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Labors of Love: Passion fuels work of local filmmakers

  • Eye-Open-Pictures-intern-Ryan-Carpenter

    University of Toledo student and Eye Open Pictures intern Ryan Carpenter gets ready to roll the camera while shooting the film "Frankenstein" in The Oliver Street Studios near the Oliver House.

    The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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  • Chad-Foltz-Ed-Bazydlo-Christopher-Wietrzykowski

    Camera area ready to roll while actors Chad Foltz, left, Ed Bazydlo, right, and Christopher Wietrzykowski, center in chair, rehearse a scene while shooting the film "Frankenstein" by Eye Open Pictures.

    The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
    Buy This Image

  • Paige-Ramse-Eric-Badik

    Paige Ramsey, left, puts make-up on crew leader Eric Badik.

    The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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  • Terry-McDaniel-Jordan-Salkil

    Terry McDaniel II, left, goes over props with writer/director Jordan Salkil during filming of "Frankenstein."

    The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
    Buy This Image

Eye-Open-Pictures-intern-Ryan-Carpenter

University of Toledo student and Eye Open Pictures intern Ryan Carpenter gets ready to roll the camera while shooting the film "Frankenstein" in The Oliver Street Studios near the Oliver House.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Even Steven Spielberg started somewhere.

For the famed filmmaker, his career was born shooting 8 mm movies as a teenager in Phoenix, before moving to Los Angeles as a senior in high school and later as a film student at California State University, Long Beach.

For many talented film auteurs, their starting point is northwest Ohio, where they work full-time jobs outside of the movie industry while living the filmmaker’s dream of making movies on the cheap on weekends, with a dedicated (read: free) cast and crew, and screening their combined labors of love to friends and family. Others have taken bigger steps to Hollywood by way of New York, where they continue to push for a full-time career making films.

Here are some of their stories.

Low-budget

It’s a recent snowy Saturday afternoon, and the cast and crew for an ambitious full-length Frankenstein film is chatting inside an artists’ warehouse subbing for Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s home.

VIDEO LINKS

FRANKENSTEIN:

Written and directed by 24-year-old Jordan Salkil, a Swanton High School and University of Toledo graduate, as part of hislocal film production company, Eye Open Pictures. The full-length film is based on Mary Shelley's classic novel. This is a Toledo production filming now with all-area talent behind and in front of the camera. The film will premiere in July.

Teaser trailer 1
Teaser trailer 2
Teaser trailer 3


HONOR IN THE VALLEY OF TEARS:

A documentary examining a special Army unit in Vietnam and the sergeant who led them. Written and directed by Eric Dow, a 32-year-old Betford High School and University of Toledo graduate, who went to film school in Los Angeles and now works in New York.

Trailer

SHOCKWAVE DARKSIDE:
A low-budget sci-fi action film edited by Dow.

Trailer


BAD DADS:

A series of comic -- sometimes darkly so -- shorts about 20-something sons trying to reconnect with their troubled or troublesome fathers. Derek Westerman, a 27-year-old filmmaker from Toledo, conceived the idea, and wrote and directed the three- to five-minute films. The first five shorts star Michael Cera, a friend of Westerman, as well as comic-actor Will Hines of the Upright Citizens Brigade. Westerman signed a deal with CollegeHumor.com to premier and host the Cera-Hines Bad Dads videos. A new one will premiere Wednesday afternoon. He lives in New York, and is a St. John's Jesuit High School, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, and New York University graduate.

Episode One
Episode Two


THUNDER ON THE FARM:

Cap Averill, II, is the owner and president of Mantis & Moon, one of the area’s more successful independent film companies. His first film was a drama he co-wrote and directed about two men going through a divorce, Out of the Shadows, which won  Best Full-Length Motion Picture Narrative at a Hollywood film festival. From there he started making a nature documentary about a summer on a farm in Delta, Ohio, 2007's Thunder on the Farm, which led to the "Thunder Series" of films: Thunder on the Mountain (2010), and the upcoming Thunder on the Lake and Thunder in the Canyon.

Preview

Frankenstein’s 24-year-old writer-director, Jason Salkil, recruited this group of area actors and filmmakers, all of whom are working for free, and spent months of meticulous planning and rehearsing before beginning shooting in January. Salkil, a product of Swanton High School and the University of Toledo, is making Frankenstein for a meager $3,000, with the hope that local screenings in late July will net enough in ticket sales to cover the film’s cost and possibly yield a profit for his Eye Open Pictures, an independent film company in Toledo.Even his selection of this project is based, in part, on budgetary concerns: Mary Shelley’s work is in open domain, so Salkil didn’t have to pay for rights to the 1818 novel.

Terry-McDaniel-Jordan-Salkil

Terry McDaniel II, left, goes over props with writer/director Jordan Salkil during filming of "Frankenstein."

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
Enlarge | Buy This Image

"We’ve never taken a loan. We’ve paid for this [movie] ourselves," Salkil said rather proudly. "And all that money goes back to the company. We actually don’t cut us a paycheck; all our money goes right back into making more films."

What he’s doing with so little money got back to executives at Universal Studios, who were impressed enough with the concept of Salkil’s low-budget take on the horror classic that they have arranged to screen the film with Salkil and others from the crew this summer.

"You don’t need to have a million dollars to make a good movie," he said. "All you need is a good director, a good writer, a good cast, and a good crew. Just good people behind you who want to do this."

The Drive

"I think you just have to have that drive, you have to have passion" to be successful in the movie industry, said Eric Dow, a 32-year-old filmmaker living in New Jersey, just outside of New York. "You have to be good at networking and meeting the right people to help get you to the next level."

Dow was born in Toledo and graduated from Bedford High School in 1997 and later UT. Then he left for Los Angeles, where he quickly found work on the production of the Special Edition DVD of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

"I’m fresh from Ohio to L.A. and a few weeks later I’m escorting Viggo Mortensen into his interview for the discs. It was pretty cool," he said.

Chad-Foltz-Ed-Bazydlo-Christopher-Wietrzykowski

Camera area ready to roll while actors Chad Foltz, left, Ed Bazydlo, right, and Christopher Wietrzykowski, center in chair, rehearse a scene while shooting the film "Frankenstein" by Eye Open Pictures.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Dow later moved to New York where a friend pitched him an idea for a documentary on a special group of Vietnam vets bonded by fate, courage, and combat. Dow liked the story and put together a short, budget-conscious shoot, which meant he had less than a month to assemble a crew and interview the former soldiers. Additionally, it took Dow eight months of working nights and weekends to complete the film, Honor in the Valley of Tears, which went on to play in a handful of film festivals last year and is available for purchase at Amazon.com.

While Honor in the Valley of Tears has not made him wealthy, it has led to better opportunities, including steady work as an editor on a 3-D sci-fi film, Shockwave Darkside, and a TLC television show, What the Sell?!

"I think (Honor in the Valley of Tears) was an investment in my own career," he said. "While I didn’t get paid to do it, it has gotten me a great deal of work in television and editing films and various TV shows. It’s a resume builder and shows what I am capable of doing."

Celebrity connection

Sometimes it takes a break to make it big. Derek Westerman, a 27-year-old filmmaker from Toledo, found his in Michael Cera.

The pair met years ago while Westerman, a 2002 St. John’s Jesuit High School graduate, was attending Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, and Cera (Juno, Arrested Development) was building his acting career. After moving to New York, Westerman lost touch with Cera, but decided to reach out to the actor about appearing in a personal project, Bad Dads, a series of short films about young adults trying to establish relationships with troubled or troublesome middle-aged fathers. After Cera agreed to help, Westerman wrote furiously for a month and a half, putting together "the best content possible" for a five-series film story of an awkward reunion between a son (Cera) wanting a relationship with his estranged dad (Will Hines of the Upright Citizens Brigade), who has little interest in being a father.

"I had [Cera] for one day. It went from a couple of hours to, ‘Hey, are you down for a 12-hour day?’ " he said. "I’m sure we could have done more, but we packed it all into one day and it worked out just fine."

Westerman signed a deal with Collegehumor.com to premiere and host the videos, which have proven popular.

Paige-Ramse-Eric-Badik

Paige Ramsey, left, puts make-up on crew leader Eric Badik.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
Enlarge | Buy This Image

"Right when Michael Cera agreed [to appear in the films] I knew what that meant. If I made the same caliber comedy and released it on CollegeHumor.com, sure it would get hits ... but just because Michael Cera was in it, thousands more people would see it. Within the first day 50,000 people had seen it. That alone is way more people who have watched anything I’ve ever made. I’m pretty happy about that."

Meanwhile, Westerman is between film projects, while working at the NYU library and taking the odd film job to pay the bills.

"It’s enough to pay the rent and get some mac and cheese and some cheap steaks, but it’s not glamorous," he said. "But I’m not homeless either."

Regional success

"Dumb luck." That, saidCap Averill II, has as much as anything to do with his success as a Toledo filmmaker.

Averill, 48, is the owner and president of Mantis & Moon, one of the area’s more successful independent film companies.

After graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a focus on still photography, Averill co-wrote a screenplay with a friend about their ongoing divorces, leading to an unexpected career making movies.

The two collaborated on the film Out of the Shadows, which was shot in northwest Ohio in 2003-04 with a local cast and crew and submitted to three film festivals, including one in Hollywood where it won Best Full-Length Motion Picture Narrative.

"We did not expect to win anything," Averill said. "That was the first time [Out of the Shadows] was up against real-live movie-makers out there. We were extremely pleased about that. It kind of put some wind in our sails."

Averill used the film’s success to launch what would prove to be Mantis & Moon’s calling card, high-definition nature documentaries known as the Thunder series: Thunder on the Farm (2007) and Thunder on the Mountain (2010), which have been broadcast on local PBS affiliate WGTE-TV, Channel 30, and picked up for national distribution; and the upcoming Thunder of the Lake and Thunder in the Canyon. Up next is for Mantis & Moon is a financial documentary, Wants and Needs, and a full-length film, The Society.

That a local filmmaker can succeed and even reach profitability is "a challenge at best and a lottery at worst," Averill said.

"The odds are clearly stacked against us because we’re low budget and have relatively limited talent pools compared to some of the bigger cities," he said. "And therefore on the other side, what that means is that it forces us to ... truly focus on what advantages we do have, and there are some advantages (lower production costs, for example) that do help us increase our odds."

Contact Kirk Baird at:
kbaird@theblade.com
or 419-724-6734.

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