DIY Hollywood

In 2007, editors at the New Oxford American Dictionary chose "locavore" — or one who seeks out locally grown and produced food — as their word of the year. With the designation, New Oxford effectively joined best-sellers like The 100-Mile Diet and Animal, Vegetable, Mineral to cement "locavore" in the mainstream; funny for an idea that once would have been considered too crunchy or irreverent for cities not named Seattle or San Francisco.

With "green" and "eco" becoming increasingly popular as prefixes in recent years (organic fashion, anyone?), and environmental concerns getting significant attention in the most recent presidential election, it's likely that attitudes towards eating — and living — will only get more local, local, local.

So, how about making other parts of your life local-centric as well, not just your diet? The Ann Arbor area, with its strong creative community and entrepreneurial spirit, is turning out to be a good place to find homegrown home entertainment.

Acting global, producing local

If you're dissatisfied with the latest DVD offerings at the downtown Bordersn store why not stroll around the block and say hello to the folks at the Ann Arbor Film Festival — whose new DVD offers up last year's more notable selections. The collection, Time Pieces, includes 10 festival films plus entertaining special features, such as actors auditioning for a mime showdown. This is the first time AAFF has released a festival DVD, and there are plans to do so yearly from now on, says executive director Donald Harrison. There's even talk of going back and creating DVD collections of past festival programs.

After each festival, Harrison says, filmgoers often ask how to obtain copies of their favorite films. "Up until this point," he explains, "the only answer was to tell people to contact the filmmakers … The DVD is a natural progression [and helps us] get films out to a wider audience."

The DVD also might help its audiences to diversify their taste in film. In choosing the 10 films, Harrison said, he and artistic director Christen McArdle "really tried to represent the whole spectrum of the festival."

Although the AAFF makes a concerted effort to attract film enthusiasts from all over the country and world to attend, as a regional festival it relies on people driving or taking the train in from neighboring communities. The recent shift from Americans accepting mass-produced, chain-store goods as the norm to seeking out independent, locally grown alternatives should help the cause of AAFF and similar organizations.

"You don't have to fly to Sundance or take a train to Toronto to see some of the highest caliber films in one of the most beautiful theatres in the country," Harrison says. "[With the AAFF], you can go to one of the best college towns, find a hotel for under $100 a night and have a great time."

Time Pieces will also be for sale at the 47th annual AAFF, in March. Sales of the DVD help support the non-profit film festival, and the artists who submit. Says Harrison: "With our DVD, for 25 dollars, you're buying a really good gift that's supporting [the AAFF], as well as the filmmakers."

Geniuses (evil and otherwise)

But not all local entertainment is as high-minded as the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Some local production companies see Michigan as simply a great place to create comedy, music and, even a little gore. 

Brad Torreano, one of the founders of Ypsilanti-based Evil Genius Entertainment, said his horror film company has its own reasons for choosing to stay local.

"The 'buy Michigan' concept, the 'support Michigan' concept — it's not just a necessity," Torreano says. "We found that there's really a talent resource here. There are a lot of good actors, a lot of great people and its really just giving them that chance."

Even the area's bigger-name creative outfits, such as Quack! Media — certainly the region's biggest media producer and marketer (counting locally-based, nationally-known favorites such as FOUND magazine, Tally Hall and Sappy Cards in its stable, as well as irreverant educational videos and amination for Adult Swim) — see the positives of staying local. As of now, Quack! counts all-Michigan artists in the music branch of its productions.

"Musically, 100% of artists are Michigan-based," says Quack!'s Al McWilliams, although the company is currently considering a Chicago group. "It started out naturally and became conscious — just the realization that there were so many artists that we wanted to work with that there was really no need to go outside (the state)."

Despite the challenges of being based in Michigan, the region's enthusiastic creative community is enough of a reason to stay for these compaies. Explains Torreano: "I don't think any of us want to leave Michigan. We have family here. We love the community. No one's been more supportive than other local artists; it's a pretty cool community to be in, to be working in [film]."

Torreano and the other principles of Evil Genius — John Vincent, Matt Cash and Robert Felts — met when working on a film in Detroit, called Deadeye. The four, who all lived in Ypsi and attended Eastern at the time, decided to strike it out on their own as horror filmmakers.

Since forming their film collective in 1999, the friends have completed three feature-length movies, including their most recent vampire feature. Making these films — and the stumbles along the way — has been a learning process, Torreano says, and sticking local has resulted in some unexpected benefits.

"[With our most recent film], because of all of these little coincidences and people who have worked with one another, we've established friendships with other companies," Torreano said. Evil Genius will produce the film in Blu-Ray, "which we would never have known how to do without contacts made through this film."

The company is currently hard at work on their fourth feature, The 6th Extinction. (You can get a behind the scenes look here.)

You can do it too

Perhaps you've already seen (or used) the PLAY gallery's Animation Station. Created for PLAY, the University of Michigan's gallery for time-based projects, the Animation Station in its increasingly mobile iterations has already attracted busy hands and creative minds at the Neutral Zone, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, Shadow Art Fair in Ypsilanti and more.

After being invited to be part of last year's AAFF festivities, PLAY director Katherine Weider and Tom Bray came up with the idea for a stop-motion animation station. Selected objects are left with the Station, wherever it is stationed, and people come up and arrange, reaarange and record animations with Dan Fessahazion's custom-made program — one Weider describes as so intuitive that "anyone, without knowing anything about animation can just walk up and create something."

"What we found was a huge hit at the film festival, there was somebody on it all the time, about 30 minutes of animation at the end of the week," Weider said. "If you see how long it takes to make a couple seconds that's a lot of animation."

Since then, the focus has been on making the Animation Station more mobile (with the art school's sculpture studio manager Zach Weaver) and now sturdier (with Professor Shaun Jackson's product design class). The next big question is what to do with the animations created — one day, Weider said, you might be able to download the animations that you create and splice together your own collection of what others have made. (And what is more local, than what you and your neighbors have made yourself?)

PLAY is modeling its idea after National Public Radio's StoryCorps. With NPR's mobile recording station, people go in and record their stories, then receive a CD of the interview, Weider said. Copies of the recordings are also sent to the national archive, and NPR cuts some of the stories to play on air.

PLAY is currently involved in a similar project with Michigan Public Radio, but with audio. "Sonic Haikus" are what Weider calls audio portraits of "the sounds of places," particularly places in Michigan. These short recordings of people describing a sound or the memory of a sound can be heard on Michigan Radio. Videos produced through PLAY can be seen on Michigan Television and Michigan Channel.

Maybe it's the economy or maybe it's a growing discomfort with the culturalk products corporations force feed audiences, but the do-it-yourself movement seems to be spreading into every corner of society. It only makes sense that home entertainment would join the parade. All it took was a technological shove. After all, is the proliferation of locally produced entertainment starring local actors, filmed by local crews and marketed to local audiences any different from, say, community theater?

Who knows, maybe some day in the not-too distant future the majority of food, news, and entertainment will be generated by and for local residents. How incredibly retro.

Kimberly Chou is a freelance writer living in Ann Arbor. She is a frequent contributor to both Metromode and Concentrate. Her previous article was Konichiwa, Ann Arbor.


Al McWilliams at Quack-Ann Arbor

Donald Harrison Shows Off His DVD Making Skills-Ann Arbor

Apparently This Is What Happens When You Work For Al McWilliams-Ann Arbor

Donald Harrison Get Grilled-Ann Arbor

Brad Torreano Gets Evil-Yspilanti

John Vincent Is THE Evil Genius-Ypsilanti

Zack Weaver and
Katherine Weider PLAY Together-Ann Arbor

PLAY's Animation Station-Ann Arbor

All Photos by Dave Lewinski

Dave Lewinski is Concentrate's Managing Photographer.  His still camera can now shoot video.  WooHoo.

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