Poor Michigan. First the new governor announced that he was going to slash the state’s rich tax credits program, then in January Newsweek listed three Michigan cities — including Grand Rapids — in its list of America’s top 10 dying cities.
While many filmmakers have fled the state, Grand Rapids native and indie film producer Scott Erickson stuck around and decided to do something about it. With his friend, director Rob Bliss, they shot a record-setting, one-take, 10-minute lip dub to Don McLean’s “American Pie” that showcases Grand Rapids in all its glory.
Watch it here:
We caught up with Erickson to figure out how they pulled it off.
Whose idea was this?
The director Rob Bliss came up with the concept and contacted me really early on. He actually had a concept to do something like this in 2010. But when the Newsweek article came out, it was pretty clear we needed to act on it and get it started.
Are you from Grand Rapids originally?
I’ve been in Grand Rapids since I was three years old.
How did you guys pull if off?
We pulled it off because we had tremendous support from our community, the city of Grand Rapids, the people and the government. They’re very open to a lot of creative ventures like this. They want a community that cultivates this kind of creative expression. Businesses in the area were super supportive as well. We funded this entire project through sponsors and they’re all listed on the YouTube page.
We had about, I’d say, four to five months of pre-production with three months of rehearsals. We had a crew of over 40 people. A cast of over 200 people. Thousands of extras showed up on the day. It was just a wonderful effort of coordination and a lot of hard work.
How did you rehearse? I’m guessing you couldn’t use the real locations.
We did a bit of guerrilla rehearsing to start with. What we had was a camera vehicle that we took out really early in the mornings on Sundays. There’s not too much traffic downtown. We basically began rehearsals with our camera department first. We then continued to add on different levels of crew. We sort of stacked it on and exponentially added onto our rehearsal. That way we were able to break it up and organize it correctly.
How many takes did it eventually take?
We did have multiple takes. Interestingly enough, our best take was our last take. It was the fifth take. Our original production date was rained out. We had to produce this on our rain date, which was one week later. We had two hours left because of events going on in the city.
Did any big gaffes happen during the shooting of the four other takes?
The one incredible gaffe was during the final take. About half way through, the camera vehicle hit a bump. The director sits in the passenger seat. There were a couple of water bottles in front of him. One of them tipped over and spilled on the generator inside the camera vehicle, which ended up breaking the generator. But it happened only once they turned the vehicle off, after the take was over.
How many people do you hope to reach with this video?
We posted this at 4pm yesterday, so we’re under 24 hours now. We’re probably going to hit six figures in the next few hours.
What was your main intention in making it?
To highlight my city and showcase what an amazing and open community we have. We won’t limit ourselves and we won’t let anyone else limit us. We’re just going to go for what we think is fun creative and cool. This is something the world should hear about. I wanted to show the world what we’ve got.
As an independent film producer, what do you make of Michigan’s newly elected governor Rick Snyder’s controversial proposal to cut back on the state’s film production tax credits?
We have been developing a feature film. We have just finalized the screenplay and are now in the process of getting seed money. We’re trying to get money in Michigan, but I think it’s going to be a lot harder now that the film incentive has gone away. My creative director had been working at a studio in Detroit and lost his job due to the film incentives going away. Multiples studios and production companies pulled out immediately as soon as they started talking about doing it. And by “they,” I mean our new governor Snyder. He basically came out and said, “I want this to go away.” I know personally at least 10 people who moved to New Orleans to work on some projects that moved from Grand Rapids to New Orleans.
Was it difficult then to make a project that celebrates the state, after seeing the effect of what the state’s done to the industry you work for?
That’s a great question. I think that our excitement for our community is what keeps us going. Perhaps we, myself in particular, don’t agree with what the governor has decided to do and his stance (but) we received tremendous support from our local government, our community and local sponsors in particular with this video. From a creative standpoint, we were able to do stuff that a lot of people wouldn’t be able to do in their cities, specifically because Grand Rapids is so awesome in that respect. But from a feature-film production standpoint, I think that it’s going to be a lot harder to make films in Michigan. But there is a door opening here in Grand Rapids where new creative expression and a new generation of filmmakers are finding new ways to get their productions made.
Do you buy Newsweek’s response to your video, where they basically lay the blame on what they refer to as a “content sharing deal”?
I think that they have a national brand to worry about. It’s an old brand. They’re in primarily print media which is not as relevant as it once was. So they want to protect their reputation as much as possible. By sort of saying it wasn’t our story, or whatever they said, that’s fine. But I think they’re ultimately responsible for it.
The fact that we got their attention was a nice bonus for us. It definitely wasn’t our goal. But having them say that sort of gives us some encouragement, which is nice to have.