Nowhere, Michigan (United States | 2016, 1 hr 37 min)
Directed by: Robert Vornkahl
David (Tequan Richmond) is fleeing from a murder, a pair of deadly conmen and is inadvertently toting a bag full of meth and cash with him. He ends up passing through a small, frozen, nowhere town in the heart of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. David becomes entangled in a small town love triangle between a pregnant, snarky bartender, Madison (Jenna Boyd) who longs to get out of Michigan, and a chatty, cheerful diner waitress, April (Christina Scherer) who can barely conceive of a world outside her hometown. David forms a tentative friendship with his grumpy, gasmask-wearing, ice-fishing neighbor, Martin, (Richard Riehle), and finds himself in the middle of a do-it-yourself meth ring with the local drug dealer, Erin (Ashlie Atkinson). In time, David feels at home for a moment in this small town, until a wrong move tips off the deadly conmen to his location. David must choose between running for his life again, or trying to save the local people he has come to love.
Interview:An Interview with Robert Vornkahl, Director of "Nowhere, Michigan" by Caleb Dawdy
CD: The woodland cinematography and small town imagery are a huge standout to this film. What inspired the major location choice? Did elements of the script change to fit the scenery or was it always written with Northern Michigan in mind?
RV: I’m originally from the area of Iron Mountain, Michigan, having grown up in the area from 1989-2003. My parents still reside in the area along with my sister and her family. We wrote this script with specific locations I knew we would be able to use in the town and after years of living there I was able to transform seemingly ordinary locations to locals into unique and interesting locals for our crime thriller. Trying to give it a unique spin on the traditional drug lab, we decided the beauty of a frozen lake would really add to our look of the film and not just be another shack in the woods or a sketchy basement.
As far as getting some of the more unique places like the abandoned motel, I knew that they were there and would take a little bit of phone calling and we actually used the local real estate company to our advantage in negotiating us into these amazing spots. We ended up shooting in more than 6 towns in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the not so Far away Northern Wisconsin. We wrote our script and I brought our producers out to the town for a location scout about 4 months prior to shooting so we all could have the same sense of the area and town before bringing our crew from New York and a Majority of our cast from Los Angeles.
CD: There seemed to be a lot of nods to ‘70s cinema in the editing, themes, and camera movements. Was this a large influence in general on the team or did you fit this into the script?
RV: If you look at my shelves of DVDs, Blu-Rays and maybe a few VHS, movies of the 70’s and 80’s were my primary viewing choices even through to today. I loved the idea of creating the montages in the late 60’s and 70’s split-screen style from films like "The Thomas Crown Affair" (Original) but not to negate the influence of Quentin Tarantino and his crime films. And once we break into this style I knew a funk track like 70’s police style shows would be essential to help call back to that style to go along with our use of split screen and really drive some energy into those sequences.
As far as camera movements I always tend to lean back on more traditional dolly moves and cinematic language of films I love. Something new, was to teach myself how to operate a drone for the film so we could capture the shots of the frozen lake and wilderness to really up our production value.
CD: What are some of your general cinematic and storytelling influences?
RV: Generally, I love the Coen Brothers who have an obvious influence of “Fargo” on this film; along with any winter crime film ever to come out after. But others more generally I enjoy [are] Robert Rodriguez, Darren Aronofsky, and more recently Alejandro González Iñárritu along with the really huge directors like Scorsese, David Fincher and Chris Nolan.
CD: The performances by the actors in the film were all fantastic. What were some of the inspirations for your antagonist?
RV: Seth Kirschner was an amazing partner in creating this character with Andrew Beguin our writer really fueling a lot of the language that Raymond uses. The amazing thing about working with Seth is he can give you 10 different performances for the one take you need and I can vary and make choices to have the character Raymond either be completely methodical or even tending toward the goofy side. As far as Nick’s character Steve, we were drawing on hit men like the Peter Stormare’s Gaear Grimsrud in "Fargo," where they don’t speak much but bring an amazing presence with them for intimidation.
CD: What were some inspirations for your protagonists?
I love early 90’s TV as well and "MacGyver" was one of [the] main influences for David. He was more of an earlier version of MacGyver where maybe he doesn’t always know what he’s doing but trying his best. As far as Jenna’s character Madison, she was based off of many people I knew while growing up as well as Christina’s character April. They both were an amalgamation of a ton of different people but while giving you a little insight into what some of the personality types are in that area of the company.
CD: What were a few of the largest challenges you had to face while writing and shooting this film?
RV: The biggest challenge was securing our amazing cast, while also convincing everyone to come to this very remote place in Michigan then while battling the weather in the opposite of what we thought would happen. It was actually getting too warm too quickly for our shooting schedule and we actually finished shooting on the ice just a few days before locals had cleared their ice fishing shacks off for the spring. Our first two weeks were just bitterly cold enough to keep the ice going just long enough for us to get our shots and clear out of there.
The warmth did help us a bit when we were shooting out at my family’s farm where we built the ice shack interior sets along with doing some "Poor Man’s Process" with our vehicles. Speaking of vehicles, that was another challenge! Our hero car that was the convertible died and was dying quite often in the last week of the shoot when we were planning on doing some of the major driving scenes from the beginning of the movie. We also had to reshoot another sequence as one of our vehicles wouldn’t start up after we had shot a pivotal scene with it. And then all the usual challenges of an indie movie with a small crew in a small town!
CD: Were there any challenges that you wanted to put on yourself or your team in an effort to create a better result?
RV: The film itself was a challenge to get this amount of action, locations and amazing actors from across the country so adding challenges wasn’t really anything I wanted to do! I knew we had enough on our plate with a very small crew but I was confident with our 25 day schedule we would have plenty of time to shoot the film without going into crazy long days or exposing people to the wintery elements for too long.
CD: A successful crime film, especially one with twists and turns, that comes full circle can be hard to achieve. What elements of the genre do you find essential?
RV: Audiences who are mostly straight-laced individuals love to live vivaciously through these types of films. Myself included! That’s why crime is such a fascinating genre. I loved shows like "Breaking Bad" or "Fargo" and knew that if we made a film that had some elements those films and shows incorporated we would have something entertaining on our hands. Bringing my home town area to light would also be something unique for theater goers where most people when you say you’re from Michigan ask “How far from Detroit is that?” and the Upper Peninsula is an entirely different part of the country than Lower Michigan.
CD: What elements were essential to your film specifically?
RV: Our amazing cast and crew, our location added huge amounts of beauty, weirdness and wilderness that really makes our film stand out.
CD: Are there any projects that you or your team are working towards that we can look forward to?
RV: We are currently working towards getting this film out and into the world, I personally am working on a few scripts for my next project still to be determined but will either venture back into comedy like my first film "Completely Normal" or more of a thriller like "Nowhere, Michigan."