Nearly 15 years ago at the Thanksgiving dinner table in Jamestown, Richard Melheim and Ruth Melheim Brubakken decided to write a novel about Theodore Roosevelt’s time in North Dakota.
Now the siblings, Ruth, a retired teacher and presidential historian, and Richard, founder of Faith Inkubators, which emphasizes home-based faith education, and a board member to a film production company, are setting out to turn their novel, “Young Four-Eyes,” into a mini-series filmed in North Dakota.
“They say most overnight success takes 15 years,” Richard Melheim said.
The two are launching their efforts with Princebury Productions & Media around the Independence Day holiday with a keynote address today by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, a relative of the late president, and a presentation by Princebury Productions. Princebury will unveil the details about the vision-to-action planning for a family-friendly North Dakota film industry and the potential of establishing a North Dakota Film Fund.
A banquet Wednesday night and hosted by Congressman Kevin Cramer included a keynote address by Ted Baehr, a film critic with 67 years in the business and CEO of MovieGuide, a print and broadcast company dedicated to redeeming the values of the entertainment industry through wholesome entertainment.
Baehr said in an interview that North Dakota is a prime location to kickstart a family-friendly film industry because North Dakota understands family-friendly films due to its conservative nature and overall friendly tendencies.
“North Dakota has the resources, the beauty and people who actually care about other people,” he said.
Plus, because there isn’t a film industry, the state would start from scratch and be able to use ideas and legislation from other states to set up the film industry.
“Having a blank canvas is a beautiful thing,” he said.
Lawmakers attempted to create the Rough Rider Award Film Production Fund during the last legislative session.
State Rep. Mike Schatz, R-New England, proposed the idea using funding from a tobacco settlement to create films based on the members of the Rough Rider Hall of Fame.
“Those people had significant contributions to North Dakota, U.S. and the world, and their stories should be out there,” he said. “The ability to use movies to get that word out is a good medium we should be using.”
Schatz had not heard about Melheim’s push to create a film industry or a mini-series about Roosevelt, but called them “very commendable ideas.”
“I love to watch movies and there is so much room for some quality programming,” he said. “There are a lot of times it’s not education-based. What’s going on in the industry today isn’t that wholesome all the time, and there are many good stories to tell that aren’t being told.”
Page 2 of 2 - But a state-backed film fund wouldn’t come without any risks.
Schatz pointed out the state’s loss when it helped finance “Wooly Boys,” a sheep ranching drama filmed in the Badlands around Medora.
The state-owned Bank of North Dakota wrote off $1.6 million of the $3.9 million it loaned to producers of the film after the movie did poorly in the box office, deciding it was probably uncollectible.
But Baehr, who has not seen the film, said it shouldn’t deter any efforts to create a state-backed fund since North Dakota taxpayers should be able to get behind a family-friendly film industry.
“No governor or legislature wants to be held accountable to a group upset about the content of a film their tax dollars helped fund,” he said. “You don’t do things that would be upsetting to your audience.”
Jeff Zent, Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s spokesman, said the state has not been asked for any public funds to create a film industry, and Dalrymple hasn’t had any discussions about the idea.
But, although the state doesn’t have a film industry, he said North Dakota is in a situation where media outlets are already flocking to the state.
“The state has developed an environment friendly to all kinds of business,” he said.
On Friday, the Princebury Team, Melheim and Clay Jenkinson, an adviser to the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, will travel to Medora to begin scouting out scenes for the mini-series in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Melheim said working with Princebury Productions and its high standards will assure a high-quality production and an entertaining mini-series.
“Since the world knows Teddy, let’s tell that big North Dakota story with big A-list actors,” he said.
With this week’s kickoff to create a film fund and statewide industry, Melheim hopes to have a commission formed by this fall and the state’s commitment to the idea. By winter, he hopes the outlines of a couple of projects, including “Young Four-Eyes,” are in the works. Ultimately, he hopes to start shooting “Young Four-Eyes” by spring 2014.
Melheim said the story of Roosevelt and his time spent in North Dakota is the perfect film to act as the first venture by a statewide film industry.
“It’s the biggest, most inspirational story, so why not do it first?” he said.