This month, Nick Offerman, Ellen Burstyn and a small film crew quietly set up in shop in the Twin Cities.
They spent time in North Branch and St. Michael — and at Matt's Bar in South Minneapolis, just last week. (No word on their feelings about Jucy Lucys.)
They were here to film an adaptation of "The House of Tomorrow," a novel by Macalester College professor Peter Bognanni.
The book is a coming-of-age tale about Sebastian, a teenage boy raised by his grandmother in a geodesic dome-shaped house — a literal "house of tomorrow," popularized by the eccentric architect and thinker R. Buckminster Fuller. Homeschooled by his grandmother, Sebastian knows a lot about Fuller and philosophy, but very little about teenage rebellion.
When his grandmother gets sick and Sebastian has to leave the dome, he falls in with Jared, who tutors him in punk music and real life. The two form a punk band, and Bognanni weaves their quest for glory with the radical ideas of Fuller himself.
The film is being adapted by writer/director Peter Livolsi.
When location scouts were hunting locales to film "The House of Tomorrow," Minnesota had one big thing going for it: A surprising number of geodesic homes. Clusters of the iconic, futurist structures are scattered throughout the state.
They ultimately landed on Dennis Odin Johnson and Tessa Hill's property in North Branch, Minn., where the couple runs a dome construction business called Natural Spaces. With more than five domes on their heavily forested land, it was an ideal location.
Johnson was excited to watch the crew transform his domes for the film — the art department decorated the interiors in the style of the 1970s. "Not everybody gets to have a major movie filmed in their home," Johnson said.
Filming in Minnesota also meant returning to Macalester, where author Bognanni and one of the film's producers, Tarik Karam, first met.
Bognanni and Karam, who both graduated from the college in 2001, took an acting class together during their freshman year. Both had acting dreams at the time — which didn't quite pan out for either — but they became close friends, and now they've reunited on set. Karam secured the rights to adapt Bognanni's novel when it was published in 2010, and has been developing the movie ever since.
Getting Ellen Burstyn on board to play Nana, Sebastian's grandmother, was critical — both Bognanni and Karam wanted her for the role from the start: Burstyn was good friends with Buckminster Fuller, before his death in 1983. She agreed to take the role after reading Bognanni's book.
The film also stars Asa Butterfield as Sebastian, and Alex Wolff as his friend and bandmate Jared. Jared's family rounds out with Nick Offerman — of "Parks and Rec" and "Fargo" — as his father; Michaela Watkins of "Casual" as his mother; and Maude Apatow, daughter of director Judd Apatow, as his sister. Karam said that local actors filled the movie's smaller roles.
Meeting the teenage actors who play the main roles was like seeing his book come to life, Bognanni said. Before filming started, director Livolsi invited him to a hotel room where the young actors were playing guitar and bass.
"It was like walking into a room in my own brain," Bognanni said. "It was so exactly what I pictured for the book, it was really surreal."
"The House of Tomorrow" took advantage of Minnesota's "Snowbate" incentive, according to Lucinda Winter, executive director of the Minnesota Film and TV Board. The incentive offers film crews a 20 to 25 percent rebate on costs they incur while filming in the state.
The film does not yet have a release date.
Editor's note (July 27, 2016): This story has been updated to include Tessa Hill as an owner of the North Branch geodesic dome properties, along with her husband, Dennis Odin Johnson.
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