By Victoria Mullen, WKTV
The evening of Monday, May 15 was balmy, and as the sun slowly sank over the Grand River at JW Marriot’s 616 Cabana in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., the 6th Annual Eclipse Award nominees reveled in being recognized for their talent and hard work in filmmaking. The mood: shimmering anticipation.
WKTV spoke with 14 talented filmmakers — out of a total of more than 90 nominees — all of whom had one thing in common: being among the best talent in West Michigan.
Here is what they had to say.
Nominated for two awards — Best Narrative Feature and Best Direction in a Feature or Short — for his 8-minute film, Doorways, Talon Rudel hails from the east side of the state. He co-produced the nominated film last summer along with a talented team for a 36-hour film competition.
“It was surreal,” Rudel said of hearing about his nomination. “I’ve seen so many other people get nominated and they’re so good, so when I got nominated, I thought, ‘Wait, what?’ It felt like it was out of the blue.”
Rudel’s future plans are to write and direct features, and although he has no specific destination in mind, he does know that he wants to be where he can make his goal happen.
Nominated for Best Acting in a Lead Role for his portrayal of ‘Tommy’ in Confidence of a Tall Man, Johnny DeMarco has been acting for 6 years and nearly snagged a role on The Sopranos (yes, that Sopranos).
“It all happened on a whim,” DeMarco said. “I took a trek to New York and hung out in the bars where the series was filmed.”
The actor enjoys a bit of notoriety in his hometown of Lansing. In addition to acting, he’s been in real estate for 30 years and owns Paisano’s Restaurant.
“I wear many hats and the endeavors all blend together,” he said. “It’s very exciting to be nominated for this award. I am very humbled.”
Nominated for Best Acting in a Lead Role for his work in the short film, Beggar’s Remorse, actor, writer and producer (Crooked Limb Studio & Productions) Troy Randall-Kilpatrick has been acting on stage and in film, primarily in Michigan, for over 20 years.
In Beggar’s Remorse, Randall-Kilpatrick plays ‘John’, an extremely dark character, which prompted fellow actor and fianceé, Heather Fairbanks to say that she was both horrified and extremely impressed.
“He’s a gifted actor,” said Fairbanks, who is currently working with Randall-Kilpatrick on the film, Descending.
Of receiving the nomination, Randall-Kilpatrick said, “I thought it was wonderful. I’m pleased and happy. It’s a first-class awards show and a tremendous honor to be nominated.”
Written and directed by Rhodes Short, and co-produced by Short and Heather Fairbanks, Who Will Move the Stone is nominated for Best Narrative Feature. Representing the film at the event was Fairbanks, who has been acting since the age of 3.
“I grew up on the stage,” Fairbanks said. “I enjoy acting in diverse roles.”
Fairbanks said that she’s enjoyed traveling with the film to festivals throughout the U.S., and the film has won numerous awards along the way.
“I’m really honored that a faith-based film would be recognized in a secular film festival,” Fairbanks said. “It surprises people. It’s not a cookie-cutter Christian film.”
Sheri Beth Dusek
Nominated for Best Acting in a Lead Role for her portrayal of ‘Jayne Russo’ in Two Guns and a Body Bag, Sheri Beth Dusek said, “I was surprised. I’ve acted for 25 years — many years in theatre — and I’ve never been recognized. It’s nice to be recognized.”
Although acting is her first love, Dusek has been working on the producing end of the biz for the past two years and finds that aspect exciting and fun. She divides her time between Grand Rapids and Los Angeles.
“I’m absolutely loving it,” she said. “I wake up in L.A. and ask myself, ‘Is this my life right now? Meeting with producers?’”
Jason Ley and Ben Wilke
Nominated for Best Local TV & Cable (30-minute time slot), Modern Ahabs is a travel beer show produced by Jason Ley and Ben Wilke. Ley is nominated for Best Writing in Produced Content (Documentary or Promo Piece) and Wilke is nominated for Best Sound Design and Best Direction (Documentary or Promo Piece) for the same project as well.
For those not in the know, Captain Ahab hunted the great white whale in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. In a similar fashion, Modern Ahabs follows the hunt for the elusive craft beer.
“It’s a show for the craft beer enthusiast who is working on fulfilling a bucket list of beers,” said Ley, who admitted to not knowing how he wanted the pilot to be filmed. He put his full trust in co-producer Wilke, who has a ton of experience behind the camera.
Because craft beers can be fleeting, Ley and Wilke are at the mercy of a beer’s release. They had a quick, three-week turnaround time for filming the pilot.
“I was surprised that it was nominated. I had no idea it would turn into four Eclipse Award nominations,” said Ley. So far, the pilot has also won four Tellys and is nominated for an Emmy Award.
Hailing from Traverse City, Jeff Morgan co-produced Healing with Horses with Amber Elliott. The piece is nominated for Best Documentary (less than 20 minutes).
The documentary shares the journey of Kelsey Secor, who was partially disabled in 2015 after her car went off the road and hit several trees over the July 4th weekend. Secor’s rehabilitation included equine therapy at Karin’s Horse Connection and Legacy Stables in Caledonia, Mich., the setting for much of the documentary.
“I’m super excited,” Morgan said of being nominated. He plans on pitching the documentary to Netflix.
“It’s always an honor to be nominated,” said Angela Peavey, who produced Saugatuck Center for the Arts Theatre Promo, which was nominated for Best Online Programs, Segments or Promotional Pieces.
“I went on YouTube to see what the caliber of nominations was like and it’s amazing! Even if I don’t win, I can’t complain because the people are phenomenal.”
The project has been nominated for an Emmy award as well.
Peavey is currently busy with post-production on A Parent’s Worst Nightmare and recently became a full partner of Be Your Own Hollywood Production Company.
Peavey acknowledged that women are scarce in the male-dominated film industry.
“To be a woman filmmaker, you have to be tenacious and create your own magic,” she said. “You can’t wait for someone to open the door for you.”
Nominated for Best Cinema Trailer, David Huizingh’s project, Migration, began as a capstone project for a film class at GVSU.
“It felt wonderful to be nominated,” said Huizingh. “It’s a huge privilege to be here networking with others.”
Huizingh works in a “nerdy” field — virtual reality — at Steelcase, and he feels very lucky to be doing what he’s doing. He enjoys being active in the 3-D community, too.
Nominated for Best Local and Regional Segments and Promotional Pieces (under 20 minutes) for his work on WMFVA Sound Designer, Thom Bell is satisfied just to be in the circle of talent that make up the 6th Annual Eclipse Awards.
“Whether I win is not as important as navigating among these folks,” Bell said.
WMFVA Sound Designer was a collaboration between WMFVA and Celebration! Cinema. The piece plays prior to the start of a feature film (at Celebration! Cinema).
“It was really well received,” said Bell. “People in the theatre really liked it, and they were surprised to learn that films were still being made in Michigan.”
Nominated for Best Music Video Original Performance, Kevin Kammeraad’s piece, Inquiring Minds, was a family affair — Kammeraad produced the video and did the original song and puppetry. His wife, children and cousins all worked on the piece, which is par for the course — his family is always involved in his endeavors.
“I am delighted,” Kammeraad said of being nominated for an Eclipse Award. “It’s always reassuring when someone recognizes your work.”
Working as an independent artist creating books, music and poetry, the project is all part of Kammeraad’s goal: to inspire kids’ creativity and spark ideas.
Kyle Misak and Don Chase
Receiving not one, not two, but 8 nominations, Kyle Misak said, “It’s cool to be nominated among your colleagues.”
Misak’s feature film, Another Brick in the Wall is nominated for Best Narrative Feature, Best Direction, Best Editing (Feature or Short), and Best Screenplay (Feature or Short). Co-produced with Don Chase, Misak’s short film, Crazy Carl, is nominated for Best Narrative Short, Best Direction (Feature or Short), Best Editing (Feature or Short), and Best Screenplay (Feature or Short).
Said Chase of the multitude of nominations, “It doesn’t surprise me — Kyle is creative, talented and passionate. I’ve worked with him five years. The whole team is solid. When you’ve got a good team, you get nominated for awards. It’s about our whole team, not just us.”
Right now, the two are working on Eden Theory, a psychological thriller. They plan on making more films.
“It doesn’t stop,” said Chase. “When one’s done, it’s time to do another.”
A May 2016 graduate of Ferris State University, Erik Sebert said, “I’m confident about my work, but it’s awesome to be nominated. I was surprised — it felt really good.”
Sebert’s piece, Space Scavenger is nominated for Best Animation.
Sebert works at Tech World producing spec graphics, and he’s on the lookout for a job as a 3-D model environmental artist.
“More and more, I’m becoming a 3-D generalist,” he said.
Nominated for Best Acting in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of ‘Teddy’ in Confidence of a Tall Man, Ken Orlich has 20 years of acting experience under his belt — in comedy, public access and voice work.
“This is the first time I’ve been nominated for an award,” said Orlich. “I really was surprised. Working with Mike (McCallum), you know what you do with him gets out there — he makes sure people see it. Win or lose, I’m definitely happy.”
Orlich wants to keep working with McCallum and is starting a new production company in Lansing. In addition to acting, he has a background in engineering and farming.