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What's New
To love North Dakota... 
I watched a documentary a few weeks ago about Henri Langlois, a guy who dedicated his life to preserving and showing films – by any means necessary. In an earlier ‘NoDak Films What’s New Post’, I positioned the Sustainable Filmmaker as one who makes a film – by any means necessary. Mr. Langlois was not a filmmaker; he loved film. He said “to love cinema is to love life.” What if we added a third element to the previous phrase, an element that deals with place, space and identity – that element being North Dakota? When we insert North Dakota we have, “to love North Dakota is to love cinema is to love life.”

My wife is a graduate student at the #1 public policy school in the country. I can say that because it’s true and because my wife has earned her spot. Anyway, last year, a very smart and creative graduating student made a funny, yet poignant short-film about the school, the students, the curriculum and the staff. The film was not serious or infused with any kind of historical relevance about the school – the film was funny and more importantly, well executed while shedding a positive light onto the school. The administration enjoyed it so much the film was pressed into DVD’s, put into DVD cases that proudly displayed the school’s logo, and was then sent off to alumni.

“To love North Dakota is to love cinema is to love life.” NoDak Films goal is to produce well executed North Dakota films that shed a positive light on North Dakota. Films that a North Dakota alum (in, from or relocating) will enjoy and films that may bring in a new crop of “students” to North Dakota.

North Dakota now has ‘Experience North Dakota’ events trying to “draw talent back to North Dakota.” NoDak Films goal is to create 2-hour North Dakota advertisements under the guise of great dramatic feature-length films. I imagine a scenario where someone attends an ‘Experience North Dakota’ event. There they receive a copy of our first film while someone says, “we want you back, here’s what you’re missing.”

But it’s more than just making NoDak Films, it’s making damn good NoDak Films. Perhaps the best story or best analogy I took from the documentary about Mr. Langlois, is a two-part equation. The first deals with two films playing simultaneously at Mr. Langlois’ Cinematheque (movie theatre). One was more prominent because it was advertised heavily and had recognizable actors and actresses -- essentially people had heard of it before watching it. The film playing concurrently was lesser known and as a result less prominent. As a result, attendance for the prominent film far surpassed the unrecognizable film, BUT as those who attended the lesser known film gave rave reviews, more people attended that film because it was superior in substance. Mr. Langlois went on to say, “if you feed people crap, they lose their taste buds.” He was speaking about the anxiety people feel in a new film, when they are used to the films they have been fed.

Our first film will not benefit from heavy advertising or in-your-face movie posters fed to you on every street corner, BUT we are superior in substance. And that substance is you – we are looking for 1,889 individuals and businesses from, in or relocating to North Dakota to contribute $100 each and become an identifiable part in a substantive North Dakota film -- done right.

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One year old... 
As a business it's hard to pinpoint dates because an idea is constucted far before the practical application. Same with NoDak Films, but we do have a notarized document from the State of North Dakota dated August 24, 2006: Our certificate of trade name registration. The idea for NoDak Films started before the document below, but August 24, 2006 is a good date to pinpoint the practical application of NoDak Films so Happy Birthday NoDak Films -- we're 1-year-old.

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Wooly Boys, Industrial Commission and NoDak Films 
Way back in 1999, the Bank of North Dakota approved a $3.9 million dollar loan for the producers of the "Wooly Boys." Gov. John Hoeven was President of the bank at the time and a 3-member Industrial Commission approved the loan. The 3-person commission consisted of:

Gov. Ed Schafer
Ag. Commissioner Roger Johnson
Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp

When I started NoDak Films I made a list of goals. One item on that list was to get the Industrial Commission that approved the "Wooly Boys" loan to contribute to NoDak Films. That day has come; Gov. Ed Schafer, Ag Commissioner Johnson and former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp have all contributed their $100 to NoDak Films.

Each of them received the NoDak Films Contribution Packet -- if you love North Dakota join Gov. Ed Schafer, Ag. Commissioner Roger Johnson, former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp and the rest of our equally impressive list of contributors and help bring the best of North Dakota to the rest of the country and the rest of the world through great films, great NoDak Films, where great Films live.

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NoDak Films and City Magazine... 

I would like to thank Deb Dragseth for interviewing me, City Magazine for publishing the article and Ashley English for taking the picture.

The "related link" tab below shows the article and the magazine.

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The new independent film is not an independent film at all... 
According to Nielsen EDI (Entertainment Data Inc.), independent films accounted for $1.08 billion of the $9.14 billion total 2006 box office gross in the US and Canada, but what parameters are set around an independent film?

I read somewhere that an independent film is one financed outside the studio system, which could mean a $25,000 budget to a $25 million dollar budget.

To me, independent is having less of a financial incentive and more of an emotional incentive and artistic incentive, but then can a person with an exorbitant amount of money have the same emotional and artistic incentive as someone without? The simple answer ‘yes’, but this seems to go against the independent filmmakers mantra, which goes something like – “BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY”. Does the absence of money fulfill the independent spirit because less money means more control or does more money allow the mind to side with the emotional and artistic value of the project? I believe the former – less money means more control means more of an emotional and artistic incentive.

The Screen Actors Guild has an indepdendent wing called SAGindies where they offer contracts to independent filmmakers. They use terms like “ultra low-budget” “modified low-budget” and “low-budget” with budget’s that range from $200,000 to $2.5 million dollars.

According to their terms, an ultra low-budget film is $200,000. According to their terms, a modified low-budget film is $625,000. And according to their terms, a low-budget film is $2.5 million dollars.

How many people consider $2.5 million dollars low or $625,000 dollars modified-low or $200,000 dollars ultra-low? The budget for our first film is nearly $200,000 and I find it a little offensive that someone else would call our budget ultra-low. The budget for every film ever made is ‘just right’ to ‘excessive’. This is how I see it; the long line represents every film ever made:

/__just right__/___________________________excessive___________________________________/

Needless to say, the budget for our first film is ‘just right’.

With major studio’s branching off into independent wings (thusly financing films within the studio system) it feels as though Hollywood is trying to own the term “independent film”, which is fine because we have a new term to describe the independent spirit of filmmaking:

“[Filmmaking] that meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Above is the definition of sustainable development (I inserted [Filmmaking] myself). What about sustainable filmmaking? Filmmaking that benefits a region exclusively and then finds a way outward. Filmmaking that not only meets the need of the present, but requires their participation. The spirit of a cooperative combined with the trust of a distributor to properly deliver the needs of the present. NoDak Films is that distributor between the people, places, personalities, products, proficiency of North Dakota and a great dramatic feature length film done right in a theatre near you or in a DVD on your entertainment center or on a compact disc in your stereo or in the artwork in your house, the wine in your fridge, the product in your house, and the list goes on with each item set-in and inspired by North Dakota.

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But gravel can... 

The wife, kids and I moved to Minneapolis for the summer and because we don’t have a car, we went to the next best source or the next best source came to us. My sister lives on a beautiful farm about 55 miles SW of Minot, where my brother-in-law farms and raises cattle while my sister works at the bank full-time. When I told them we were moving, she offered their old ’97 maroon Dodge Stratus, which has been sitting on the farm for about a year.

The other day I had a buddy over before headin down to Rochester to see another buddy. The first thing he did, obviously, was open the door. Then he looked at me as I held my son’s hand and my buddy says sarcastically, “This car hasn’t seen gravel." I laughed because we just washed the car and he knew the car had been sitting on my brother-in-laws farm for a year. A car wash however, cannot penetrate the metal lining where the door meets the car, but gravel can. The beautiful gravel had packed its way into the car, squeezing out the small pebbles. All that was left was a thick sandy deposit of North Dakota dirt.

I grew up near a farm. I don't pretend to know what a farmer's life is like, but I felt it as a pastor's kid and I know this car has seen the ruts and the grass and the snow and the ice between. And the dings and scrapes outside the ruts. My nephew will always call me city slicker. This car however, got me closer to the farm and if it holds up a few more winters, it'll be my nephew's first car -- poetic justice.

If you see the car sometime this summer, honk or wave and know that the occupants inside are illuminating the positive aspects of North Dakota and redistributing them onto great dramatic feature length films set-in and inspired by North Dakota.

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Making history 
I was reading the Film section of the City Pages, which is a weekly News and Arts newspaper in Minneapolis/St. Paul. The particular article I read dealt with the Cannes Film Festival, held in the south of France in a resort town that bears the festivals name. Cannes began in 1939 and is considered the most prestigous of all festivals. The author of the article commented on the Hollywood aspect of the festival, but in a reversal of topic and in the last paragraph of the article, the author commented on a Cannes movie by saying it "managed to stay independent of Hollywwod -- philosophically and geographically."

That phrase really stuck with me, "managed to stay independent of Hollywood -- philosophically and geographically." I repeated the phrase and liked how it sounded. I want NoDak Films to fit in the same category of film while also approaching a festival like Cannes and faring well against Hollywood films.

I was an athlete in high school and college and enjoy competition, but more importantly I enjoy when someone or a group of people tell me or the team that we are overmatched. It is in these moments that history is made and I believe NoDak Films is on the verge of making history.

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Regional ----- Contributions 
I'm in the habit of reading movie reviews and articles that deal with independent films and films in general. Recently two articles captured my attention. One article dealt with George Lucas and other dealt with a film called "Disappearances" starring noneother, than Kris Kristofferson.

Although the nature of each article dealt with the man (George Lucas) and the movie (Disappearances) respectively, two small insertions made all the difference to me.

In the Lucas article, the writer as well as Lucas mentions Lucas' distaste for LA and the movie culture there. Lucas talks of creating Lucas Films in Northern California and uses the term regional to describe it. NoDak Films is creating a regional feature film production company and I believe that we are creating a TRULY regional production company because our films are set in and inspired by North Dakota -- we are using North Dakota musicians in the soundtrack, North Dakota art within the film, North Dakota products (Product Placement), North Dakota individuals, North Dakota land, North Dakota funding and North Dakota resources. NoDak Films will essentially create 2-hour North Dakota advertisments under the guise of great dramatic feature length films.

Although Mr. Lucas stayed away from LA, his regional production company is really a regional facility in that the property is in the same region where he grew up. NoDak Films is a wet North Dakota towel trying to squeeze out every positive aspect of North Dakota onto the landscape of big-box films, independent filmmaking, regional cinema and an audience looking for originality and depth of story.


What I found interesting about "Disappearances" was the nature of its fundraising. According to the article I read, in order to reach the 1.7 million dollar budget (nearly 9 times the budget of our first film Last Summer For Boys) the filmmakers/producers raised $500,000 in contributions from 1,700 people. That means, on average, each contributor gave nearly $300.

I'm looking for nearly 1,900 people to contribute $100 each and have the opportunity to be in the film. I'm not sure what incentive "Disappearances" gave to its contributors so I'll make sure to count the number of extras in the film or look for the names of each individual contributor in the credits because NoDak Films and our first film will not only list our contributors names, but show their faces alongside the rest of North Dakota.

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Breakfast with 'Northern Lights' 

The first question I asked the gentleman above (seated on the right) was, "What was it that made you even want to make a movie about North Dakota."

He said his mother was born in Bismarck, his grandfather was North Dakota's first filmmaker and the film's story fit with the production company's mission. About two hours later and a belly full of coffee we parted ways outside the small cafe off Gilman and 6th St. He told me about the bike route he uses to keep in shape. I told him about the running route I take to pick up my kids from daycare. His knees wouldn't let him run anymore, but the look in his face was the same look in mine as we talked inside the cafe -- his experiences in North Dakota combined with the experiences I am about to have .

In 1980, Roger Ebert wrote this:

"Northern Lights...makes some history of its own as a successful recent example of the movement toward a regional cinema in America."

"[The film] opens with an old man rummaging through some papers he'd almost forgotten about. Among them is a diary, recalling the winter of 1915-16, when he was a farmer trying to earn a living during hard times in North Dakota."

The film won the Camera D'Or Award (Golden Camera) at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979 for Best First Film. The man in the above picture is Mr. Rob Nilsson and he along with North Dakotan John Hanson and a host of other interested parties are the one's responsible for bringing "Northern Lights" to film.

Before I met with Mr. Nilsson, I had only heard of "Northern Lights," but after a talk last week with my old boss who owns a Variety Shop in Fargo, my interest for "Northern Lights' peaked and so I did a little internet research and found that "Northern Lights" was more than just a film, it was a documentary/fictionalized record of North Dakota and the start of the Non Partisan League (NPL) in 1915-16. I also found that Mr. Nilsson lives just down the street from me. Let alone the film was made the year I was born and shot almost entirely in North Dakota (in Crosby) made for an interesting meeting, which Mr. Nilsson gladly showed up for.

After our meeting I realized two things:

1) NoDak Films was started and will remain for the people of North Dakota first and foremost.

2) North Dakota has another feature length film that North Dakotan's can be proud of and that film is "Northern Lights".

Roger Ebert was right when he said "Northern Lights" moves toward "regional cinema in America." Fast forward nearly 28 years and Digital Technology and NoDak Films and I believe, as I always have, that now is the time to stop moving and set up the first "regional cinema" production company in America. Imagine the "Pride of North Dakota" sticker on a DVD case -- I know I have.

Click on the "related link" below to see Mr. Ebert's review.

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What am I trying to do? 
What am I trying to do?

I’ve been asking myself this question the last few weeks because that’s the nature, right, of any business in its infant stage. The owner goes through emotional ups and downs wanting constant reassurance that the goals are still pure and the model is secure like those science experiments where kids build toothpick bridges and the winning bridge can withstand the most weight.

I’ve called what I’m doing the evolution and revolution of Film and I’m beginning to understand why. Thousands of films are made a year, perhaps tens of thousands, each vying for their moment under the sun with the ultimate goal of having a viewing audience and recognition. This is where, I believe, NoDak Films breaks off because dramatic fictional films are made in three ways:

1) Tens of Millions of Dollars and Major Hollywood backing.

2) Millions of Dollars and Hollywood backing or enough money to try to convince
Hollywood your film is right on time.

3) Virtually no money at all, but just enough to make a feature length film or a short
vignette of a feature, ship off to festivals and hope to become the next Hollywood
“Clerks” or “Napoleon Dynamite”.

This is where I see NoDak Films as a 4th option. We will make our film with virtually no money at all, ship it off to festivals and hope for theatrical or DVD or cable distribution, essentially, hope for some part of Hollywood to take notice. If that doesn’t happen, we come back (with a few extra dollars put away) and market and sell the movie on our own without Hollywood. Either way, the film captures North Dakota, captures you (because you’re in the film) and can captivate an audience, but timing and luck dictate film festival favor while back-to-basics business will make the next film more noticeable and the first film turn some heads towards North Dakota and NoDak Films, where great Films live. What NoDak Films is doing is taking Hollywood, if need be, out of the entire process pre, during and post production.

So at what point does the weight overwhelm the toothpicks? It’s my belief that more toothpicks can be added and that’s the short-term goal for NoDak Films. By the end of this year I want enough toothpicks (contributions) to start production and begin filming in the summer of ‘08. The trend of a 4th option will soon follow and quickly become the 1st option when other states and individuals turn their heads towards North Dakota and our model.

At least that’s what I think. There could be thousands or perhaps tens of thousands of filmmakers thinking and trying to accomplish the same thing in their respective states -- that’s why NoDak Films wants to set the foundation in North Dakota.

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