William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet

A Feature Documentary

William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet is a documentary about legendary choreographer Margo Sappington’s quest to create a ballet set to the music of William Shatner’s critically acclaimed album Has Been.

  • The film explores the genesis of this unique artistic collaboration by fusing the music, poetry, and dance of “Common People” with interviews by William Shatner, Ben Folds, Margo Sappington, and Henry Rollins. Shatner plays a prominent role in the film and also acted as Executive Producer.

    The album Has Been was produced and co-written with Ben Folds and features guest appearances by  Aimee MannJoe Jackson, Henry Rollins, Brad Paisley, and Adrian Belew.

    The film was made by Special Entertainment and Big Screen Entertainment Group in association with Shatner’s Melis Productions.

    Joe Leydon of Variety: “[Gonzo Ballet] adroitly intercuts between scenes of dance preparation and performance, interviews with Folds and others involved with the original album — and, most important, earnestly expressed recollections and recitations by Shatner himself. During the pic’s unexpectedly moving final scenes, Shatner comes across as at once playful and pensive, amused and unguarded.”  The film also features Ben Folds, Henry Rollins, Margo Sappington, and members of the Milwaukee Ballet.

    In a recent interview Shatner spoke about the unique experience he had working on the film, “It was an odd idea when I was approached by Milwaukee to make the ballet, and then it seemed to me a good idea to record it on film … and lo and behold, there was this oddity that I titled Gonzo Ballet. And I’m out there pushing it on the film circuit, which I’ve never done before. It’s all a curious experience.”


    Shatner with the Milwaukee Ballet

    The World Premiere was mentioned in The New York Times and took place at the 40th Anniversary of the Nashville International Film Festival. The sold-out show received a standing ovation and extremely positive reviews from local and national media, as well as winning the 2009 NaFF President’s Impact Award.  Special Entertainment and production partner Big Screen Entertainment Group were on the red carpet for the premiere, along with Shatner, his wife Elizabeth, Ben Folds, and Sheryl Crow.

    William Shatner with the directors

    The film screened at the Marbella International Film Festival in Spain, where it won the Best Documentary award. Shatner traveled to Spain to attend the festival and accept the award. In 2012 the film won a Silver Telly Award in the film category.  The film has also screened at the Rhode Island Film Festival, the Edmonton International Film Festival, DocFest Stratford, and many others.

    Gonzo Ballet was made by Special Entertainment and Big Screen Entertainment Group in association with Shatner’s Melis Productions.  The world television premiere was a multi-platform release through EPIX, a joint venture between Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate, and MGM.  The film was available on Netflix and will soon be released on DVD and Video-On-Demand.


    “Shatner supplements his trademark self-mockery with heartfelt sincerity, emotional openness and wisps of wistful melancholy in William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet, a surprisingly revealing doc that suggests the full depths of his self-awareness and — no kidding — artistic aspirations.”

    “When the lights went up, there were cheers. Shatner comes across as a true original.”

    • — Mark Rabinowitz, indieWIRE

    “The best part is Shatner himself, who reveals a heartfelt soul. It feels like this is the genuine man behind the myth.”

    • — Brent Rolen, Nashville Scene

    “A terrific film … Gonzo shows Shatner and his craft in a revelatory new light.”

    • — Brent Gohde, The Onion A.V. Club

    “An unexpectedly poignant film.”

    • — Enrique Limón, San Diego City Beat

    “Exhilarating … Unexpected lyrics coupled with lively dancing makes William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet a joy.”

    • — Michael Janusonis, The Providence Journal

    “One of the biggest events at the festival was easily the world premiere of William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet. It shows a side to William Shatner that most of us have never seen before.”

    • — Stephen Lackey, Mania

    “Despite the jaunty nature of the title, William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet is a profoundly bittersweet work.”

    • — Richard Ouzounian, The Toronto Star

    “Surprisingly engaging … Refreshingly thoughtful and candid.”

    • — Jim Ridley, Nashville Scene

    “Deep emotional territory, but there was no shortage of comical moments.”

    • — Paul Cluff, The Beacon Herald

    “Meet William Shatner, sans the iconic mask, in this fascinating documentary … scenes of dancing are melded with those of the actor openly discussing his artistic frustrations and the making of a record that’s full of surprise and candor.”

    • Netflix

    “The Shatner-Folds-Sappington trio received two thumbs up from fest-goers and Shatner fans alike.”

    • — Valerie Middleton, San Diego News Network

    “A lot of fun.”

    • — Tom Strini, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

    “It’s intimate, it’s genuine, and it gives us one thing we weren’t really expecting from a washed-up former Captain Kirk: Inspiration.”

    • — Christy Frink, Nashvillest

    “Perhaps the strangest (and maybe even the most fun) documentary at the festival.”

    • — Allen Amundsen, Times-Standard

    “William Shatner followed his intuition and boldly went where he had never gone before.”

    • — Jeff Heuchert, Stratford Gazette

    “Every dance number they do … shows the heart and soul of the dancer thrown into every move, every lift, and every turn. I recommend that everyone who appreciates creativity in all mediums see this movie.”

    • — Alicia Glass, San Diego Film Festival Review

    Gonzo Ballet manages to express feelings of sincerity and creativity.”

    • — Heidi Hoffman, The Tennessean

    “After decades as a camp figure, Shatner has really pulled off an impressive comeback late in life, earning a new respect for his acting and his music.”

    • — Greg Stacy, Monsters & Rockets

    “I loved just about every moment of this film. There’s a fascinating sort of openness in William Shatner … He seems a truly happy man, a man confident with his legacy and legitimately curious and thoroughly engaged in the world around him. This documentary captures exactly that spirit and energy in Shatner. It’s a wonderful documentary because Shatner’s energy and honesty is almost infectious. There’s an almost palpable glee in Margo Sappington’s eyes when she talks about the ballet that Shatner inspired. And Sappington creates a ballet that’s intriguing and weird and tremendously moving. William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet was a moving, fascinating, wonderful documentary that did exactly what art is supposed to do. It really shook me up. A celebratory film of the highest order. Do yourself a favor, make the decision to let this one into your life.”

    • — Daniel Elkin & Jason Sacks, Comics Bulletin



    Melis Productions Presents
    with Big Screen Entertainment Group
    A Special Entertainment Film

    Executive Produced by William Shatner

    Directed by Pat Buckley & Kevin Lane
    Co-Directed by Bobby Ciraldo & Andrew Swant

    Music by Ben Folds

    Ballet Concept and Choreography by
    Margo Sappington

    Co-Executive Produced by
    Kimberley Kates
    Scott Woolley

    Produced by
    Patrick Buckley
    Kevin Layne
    Michael Manasseri
    David Zappone

    Co-Produced by
    Christopher T. Carley

    Cinematography by
    Mark Escribano

    Edited by
    Ray Chi

    Gonzo Ballet small poster2











    “Talk about ahead of the curve — it’s like the world has finally caught up with William Shatner. Turns out he’s been laughing the whole time.”
    — Henry Rollins, musician

    “The record needed to get this kind of exposure to let people know it was seriously good. But as evident by this ballet, it’ll have its cult, intense following, because it actually means something. These are the stories of Bill’s life.”
    — Ben Folds, musician