Northbound opens filmmaking up to U.P. community

If you're looking for a new summer show to watch, why not make it one filmed and produced right here in the U.P.?

Northbound is an independent, post-apocalyptic sci-fi web series set in the Upper Peninsula that's recently finished up a 6-episode first season hosted on the writers and producers are not only locals, they also are fully committed to keeping the show in the U.P.

Actors, crew, logistics, sets--it's all U.P., from location shoots at Sawyer in Marquette County to recruiting local talent and working with Iron Mountain companies during production, which takes place largely in the western U.P.

The series is part of a much bigger project: a full-length feature film called Northstar, to which Northbound is a lead-in story, and Northbound's second season are both in the works from media company Lullskull Ltd.

Co-creators Seth and Nathan Anderson, brothers from Iron Mountain, are working with producer Jason Hagen to bring the U.P. community further into the fold this summer, starting with an open house in Kingsford this weekend.

"We're on the cusp of making season 2," says Seth Anderson. "We wanted to do an update on where the production is at in the Dickinson County area, and also have a chance to connect with more local talent for the next round of production."

To that end, he'll be presenting a trailer for season 2 at the open house, taking place from 1-4 p.m. on June 25 at the Hole In One, at 700 East Boulevard in Kingsford. Also planned for the all-ages event are fun photo shoots with props from the Northbound set, giveaways including original Northbound art by Nathan Anderson and of course, food and drink. It's also a good time to get involved if you're looking to audition, volunteer or just find out more about what's happening.

"Everyone is welcome to board this train," he says. "We're kind of just stopping it for a minute and letting everyone on who wants to be."

Anderson and Hagen have nothing but the highest praise and gratitude for how Northbound has been received by the Dickinson community. Local municipal cooperation, volunteers pitching in with everything from location to videography, and the general willingness of folks to help out where they can, all have made the production possible, Hagen says.

Iron Mountain logistics coordinator Fay Mannon-Rahoi handles a lot of the local details, like location scouting, arranging for shooting at various sites, and of course, all the paperwork that goes with it. But, she says the challenges are far outweighed by the U.P. spirit of getting things done.

"It's really amazing, the local community support," she says. "We go out to the community and say, 'This is what we're trying to do,' and people here just respond."

And if the weather isn't as cooperative, it still adds U.P. character to the filming--especially when it's taking place on a frozen lake during the year's worst cold snap, like it did on Lake Antoine last winter.

When Northstar and Northbound were first beginning, the filmmakers were attracted by the then-existing Michigan film incentives, and Anderson says it's true that it might be easier, in terms of cost and infrastructure, to film elsewhere. But, that's not going to happen.

"Our hearts are drawn to the U.P.," he says. "And we do feel it's a very undershot area. Now, with technology being a little cheaper, that does make it easier, too."

That includes, for instance, digital filming, and the ability to use drones for aerial shots in a way that wouldn't have been possible just a few years ago. Anderson adds talent in the area also has improved and adapted to filmmaking, something that also makes it easier to keep coming back. And, there's the fact that this is their home.

"It would be easier to get some equipment downstate, sure, but that's not where we're from," he says. "That is what's making us double down as far as the U.P. If we can continue to make films in the U.P. on a community basis, we can show that people can do this on a local level anywhere."

Hagen agrees that's the future of independent filmmaking.

"That will make more distinctive films overall, and we'll get to see, what does this look like when it's made by people who love it here," he says.

Of course, there's no kind of filmmaking that can be called cheap, and the Andersons and Hagen are looking at new ways to support the production, reach a wider audience and garner more support. One of those ways is through an upcoming Kickstarter campaign to help launch Season 2 this summer. With a tentative start date in early July, the crowdfunding campaign will cover the first three episodes of season 2, which Hagen says they chose because it's all one story arc.

"We've written a pretty strong three-episode opener to bring everybody back into the story," he says.

"Since 2016 began, we've been exploring options, and Kickstarter to us felt like the most transparent in the way it works," Anderson says. "You can pledge whatever amount you want, and we are able to say, this is what we need to continue growing the production. Plus, pledges are withdrawn after the goal is met, not before."

The remaining episodes to round out the 8-episode season might be funded through another Kickstarter if that's feasible, or through more traditional methods. For the creators, they look at the upcoming crowdfunding as essential on several fronts.

"The project is growing, coming out of season one," Anderson says. "We want to encourage more involvement in a few different ways; one is to open up more funding, but also to get more people involved in the project and owning part of it."

"We're inextricably linked to the U.P. and Michigan and that's so important to our creative success. Kickstarter allows us to open that up so others can take part," he says.

For season 2, they're looking forward to expanding the reach of Northbound, both online and in the U.P. Discussions are underway for various new locations in the Keweenaw and Marquette County, and Anderson says he harbors a desire to shoot on the shores of Lake Superior-- though exactly what, is yet to be determined. Shooting on Season 2 is slated for late August if all goes well.

To keep up on the latest from Lullskull, Northbound and Northstar, and to support their Kickstarter campaign, the best method is online at the production's website or Facebook. You can find Northbound Season 1 online here.

Kim Eggleston is a Marquette-based freelance writer and editor.
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