Living in LA can make a filmmaker nostalgic- for mountains, for snow, for forests, but I think the Andersons and Jason Hagen are taking it a bit far! The Andersons grew up in Northern Michigan, and now are taking their whole crew there to shoot Northstar, a semi futuristic, post-Apocalytic film that will shoot in the winter of 2013/ 2014. As they move closer to production, they have started gathering a Facebook fan base, and have started garnering interest around the film scenes. They are keeping an interactive approach going with their fans, and are releasing more and more information as their shoot date approaches. They took some time away from pre-production to let us in on their progress. Joining me was Seth Anderson, Nathan Anderson, and Jason Hagen of Lullskull Ltd.
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KW: Hey guys, can you give us a rundown of the story?
SA: Northstar is set in a post-apocalyptic North American wilderness where a mysterious Cataclysm has wiped out 99% of the population in a single day. The story picks up a few years after this event, and follows a group of survivors that have managed to eke out an existence somewhere in the middle of the country. We focus on a father in this group who has been trying to revive his daughter after she went into a coma on the same day everyone died. This girl becomes the center of intrigue when a woman appears from the woods out of nowhere and claims the child is important. The problem is: this strange woman has been followed by a much larger military force that represents what’s left of the Government, and they are hell-bent on securing the woman and whoever learns a secret she may be holding about what caused the Cataclysm. Lines are drawn, loyalties are tested, and a conflict that will determine the fate of the country is waged in the north woods.
KW: That is pretty intense. Where did you come up with the idea for the film?
SA: Northstar as it currently stands is the product of a two core ideas. The first germ was a short post-apocalyptic script I wrote just after graduating from film school that bears a passing resemblance to what we have now. After moving out to Los Angeles, we made a few shorts and decided we were ready to make a feature, and Northstar was sitting there in embryonic form, so we decided to develop it. The second firm idea was that we always wanted to shoot this film in the winter, and since we grew up in Northern Michigan, I think we already had a few locations from our childhood locked in as possible places to set the story. It took us five years and in that time Northstar went from a more conventional post-pandemic thriller to something more mystical, and for us, more compelling.
JH: Seth has had the original concept for Northstar since his college days. Following our last short BLACK (2008), it became apparent that Seth and Nathan wanted to develop that concept into a feature-length story that could be set in their hometown during the winter, and operate within the genres we very much enjoy. The three of us developed the story beyond the short concept, and once the story was locked, Seth wrote the screenplay.
KW: Where do you plan on shooting this film and achieve the post-cataclysmic look?
SA: We plan to shoot in two areas in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during the dead of winter. Our hometown was a former mining community and you couldn’t find a more ruggedly beautiful area, especially in the middle of January. That notion to shoot there wasn’t totally solidified until we started scouting the area in earnest about two winters ago, and it became apparent just how much raw potential there is in such an underutilized area of the country. After doing a thorough survey, we began conforming the script to line up with a piece of land or a particular building, and before you knew it, the whole story became infused with Michigan. It’s as if the very landscape itself was the missing creative link we needed in order to finish the story! After reaching out to the community for help, this feeling of inevitability has only been confirmed by the outpouring of support we’ve received.
JH: We plan on shooting the practical locations in Seth and Nathan’s hometown of Iron Mountain, MI, with additional studio shooting in Gwinn, MI at a retired Air Force base named KI Sawyer. Given the small-town charm of Iron Mountain, the dismal look of KI Sawyer, and the winter white coat over both towns, we’re expecting the locations and season to really do a lot of the work for us in achieving a post-apocalyptic look. And that is just the topside. Once we move to the underground bunker set, that is where our production design will really need to play off as believable and functional as an industrial living space.
KW: Sounds nice and cold! Can you talk about the concept drawing that can be found on your Facebook page for the characters and the weapons?
SA: As with our past work, my brother Nathan is both the artist and chief concept designer for the entire production. As we write the script, Nate and I talk continually about what what I’m coming up with and what he’d like to see. Slowly but surely, his raw visual concepts begin to gel with my story direction ideas and the final script becomes this fusion of our shared aesthetic. The character and prop designs we’re releasing on the site will continue as we progress into production. Hopefully it helps people get a better grasp of the characters, settings and *ahem* devices that they’ll be seeing in the film. At the same time, this artwork is also serving as a guideline for costumes, set design and props.
NA: I can speak on this as I am the main concept designer and will oversee Northstar’s art direction. I wanted to strive for realism with the designs of the characters and costumes. We needed this world to feel very close to our own. I pulled from post-apocalyptic film design mixed with a fairly contemporary military design sense to find the eventual look of the film. There are key elements, such as location (The barren Winter setting) and props (Dr Trepanier’s weapons) that have informed Northstar’s look and made it it’s own thing. Seth and I are builders, we are early in the prop fabrication but I can assure you we don’t design anything we can’t build ourselves.
JH: We have a very clear idea of the tech used in the story/script, and want to take advantage of this prep period to concept all the tech that will be seen and used in the film. Nathan is our lead artist here, and is doing all the pre-viz for the sets, tech, and action sequences. We’re also taking advantage of the promotional opportunities this artwork provides. This concept art helps us promote the film, the universe, characters, and mystery.
KW: You guys have listed a lot of influences for this production. What was the firestarter for Northstar- the turning point where you guys realized this was the movie you had to make?
SA: Now that we are going into our fifth year with Northstar, I would say there was hardly a moment where it wasn’t a going concern for us. If I had to put my finger on a moment when it turned a corner for me, there’s no question it was when we started scouting in Michigan and realized everything could be brought to life back home. When that happened, it’s like something clicked in my head and said, "it was always supposed to be this way, and somehow you knew it all along."
NA: Although the initial germ of Northstar’s story had been a slightly different take, it has still retained its core structure. The time taken with the script really cemented that it was indeed a film I would want to see myself. Further, once we envisioned the film being shot in Michigan it quickly became a genre offering with a unique perspective that only we could tell.
JH: After BLACK we had ideas brewing: possibly move into a horror film, or go into a feature-length expansion of our first short, the western The Merciful Death of Jonas Blake. Although those concepts were very attractive, I think we had a moment of clarity where we agreed that we needed to really focus on a manageable concept and were immediately pulled in the direction of Science Fiction. Seth had that early Northstar short script burning in his pocket. So, with the Andersons’ passion, the relevant issues the story presents, and the desire to bring this project to their hometown, we knew this was the film we had to make. I’m very excited to be shooting in the winter, in the Midwest, and can’t wait to see these great characters come to life.
KW: Have you already cast the film?
SA: We are actively pursuing both established and unknown actors and actresses for Northstar. On some level, this production seems to demand that at least a few of the people you see are recognizable. The film offers a good opportunity for older actors in particular to pack a wallop and since the storyline is centered around powerful women, I think we’re offering a cool project for actresses that are looking for a story that doesn’t require them to be subservient to a man’s adventure. So far, we’ve made encouraging progress and hope to make some exciting announcements in the near future.
JH: Currently, we’re approaching some name talent for 2-3 key roles in the film, and we’re very excited to enter into early talks with a leading actress very soon. These are actors who we adore and whose work we have been following a long time. As for some of the other key supporting roles in the film, we have been in talks with actors we have worked with in the past and we’re looking into schedules and possible soft attachments now. We also plan on casting other supporting and extra roles in Michigan. Ultimately, casting will lock closer to Production.
KW: Your team has taken a very interactive approach through the pre-production steps of the film, placing your drawings and concepts on facebook, interacting with the fans- what has the response been?
SA: We quickly realized that Northstar as a concept is well positioned for exploration beyond the parameters of a single film. With that in mind, we decided what the heck, let’s open out the experience and invite people to engage with the world that we’re building, *as* we’re building it. So far, I think the early audience we’ve been able to gather is enjoying this approach chiefly because it’s revealing the Northstar universe in a multifaceted way. With each new art piece, journal entry or video dispatch, another bit of the story is delved out and the full scope of what’s happening gets a bit more clarified. We’re only in the early stages, but as we progress towards releasing the movie, you’ll be able to see more artwork, stories and other media that will all combine to tell a wider story that surrounds and deepens what you see on screen. This excites us as storytellers and I don’t think we’d do it if the Northstar universe didn’t suggest it.
NA: The response has been great on the artwork. I’m excited that people are excited by it. As more artwork and designs are released I think the audience for our film will see what we are trying to do and see how developed the world of Northstar is.
JH: I think our goal here, as with all of our films, is to show process as much as possible, but not let too much of mystery or intent to dilute the main product of the film. We want any interactive approach we take to help build an audience and fan base, and engage those people to want to spread the word and see the movie. Our thru-line with all of this is to show, in these early stages, we can make this film in Michigan, involve the communities we are shooting in, and show this is our vision of how to accomplish that goal. The response so far has been very positive and lots of people at industry and local levels are coming out, wanting to assist the film.
KW: What are your plans for "Northstar" as far as distribution goes?
SA: I feel like we’re on a shifting platform when it comes to expectations on how a low-budget film will perform in the current market. Speaking for myself, I’m very excited by the different avenues that filmmakers now have to exhibit their work, and when the time is appropriate we’ll take stock of whether or not a theatrical, VOD or alternate distribution plan is the best way to put Northstar into the world. I think we’d be lying if we said we didn’t want to see Northstar in theaters. We’re trying to fire the blood with every aspect of this story, and despite taking a few hits in recent years; the sheer impact of a communal movie-theater experience still delivers the goods.
JH: Currently, I’m tailoring the distribution side of our film plan to seek some limited Theatrical in the US with hopes of moving into a wide release or move into the VOD market soon after. With the indie status of the film, we might decide to go a festival route instead and make the domestic rights sale there because of genre and bankable talent. As for foreign distribution, we’re looking into Pre-sales now to move the film out to international markets as either theatrical/VOD, or both, and also use those sales dollars to help fund production.
KW: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
SA: Be patient and allow yourself the time to hone in on what you want to say with the medium. In order to zero in on your voice, you must also be diligent. That means dedicating regular time to writing and making work. Read and watch as much as possible and take what you can from what inspires you. Always strive to think about and cultivate your personal take on everything you see and hear. All of these guidelines are about teasing out something new from within yourself that only you can express to the world. In a movie landscape of reboots and sequels, we desperately need new voices, new ideas, new visions.
JH: This career path is very un-defined, meaning that each filmmaker paves his/her own way, yet needs to be adaptable and collaborative. With a project this size, you have to surround yourself with collaborators who are highly experienced in their fields, and build a solid business infrastructure in order to pull the project together. Although features are infused with multiple levels of creativity, they are run with a strong business component driving them to be seen by audiences. As a producer, you have to make solid relationships with those who can best help your project, from key crew, to talent, to financiers. You also have to know the films, their success models, and the genre market you’re operating in, to package successfully and return sale to make the next project. Strap in, it’s a wild ride.
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