Lansing Indie Film Hits the Big Screen


When Fairview St. makes its big-screen debut on Sunday, Jan. 11, it'll be the culmination of nearly nine years of work for Lansing native Michael McCallum and a small army of fellow artists, friends, community leaders and family members.

And it was time well spent. The gritty feature film, screened for journalists on Jan. 4, chronicles the tortured road toward redemption traveled by fictional ex-con James Winton. Along the way, it artfully captures the quaint side streets, rich Downtown architecture and hidden back alleys of Lansing in mesmerizing black and white.

Fairview St. is the product of true independent filmmaking—an in-the-trenches entrepreneurial slog in which filmmakers compensate for shoestring budgets (to wit: the coffee can for donations on the counter at Lansing's Decker's Coffee) with solid storytelling, challenging characters and lots of old-fashioned pavement-pounding.

Small Budget, Big Vision

Written, produced and directed by McCallum, Fairview St. was shot in and around Lansing during a few intense days in the spring of 2006. With months spent writing, editing, and finishing sound, however, it was actually years in the making.

"Mike's been blood, sweat and tears getting this thing done," says actor and co-producer, Shane Hagedorn, "I respect his dedication, his devotion, his stewardship of this flick because, in my mind, its one of the real, real good pieces of work that I've seen and been a part of."

The shoot itself "was by far the most intense process I've ever been through" says Marianne Bacon, the film's young production supervisor, who was responsible for setting up the shooting locations and schedule. "I've never done anything like this before," says the Lansing area theater veteran. "It felt like doing 10 plays in 11 days."

With its independent approach, McCallum's film also highlights a different redemption road—the one being traveled by Lansing, Detroit and other old industry towns struggling to reinvent themselves as hubs of culture, art and, most importantly, entrepreneurial innovation.

"This town's got to do more of this independent stuff," says William C. McCallum, 65, who plays Michael McCallum's father both on film and in real life. "There's a lot of talent around here; tons of talent," he says. "We've got to get them to stay."

Local in Lansing

Meticulously story-boarded and visualized by McCallum and director of photography, A.E. Griffin, Fairview St. uses its low-budget, black and white moodiness and careful visual framing to full effect, capturing nuanced light and shadows, harsh angles and gut-wrenching close-ups of actors in full emotional meltdown.

In true indie fashion, it also taps familiar local venues and many first-time actors from Lansing.

Jerrod Root, 29, works at General Motors and grew up with McCallum; they have "known each other since we were like nine," he says.

McCallum "was looking for more of the non-acting people to do a lot of the roles," according to Root, "to get people that are not used to doing that and let them go at it."

Root plays Bobby Stone, the "bad news best friend" of the film's troubled protagonist. "It was an experience [like] I never had," says Root. "I only shot three or four days. [McCallum] kind of spaced [my scenes] out and worked around my work schedule" at GM.

"You know, everybody's stuck on the Hollywood thing," adds Root. "It'd be good to get something from Lansing out, to put us on the map a little bit and show that there's good talent around here. There are a lot of good people doing good things."
 
The Westside Lansing home where McCallum's father William lives hosted many scenes, along with venues like the Lansing Police Department's north precinct near Motor Wheel lofts, Campbell's Smoke Shop in East Lansing, and the Gone Wired Café.

"A lot of my brother's friends who are in school studying film, or other local filmmakers who are trying to start making films ask us all the time, 'How do you get to shoot in all these locations?'" says Bacon. "We go and talk to people. We try to work with small business because we find they're the most supportive."

"These are the same places we go," she says. "Anyone can see Michael at any of these places—at Falsetta's Restaurant, or getting a coffee at Deckers."

"The alley scenes take place out back in Old Town," Bacon adds. "I worked with the Icarus Falling theater company that used to work out of Creole Gallery. The late, great Robert Busby graciously allowed us to shoot there. Anyone who knew him knows he was an incredible supporter of the arts, and anything we wanted to do."

Big Picture Plans

Showing at Celebration Cinema in South Lansing at 7 p.m. nightly, Jan. 11 through Jan. 15, Fairview St. is the first full-length film for McCallum and his Rebel Pictures colleagues, but certainly not the last.

"What I'm hoping for all the Rebel Pictures films in the future is each one can kind of help facilitate the next one," says McCallum. "Fairview St. has a lot of pressure on its back, because it’s the first one of the films that I've directed that's coming out. Hopefully it helps raise the money to get Handlebar in the sound studio. . . .  And hopefully from Handlebar [we'll] raise some money to finish Lucky."

In the meantime, the team is raising funds to send Fairview St. to national and international film festivals.

"Michael and I and Shane had all talked from the beginning [that] we're going aim for the moon with this one," says Bacon. "We'll send it to the big ones—you've got Sundance, Cannes and all that—and it'll be whatever we can get into. That's where we really are at this point: making sure we've got the financing to send to all those, because all those things cost money."

In the immediate future, though, she simply hopes people come out to see the movie in Lansing.

"We're hoping for a great turnout on Sunday (7 p.m., Jan. 11, at Celebration Cinema). It's such an incredible film with such dynamic acting," says Bacon. "The businesses and locations that supported us in the filming, I hope they get a chance to come and see we're not just crazy people filming, taking up their time and filming in their places of business. We really are making movies."

"Then, hopefully," she adds, "we can send it on to some festivals, and let some of the rest of the world get a glimpse of Fairview Street."

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Brad Garmon is Editor-in-Chief of Capital Gains. 

Photos:

Photos of movie scenes and production of the film Fairview St.

All Photographs courtesy of Fairview St.

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