If former UM student-turned-producer Michael Brody is any indication of success, then start dropping out of law school now, kids.
One of the most notable films at this year’s Miami International Film Festival [MIFF] is Milwaukee, Minnesota, Brody’s first and so far, only, producing credit. The film comes in having already played at some of the world’s biggest film festivals, including Cannes, Toronto, and Deauville. It has won awards at Cannes, Deauville, and the Seattle International Film Festival, and been commended by pretty much every critic who’s seen it. Yet, over a year after it debuted at the Slamdance Film Festival, Milwaukee, Minnesota is still seeking a distribution deal.
“It is the thing that we’re all hoping and waiting for, but it hasn’t come yet,” says Brody, who attended UM in the mid 1990’s. “There are a few things we are planning. We have a few things in Europe going on. But it is definitely a perilous and troubling road.”
Brody’s story is a unique one. He came to UM in 1991 as an acting major, but when a professor told his class that they’d probably never feel fulfilled as actors, Brody switched into economics, something he says he never really liked but was good at. After graduating with a business degree, he came back to Miami for law school, but only lasted for a couple scattered semesters.
It doesn’t take long after meeting Brody to see that he doesn’t fit the stereotype of Hollywood film producer. Wearing casual clothes and hunched over the kitchen table in his Coconut Grove condo while fielding questions about his life, he didn’t interrupt the interview for any cell phone calls, he didn’t refer to film as “the industry,” and there were no vast collections of Variety lying around. Yet, this wasn’t a surprise upon meeting him, because Brody’s film, Milwaukee, Minnesota, is just like him.
This film is as far away from Hollywood as a movie can get, and that’s a compliment in today’s overly mainstream film market. The story follows a mentally challenged 30 year old named Albert, who lives in Milwaukee with his loving but overly protective mother. When his mother dies, people start lining up to scam Albert out of his money, which he earned at competitions using his great ice-fishing ability.
The film is unconventional in its style and tone. The most obvious things about it are the wonderful cinematography and the deep performances by an excellent cast. Troy Garity (Bandits) plays Albert with subdued brilliance, never giving in to the temptation of playing this character as an over-the-top goofball. If Albert were a real person, he would be proud to have Garity portray him like he does.
The rest of the cast is made up of Alison Folland (Boys Don’t Cry), Randy Quaid, Bruce Dern, and Debra Monk. Quaid’s performance as a sleazy con artist who tries to take advantage of Albert is an especially juicy one.
Milwaukee, Minnesota deserves a distribution deal from a studio more than most of the crappy movies Hollywood spits out every year. But in a system that’s afraid to take chances, good movies like this are dumped quietly into video stores while The Perfect Score comes out in about a billion theaters. But that’s not to say that Milwaukee, Minnesota doesn’t still have a chance to get released, especially after getting recognized on the popular website indieWIRE as one of the top 20 films in 2003 without distribution.
For Brody, signing a deal with a studio is important to him financially as well as professionally. He was asked to produce this film after meeting with people at a modeling and talent agency in New York that he was hoping to work for. When they found out that Brody had helped organize the film festival in his home town of Woodstock, New York, they asked if he’d be interested in coming onboard a film that the founder of the agency, Allan Mindel, was making.
“[Mindel’s] story is that for one of his birthdays he decided to do something crazy and he bought a script,” explains Brody. “He had been constantly trying to get this thing produced for quite a while.”
Brody met with Mindel and some other people involved in the film and decided to help its production. He helped get some financing for it originally, and ended up putting a lot of his own money into it when things started to go wrong.
“Basically, I was just supposed to learn, but everything went to hell. They fired the other producer. Someone was supposed to come in with a bunch of money, but three days before they canceled and we had to shut down production, which is the worst thing that can happen to an independent movie.”
The film bounced back from early problems however, a rare feat that Brody credits to Mindel.
“Anything that could go wrong went wrong in this production. Film is about persistence. That’s what I learned from the director. Even when I was back here in Florida after the first collapse of the production, saying, ‘What the hell is going on?’ he was still at it.”
Persistence paid off for Mindel, whose direction is superb for a first-timer. The script for this film is interesting in its character development and its overall plot, but the dialogue drags at times and the story takes a few wrong turns. But the overall quality of the movie is still great, due largely to Mindel’s careful direction, the great performances from the cast, and the beautifully rich colors employed by director of photography Bernd Heinl, whose resume from the past 20 years is inexplicably horrible (Suburban Commando).
As for Brody, he’s back at his quiet condo on the water, thinking over his future. He’s quick to say that he doesn’t want to get labeled as only being a producer, because he’s interested in directing and writing as well.
“At the moment, I’m looking into the creative side of doing shorts,” he says. “I only produced this so I could learn about the filmmaking process.”
Milwaukee, Minnesota’s future is uncertain as well. Right now, all Brody knows is that it will be playing the Florida Film Festival in March. After that, he hopes a distributor will pick up the film and get it into some theaters. He’s optimistic about the film’s ability to please audiences, but says the distribution process is an independent filmmaker’s worst nightmare. “One of the problems with distribution is they ask, ‘What type of film is it? Is it a thriller? Does it fit the marketing parameters well?’ The best thing we tell them, I guess, is it’s quirky.”
Quirky and good. See this film for free at the Cosford as part of the Miami International Film Festival on Monday, Feb. 2, at 7:00 p.m.
Shawn Wines can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.