How James Toback Accuser’s Film About Her Encounter Flipped From Drama to Comedy

Dani Alvarado hopes her film “Lost Beneath The Stars” sends message that women can “withstand the James Tobacks of any industry.”

When Dani Alvarado started making her short film, “Lost Beneath The Stars,” she envisioned the film as a drama based on her rough start to find her start in showbiz, with her character’s struggles beginning with a director who makes sexual advances towards her. But after finishing the film  — and releasing it in an industry finally holding sexual abusers accountable — she says it has grown in ways she never imagined.

In an exclusive interview with TheWrap published Tuesday, Alvarado revealed that the director scene was a near-word-for-word re-enactment of her own encounter with James Toback, who has been accused of sexual harassment by hundreds of women since a Los Angeles Times expose on him was published and whom Alvarado accuses of making lewd comments towards her after offering her a role in 2011.

“Look, I know a star when I see one and you need to be making art. Let’s partake in a trust exercise so I know we can work together,” the director says in the film. “There are two options. You can touch your p–y while I watch, or if you’re not comfortable with that, you can pinch my nipples while I whack off.”

That scene becomes the jumping off point for a look at two actresses and the parade of obstacles and bizarre situations they face. But while the short starts in a dark place, it soon takes a brighter, comedic turn, poking fun at some of the other experiences Alvarado had as a struggling actress like running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere and trying to flag a passing car down in a pink dress. It’s a tonal shift that came when Alvarado shared her experiences with her director, Michael Kofsky, and her co-writer and co-star, Claire Bermingham.

“Michael really honed in on the comedy of it,” Alvarado explained. “You know, when you’re living these moments, you’re just thinking of how frustrating it was, but talking about the script with him made me realize the absurdity of it and how it can be funny.”

Indeed, while discussing the film and their past with TheWrap, Alvarado and Bermingham’s stories came with laughter. They even laughed about the Toback incident, with Alvarado quipping that she first thought he was a homeless man when he introduced himself.  Bermingham, who met Alvarado four years ago, says that the ability to look back at the past with smiles came as they shared their stories of dealing with the indignities of showbiz and realized how universal the experience was.
“We went through everything together. The auditions, trying to get signed, living in L.A.,” she said. “I have also been through the business dinners where you get propositioned and I’ve been to the audition where you’ve been asked to undress. But what we were trying to do when making this film is to turn all those negative memories into positive creativity.”
Now, thanks to Hollywood’s ongoing reckoning with sexual harassment, “Lost Beneath The Stars” has gained a level of relevance that Alvarado and Birmingham never dreamed it would have when they filmed it a year ago. But they hope that people who see it take more away from it than just the opening scene. They want the film to be a message of hope for fellow actresses trying to reach their dreams, reminding them that the struggles they face — and the men who may take advantage of them — don’t have to define them or their careers, and can even become a catalyst for a brighter future.
It’s a message they want to be living proof of, as the two women have started their own production company, Fourleaf Films, and are in preproduction for their first feature film that will shoot in Ireland next year.
“When we share ‘Lost Beneath The Stars’ privately with peers, it was really rewarding that it resonated with actresses even before we premiered at Warsaw,” Berningham said. “They liked that we were able to be honest without being so dreary.”

“We’ve had people who aren’t actors reach out to us too,” added Alvarado. “They just enjoyed the message of hope that comes from this, and that message is that if you keep working and you maintain your passion for what you do, you can withstand the James Tobacks of any industry.”

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