This is an excerpt from the article “Lights, Camera, Action!” that appears in the November 2018 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To read the full story, pick up a copy from newsstands or via subscription.
While Grand Rapids is known for being a welcoming place for the arts, there’s no denying film tends to be an overlooked genre, as most immediately think of places like Los Angeles or New York when they think of moviemaking. But now more than ever, despite challenges that the industry is facing on a statewide level, the Grand Rapids film community is on the rise, creating and cultivating quality film talent.
“There are lots of perks, as well as challenges, when it comes to being a filmmaker in Grand Rapids versus other places,” said independent filmmaker Bret Miller, a 27-year-old Detroit native who does much of his work in the Grand Rapids area as a filmmaker in conjunction with his work in Los Angeles and Detroit. Miller has directed two feature films, “Some are Born” and “Chasing the Star,” and has produced numerous short films — one of which, “Red Skies,” has screened at film festivals across the country and won the award for Best Scare at the Bloodstained Indie Horror Festival and Best Short Film at ArtPrize 9.
The greatest challenge he’s found in filming and working in Grand Rapids so far, he said, is simply the fact that there are fewer people in the industry here than there are in places like LA.
“If I need a boom operator, for example, I don’t have nearly as many people to call as I would if I were out in Los Angeles,” Miller said. “Conversely, though, people here are a lot more excited to be a part of moviemaking than they are in Los Angeles. Every gas station you’ll find in LA has been a backdrop for a film, whereas here, if we tell them we’re filming a movie, locations like a mall or a gas station are so much more excited to be a part of it.”
Sheri Beth Dusek, a Grand Rapids-based filmmaker who has worked in LA as well as Chicago, also said there are challenges to working in film in Grand Rapids. She also noted that some of those challenges aren’t restricted to the location.
“Hollywood is where people think movies are made, right? But the biggest challenge in filmmaking, as in any industry, is funding,” Dusek said. “People in LA struggle with that just as much as filmmakers here do.”
At 48 years old, being a filmmaker is a sort of “second career” for Dusek. After graduating from Columbia College Chicago, she went on to pursue a successful career in theater, but after helping a friend with a film project in 2014, she fell in love with movie production.
“The project I’m most proud of to-date is ‘Local,’” Dusek said, referring to the sci-fi anthology series she created alongside producer Chris Randall of Fulvew Productions. The show, which currently has four half-hour episodes, was shot completely in and around Grand Rapids using all local talent — something Dusek is fond of showing off.
“When I was out at Sundance Film Festival, I showed people the sizzle reel from‘Local,’ and they loved it, they couldn’t believe it,” Dusek said. “They say, ‘You did that in Michigan?’ and even though the project isn’t completed, it’s awesome to show people that we do have the talent here.
“I just want to show (others) that you can actually make movies here, and you don’t need a million-dollar budget to do it.”
*Sheri Beth Dusek on set at her home during the filming of a movie. Also Pictured are Sasa Slogar (black) and William Mosqueda (Headband), Greg Rogers, Actor on the couch, Kathryn Postma (Black Shirt), Jackson Ezinga (at Table), Lucas Nielson (Purple Shirt) and Courtney Leah Purple hoodie. Photo by Johnny Quirin.