8180 Films is poised at the forefront of Michigan's burgeoning film movement. Launched by Leland residents Jim Carpenter and Rebecca Reynolds – two of the founders of the Beyond the Bay Film Series at The Bay Theatre in Suttons Bay – along with their Los Angeles-based writing and directing partner, Larry Brand, 8180 Films' first feature length film is the critically acclaimed, international-award winning, Christina. We spoke with Jim and Rebecca who were in Kentucky preparing for a new showing of Christina at Paducah's Maiden Alley Cinema.
The name, 8180 Films, commemorates the date Jim and I met – August 1, 1980. We started the company in 2007 as a LLC with the aim to make lean and mean films, cutting the fluff without sacrificing the quality, creating work that's financially responsible and fiscally prudent.
Rounding out the original team is my longtime writing partner Larry Brand. With our film and television background-Larry as a writer and director and me as a writer, actor and producer-Larry and I provide the "show." Jim and our new team member, Ross Satterwhite, take care of the "business." Their end of the deal has the steepest learning curve due to the detailed nature of filmmaking; we may make independent films but we still work in an industry run by guilds and unions.
Lights, Camera, Action
Christina was our test run – our first stab at making this crazy idea work. Larry Brand wrote and directed the film, which was shot in Los Angeles over a 12-day period. We financed the production with the enthusiastic help of friends and family who were behind us from the get-go, including co-executive producer Susan Oliver. It helped that we had a manageable budget people could comprehend, not some $200 million blockbuster. We were able to draw remarkable talent from our collective years in the business, calling in many favors when it came to casting, design and production, including award-winning cinematographer Kees Van Oostrum.
We were extremely fortunate to find a remarkable cast, but finding the lead role of Christina literally came down to the wire. We found her on the last day of casting, a wonderful actor named Nicki Aycox. Nicki joined Stephen Lang and Jordan Belfi to round out the cast. Steven Lang was still filming Avatar, so that was an interesting situation to coordinate.
And the Award Goes To …
After premiering at the Traverse City Film Festival in 2010, Christina was invited to other national and international festivals, and honored with seven awards, including Best Film, Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking, Best Director and Best Actor and Best Actress. The Mumbai Film Festival review is something I'd love on a needlepoint pillow, which called Christina easily the best of the 130-odd entries at the Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI) Film Festival.
The intangible rewards are important too. After working for so long, making others' dreams and visions come true, the ability to green-light your own film is fantastic. To know you can conceive an idea and see it through from beginning to end is an extremely gratifying experience.
Michigan on Film
8180 Films is based in Leland, which is the first indication of our commitment to Michigan. Many of our investors are Michigan-based as well. The decision to shoot Christina in L.A, was due to several factors, primarily having to do with cost and time. Because it was a period piece and we had a limited budget, we chose to shoot using the RED ONE digital cinema camera. This technology
gave us the ability to deliver images that were rich and complete, yet fast and economical.
Our next feature, Trunk, is Michigan-made, and we're very proud of that. It's a psychological thriller, and much of the filming will be done in the Traverse City area. We'll be upping the game, improving on the model. This film will be more accessible to viewers due to the subject nature, and since we've now been through the maze of distribution contracts and details with Christina, Trunk will benefit from that experience as will another film in progress -the documentary, Heathen – whose subject is atheism in America. For that film, we shot in eight states, including Michigan.
Blazing a Trail
Each day we face new challenges that stretch us in ways we never expected. We're currently closing on two distribution deals that will handle the US/Canada and foreign markets for Christina. It's an amazingly complex process, and digital technology will allow us to reach a more widespread market.
Filmmaking isn't new to northern Michigan or Michigan in general. Rich Brauer has been producing great work for quite a while. Frankly, these days anyone with a nice digital camera can make a movie. What we aim to do is to help set the bar higher – bringing our experience, quality, enthusiasm and sensibility to the process. We want to make films with complex characters and motivations – films that are innovative and present provocative ideas. We're just taking our first steps, but the road ahead is filled with nothing but opportunity.