Milwaukee has had its fair share of screen time in the past couple of years. "Public Enemies," "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," "Bridesmaids" and most recently Clint Eastwood's new film, "Trouble With the Curve," have all shared their spotlight with the Brew City.
What Milwaukee doesn't have, however, is a full feature film. That accolade goes to Oconomowoc, a city known to non-Wisconsinites as unpronounceable more than anything else.
"Oconomowoc" the movie is a brand-new indie comedy venture by filmmaker Andy Gillies and a crew of mostly local talent. And, if all goes well, it's going to bring Oconomowoc the city a lot more attention.
The film follows the story of Lonnie Washington, a confused 20-something who moves back in with his mother and signs on with his friend's mishandled t-shirt business hoping to find a new purpose to his life. The movie is writer/director Andy Gillies' first feature, and according to him, it was a perfect way to kick things off.
"I wanted to write a story that was more character and dialogue-based and less of a traditional, plot-based story. There's a loose plot, but it's more so about the characters and personality types," he explained. "I've always enjoyed stories about disconnection and misrepresentation and delusion.
"For me, it's humorous that we're always trying to get somewhere and we always think we need to be someplace, but as soon as we get to that location or reach that state of mind, you realize everything is impermanent, and it's constantly in flux and changing."
The story itself focuses more on the characters, but "Oconomowoc" the film is teeming with the local influence thanks to businesses that donated time, money and even a film set or two to the cause.
"The whole process was pretty cool," said Oconomowoc native Joe Haas, who served as the film's director of photography, editor, co-composer and co-producer. "People around who I knew from a young age ended up helping out with the movie. The local pharmacist let us use his prescription center as a shooting location, and another doctor opened up his offices to us. I think that may not have been as possible in a market where we didn't know anybody."
That small-town spirit echoes in the cast and crew, too. While a few actors were brought in from L.A., Chicago, Boston and Milwaukee, the majority of the group consisted of people who call Oconomowoc home.
"There's only a cast of about 20 people, but more or less it's a lot of family and friends," said Gillies. "Not all of them were actors – some of them were, some of them weren't – [but] I just knew they could pull it off. I told them, 'Just deliver very sincere, normal performances. Don't try to be anyone else.' And everyone just hit it out of the park."
The film has already garnered a huge positive reception in its namesake city, as well as online via its Facebook page and through its YouTube trailer. Riding that momentum, the team behind "Oconomowoc" is currently working non-stop to bring their labor of love to a wider audience.
"Just yesterday we submitted to nine festivals," said Gillies, citing Sundance, Telluride, Austin and Toronto among them. "There's a lot of big-name festivals that have already been submitted to, and that will be submitted to in the next three months. It's a really delicate process and takes a lot of strategizing.
"There's a lot of work, but mainly it's getting all the press and print ready. In the meantime, I'm out here [in L.A.] knocking on doors trying to get acquisition executives to pick up our film before the festivals."
It's still too soon to hear back from the festival organizers, but Gillies and Haas want fans to know that getting the word out about "Oconomowoc" isn't all festival forms and Hollywood meetings. Social media and word of mouth – even forwarding a link, says Haas – will help "Oconomowoc" get its name out there.
"Any kind of exposure, just getting the word out on any level, would be huge. The more people that have heard about it, that all increases our chances of getting into these festivals because all that gets into the press kit," said Haas. "We've got a great movie, and we just need to get it out to people so it can catch on."
Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with OnMilwaukee.com, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."
Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.