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What's New
A Chicken Suit and a Doctor... 
Leading up to Halloween, my wife and I had two costumes in mind based on my 3-year-old son’s perception; he would be Superman and our 19-month-old daughter would be a princess. We didn’t think much further until we got to Target to buy the costumes. Superman didn’t fit and there were too many princesses to choose from.

Eventually my wife parted with my son and I took my daughter down the “Try Me” aisle full of scary sounds and rubber arms that moved – she loved it. When we met up with my wife and son, two distinct facts arrived…Superman and the Princess had left the building, replaced by a Chicken Suit and a Doctor, The Perception vs. The Reality.

There’s a phrase that goes, “put a pig in a dress, it’s still a pig.” I first heard the phrase when someone or a group of someone’s was interested in combining North and South Dakota into Dakota. The gentleman said, “put a pig in a dress, it’s still a pig.” Interesting point and although I enjoy bacon, a pig in a dress is not a desirable sight and neither is/was the combination of North and South Dakota into one name.

I offer the pig in the dress as a contrast to my children because no matter what costume you put my kids in, they're still cute – put a cute toddler in a chicken suit, she’s still a cute toddler.

The Perception vs. The Reality is key in what we are doing with NoDak Films. People, specifically those who are not from North Dakota, have a Perception of our state, much like the pig in the dress scenario, but the Reality is much different. You make a good North Dakota film; it’s still a good film that also creates a positive image and destination marker in the minds of others and in the minds of those involved – NoDak Films model of North Dakota individual, business, and town inclusion.

Film-induced Tourism meets Film-induced Economic Development meets the first Sustainable Filmmaking Company in the country set-in and inspired by the Best of North Dakota and a changing Perception.

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NoDak Films on North Dakota Public Radio (NDPR) 
Bringing ND to the Silver Screen

FARGO, ND (2007-10-19) A Plaza, North Dakota native...has launched a project to bring film making back to the state.

Prairie Public's Todd McDonald has details...

© Copyright 2007, NDPR


Above is the write up from the NDPR website under Prairie Region News. I would like to thank Mr. McDonald for taking the time to interview me and NDPR for broadcasting the interview.

Please click on the "Related Link" tab below to listen to the interview

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Give it a shot... 
The previous "What's New" post titled "Your Town" allowed me to gain perspective on my upbringing, but it failed to answer the man's question:

What is your film about?

So now I pose a question to you, (anyone who takes the time to view the "What's New" page of our website). Can you summarize our film in no more than two sentences?

Here is the synopsis of our first film Last Summer For Boys, taken from the website:


In rural North Dakota, each town is like a great American novel where every page is dedicated to the memory of a different person and every memory is shared by the entire town.

Nick West, the son of a pastor, and BeauDrey Treeland, the son of a farmer were childhood best friends in the same rural North Dakota town. Nick left for Minot and his connection with BeauDrey left as well.

Some 10 years later Nick, a year or so from his degree, is a wannabe writer who lives in downtown Fargo. He is on his way back to the same rural North Dakota town to visit family and tell them some important news. There he discovers that BeauDrey has moved back home from Minneapolis. Although the details aren’t clear, BeauDrey’s situation is not good and BeauDrey’s mother has decided to take action.

For BeauDrey, who chose a cubicle over a combine, the burden of leaving the farm never left him and he must navigate through a lifetime of regret, chance encounters and an ending that leaves no questions unanswered.

Along the way is the story of gravel roads, abandoned buildings, best friends, farming, growing up, moving out, loss, and moving back -- somewhere inside North Dakota and the Last Summer For Boys.


Can anyone out there reduce the above into no more than two sentences? Feel free to use the above as a blueprint and come up with your own logline (a logline is a one/two sentence summary of a script).

One of my favorite examples of a logline is from The Fugitive, a film with Harrison Ford:

After he's wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, a high-powered surgeon escapes custody and hunts down the real killer, a one-armed man.

Simple, concise, and let's you down a path.

Simply click on the "[add comment]" button below to share your logline. If we choose your logline, I will personally take you out to dinner.

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Your Town 
My upbringing happened in shifts. I was born in Ohio, moved around the area, up to Michigan and then my dad received a call, both literally and religiously, to come preach in North Dakota. So at the age of three myself, along with my mom, dad, two older brothers, and older sister moved to Plaza, North Dakota; a rural farm town about 55 miles SW of Minot. I spent my imaginative years in Plaza while my oldest brother and sister graduated from there. At the age of 13, my family moved to Minot where I spent my social and high school years. After Minot, I spent my college years in Fargo. Up until today, I hadn’t put my early years in Plaza into perspective:


I was on the bus this morning with my son on our way to his pre-school when I started talking with a couple of my neighbors; a couple of dads on there way to drop off there respective kids. We got on the subject of what we each do – the other two guys were PhD students and when it came to me, one guy asked naturally, “what do you do”? I told him about NoDak Films and explained our mission and goals and then he asked, “what is your first film about”?

I froze, not because I didn’t know, but because we were on a bus and time was limited. I thought for a moment, thought again and told him to check the website. Then I finished the thought by telling him Last Summer For Boys was about two guys who grow up in a small North Dakota town. Not quite, but not quite off either. Jokingly, he told me I better be able to pitch the movie in less than 30 seconds. He was right.

We parted ways shortly after, I dropped off my son and proceeded to think about his question. I’ve never had to pitch NoDak Films to a stranger and by stranger I mean someone who has no connection with North Dakota and relies on me for a physical impression of a North Dakotan and my words for a geographical impression of our state and an artistic impression of NoDak Films .

I went on with my morning and as I walked to catch the bus home, a profound sense of closure came over me. Not because I had reduced our first film into a sentence or two, but because I gained perspective on my upbringing. Having to summarize my film allowed me to summarize growing up in a small North Dakota town and so I came up with this:

Every small town is a great American novel and every person in that town represents one page. When someone leaves and sadly and most importantly, when someone dies, a page is torn from the novel and part of the story is gone forever, but we can still keep the page number. Maybe my goal, with NoDak Films, is to preserve the words before the page is gone. Maybe the movie-pitch is the chance to draw someone to the novel by preserving the words where the pages once stood.

We just added a “Your Town” page to our website to preserve, for a moment in our first film, the words of any and every small North Dakota town willing to seek preservation on the first Sustainable Film in the country -- straight out of North Dakota.

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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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