Fine Art of Low Budget: Filmmaking From Fairview Street

A 29-year-old native of Lansing, filmmaker Michael McCallum is a little bit movie star—funny and aloof, with a smoldering cigarette his near-constant companion—and a little bit poet, with a copy of Charles Bukowski always close at hand.

“The films that I make aren’t just movies to me—they’re not just entertainment. It’s too powerful a medium to just be entertaining,” says McCallum, who is finishing up his first full-length film, Fairview Street, which he wrote, directed and stars in.

Along with a loose-knit group of fellow filmmakers from the area, including Shane Hagedorn (New House Entertainment) A.E. Griffin (Unsafe Film Office) and Jon Worful (Vernacular Films), McCallum has worked on several low-budget short films that have garnered critical acclaim, including “Red Seven” (Best Actor, Philadelphia’s Project 21 Film Festival) and “Nice Guy Blues” (Bronze Telly Award for online films).

To do low-budget films (think of hundreds to a few thousand dollars), McCallum relies on the support of friends, family and local Lansing businesses—and lots of long days and longer nights.

The Art of Low-Budget

McCallum describes three factors that comprise the “trifecta of low-budget filmmakers:" good, fast and cheap. “Pick two of those,” he says. “And ‘good’ better be one of them.”

Beyond that: “You do it fast, it’s going to cost a lot of money. You do it cheap, it’s going to take a long time. So it’s about balancing that. And I think, too many times, people go for the fast and the cheap. They don’t go for the good.”

McCallum’s philosophy on filmmaking, by contrast: “At all costs, make a good film” he says. “I don’t care if I have to pick up a week’s worth of shifts that I don’t want to pick up to make this happen. Let’s make those sacrifices to make a great film.”
And the pain appears to be abundant.

“We’re all working days jobs,” McCallum says. “Shane (Hagedorn) is a security guard—he has the most stressful days, sometimes. . . .  Tony (A.E. Griffin) works as a computer consultant. Jon (Worful) works at the Capitol.” In addition to his work with Rebel Pictures, McCallum himself waits tables.
“There’s a lot of nights we’re shooting until four or five in the morning,” McCallum says. “I’m not a morning person, and none of the guys that I work with are.”

And after each night of shooting on Fairview Street, McCallum says he “would watch all the dailies, all the footage, with my director of photography. That would take two, three hours. And we’d get about two hours of sleep, and get up and do the whole thing again. For nine days straight.”

After that came long, thankless hours editing the film in Jon Worful’s Lansing studio—four hours a night, four days a week and all day on Sundays. For months.

“It was summer too,” says McCallum. “There was this just little crack in the window. It was like The Shawshank Redemption: the sun would come up . . . and then the sun would go down.”

But the long hours and sleepless nights aren’t things McCallum seems to resent. Instead, he summons the hint of nostalgia he sees in big-name studio directors.

“All the Hollywood people strive so hard to get back where they were. Scorsese, Spielberg, they all go, like ‘Remember when we were just young and we had something to really prove?’ That’s something that I really try to embrace at the level we’re working.”

Local Support

Producing a film on a shoestring means “you don’t have money to throw at something,” McCallum says. “A lot of the time it’s making calls to people, running around town [saying] ‘I need this.’”

Luckily, McCallum loves to use local venues, and has found lots of support at places like Falsetta’s Casanova restaurant—the Westside Lansing Italian restaurant that is the scene of his day job and is both featured in the humorous short film, “Waiter From Hell” and shows up in Fairview Street.

He shot parts of two other films in and around Decker’s coffee shop on Michigan Avenue. “I’d known [the owner] Jessica for a couple of years—she used to waitress at the Irish Pub—and I found out through a friend that she’d opened up her own coffee shop,” he says. “I thought, ‘I go get a coffee everyday, and I’d rather give the business to a friend who is starting out.’”

McCallum also shot ten scenes of Lucky at Brannigan Brothers bar in downtown Lansing. To get those shots, he relied on the accommodating nature of the bar’s manager, Marc Wolbert.

“We were in a really unique position here,” says Wolbert, a Flint native who lived in New York, Boston, Seattle, Chicago and Atlanta before settling in Lansing. “I was able to help a young Lansing resident do something they’ve been trying to do for a while.”

During the filming, Wolbert turned what many business owners would consider headaches—a bar full of camera equipment, no music playing—and turned them into opportunities to tell people about McCallum’s film enterprise.

He compares it to driving down a freeway in New York one day and seeing a car dangling off a bridge. “I almost got in an accident because I was rubber-necking. Turns out it was part of a movie,” Wolbert says. “That’s really cool. That’s the stuff you don’t expect to see in Lansing.”

The filmmakers have also worked with Celebration Cinema in South Lansing to debut and screen films McCallum did a fundraiser there recently, and The Model Father, a feature film written, produced and directed by Shane Hagedorn, will be shown at Celebration on July 30th at 7 p.m.

Staying in Lansing

“People ask me all the time, ‘Why are you still in Lansing? Why don’t you go to Hollywood or New York?’” McCallum admits. “I’ve been to both. I really like both a lot.”

But, he says, “I’ve known so many actors that end up moving to L.A. and they’ve never done anything—they didn’t do a student film here; they never acted in anything but school plays. And then they’re going to move to L.A. and be a big star? And they wonder why they get so heartbroken when that doesn’t happen.”

“I like to stay in this community because I want to be a great actor,” he says. “I want to be a great filmmaker; I want to be a great writer and storyteller. I would like to be, more than anything, influential—to have two guys hanging out having a beer talking about their favorite movies, and at some point they’d go, ‘Did you see Fairview Street?’”

“That’s where I’d like to be.”

Brad Garmon is the Editor-in-Chief of Capital Gains, and has several unfinished screenplays floating around his basement.  

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Lansing filmmaker Michael McCallum

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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