in the narrative of the film.”
“I just turned 40, and there’s no way I’m going to start over and struggle in the film industry when I can just make my movie here and live comfortably. Omaha has been pretty great, though. I learned everything I know here working on film and photo sets and a lot of people have been really supportive,” Bonacci said. “My near-future goals are to get The Headliner into film festivals and then hopefully get a streaming deal.”
He added, “So far, success has only meant completion. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m successful. I’d say I’m persistent and unwilling to give up. I’d say the reason I’m able to accomplish things in this competitive sector is because I’ve developed good relationships with collaborators and because I know how to get certain things done. I also know how to stick with what I want for a film project with confidence,” he said. “Hopefully another reason is because the material is entertaining. That’s the main hope. I want people to like my projects.”