Minnesota film industry hopes for a resurgence

a man and a woman standing in a small boat
The film Paulie Go was shot on location in northern Minnesota during the pandemic. It will premiere at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.
Courtesy 1091 Pictures

“Paulie Go” is the story of a young man from southern California, a prodigy in robotics and artificial intelligence. When he is rejected by his chosen college, he steals a van from his uncle and drives across the country to northern Minnesota in search of a reclusive genius professor he's trying to impress.

Paulie, played by Ethan Dizon, explains the urgency of his mission to the Hubbard County sheriff who nabs him for driving the pilfered vehicle.

"If I don't find Professor Shikenjanski, there will be profound ramifications on the future of American innovation,” he tells the less than impressed law officer. “We could easily wake up 10 years from now to find that Sweden has supplanted the U.S. as the global superpower in autonomous robotics. Do you really want that on your conscience?"

Young Paulie meets the sheriffs daughter, whose avocation is making fishing videos. They set off on a search of potential lakeshore properties, looking for the professor.

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Minnesota based producer Laura Ivey says what starts as an unlikely team becomes an unlikely friendship. “And I think it is also the story of finding yourself and finding others in kind of unexpected places, and it's finding what is truly important to you and what isn't."

“Paulie Go” started production near Park Rapids in late summer of 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paulie Go
The film Paulie Go was shot on location in northern Minnesota during the pandemic. It will premiere at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.
Courtesy 1091 Pictures

"What we were doing wasn't normal,” said Ivey.

The cast and crew took over a local resort that would have otherwise shut down during the pandemic, creating a bubble for cast and crew, and held to strict COVID testing protocols with the help of a local health care provider.

"Sometimes, at six in the morning, we needed to drive 40 people over and get fairly quick tests done on their way to set," said Ivey.

Ivey says the production wrapped without a single case of COVID among cast or crew.

Minnesota connections helped bring production of “Paulie Go” to Hubbard county. Writer Jake Greene lives in California, but he was born and raised in Minnesota, said Ivey.

“He knew the area, he used to go to where we shot in Park Rapids when he was younger, so he very much knew it fit. And he very much lobbied for it,” she said.

“Paulie Go” was shot before a Minnesota film production tax credit became law in 2021, and qualified for a less attractive rebate program the state had in place.

Ivey hopes the tax credit will bring back the good old days.

"Back in the 90s, Minnesota, outside of New York and LA, was probably the third sort of capital for film production,” she said. That's like the “Grumpy Old Men” days and that kind of thing. Multiple films came shooting through here, and we had what we call a good crew base."

Competing financial incentives, notably from Michigan and Canada, upended that base in the late 1990s, and Minnesota has since lost much of its film production talent according to Minnesota Film and TV executive director Melodie Bahan, who works to bring film production to the state.

"Right now where we're looking at rebuilding our crew, and more importantly, getting a pipeline going to train new crew and new workers," she said.

Bahan thinks those crews will be needed as film producers take note of the new tax credit'.

A man stands next to a sign
The film Paulie Go was shot on location amid lakes and resorts in Hubbard County.
Courtesy 1091 Pictures

“They're willing to talk now, where you know, a couple of years ago, we would get a call in our office from someone who had a project that they thought might might work in Minnesota and their first question is what's your incentive program? And when we explained the rebate, they would say ‘Oh, thanks so much and you know, we're going to Louisiana',” said Bahan.

Shooting recently wrapped on the first production to take advantage of the new tax credit, says Bahan, the film “Downtown Owl,” shot at several Minnesota locations.

"It is one that would never have shot in Minnesota if not for the tax credit program,” she said. “The film itself is set in North Dakota. It's based on a novel by Chuck Klosterman. But North Dakota doesn't have an incentive program. So there's no way they were going to shoot it there."

While studies have shown little economic impact from film production incentives, Bahan is hopeful Minnesota can again become a destination for film and television production.

As for “Paulie Go”- it’s expected to show up on streaming services over the next few weeks.

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment‘s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.