Andrea Blum
The News Herald 

Cameras are done rolling on the first feature film completed by students at the Lifton Institute for Media Skills.

“Blindsided,” a 90-minute student film done in the vein of the Coen Brothers, follows two criminals trying to carry out a get-rich-quick scheme.

Through a turn of events, they take a magician hostage and find out much of what’s been going on has been a series of illusions.

“There are some dramatic moments and some lighthearted moments,” director Doug Raine said.

“It’s all local actors and they’ve just been phenomenal. And the students working as crew are fantastic.

“The thing I love most is their enthusiasm. It’s a completely different lifestyle for most of them but they took to it so well.”

The Allen Park school provides career training for all aspects of trades in the film and television industries. Classes began in October.

More than 100 students ranging from college-age to in their 50s and 60s collaborated on the full-length feature film. Many hail from Downriver, but some come as far away as Port Huron and Novi.

“A lot of them are in editorial, picture and sound editing,” Raine said.

The group is part of the school’s first class enrolled in the roughly 12-week program.

Each student chooses a specialized career track from among the production, art, sound, editorial or camera, light and grip departments.

After graduation, students receive a certificate, and more importantly, an actual feature film credit.

“The goal of the whole thing is to give them the experience,” Raine said.

And the first class seems to be learning the business’ ins-and-outs quickly, according to Raine.

“They’re coming up with their own ideas and asking things like, ‘what if we shoot it this way?’” he said.

“As the director, I’m very happy with how it’s coming about.”

As many as a dozen already have gone out to work on other independent film projects.

After completing the program, the school’s placement center will help students craft resumes and give them a heads-up on upcoming local projects.

Instructors also will use their industry contacts to help students find work.

Raine, a Wyandotte native, brings a range of film experience to his role as director and one of the school’s instructors.

After graduating from the film and TV program at Northern Arizona University, he got his first big break working on the 1984 John Carpenter movie “Starman,” and has worked in various producing and directing roles in movies since.

“I’ve probably done between 35 and 40 projects between TV and movies,” he said.

His projects range from independent films to big budget movies with A-list actors such as Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey.

Having spent years living in Arizona and California, Raine came back to Michigan in October 2009 to work in the emerging movie industry here.

He recently completed his own horror film, acting as writer, producer and director.

“I’ve used some clips from the film to show the students how to do everything from inception to post-production,” he said.

Shooting on “Blindsided” began in mid-December and wrapped up Saturday after taking place at a variety of Downriver locations, including Heritage Park, the Park Theater in Lincoln Park and the Best Western Greenfield Inn in Allen Park.

“We’re doing all-day shoots — maybe not quite as long as a typical film — but we’re trying to put them through some rigorous experiences,” Raine said.

Shooting would begin between 7 and 8 a.m. each day with the actors coming in and production staff putting them through makeup, hair and wardrobe.

The crew would start working on lighting and camera moves, then each scene would be covered and close-ups would be done.

“It’s all really collaborative,” he said. “One of the things we’re teaching is how to do certain cuts and angles to make you think something’s happening that’s not really happening.”

Working outside, the production was regulated by sunlight hours but also did some shots at night using a generator and lighting equipment.

“That gave them the experience of creating light,” he said.

After editing is completed, Raine said there are several avenues to explore with the film.

“We’ll send it to some film festivals and might use it as a calling card for what we can do with the students,” he said. “The distributor of my horror movie also is interested in seeing it.”

Greg Pitoniak, 26, of Taylor, served as a location manager on the production.

The laid-off logistics worker said he decided to venture into the movie-making industry after being unable to land another job in his field.

“This is kind of a new thing for me,” he said. “I never really had aspirations to be in the movie industry but it sounded interesting and exciting.”

As location manager, Pitoniak was responsible for scouting filming sites and setting up the necessary permits with local officials.

“Once I got the script, I worked with the director to get an idea of what kind of locations he was looking for,” he said.

“For example, we were filming at a historic house so I scouted a bunch of houses, took pictures, showed them to the director, then did all the legwork setting them up.”

One of the challenges proved to be working with local officials who’d never had a film crew working in their city before.

“Some didn’t have filming permits or weren’t sure how to handle the movie industry filming in their city,” he said.

“It was a bit of a challenge to work through, but all the cities have been extremely helpful and cooperative. They were excited for us to be there.”

After he completes the program, Pitoniak said he hopes to start off working as a location scout, and then move on to be a location manager and eventually a producer.

“The whole program and the way it’s designed give you a good idea of all the different jobs that go into making a movie,” he said.

For Susan Blake, 38, of Taylor, enrolling in the school’s production management track was a big change from her last two years spent as a teaching assistant with the Taylor School District.

“I was laid off two years ago, got with the No Worker Left Behind program, saw this and thought it was my calling,” Blake said.

“I got experience in just about everything. I did some assistant directing and worked as production coordinator.”

She believes the work fully prepared her for a career in the state’s burgeoning movie industry.

“It really was life experience, not just a class,” Blake said. “We shot a movie and got out there to do the work. It entrenched us in all different aspects of the film industry.”

Both Blake and Pitoniak said they’re planning to stay in Michigan to work in film.

“I’m definitely hoping to stay in Michigan,” Pitoniak said. “That’s the advantage of being a location manager. I already know what the communities have to offer, the type of architecture and locations.

“When productions come from L.A., they’re looking for local people to guide them through.”


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