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What's New
Bismarck Tribune and NoDak Films 
I would like to thank Mr. John Irby for writing a wonderful editorial about 'longing for home,' Mr. Tony Spilde for writing a great story about NoDak Films, the Bismarck Tribune for publishing the article, Sen. Tim Mathern for his kind words, and Mr. Mark Zimmerman.

Click on the "related link" tab below to view the article



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It happened again... 
My wife and I buy our produce at a local produce grocery store that buys from independent growers. Some of my friends call us hippies because we indulge in such an activity and I always tell them:

What if there was a grocery store or a produce market that sold groceries straight from North Dakota farmers or North Dakota winemakers, jelly/jam makers, lefsa, pasta, meat, etc...an all inclusive North Dakota grocery store, not a farmer's market, a store. Would this be a good or bad thing?

They all say it would be a good thing because it is a good thing, it's a great thing. Why would I want to eat a grape from Brazil when I can eat one grown two hours from where I live? Why would I want to eat pasta imported from Greece when I can eat North Dakota grown pasta? These are questions I ask myself, I'm not a hippie for asking, I just prefer to buy at a mom-and-pop style place.

Anyway, I was in line today at the produce grocery store, checking out, when I saw a DVD near the cash register with the title "Eat at Bill's". The bottom part of the DVD was obscured so I lifted the DVD and read about "Eat at Bill's".

Fantastic! I thought after reading the DVD sleeve. "Eat at Bill's" was a documentary made about the produce grocery store. In a previous "What's New" post I talk about a DVD one of my wife's former classmates made. The DVD is a well-made, poignant, funny little mockumentary about the graduate school they attend. The adminstration enjoyed the DVD so much they pressed it, put it into DVD cases (that proudly display the school's logo) and distributed the DVD to alumni.

After seeing the DVD about the produce grocery store and remembering my wife's classmates DVD, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of excitement because I envisoned the potential of NoDak Films and the originality of our mission and the shift that filmmaking is undertaking.

I guess I'm just excited for NoDak Films and excited at what the future holds.


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An article with "soul"... 
I recently read an article from the SF Chronicle titled, “Straight from Italy, new films with soul”. The article began with the history of Italy’s “wildly ambitious” cinema juxtaposed with Italian movies today. Then the writer said this:

“Today’s Italian movies are…human scale movies about people, about emotional life, about family dynamics, about work, about morality…or to put it another way, they’re making exactly the kind of movies that Americans are not making – exactly the kind of movies that many Americans would like to see.”

Boom! When I started NoDak Films, I had this wild idea to call our films Domestic-Foreign films. The quote above articulates the sentiment perfectly. Substitute “North Dakota” with “Italian” and you have movies that many Americans “would like to see.” We could even substitute North Dakota into the title of the article:

“Straight from North Dakota, new films with soul”

The article continues:

“There’s something to be said for the cultural immersion, the cumulative impact of encountering a nation speaking to you through its movies.”

Pow! The passion and timing with which the journalist expressed this point forced my hand into a fist and I flexed my arm much like a fan whose team has just scored the go ahead run. Again, substitute “state” with “nation” and you have North Dakota “speaking to you through its movies.”

Since 2000, the US Film Industry is a $34 billion dollar a year juggernaut (US Box Office + DVD/VHS sales and rentals). Yet every state in the union has its own government, it’s own exports, its own “soul” and we are being fed sequel–after–cartoon–after–book series–after “opening weekend” numbers–kind–of–films that could care less where you’re from.

You can only have the same dinner so many times before trying new recipes. North Dakota represents the appetite and the cuisine so stay hungry and dine-out at a 4 star movie where $100 is more than the best meal, it’s the Best of North Dakota…



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When the weather is right... 
When the weather is right I like to play music for an hour or so in the morning. I've been doing this for the good part of a year on the steps outside an adminstrative building where students congregate at the University my wife attends. My music is well received so I keep playing.

My "set" as it were consists of a number of original songs and a few cover songs from my favorite musicians -- namely Mason Jennings. I've been following Mr. Jennings for almost a decade. I first heard him at the Fargo Folk Festival way back in the summer of 1998. I've been hooked ever since and consider Mr. Jennings my favorite musician of all time.

When I was 20, I went to one of his shows at the 21st Amendment (a great Fargo bar that, like many, has closed) and after one of his songs a girl grabbed my hand, took me on stage and we proceeded to dance. Mr. Jennings stopped his song, asked us nicely to exit the stage, but before getting down he asked me if I knew the lyrics to "Butterfly" (one of his more popular college age songs). I knew the lyrics, but had not controlled my alcohol consumption. However, I proceeded to sing the song alongside Mr. Jennings -- in my mind I sang it perfectly, but came to find I sounded more like the alcohol I had consumed.

Anyway, fast-forward eight years. I've continued to follow Mr. Jennings, my 3-year-old son used to sing along to "Be Here Now" (a song off his newest album) and although Mr. Jennings calls Minneapolis home, I try to catch a show when I can, but it's been years. About an hour after I finished performing today on the steps and after lunch with some friends, I walked to the bus stop and I heard a voice coming from the steps of an administrative building. As I got closer, my ears picked up the distinct voice of Mason Jennings and a familiar song. There was Mr. Jennings, in what appeared to be an impromptu gig, surrounded by college students playing music on a small platform with an acoustic guitar strapped around his back.

I only caught the last 3 or 4 songs, but the surprise of seeing my favorite musician again, in such a setting, made those 3 or 4 songs very memorable. After he finished, he put his guitar down and walked into a building so I walked around the building and then walked in the building.

Mr. Jennings was there signing a few autographs, but this was an atypical setting and only a few students were there. After a minute I got my turn.

I shook the man's hand, told him I had followed him ever since hearing him at the Fargo Folk Festival and then gave him my NoDak Films business card and that was it. I could have said more, hell I wanted to say more.

I wanted to tell him that NoDak Films was going to be a lot like the way he produces and distributes his own music. I wanted to talk about music, about kids, and about being passionate about one's art. I wanted to take the guy out for a beer and chew the fat, but his perspective on me was obviously much different then my perspective on him.

I reasoned years ago that if I ever met Mason Jennings I would deliver the least amount of words with the most substance. He would respond favorably and a dialogue would ensue on our way to having a beer together. Again, this was not the case, but I shook the man's hand, said a few words and gave him my business card.

I just hope he doesn't wash his coat and gets a chance to view NoDak Films before we tour the country.




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What does that mean? 
As most of you know, NoDak Films is currently raising money for our first film. Individuals, Businesses/Products and/or Towns who contribute $100 each become an identifiable part of our first film.

For an Individual it means a chance to represent the state of North Dakota in a feature-length film.

For a Business/Product it means representation + a lifetime of advertising.

For a Town it means representation + a lifetime of advertising.

NoDak Films is a business, our business is Film and our goal is to bring the Best of North Dakota to the rest of the state, country and world through great North Dakota films.

One part of my role as Founder & Owner is to call, write, send emails to people who I think will contribute. I have received many non responses, a few maybe's, a few yes's and enough no's, but none found me so confused as the one I am about to share.

I emailed a woman a few weeks ago, a North Dakotan, a North Dakotan who has proudly displayed her passion for North Dakota through a story I found in a North Dakota paper. Surely, I thought, she would find NoDak Films the perfect opportunity to showcase her passion for the state coupled with the chance to appear in a North Dakota film.

I sent her an email and she replied, saying:

"Good luck with your endeavors!"

Good start...

"I am sure your passion for this initiative will fuel your ultimate success!"

What does that mean? I became confused here. Passion alone will not fuel my ultimate success. It's like that saying, 'It's not the destination, it's the journey.' My passion is the destination, but fuel is necessary for the journey and that fuel represents the $100 contributions NoDak Films receives from the wonderful Individuals, Businesses/Products and Towns that have contributed thus far and will contribute in the future. Don't get me wrong, passion is a centerpiece to EVERY successful business, but passion alone doesn't 'fill the seats' so to speak, I am completely reliant on the fuel from others to bring success to my passion...

"I think you'll be fine without my $100, best of luck!"

Of course I'll be fine, but something about her response struck me in the gut. I'm not sure what or why, but I'm determined to figure it out -- by the time we reach our budget...




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Happy Birthday North Dakota! 


North Dakota (NoDak) is 118 years old today...

You Know You're From North Dakota When...

You think that "UFF DA" is a standard English phrase.
East means to Fargo. And, West to Williston.
You find 3 feet of snow a minor inconvenience.
You have more miles on your snow blower than your car.
You know an Ole & Lena personally.
You find it exciting to stare through a hole in the ice and look at the bottom.
You know what a prairie dog is.
Hot dish is always something specific.
Somewhere in the state is a piece of frozen metal with bits of your tongue stuck to it.
When you win the prize for the smallest fish, you're proud of it.
People lend things to you.
You think a basketball team consists of twelve white boys.
Someone in a store offers you assistance and they don't even work there.
You're polite to telemarketers.
You have heard of and probably tried Lutefisk.
Your town isn't trying to be ironic when it plans a "Winter Carnival."
Your bank has the name of your town included in its name.
Your dog dies, you lose your job, and your car breaks down, all on the same day, and the first thought that comes to your mind is, "It could be worse!"
Your definition of a small town is one that has only ONE bar.
You expect to be excused from school for deer hunting season and harvesting.
Your soup du jour at your hometown café is always beer cheese or knoephla.
You drive to town during a blizzard just to see if the weatherman knows what he's talking about.
You think cold weather gear is planning for shorts in case it warms up the next day.
After you discuss the weather, conversation declines.
The band you choose for your wedding has to know rock, country, and polkas.
Young boys still get BB guns for Christmas.


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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
T.McDonald

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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