This Saturday night, New York City will meet Switzerland and Ohio counties.
At least on film.
A short film, “Silo: Edge of the Real World”, that was filmed in Rising Sun and features people from both counties, will make its World Premiere this Saturday night, April 22nd, as a part of the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The premiere will be at the Regal Cinemas Battery Park, and will be shown at 7 p.m. The film will also be shown on Tuesday, April 25th; Wednesday, April 26th; Saturday, April 29th; and Sunday, April 30th as a part of the film festival.
The Tribeca Film Festival was started by actor Robert DeNiro shortly after the 9/11 tragedy; and is now one of the two biggest and most prestigious film festivals in the entire county.
Of 4,500 films that applied to be shown at Tribeca, “Silo: Edge of the Real World” is one of only 55 short films to be accepted.
The film, which is 10 minutes long, was shot on the Fox Farms in Rising Sun, and features Adam Fox and Clay Althoff. Also appearing in the film is Switzerland County agriculture teacher Greg Curlin, and several scenes with Althoff were filmed in and around Switzerland County High School.
The film is the work of director Marshall Burnette of Nashville, Tennessee, who handles the creative end of the project; and producer Samuel Goldberg of New York City, who crunches the numbers and oversees the business aspects.
“This whole thing started with an idea I had a few years ago,” Burnette said. “It was an NPR story late one night. I was shooting a short film with some friends in Nashville and was driving home that night. It was probably about a 10 minute section about an accident that happened in Mount Carroll, Illinois in 2010, I believe, and it was three teenage boys who were working at a pretty large corn farm operation. They were in the bin, walking the grain, and a supervisor was not aware of it, and turned the auger on while they were in there. It became quite a nightmare, and one of the boys survived, they were able to pull him out.”
Burnette said that since that story involved three teenage boys in one accident, it became one of the larger publicized accidents of this nature – and when NPR reported on it, the story struck the filmmaking interest of Burnette.
“I grew up in East Tennessee, which is mostly and cattle and tobacco country, not so much corn, but I definitely grew up around a farming culture,” Burnette said. “I was talking with somebody the other day about it. Being an American, and especially not a coastal city American, you’re very used to driving down the road and seeing big grain bins off the highway; but you never think anything of it, you imagine a bunch of corn sitting in it; but I never realized the way the machines work, and what kind of danger that can present. So when I heard the story, it was pretty shocking. It was really scary to imagine that.”
Burnette said that he’s always wanted to make films that tell more blue collar stories about real people and about forgotten industries.
“It was an important subject matter that most people don’t know about,” Burnette said of silo safety. “If it shocked me during that NPR story, I thought, this could make a really good movie; and raise awareness. It also seemed like a really good opportunity to kind of honor the men and women who farm for a living. We don’t really tell their stories. There’s so many movies out there that take place in farmland as a setting; but there’s very few movies about the actual act of farming.”
A year after having the idea, Burnette went to New York to pitch the idea to Goldberg of making the film.
So how does a Manhattan film producer get his head and hands around a silo film in Southeastern Indiana?
“The truth is, I really didn’t get my education on it until I went and visited a farm,” Goldberg said. “I’ve been in upstate New York, I’ve been around America; but kind of like Marshall said, I’ve certainly drive by many a silo in my day, so when he said he had a movie about kids being trapped in a silo, I was able to conjure the image in my head; but I truly had no idea about the functionality of the mechanism itself. I felt from a creative perspective, I was very attracted to the idea of making a movie about the subject.”
Goldberg said that originally Burnette pitched him on making a feature-length film (usually about 90 minutes in length), but as the duo began to develop that idea, the more intrigued and excited the pair got.
“Then last May, we went to Rising Sun, and it kind of, for me, everything came alive, it very much changed my perspective of the project I was working on,” Goldberg said. “It got very real for me. It went from being an idea that could be a cool, creative endeavor; to something that had social resonance, political resonance, and also, obviously, creative and business opportunities.”
And the journey from Manhattan and Nashville to Rising Sun? Well, that had a local connection, as well.
“When Sam and I decided to start working on a screenplay, I had a couple of friends that I was going to co-write the script were who were New York based,” Burnette said. “We were basically going to do what I called an ‘adult field trip’, and go visit a farm and meet some people and see the actual equipment and learn how it works and get inspired. My wife at the time worked at a marketing company in Franklin, Tennessee, with a girl named Jamie Cox. Her maiden name was Phipps. That’s how it all started.”
Jamie Phipps Cox is the daughter of Jim and Shannon Phipps here, and is a graduate of Switzerland County High School.
“We were good social friends, and hung out with her and her husband quite a bit, and she was the one who said, ‘I need to introduce you to Adam. He and his dad have a farm in Rising Sun and they do this thing and they’re serious about it,” Burnette said.
Cox put Burnette on the phone with Adam Fox, and the director was able to pick the farmer’s brain about how things work. From there came the ‘field trip’ to Fox Farms in Rising Sun – and the film really picked up steam.
“Adam showed us around the farm, and Sam took us for a ride in the combine, and it was a lot of fun and super helpful, and they were awesome,” Burnette said. “So we came back and started writing the first few drafts of the screenplay; and then about a year later Sam and I decided to go and make a short, documentary film that we could use almost as a documentary teaser for the full length movie. We can show this to people to spark their interest, to be a teaser and not to give it all away; but to introduce people to the idea of it and ultimately raise financing to make the big thing.”
They also wanted to bring in a young person who had not only a background in farming, but also was wanting to incorporate farming into his future. They found that young man in Althoff, who at the time was a senior at Switzerland County High School, and had been recommended by Fox.
“At first we thought about sitting down and doing interviews maybe with survivors of some farm accidents and maybe some entrapment accidents, but that seemed to be a little too journalistic,” Burnette said. “I feel like the best way to get people interested in this idea is to introduce them to the people and the town where these things happen. If we jumped right into saying, ‘A grain bin can suck people down and kill them’, it doesn’t necessarily hold any weight until you connect with and understand the place and the people.”
That led the crew to come to Rising Sun to spend a regular day with Fox and Althoff, and learn about their lives. That time here became the focus of the short film, which has gained acclaim to the point that it was accepted at Tribeca – and is now the catalyst for the filming of the feature length film, which will begin soon on a farm in Kentucky.
“This is really serious, and people like this work in a dangerous environment, and at any second something can go wrong,” Burnette said.
Goldberg said that at Tribeca there will be a moment prior to the beginning of the film where Burnette will be introduced; and then once the film is finished, there will be a time for questions and answers for the director and possibly the subjects – as Fox will be in attendance for the premiere.
And, there is a chance that New York may actually come to Switzerland County, as Goldberg and Burnette are open to the idea of coming to Vevay and holding a screening at the Historic Hoosier Theater – possibly as soon as next month.