Today’s spotlight independent movie is Nowhere Michigan, a crime thriller comedy from director Robert Vornkahl and starring Tequan Richmond, Jenna Boyd, Christina Scherer, Ashlie Atkinson, Seth Kirschner, Richard Riehle, and Nick Jax Slater.
Official Description: Fleeing the scene of a murder, David (Tequan Richmond) drives north, attempting to get as far as away possible. He ends up in a small, frozen town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and reluctantly becomes absorbed into the town.
Soon after, criminals involved in the murder track David down bringing violence and chaos to this town in Nowhere, Michigan. The colorful locals of this small town become integrally woven into David’s life. Madison (Jenna Boyd), a pregnant bartender with a rough past and hard nosed attitude; April (Christina Scherer), a girl-next-door waitress who can barely conceive of a world outside her hometown; Martin (Richard Riehle), an older, gruff ice fisherman who is deeply suspicious of David; and Erin (Ashlie Atkinson), a local drug dealer who befriends David but gets caught in the crosshairs when his past catches up with him. (Source: Website)
From director Adam Davis comes the suspenseful drama Broken Ceiling, starring Karan Kendrick, Regen Wilson, and Rane Jameson. In the independent film, “after countless disappointments & chronic mistreatment at her job, a woman turns a routine meeting into a career-changing confrontation.”
Breathe Breana is an independent documentary that focuses on Breana Schroeder, a champion surfer who suffers from a life-threatening disease, cystic fibrosis. Learn more about the movie in our spotlight article and you can watch it for free on Tubi TV.
We had the opportunity to talk with writer/director/producer Jude Klassen on her indie musical, Love in the Sixth. She shares lots of great insight on making an independent feature musical with what you have available to you. Read for more details and where to watch Love in the Sixth!
Why? Love in the Sixth is my first feature – a kind of accidental musical that was inspired by watching a cool film made for a grand (Mourning Has Broken) by my now producing partners, The Butler Brothers. At the time I was making political satire music videos with LITS DP, Rob McGee and we decided that we could definitely afford to make a feature for that amount of coin. We ended up spending more, but we did keep costs to a bare minimum with an incredible volunteer army.
I dusted off a script I was working on and started to assemble a team. At my pal Asher Ettinger’s music jam party, in April 2014, I met TC Folkpunk aka Tim Cameron who ended up being my co-star and co-composer on Love in the Sixth. Together with Asher we rather spontaneously started writing songs for the characters to perform.
What? It’s an “enviromantic” musical about living in the sixth extinction. LITS has been called “Blondie meets Cassavetes” and I think that’s pretty accurate. It’s not your typical musical, it’s a gritty, funny, naturalistic drama intercut with documentary footage – the main character, Dani interviews strangers on the street about love, relationships, and politics. OK, maybe a nod to the documentary style footage in When Harry Met Sally.
Some of the songs are full color productions like Fucking Love! and Mancation, others are weighty, black and white, dark night of the soul numbers like Murder Us to Sleep. An audience favorite is Bitch in My Pants that was recorded live – an authentic glimpse into the song-writing process where mating and making music meet. Dani is fighting the “Bitch in her Pants” who keeps ruining her life with bad man choices.
Where? We shot all over Toronto: west side, east side, my house, the actor’s houses, nobody was spared. The beauty of truly independent filmmaking is that you really can be spontaneous and that can lead to some pretty magical shit. LITS is a cool window into the Toronto artistic community with not-so-ordinary people coping with life in what feels like the end of days.
When? I started working on LITS in April of 2014 at the end of an intense breakup and threw every good, bad, beautiful, toxic emotion into the film. We had our World Premiere at the 2015 Whistler International Film Festival, and our US premiere at the 2016 Chicago International Movies and Music Festival (CIMMFEST). LITS screened in Toronto at the Fox Theatre in June of 2017 and November 2017 at a launch for being on the NFB / First Weekend Club’s Canada Screens website.
Who? Starring whoever showed up! That was our running joke. Thankfully, I know a lot of naturally hilarious people. Actors, musicians, painters, story tellers. The story revolves around single mom, tutor, and entertainment writer/host Dani (me) who films interviews: Martini Think Tanks in her living room. Her bestie, Mavis (Wendy Sinclair) is in a thruple with two brothers (Brett Butler, Jason Butler) and is falling for one of the bros. Dani’s daughter, Kat (Mikhael Klassen Kay) is the 11 year-old climate activist who fights the power and questions her mom’s choice of a boyfriend. Dani’s friend Qalie (Shay Steinberg) is in a dysfunctional relationship with Tamara (Lisa Santonato), and has some beautiful moments of romantic breakdown that includes putting on lipstick while driving.
Since in real life I was an entertainment writer/host I was able to wrangle a few interesting cameos from the likes of Survivorman (Les Stroud) who helped me recreate our Movie Entertainment interview as fiction with the intrusion of the jealous boyfriend, Sid (TC Folkpunk), who scares him off before Dani can finish the interview. There’s a sweet cameo from actor/comedian Dennis Trainer who plays a Survivorman super fan who pops out of the shrubbery to ask a few questions. Globe and Mail TV critic, John Doyle plays himself on Dani’s live streamed Martini Think Tank show with model/actor/voice of The Corporation, Mikela Jay playing a cynical Canadian TV star set on pissing off her controlling publicist who shuts Dani’s livestream down. We also have a cameo from environmental bad boy/musician John Lefebrve who does a duet with Bitchumen Bitch (me in a black wig) called Dirty Lies which we shot on both the Scarborough Bluffs (with epic paper-mache oil-covered duck costumes by Laura Lind) and Salt Spring Island in BC. John’s footage was captured by my second cameraperson, Jeremy Gilbert, who was on the island visiting his sister. “Hey Jer, while you’re there…“
How? You can catch Love in the Sixth on Amazon Prime Video in the US, Canada, and the UK. Final tidbit: I’m currently in post on my second feature as writer/director, Stupid For You, also a musical with the Dani and Kat characters in another time/dimension and the focus is on the teenage LBGTQ love triangle. Produced by the aforementioned Butler Brothers (Substance Productions Inc), with the same musical production team: Tim Cameron, Asher Ettinger and me. Still has that living at the end of the world atmosphere and wicked tunes but with a John Hughes nouveau vibe.
Written and directed by Gabriel Rhenals, For My Sister follows Evie (Stephanie Maltez) as she tries to help her sister Tris (Cristina de Fatima), who has “an ever-worsening case of depression”, to avoid their mother’s tragic fate. The independent film co-stars Natalie Ramirez, William Guevara, and Mireya Kilmon.
The movie came out last year and is currently available to watch on Amazon Prime Video (free with a Prime membership or is available to rent or purchase from Amazon).
We had a chance to talk with writer/director Mauro Ferritto, whose latest film The Pre-Drink hit Amazon last year. Learn more about his comedy about feuding best friends.
Who? The cast of The Pre-Drink includes Paul Rabliauskas, Jared Story, Mike Campbell, Nick Christie, Jessina Cheffins, Andrea Ginter, and Georgianna Oakley. Our director of photography was Zach Wolf, sound was Mathew Riediger, and I produced, wrote, directed, and edited it.
I knew I wanted to shoot a comedy feature, so I approached a few comedians in Winnipeg who I’ve been watching live and have been following for a few years now. I approached Paul first to see if he wanted to be in the movie, and he gave me a quick yes, to which I was surprised and elated. His close friend is Jared Story and I knew if he had a familiar face on set with him, the acting would come out more naturally and be a win-win. Jared is also a hilarious comedian and they played off each other well. Mike and I went to the University of Winnipeg together taking film. and we have kept in touch ever since. He nailed the part of Noah. I auditioned Nick for the lead and Jessina, Andrea, and Gerogrianna auditioned and it was an easy yes from my end as they’re all funny in their own ways with great acting chops.
Farmery Brewery were immensely kind and generous enough to give us free beer to use in the shoot. Which I was really happy about because I hate seeing water in beer bottles in movies, or worse yet, every label of every beer ripped off. It was great to have a real beer company (and real beer) in the film.
What? The story is about the complications of friendships. It touches on power struggle, deception, coming of age, and letting go of what you can’t control. The movie centers around four friends, two of which are fighting due to rumors that one slept with the other’s girlfriend, and one friend is in the middle trying to hash things out. Noah (Mike) is there as a buffer and a close acquaintance. Nick’s character, Dean, attempts to mend things, in his own way, and have everything be back to how they were – and all of this an hour before his wedding, where he also needs to pick one best man.
It’s a (mainly) one location comedy, so it’s something of a pressure cooker in one home with moments of humor peppered throughout. This movie was financed by my Visa, so using my house was really the only option. Having comedians as my actors, and writing something that had high conflict to keep the story moving and interesting, was informed by the budget, and was a great filmmaking experience.
Where? Most of the movie takes place in a house (Dean’s house). We filmed outside at Assiniboine Park, and over the Moray bridge, to grab a few exterior scenes, but the bulk of the movie is several rooms in a house.
When? We started shooting in April 2016, set in present day, and it was released in January of 2020. We shot every weekend for about 6 months, then came the edit. And I’ll admit, it took an embarrassingly long time to edit – not so much the actual cutting and sound and color grading (although that is a time consuming task, and I now have a new respect for editors), but for me to be courageous enough to finish the edit instead of giving up. At the time, and I think many filmmakers go through this, when you’re in the editing suite with your movie and you see a first cut, it can be tough to look at every frame you decided was good at the time. Now you have fresh eyes thinking “what the hell is this?” Scorsese has said that if you’re not physically ill when you’re editing, something’s wrong – and now I totally get that.
Why? Why I made this film? I was itching to shoot a feature film and direct- no matter what that entailed. So you start looking at what you can’t do and what you can do, and that informs the kind of movie you’re going to make. I had access to some really great comedians, I had my house, and I had a friend with a decent DSLR, and a lens we split for. That all pointed to a one location comedy. So with that in mind, I started working on the screenplay and a story within that frame.
Why are the characters doing what they’re doing? Dean loves nothing more in his life than his friends, and he’s on the verge of losing his two best friends. I think we can all relate with having a falling out with a friend in your group, and you can’t all hangout any more. You almost have to pick sides, or at least schedule your hang outs separately, and Dean is doing everything in his power to avoid this. So he lied, cheated, fought, and manipulated his way to try and fix things. Of course that never works out.
Paul’s character, Gabe, and Jared’s character, Zach, are on the outs. Gabe is accused of sleeping with Zach’s girlfriend, Alyssa, and Zach wants nothing to do with this friendship anymore. When drunken secrets spill they deal with their issues and do hash things out, but things are never the same. People grow up, you grow out of your friends, and we all move on in one way or another. In a way, this is a coming of age movie for guys in their 30s, with ambiguous morals but grounded in reality.