by Samantha Stark
In early March, filmmakers and moviegoers flocked to the Fargo Theatre for its 16th annual Fargo Film Festival. One stand-out movie they saw was “Supermoto,” a film involving more than 240 faces from several North Dakota towns.
More accustomed to movie sets in New York and California, producer Matthew Myers has worked on more than 30 features, including “Ned Rifle,” “Speak” and “The Silence of the Lambs.” However, Myers said he had more fun working on independent film “Supermoto” than productions he’s contributed to with higher budgets.
“Everyone was excited to come into work every morning,” Myers said. “Since we had a smaller cast and crew than some of the bigger films, we had the chance to actually get to know everyone.”
Though there were several east and west coast professionals on set, MSUM was well-represented among the cast and crew. Nine past and present MSUM students participated in the production, but one MSUM graduate wasn’t behind the scenes or lost in the extras. Alumnus Michael Johnson co-starred with New York actress Jeannine Kaspar and Concordia alumna Amber Morgan.
“This experience was invigorating,” Johnson said. “Working with (the cast and crew) and knowing we were collaborating on a really beautiful piece of art produced a powerful … ‘I-can-do-this’ kind of feeling in my gut.”
“Supermoto,” written by award-winning writer and director Joe Maggio, is about Ruby Pink (Kaspar) who wakes up to find her boyfriend has left her, leaving behind only a toothbrush, a few dollars, racing leathers and his Supermoto motorcycle. She races through the North Dakota prairie in search of him. On her journey, she meets Morgan’s character, Bug Bird, and Johnson’s character, Kenny.
“Working with all the brilliant professionals on this project helped remind me that it’s never about the writer, the actor or the director or any one person,” Johnson said. “It’s about the story.”
Filming early last August, “Supermoto”’s cast and crew spent 11 days shooting entirely on-location in North Dakota towns like Buffalo, Casselton, Kindred, West Fargo, Wheatland, Tower City and Embden. In addition to the lead cast, the crew hired a total of 75 locals from the surrounding communities to be extras in various scenes.
Originally, the movie was set to be filmed in the desert outside Las Vegas, but Myers pitched filming in the flatlands of North Dakota to save production costs.
“I thought (it) would be a desert of its own kind — the prairie and the open landscape is quintessential America,” Myers said.
He added that “Supermoto” is the first commercially produced, feature length film to originate in Fargo with a cast and crew consisting mostly of local talent.
“When you don’t have a lot of money, you need a lot of ambition,” Myers said. “You need a lot of hungry, emerging talent.”
He said he’d always wanted to film here because it’s “simply bursting” with talent. When casting, they knew most locals hadn’t had much experience working on a motion picture set. One of the leads, Johnson’s biggest challenge was adapting his acting from the theater to the big screen.
“Combined with the fact I had never been on a professional film set, I was feeling both excited and scared,” he said. “The experience was both lovely and bizarre.”
Working with the film’s cast and crew helped Johnson understand the value of collaboration, he said.
“Everyone had a really terrific, tireless, rigorous work ethic … and the proof is in the movie,” Myers agreed.
Myers said “Supermoto” will continue to be featured in film festivals and will hopefully land a distribution deal.
“We went in there wishing for the best,” Myers said, “but the end results far exceeded our expectations.”