If you're settling in for a movie and are in the mood for a heartwarming pick-me-up, it'd probably be best to stay away from anything Ryan Lieske makes. With death, the occult and psychosis as common themes, it's safe to say none of Lieske's films will end up on the Hallmark Channel, but that's OK with him.
In fact, that's exactly why Lieske created the Grand Rapids-based production company Familiar Productions — to make movies that eschew current convention and remind audiences of the good old days of grindhouse and horror, albeit with a bit of an artistic flair.
“My goal is just to put out movies for me and my friends,” Lieske said. “Familiar Productions' motto is 'unfamiliar entertainment,' so we try to break the mold, we try to skirt the fine line between art and exploitation.”
Lieske's obsession with film began when his parents tried to censor what he watched as a child. That only piqued his curiosity, and helped spark his interest in the grimmer aspects of life.
“Horror movies were kind of like the taboo,” Lieske said. “I wasn't allowed to watch them growing up, so of course I sought out friends who had cable and smuggled tapes in the house when my parents were gone.”
Lieske has come a long way since those days. His work has appeared at film festivals around the world, his project Down to Sleep was featured at 2011's Thriller! Chiller! Film festival, and he even found time to direct a couple of music videos for West Michigan synth-pop act Alexis (whose members, according to Liekse, are also fans of the macabre).
Lieske has only just begun, though. His latest film, Remotion, will start shooting this month in and around Grand Rapids with a cast and crew comprised primarily of local talent. Working local is a concept Lieske is familiar with.
“Even my friend in L.A. is like 'Don't come out here. We don't even make movies out here. We send them to Ohio or Montreal or something,'” Lieske said. “So I don't see the point of going off somewhere to do what I know I can just do here.”
The film itself focuses on a fictional drug created by a mysterious man simply named The Pharmacist, a drug that provides its users with enlightenment, but also makes them commit suicide in unique and memorable ways. If that sounds a little too heavy, don't worry.
“It's a very grim movie,” Lieske said. “But there are surprising moments of humor in it, because I don't believe in not having a little of both in everything.”
Will Remotion be the next big thing to come out of West Michigan? Only time will tell, but Lieske and the Familiar crew remain hopeful, looking to follow in the footsteps of other Grand Rapids filmmakers.
“Look at Joel Potrykus. And Dan Falicki's got distribution deals with his movies, Chris Randall with America's Most Haunted,” Lieske said. “We're getting there, there's a lot of us breaking out that are making strides. I hope to do that with Remotion.”
Saugatuck Cures Brings Spotlight to, well, Saugatuck
If you've been keeping up with the film festival circuit lately, you may have heard of a little film that's making a splash called Saugatuck Cures. The comedy follows best friends Brett (Dan Mooney) and Drew (Max Adler) as they set about to raise money to treat Drew's mother's cancer by posing as ex-gay ministers and raising money through a traveling gay conversion therapy scheme.
Before Director Matthew Ladensack read the script, he had never been to Saugatuck, which was quickly remedied when Screenwriter Jay Paul Deratany invited him to his cottage in town.
“I got to go and take a look at it, and I fell in love with the town,” Ladensack said. “It's so peaceful and Norman Rockwell-esque, and that's very me, so I connected with it.”
This sold Ladensack on the idea of filming in Saugatuck, and he only became more enamored with the town as production moved along.
“Filming in Saugatuck was fantastic because we found that the community really opened its doors and let us film at locations that would otherwise have been really difficult,” Ladensack said. “We basically didn't have to permit anything, and locations were also not only willing to work with us, but excited to.”
Currently, Saugatuck Cures is still making waves in the festival circuit, with Ladensack and crew hoping to get a distribution plan together for the film in the near future. For more information, go to saugatuckcuresmovie.com.