Published: Monday, May 07, 2012, 7:00 AM
By John Serba | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Grand Rapids Press
Harold Cronk calls “Mickey Matson and the Copperhead Conspiracy” a “postcard for West Michigan.”
That makes sense: The head of Ludington-based 10 West Studios, Cronk wrote and directed the youth adventure story inspired by his “wonderful childhood growing up in West Michigan.” Ninety-five percent of principal photography took place in Ludington and Manistee for three weeks last fall, and an artifact key to the plot is a Petoskey stone with a map hidden inside it.
Although Cronk came up with the idea for “Matson” during his five years living and working in Los Angeles, he and his business partners had an eye on filming in his home state. He and Matthew Tailford co-founded 10 West in 2008, when the state offered lucrative tax incentives for film production – up to a 42 percent rebate. The production spent $388,400 in the state, qualifying for $162,128 in incentives under the updated legislation, which allows the state to hand out a total of $25 million in rebates annually.
Despite those changes, Cronk says it still makes sense to shoot movies here.
“It was always our goal to move back and make films in West Michigan,” Cronk said. “We were able to get our feet under us before the change in the incentive… there’s a great crew base and outstanding locations here.”
So it also makes sense that he’d find his star here, too. Derek Brandon, a 7th-grader at Middleville’s Thornapple Kellogg Middle School, landed the gig as the title character, a shy boy who’s given the aforementioned Petoskey stone by his deceased grandfather. It leads him on an adventure with a new friend (Francesca Derosa), and they attempt to keep a powerful mythical device out of the hands of evil men.
The film also features performances by Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future”) and Ernie Hudson (“Ghostbusters”). West Michigan’s Kevin Yon, best known as the voice of several Chrysler commercials, has a featured role.
Brandon said the Matson character is self-conscious at the beginning of the film, but begins to gain confidence in himself as the adventure unravels.
“I’m not very shy or anything like that,” Brandon said. “I try to picture his life before that, before the story starts, to get into the character.”
Cronk said he was ready to go to Los Angeles to audition when he met the 13-year-old Middleville kid, who has starred in several films shot in Michigan already, including “The Christmas Bunny,” “The Genesis Code,” “Home Run Showdown” and most recently, “A Dog for Christmas,” which filmed in Rockford in January.
“Nothing read as false with Derek
,” he said. “The way he was delivering during the audition, he WAS Mickey Matson.”
Cronk, who grew up in Baldwin and Scottville and currently lives in Ludington, calls “Matson” a “modestly budgeted indie movie.” He said he has several distributors interested in purchasing the film, and there are hopes of turning it into a franchise or TV series. But first, he’s going to open the film at three local Celebration Cinema locations and see how well it does.
“It’ll show for three weeks in three rooms, and we’ll see if it generates significant box office, and hopefully we can parlay that into a wider theatrical release,” he said. “We have a great chance of making some noise with it.”
Brandon took a month off school to shoot the movie last September and October, and traveled to Los Angeles to shoot scenes with Lloyd.
“The set was always fun, always upbeat,” he said. “Harold is so hard-working. When we were filming a scene, he’d come up with a great change right on the spot to make the scene better.”
Keeping a light tone on the set of a low-budget film on a tight schedule is important to keeping cast and crew happy, Cronk said.
“As the director, if you’re not having fun, nobody is,” he said. “It’s a kids’ adventure film – you have to have fun shooting it. How goes the set, so goes the film.”
Brandon mentioned that his director is already thinking about a sequel. Cronk confirmed it: he’s so confident in the film, as soon as he was done with the final mix and watched the last test screening, he sat down at his computer and opened a file: “Mickey Matson 2.”
“Derek wants to crank up the action for the next one. I always called this movie a ‘National Treasure’ for kids, and Derek wants the sequel to be more like ‘Spy Kids,’” he says, laughing.
“I wouldn’t mind that, either.”