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"The ice just cracked!!!"

 

"February" was filmed, fittingly, in the month of February, the coldest month of the year in Wisconsin.  An independent production by a couple of London Film School graduates (Nathan Deming and Adam Stunkle), the film crossed many locations across north-western Wisconsin from frozen lakes, to old main street department stores, to highway motel chains.  A crew of talented Californians and Wisconsinites teamed together to bring Nathan's vision to life.

It was the first time most of the cast and crew had been out on a frozen lake, let alone filmed on one - the dozens of scattered ice tents already out there with gigantic SUVs, trucks, and even RVs didn't give everyone

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Leo Pruman (DP) and Nathan Deming (Director) block out a scene on a frozen Lake Altoona.

the confidence they needed... But slowly, on Day 1, we made our way out to the middle of the lake with our own caravan of vehicles - the "picture truck", a cargo van, and yet another sedan to ferry cast and crew or run errands.  Besides a few large cracks - regular events on the ice (we were told!!!) - we made it back to land successfully, no horrible ice cracking having happened.

"I'm not an actor... is that okay?

 

One of the most important roles in the film - Carl, the ice fisherman who takes Miguel on his first trip ice fishing - was extremely difficult to cast.  The other leads - played by David Duran, Nayeli Hernandez, and Erick Inestroza - came together rather easily through a regular casting process in Los Angeles, CA.  But the ice fisherman character lingered - many performances were too on the nose, or not authentic enough.  We eventually decided to try our luck with a Craigslist ad in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (near most of the film's shooting locations) looking for "ICE FISHERMAN WITH NO ACTING EXPERIENCE."  In the role's description, we put a little more - "seen as crazy, gruff by his co-workers" "prefers to be on the lake than with people".  Ritchie's wife got in touch with a simple message, "lol this is literally my husband."

David Duran (Miguel) and Ritchie Gordon (Carl) wait between takes while driving on the ice.

 

Ritchie, a jack of all trades with no acting experience, proved to be more than game and up to the task - taking director Nathan Deming and DP Leo Purman ice fishing with his wife in -9 degree temperature a week before filming (during which is dog fell through some thin ice and got soaked, "He'll be alright" he said, nonplussed - and was right).  Ritchie showed a lot of patience for a totally new process - filmmaking - that turned out to be sort of similar to the ice fishing he loved ("Lots of sitting around.")

A search for
authenticity

 

From the extras, to the props, to the locations, our team was focused on telling a Wisconsin story that reflected the Wisconsin we know and understand today.  The whole idea of the Year Project is to document and tell stories from all backgrounds - starting with a grumpy, 75-year-old white church volunteer at a Methodist church - and continuing the story with Miguel, a recent Mexican immigrant who's never experienced snow or winter before and is homesick for the country he left behind.

Still from "February"

 

Finishing on Super Bowl Sunday, we were honored and excited by the amount of local help we received - from the warm hospitality fo the Tomah Cash Store to the open-ness of the ice fishermen on Lake Altoona who let their get-away turn into a temporary film set.

After 1 week of filming and several months of post-production, "February" will premiere at the 2024 Wisconsin Film Festival.

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