Making movies in Manistee
Community plays role in 10 West Studios films
Patti Klevorn - News Editor
Saturday, October 3, 2009
By PATTI KLEVORN
MANISTEE — While much of the rest of the community slept nights this week, a small army of cast and crew has been pulling all-nighters to create a good portion of 10 West Studios’ third film so far, turning Manistee into a backdrop for motion pictures.
Renee Zwiefka didn’t have a part in the film, but her two-story brick home at River and Cross streets sure did.
She lives next door to the studios at Seng’s Marina/Manistee Ironworks, and her home was used for the movie, transformed for a one-night shoot into a safe house for Lee Majors’ character Arlyn Rockwell, a double-agent trying to get out of the arms-deal business.
All of the contents of her living room were stuffed into her bedroom to make way for production designer James R. Cunningham to create the look he needed, a “dive” used by a man on the lam. He shopped west Michigan thrift stores for set furniture.
Having her home in the movie was a thrill, she said, and it was exciting to watch the making of a film.
“It was a great experience,” Zwiefka said Thursday afternoon as her carpets were getting cleaned following the shooting, literally, as there was a gun battle that took place in the home.
Zwiefka was glad to meet Majors, too.
“He was gracious and very friendly,” she said.
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Two of her four daughters, Judy Sannes and Sue Turner, and son, Don, all were able see the filming in person, and a third daughter, Ann Jaksa, had a photograph of herself as a child included in the footage taken. It’s there as though its character is Rockwell’s daughter.
Harold Cronk, a Scottville native, and his former fellow Evart teacher Matthew Tailford, are CEO and president, respectively, of 10 West Studios.
Cronk is director and Tailford is both co-producing and starring in the film for Pure Flix, an Arizona-based faith and family films production company.
It’s an apocalyptic thriller complete with explosions, car crashes and gun battles — all done right in Manistee.
Pure Flix asked whether the shooting could take place in western Michigan and Cronk and Tailford were pleased to oblige. The scene is set in Chicago, so the challenge this weekend is to make Michael and Sixth streets look like the Windy City, with hundreds of extras lining the streets.
Cronk is a Scottville native, while Tailford is from Toledo, now living in Brooklyn, Mich. They’ve both lived in California and Michigan as they’ve nurtured their film careers. The two have both held many positions in the industry, from production designer to director and producer. Tailford has acted as well.
The studio is filming back-to-back movies, having just finished “The Revelator” Monday. Starting this next film two days later was done purposefully, said Tailford.
“It makes it very doable,” he said. “Financially, it’s the way to go.”
They’d already assembled a crew for the previous movie so kept them on and added more for this film.
Amy Lynn Gajeski (Headrick) of Bear Lake is doing bookkeeping for the film, the second film she’s worked with 10 West on after taking a course in filmmaking at West Shore Community College. Gajeski earned her accounting degree thanks to the government after the Kaleva auto parts plant, Napco, closed and the jobs shipped to Mexico. She added the filmmaking class to her college studies last year and now hopes to become a production coordinator someday. She knows she’ll have to do some interning, i.e., volunteering, on the set to gain experience.
“The fellas at 10 West and Pure Flix are very likable, respectful,” she said.
Her 15-year-old son Christopher is excited his mom has some part in the movie-making industry.
“You rock, mom,” she said he told her.
Gajeski is especially looking forward to Cronk’s “Lucky and Plumpton” movie he plans to film in the future. She and other WSCC students helped build part of the set.
“That’s his baby,” she said of the film.
Dawn Butler of Grand Rapids is in charge of makeup for the cast, grateful for the job in the field she loves, regardless of the night hours pulled in 12-hour shift after 12-hour shift while a film is being shot.
“You do what you love or you don’t do it,” Butler said is her motto.
She spent Wednesday night creating looks for the stars, from making Lee Majors look disheveled to making a pony-tailed Russian stuntman appear something akin to a currently bald Tailford. Butler used her tricks of the trade, including a “bald cap,” to make the transformation.
“You have to be ready for anything,” she said
Timothy Albee, who is doing the film’s special effects and is teaching an animation course at WSCC this fall, said there’s a Midwest work ethic he appreciates when working on films made in Michigan.
“People here have an appreciation for good-paying jobs,” he said.
Pentwater’s Nancy Terryn used the skills she learned in the WSCC course to land a job on the crew, providing wardrobe. She had Majors in a muscle tank with a half untucked dress shirt and lead actor David A.R. White in a dress shirt over a long-sleeved T-shirt and casual pants for the a scene when the two characters first meet.
“Are you comfortable?” Cronk asked White about the attire. “Can you get to your gun?”
White said the clothing would work just fine.
Film tax credits
Albee, Butler and the owners of 10 West all talked about the need for the state’s tax credits for the film industry to continue. Those tax credits are the reason production companies are coming to Michigan, they said.
Those tax credits are helping the area’s economy, they all said.
The community has embraced the studio so far, Tailford said. Part of the reason is the money coming in for hotel room rentals and more.
“Everybody’s been super and really excited about what we’re doing,” Tailford said. “It’s been interesting to see that.”
The Blue Slipper Bistro in Onekama sees the financial benefit firsthand.
The eatery provides the majority of the catering for 10 West.
“We love it, especially right now, with summer business slowing down,” said manager John Greene. “We love the extra business we’re getting, and it’s a lot of fun.”
It was midnight Thursday morning when bistro owner Cheryl Kissel dropped off “lunch” to the crew.
The Blue Slipper kitchen staff makes a variety of dishes, from pizza, pasta, sandwiches, to special vegetarian meals and those made for people with certain food allergies, “a little bit of everything,” she said.
Sometimes requests for meals come at 2 a.m., and the Kissels are on call.
“There was one movie where they had to be up at 4 a.m. to get ready,” Greene said.
Cheryl and her husband, Brian, hop out of bed at a moment’s notice.
“We like the steady business,” Greene said. “So far we’ve been the main caterer.”
10 West owners came to the Blue Slipper about three months ago saying they were shopping for a caterer, Greene said. “They said, ‘We’re looking for the best,’ and they chose us.”
He hopes the restaurant gets a mention in the movie credits, but “either way” he said, it’s worth the effort.
It’s been exciting to see the movie stars in town, and the staff gets the scoop on who’s being filmed from the owners.
Greene said he waited three hours to get an autograph from actor Kevin Sorbo when “What If” was being filmed locally.
“Everybody there at the studio was very polite,” he said.
Goody’s Juice and Java in Manistee has provided some catering as well, Greene said he’d heard.
“It’s bringing more business in when it’s needed, in the slow months,” he said.
If it takes tax incentives from the state to keep the movies coming, then the tax incentives are worthwhile, he said.
“Michigan has the worst economy in the country,” he said. “If they’re bringing in thousands of dollars in business, that’s great for the local economy.”
Not only were the Zwiefkas, whose home was used in the film, excited about the movie-making, the neighbors came out to watch as well.
“It’s great for our little town,” said Marlene McBride.
Manistee has a lot of interesting scenery and unique architecture she expects will be useful for the film industry.
Bryan and Edie Dalke and their children Meredith and Zachary watched the action around the Zwiefka house for a while Wednesday night, mostly in silence as crew members were stationed outside the home to keep the area quiet.
“Rolling!” she’d yell.
Ken and Caroline Hall held their son Kenneth Jr.’s 1975 “The Six Million Dollar Man” album with Majors telling stories on it, hoping to get it signed. The star did sign the album, and the Halls said they appreciated it.
“Now we’ll have to listen to it,” Caroline said.