Lansing filmmaker goes on the record to discuss the magic of making movies

While the masses have flocked to the theaters, buttered popcorn buckets in hand, to see Marvel’s latest cinematic adventure, “The Avengers 2,” Michael McCallum is right there with ’em. But he’s also working on a handful of movie projects himself.

Self-described as an oldie movie buff, this local filmmaker might appreciate a good indie film more than the next guy.

A Lansing resident and LCC alum, McCallum studied film and theater while in college. He quickly learned though, that the working conditions with current directors were far from ideal. The aspiring filmmaker decided he would start his own company and treat actors and crew better than he had seen.

Rebel Pictures was born, a company co-founded by McCallum and his father, William C. McCallum. From there on out, it was nearly impossible to name a local cinematic project without the name McCallum on it.

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Having 49 awards under the company’s belt, the film-making father/son duo are more than business partners, they’re the only family each other has.

That love and joy of making movies has led to a very busy schedule for Michael, with a hefty group of projects currently in progress.

Most recently released was Lucky Jay. McCallum starred in the Grand Valley State University student 20th anniversary film. Directed by GVSU film professor Harper Philbin, the web series starred McCallum in front of the camera.

“All students are crew,” he said. “The seniors interview to find out what they’re going to do as crew on that film set,” McCallum said. “They run it essentially like a union set. It’s trying to prepare those film students once they graduate to go out into the real work and work on a professional set.”

While he’s used to manning his own professional set, the director and actor realizes it’s a very special opportunity for students to get this hands-on-experience, something he’s very proud to be a part of.

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While filmed in and around Grand Rapids and Allendale, there was also a viewing party in Lansing at Midtown Brewing Company.

The web series was released episode by episode and the full 7 episodes can be seen at luckyjayseries.com.

While many of his colleagues pack up and move to LA, it’s important to McCallum to bring projects, jobs and films back home – Lansing.

A film shot entirely in Lansing, “Buffalo” has been doing extremely well on the festival circuit lately. It’s won awards in different states including:

“Best Narrative Feature” at the Eclipse Awards, Grand Rapids, MI

“Best Dramatic Feature” at the DIY Film Festival, Santa Monica, CA

“Best Country Song” for Jen Sygit’s “Sugar High” at the Garden State Film Festival, Atlantic City, NJ

Nominated for “Best Lead Actor” for William C. McCallum

And “Shotgun Wedding” recently won:

“Best of Fest” at the Spring Shorts Festival in Bay City, MI

While filmed locally, McCallum said he realizes the value in also releasing the films and entering national film festivals.

Often having viewing parties at Celebration Cinema or local pubs, the filmmaker always supports the same community in which he films and casts the stars of his movies. Support for other local filmmakers is also important.

“Alot of the times, too, as filmmakers, independently, it’s watching the bigger budged stuff; but also supporting the other people that are maybe rowing different ends of a similar boat,” McCallum said.

While it’s evident the inspiration is there, considering Rebel Pictures’ 10 films, it’s hard to figure out just where all the ideas come from.

“I would think maybe if I start seeing a therapist, they would have a better inkling that I,” McCallum said of his inspiration. “I don’t know, sometimes an idea just pops into my head. I had an idea of having this character having to come back home (he lives out of state) and his father is really ailing at a home hospice situation,” McCallum said of his project “Two for the Show.”

“I guess that part of it is having many good friends go through that experience and my grandmother passed away in 2005. She lived a long life, she was 97 years old. But right at the end, she was in a home hospice situation.”

Other characters are inspired by everyday life as well, with a little extra zing to make them movie star-worthy.

“They’re all fiction. There are certain things I think that come from little slices of real life,” McCallum said. “Sometimes, with ‘Fairview St.’ for instance, my character has a former best friend who’s just always in trouble and pulling him into a whirlpool of trouble. Well I’ve known people like that, we’ve all known people like that. So that character Bobby Stone was kind of written in a way of me combining a lot of people I know and also imagination and making it even bigger and more colorful than it was in real life.”

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Imagination – perhaps the best thing about making story lines and dramatic scenes, but also something McCallum finds sorely lacking in big budget films.

“Honestly, when you look at a majority of movies that are playing right now, and it’s all subjective, but a lot of them are crap. You just go, ‘really, they’re rehashing this or they’re making a sequel to this?’ sometimes very uninventive films.

Not only is it important for the filmmakers to use their imagination but to also invite the audience to do the same.

McCallum spoke about the importance of a storyline within a film. “I like things that are maybe more off the beaten path,” he said. “I like character-driven things, whether it be comedy, drama, a western, whatever the genre.”

“If you find a message in it, great, but if it feels like it’s spoon-fed to us, or you see the movie that right before it ends, there’s a character that sort of rehashes everything that’s happened (because that’s for the majority of the American movie-going audience that needs that ‘what the hell is going on,’” McCallum isn’t big on.

“It’s okay to not understand everything that’s happened. We don’t need to know every little detail. It’s okay to allow the audience to use their imagination.”

Using that imagination has led the director to work on his first sci-fi short film “Reverb.” Described as a kind of “Twilight Zone” episode meets “Telltale Heart,” the film will be shot in the Ferndale-Detroit area.

Always working on projects keeps the director/actor/producer busy, but it has brought rough waters.

“I have enough projects that constantly and in previous circumstances, has tested relationships pretty hard. She’s always understanding at the beginning and then the word [work] becomes like another woman,” McCallum laughs.

“I do love working on films in different stages. It’s not necessarily planned that way, but I find myself working on many different projects at once. Since the editing/post production stage takes so long I find myself writing or working on a new idea while one is being put together and usually while one or two are being released/promoted. It also keeps me sharp. A lot of filmmakers work and promote one project at a time,” McCallum said.

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But not this Lansing filmmaker.

“I like to stay sharp with what I’m doing: Every element of the creative process.”

For all things Rebel Pictures, visit http://www.rebelpictures.net.

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