By Glen Young
If his project works out as he hopes, Erich Rettstadt of Petoskey will
return to the Traverse City Film Festival at some future date. The return
trip will not be to reprise his role as an intern, but rather to attend
the screening of his just completed film Basis of Decision.
Rettstadt describes the film as a 1950s style musical. Set in fictional
Harbor Village, somewhere in an undisclosed idyllic Midwestern burg, the
film recently wrapped filming in and around Petoskey.
I dont want it to be site specific, Rettstadt says of using a
fictitious location name. I want it to have a very Americana feel.
Though the setting is contemporary, the feel is clearly 1950s, with
vintage cars and classic clothing, and throwback singing and dancing.
A 2007 graduate of Petoskey High School and currently a senior at New York
University, Rettstadt returned in late March to scout locations and make
final preparations. With his key contributors in tow, Rettstadt visited
his old high school as well as the public library, the waterfront area,
and the communitys famed Gaslight shopping district. Several blocks of
Petoskeys Lake Street were blocked to traffic for filming for an entire
I knew I wanted to shoot my senior thesis film here, Rettstadt says of
his decision to shoot in Petoskey. I also knew I wanted to make a
The story, based on a script idea Rettstadt drafted while a sophomore at
NYU, follows the relationship of two high school debaters as they make
their way to the state tournament finals. Rettstadt was an accomplished
debater in high school. The 10 days of shooting, and months of
preparation, will ultimately be edited down to approximately 25 minutes of
I knew I wanted to do something about high school debate, the director
says about the films focus. In addition to the script, Rettstadt
collaborated on the song lyrics, while an outside composer developed the
First assistant director Robin DOench, production designer Emma Berliner,
and cinematographer Mingjue Hu serve as the films brain trust. DOench
and Berliner are also NYU seniors, while Hu graduated last year.
With a cast of 20-25, Rettstadt says some of the filming and recording was
completed in New York before the group arrived in Northern Michigan. The
team is shooting the film on 35-millimeter film, using Panavision cameras.
DOench says this combination is the industry standard, and will give the
finished product a more professional quality. With a budget of more than
$60,000, Rettstadt says he has secured a grant from Panavision to make the
rental of the cameras more affordable. The group has secured about
$55,000 of the budget, but is still welcoming donations.
DOench says it was important for the group to be in Petoskey well ahead
of filming. We wanted to familiarize ourselves with the environment wed
be entrenched in over the couple weeks, he says.
Rettstadt says the Michigan Film Office has been helpful from the start,
suggesting rental facilities, and putting out a statewide casting call.
Rettstadt says volunteers came from as far away as Kalamazoo.
Local actor and choreographer Tracy Thomson, who has toured with The Young
Americans, is a featured dancer in the film. Its amazing to see how
much work, rehearsal, commitment, and patience goes into putting a film
together. Getting a chance to work with such talented artists is really
an honor, he says.
Meg Kehoe of Petoskey is serving as script supervisor on the project.
This mostly implies continuity, she says. Continuity from day to day
on our shoot is especially important, she adds. The script only covers
the characters adventures throughout a single day.
Therefore, Kehoe needed to make sure that each time filming resumed, the
hair, makeup, costumes, cameras, etc. were all precisely as they had been
previously. A lot of the job is all about heavy attention to detail,
Andrew Gulledge, a Petoskey High School senior who has regularly been
involved in managing the sound for school productions, volunteered as a
production assistant. His duties included keeping the set free of
passersby and fire-watching, or keeping an eye on the expensive gear
while the crew was on break. I wanted to learn about the process,
because thats kind of what Im looking at for college, he says.
Gulledge was amazed by the time and energy that go into every shot, no
matter the amount of time the shot might take up on screen. One shot
could take three hours and you only get ten seconds of footage, he says
of the process. I appreciate the process more now.
Rettstadt agrees, acknowledging, Whenever you see a movie, everything on
the screen has been perfectly planned.
The story stars high school seniors Blake Johnson and Dakota Lamont. Jake
Mendes of Colorado and Jaclyn Ingoglia of New Jersey fill the lead roles.
The story is about their relationship and how the tournament affects that
relationship, the director says.
When casting a musical, Rettstadt says, You have to find a triple
threat, meaning an actor who can also sing and dance.
Basis of Decision, which wrapped filming in Petoskey in March, has been
in production for many months. Auditions began in November, with casting
done in February.
Rettstadt says he had two major goals when he began the project, including
shooting on 35 mm film, and recording the music with a full orchestra.
The NYU Orchestra, a full 54 instruments large, recorded the score.
Hoping to screen the film in Petoskey next fall, Rettstadt also has bigger
plans. Wed love for it to be at the Traverse City Film Festival; thats