A gas station is held up. A drug deal goes bad. Two are found dead in a cornfield outside of Willmar.
All of it took place before they got to the Horsehoe Bar in Lake Lillian on Tuesday. That's where the actors and crew with Point Lake Pictures LLC continued the seventh day of shooting for an as-of-yet untitled movie. The script, the funding, the directing and the gumption for this venture all comes from Nicholas Engan, a 26-year-old Willmar native.
The 2001 Willmar Senior High School graduate and University of Minnesota cinematography major is looking to make his entry into the real-world of moviemaking with his first independent film.
He's scripted a modern-day western featuring a ruthless sheriff whose own business comes before the law. The role is played by Ryan Harper. This is the West Virginia native's 13th movie: He's had roles in films produced all over the country, from independents with shoestring budgets to a major studio's $159 million production.
Harper is on familiar turf here. He's married to Willmar native Laura Hedlof, a relationship that he said caused him to "settle down'' and make Minnesota his home.
In real life he's an affable guy, but in the movie he takes on a role that Engan describes as "haunting.'' A method actor, Harper said he devoted all of a month to adopt the venomous personae for his role, going for nearly four days without sleep at one point.
He also did his research, which he said was a lot more fun. He spent time with Sheriff Dan Hartog in Kandiyohi County to pick up tips on how to put on his game face and act like the county's top gun, even if his character is anything but a law-and-order type.
In the movie, three misfits played by Mitch Hansen, John Cromwell and Eric Nigg have the misfortune of running into the sheriff and comprise the focus of the drama. Two of the guys are homebodies. The third is a drifter who has returned home and is reunited with his old pals.
Where it all leads only Engan knows for sure, but he was happy to say where it's been so far. Filming locations have included the Cenex gas station in Clara City, a Grove City cemetery, the Roosevelt Room at the Willmar Holiday Inn, and a few lonesome, roadside locations in Kandiyohi County, not to mention the Horsehoe Bar in Lake Lillian.
The menagerie of animal mounts in the Roosevelt Room serves as the backdrop for the sheriff's living room. He is filmed cleaning his hunting gun there after the cornfield murders.
Engan and Harper devoted weeks to scouting locations in and around Kandiyohi County for the movie, but one locale was a given right from the start. Engan said he wanted to shoot scenes in a country bar that had true character, and knew that the Horsehoe Bar in Lake Lillian came by it naturally.
Proprietor Gene Smith said he was surprised when first called about the possibility of having a movie shot in the bar, but saying yes has its rewards. He plays himself in the movie as the bartender serving up the beer for the chatty buddies.
Filming will continue in the area through Saturday, and will likely resume in rural locations closer to Engan's home in Minneapolis next week. There's a chance they may need to return to the area for some additional shooting later this month.
Then, the business side of movie making starts in earnest. Engan will spend the winter editing the production to an 80- to 90-minute feature film. He will enter it at film shows around the country in hopes of selling it to a distributor and getting the film on the big screen.
Nothing is definite yet, but Engan said he's hoping to have a Willmar screening of the final product sometime in the future as well.