by Mary K. Tennis (link)
In a small, sunny office in downtown Duluth, kitty-corner to the casino, a small, diligent group of artists are making movies-full-length, edited-to-perfection, feature films.
Think you need to move to Los Angeles to make movies? Think again. Jason Page and Carrie Boberg, UMD theater grads, have created a little corner of Tinseltown right here in Duluth.
Boberg and Page flourished in the UMD theater department. Both wanted to pursue acting after college and decided to try their chops in the most obvious spot: Los Angeles.
“We felt like we were unstoppable,” Page said.
After five years, L.A. stopped them. Acting work was competitive, and getting a film made was only possible if it included a bid to re-launch a fading gay porn-star’s career-a story, perhaps for another time.
The unsuccessful quest for work there lead to an epiphany of sorts: they both wanted to make movies, on their own terms, with their own company, in any place they wanted. Duluth beckoned.
The struggle to complete their first film in Duluth, “Newton’s Disease,” led to a big payoff: willing investors, miles of experience and human resources-people like Erin McConnell, a Superior native who has become an integral force in the group.
So here they are, a bona-fide film company, 4 Track Films, with three feature-length movies under their belts and more on the way.
The films feature Duluth actors and cost-effective Duluth locations. Los Angeles, on the otherhand, is prepared for the hordes of fledgling filmmakers who attempt to film there.
“Every place, every gas station in L.A. would pull out a rate sheet,” Page said. “In Duluth, it’s just a matter of asking when the location is available.”
The company, despite their small-city location, has not been afraid to take risks so far.
Their most recent film, which debuted in Teatro Zuccone, the small theater on Superior Street that is downstairs from 4 Track Films’ headquarters, is a mocumentary based on the film company itself: “White Man’s World.”
McConnell, who co-wrote and co-starred in the film with Page, talked about the sometimes difficult process of making the more provocative scenes in the movie.
“There were a lot of times we would cover our faces and look away,” McConnell said.
The film follows Page’s desperation to make a successful film, regardless of the odds, and despite his relationships with those around him, including Boberg and McConnell, who was Page’s girlfriend at the time and plays in the film.
Page is brutal at times in the film, a misogynist and a user, willing to do anything to get what he wants.
“It’s the bastard child of ‘God Rocked!’” said Boberg, speaking about “… and on the 7th Day, God Rocked!,” a film they released earlier this year.
“God Rocked!” featured a character study revolving around a Christian rock battle of the bands. It’s high on good-natured laughs, and offers an even-handed commentary on a somewhat controversial subject-Christianity. It is almost cuddly compared to “White Man’s World.”
The film, even in its so-far limited release, has already sparked controversy with some Duluth viewers.
“We got a letter,” said Boberg, who acts (as herself) in and produces the film. “A woman took her 17-year-old daughter to see the movie. They walked out. She called it porn.”
There is full-frontal male nudity, contributed by Page, and this is the rare moment in the blazing self-satire when the movie’s intentions, or some of them anyway, come to the surface.
Every caustic impulse that was suppressed in “God Rocked!” comes out in “White Man’s World.”
Mostly, though, Duluth audiences are supportive of the new film company. Minneapolis, though, is another story.
Now that the company is paused from production, they have the time to promote. They resume in spring with a romantic comedy, a collection of short films and a thriller. Right now, however, the team is working on getting an audience outside of Duluth.
“It’s not impossible, but it just hasn’t been done,” Page said.
This outreach includes entering their work into the film festival circuit, dredging for contacts, making phone calls and sending DVDs to any and all interested parties through their Web site and word-of-mouth. Stacks of cardboard boxes line the office’s walls, full of copies of “God Rocks!”
“If we made it into Sundance, we would be ‘Minnesota’s Own’,” Boberg said.
But for now, they are just a crazy couple of 30-somethings, living in a northern city, who are busy telling stories.
“We get reviews saying, ’4 Track Films is one of Duluth’s best kept secrets!’” Page laughed. “We’re not trying to keep it a secret! We’re not trying to hide our treasure.”