Economic Development and Film

Local film premieres in West Michigan before hitting the road

March 7, 2014
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Joseph Scott Anthony is convinced 2014 will be a breakthrough year for Grand Rapids-made independent films.

Anthony, a local actor and producer, was encouraged in this faith in the local film industry when, on the evening of Feb. 27, a film he co-produced and starred in received a red-carpet screening at Woodland Mall’s Celebration Cinema, 3195 28th St. SE.

The theater was full of friends, family and film supporters who came to see Anthony and other local talent in “Burst Theory,” a thriller about “a scientist at a remote facility (who) questions the nature of a bird flu vaccine his team is studying when a colleague unexpectedly contracts the virus under suspicious circumstances,” according to the film’s IDMb page.

“This year there are so many films from independent filmmakers out of Grand Rapids that are getting into major festivals,” said Zac Page, the film’s director, writer and co-producer.“We expect ‘Burst Theory’ to contribute to that.”

The idea for “Burst Theory” was conceived when Anthony and Page were having drinks at Rocky’s Bar in 2012. They were feeling frustrated with the industry, Anthony said. A number of major projects, some worth millions of dollars, had fallen through, Page said, and the two men, who’d worked together on other projects, were looking to create something new.

Page, who graduated with a film degree from Grand Valley State University in 2010, came up with an idea based on a topic in the news: bird flu. He wrote the film, raised the money, and began shooting in August 2012. With a cast of six and a crew of about 25, “Burst Theory” was shot in 11 days, an all West Michigan production. He paid all the staff except for the interns — college students who received class credit for their participation. 

At the end of the day, making good films in West Michigan comes down to having the capital, Page said, calling West Michigan a “thriving community because of extremely sharp conservative investment.”

“The businesses that are thriving in the community such as microbreweries and restaurants — that’s all booming. … Why is it blowing up? ArtPrize was a game changer for the community. It put us on an international grid,” he said. “We do not have an international presence with filmmaking yet. We’re getting there.” 

2014 is the year that could change that, Anthony said, praising local filmmakers like Joel Potrykus, whose film “Ape” scored major awards at the Locarno International Film Festival and has since been screened internationally and reviewed by The Hollywood Reporter.

Detroit might be getting more attention from the film industry, Anthony said, but as far as indie filmmakers are concerned, Grand Rapids’ talent is showing more promise. 

“(Detroit) indie-level filmmakers are like, ‘What have you got in the water over there?’ They see what we do and that we are constantly doing better work here on an indie level than they are doing in Detroit,” he said.

There is a group of world-class film professionals in Grand Rapids that investors in the community need to get behind, Anthony said. There are teams who have worked for years making films — people who have grown their talent and work well together.

But what it comes down to in order to make a quality production is capital, Page said — capital backed by risk-takers looking to invest in film projects. Films can be considered good investments based on the filmmakers’ previous films and their performance in festivals, he said. If “Burst Theory” performs well in festivals, Page will have more opportunities to keep the film ball rolling.

“When you have a first business venture that is successful in any way, you don’t go and do that (same thing) again,” he said. “You take those principles and you build on them, and you up the ante. You put more money in — take bigger risks — because you’ve proved out the first time.” 

Page relies on a strong production team. A good team will diminish the risk of a bad production, he said, and right now, such a team exists in the local film talent pool.

“Film itself is generally one of the riskiest businesses, but what’s risky about it is who you’re working with,” he said.

So far, the film has been a reputable success. Last year, “Burst Theory” was selected out of hundreds of national films to be presented at Film-Com, an annual film packaging, financing and distribution convention hosted in Nashville. It was also invited to join slated.com, a website for filmmaking and deal making.

To learn more about the film, visit bursttheorythemovie.com.

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