GR Tastes Film Business

August 15, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — It turns out making a movie isn't all lights, camera and action, but rather a set of strategic business decisions that are very entrepreneurial in nature.

This month, Hollywood came to Grand Rapids and fed on the city's entrepreneurial spirit. However, entrepreneurial spirit wasn't all it took to get "The Agent" made.

A group of film buffs, some graduates from Grand Rapids' own film school, Compass Arts Academy, located beneath Bistro Bella Vita in downtown Grand Rapids, began working on an idea for a film they thought would be a good joint project. The group, comprised of Harold Cronk, director, Dave Phelps, writer, Andy Phelps, producer, Zach Lentine, director of photography, Tim Cunningham, first assistant cameraman, Nate Bialik, producer and lead actor, and Matt Cooper, director, last year began developing a script for the 18-minute movie. They would eventually go through nearly 20 rewrites.

Each brought something different to the table. Producer Andy Phelps had the technical background after attending film school in Orlando, Fla. Dave Phelps brought his writing ability; Cronk and Cooper, both art teachers, brought artistic backgrounds to the project. Bialik brought his experience in the field, his vision and his ability to hold the lead role.

Together, the seven worked out the story Phelps had started, and last summer came up with the script for "The Agent." After the story was conceived, the decision to make the film was not an easy one. There were questions of timing and whether to start the project at all. That changed when Andy Phelps secured $30,000 from an anonymous donor.

The group formed Mendicant Films and began the search for crew and actors, first through family and friends and then by placing ads on Mandy.com, a Web site that posts listings for movie-related jobs.

"We have a group of very talented people," said Bialik. "We took a leap with this thing in the first place and then to be fortunate to just have a group of really good people that are so talented and that can work well together, that is a definite plus."

The next step was to scout locations for each shot around the city and in outlying areas. The team said there are sometimes several hoops to jump through in order to secure locations, including following proper insurance precautions.

Liability insurance had to be in place, as well as insurance for the party that owned the site, the people shooting, the people acting and the site in general.

"There will always be glitches, but (the key) is how you deal with them," said Bialik. "There was one site that we wanted for one of our scenes that we weren't able to get, but just like in business you have to find ways around it by still being able to meet your goal. We had budget constraints and time constraints to meet."

Securing sites and making sure insurance precautions were taken weren't the only things the team was shelling out money for; there was still the cost of cameras and a place to edit the film. Luckily, the latter was one expense they didn't have to worry about.

Compass Arts Academy dedicated a small studio for the editing of "The Agent."

"Film is like a language and we are starting to speak more of a visual language," said Cort Langeland, head of Compass Arts Academy. "This is a great group of guys that had an idea and went with it. They applied what they learned and we are glad we were a part of that."

In fact, Compass Arts is where some of the members of the group learned their business skills. The academy focuses on getting students right into the heart of filmmaking as well as on what it takes to not only make the film, but also sell it.

Langeland said his students graduate from the program with marketing, strategy, advertising and communication skills. They also get experience in actually working with a team to create a concept, make a film and practice distributing and marketing it.

And while only a few members of the seven key players in "The Agent" graduated from Compass Arts, others bring an outside perspective to the film.

"I think this project is also to find out what our strengths and weaknesses are," said Andy Phelps. "This gives us the chance to see where we are needed and most of all see what we can get done together."

For example, the creative and technical sides of filmmaking often clash.

"You have to be able to communicate your ideas, but that is a challenge because how do you translate an intangible idea to technological people?" said Cooper. "You challenge yourself to articulate to your crew and to your audience."

The group hopes all the hard work is articulated to the audience at the beginning of next year when the film is ready for the public's eyes.

"We are lucky to be able to follow our passion," said Cronk. "Here, we were lucky that people have seen our vision and believe enough in it to put their money out there. We hope the same thing happens next year when the film comes out."

"The Agent" will be touring the local film festival circuit after its debut next year. There also are plans to take it to out-of-state festivals.

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