'LOON!' film red-carpet event, premiere at Grand Theatre in Crookston Aug. 20

What happens when Minnesota's state bird goes on the attack on Union Lake? It's not pretty

Mike Christopherson
The "LOON!" film logo

   We treasure our loons here in Minnesota. They’re our official state bird, after all. They’re a feast for our eyes as we take in their impressive size, striking black and white feathers and their piercing crimson-red yes. Their beautiful, haunting calls echoing from our many lakes and rivers can make us stop what we’re doing and listen intently.

    But what if our beloved loons went bad? What if they took a dark turn? What if they…went on the attack and targeted humans on a northwestern Minnesota lake?

    That absurd yet admittedly intriguing twist is the focus of an independent, feature-length film written, shot, produced and directed by Crookston native Charles Eickhof, a 2017 Crookston High School grad and recent graduate of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, along with his cousin, Kale Eickhof, who resides in Hollywood, California, works for MotorTrend, part of the Discovery family of television channels, and dabbles in film production on the side.

    “LOON!” is a Manquariam Production.

    The film was shot predominantly at Union Lake and at other sites throughout the area, and incorporates an entirely local cast, including several longtime friends of the Eickhof family. It tells the story of a young Minnesota Department of Resources conservation officer confronted with the loons-gone-bad and struggling to spare lake residents from attack while also searching for the “sinister force” that has triggered the loons’ deadly intentions.

    “LOON!” will premiere during this year’s Ox Cart Days Festival at the Grand Theatre, on Friday, Aug. 20, with opening credits rolling at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10. They will be sold at the door but are also available online at Eventbrite. Visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/loon-tickets-164192557359. You can also learn more about the red-carpet event on the Grand Theatre’s Facebook page. “LOON!” will be shown on the Grand’s main screen, with the smaller screen next door serving as a VIP room the night of the event. A question-and-answer session featuring Charles and others involved in the making of the film will follow the showing.

Charles Eickhof, left, portraying DNR conservation officer Jake Borter, assists the "Sheriff," played by Anders Berggren.

    Charles says he’s no “movie buff,” but he has long appreciated the impact that films can have. He’ll watch various summer blockbusters and always enjoys taking in some of the timeless classics, but admits that he’s drawn to the creative freedom that comes with making movies.

    “Movies are one of the most impactful forms of storytelling we hold claim to and it’s fun adding to that mission, especially in the places and with the people from my childhood,” he says.

    Charles’ earned his St. Thomas degree this past spring in business with a focus on financial management. Although he and Kale self-financed the actual shooting of their film, he says they’ve received a plethora of in-kind contributions from family and friends, and they’re doing actual fundraising. Their goal is $25,000, and they’re inching closer to that amount. They’ve received a couple of grants as well, one from Crookston Community Theatre and one from the Northwest Minnesota Arts Council.

    “Lots of people might not see an association between movie-making and finance, but I can attest that there are in fact many parallels in helping manage production and making the most value-conscious choices and actions,” Charles said. “‘Movie mogul’ sounds a bit flamboyant at this stage, but I have found appeal in film producing; it feels very entrepreneurial, and I hope, and plan, to participate in like-activities and other productions in the future.”

    While the plot of “LOON!” might seem campy in nature, the production value of the finished product is of utmost important to the Eickhof cousins. Charles says they shot the film using a Sony DSLR camera, but were able to rent some “rather sophisticated” lenses that are making a “more cinematic” look possible in the film’s final cut. “Conventional movie production utilizes anamorphic lenses, which provide wider aspect ratios, something we are trying to mimic,” he explains.

    Charles adds that he and Kale worked with/are working with some “very talented professionals” during post-production work, which starts with raw footage and progresses toward the finished, edited product that incorporates special effects, animations, sound, and an original musical score. “We believe the sound, music, computer-generated imagery and animations are paramount for the film’s materialization,” he explains. “Our post-production efforts have been and are being primarily funded by monetary donations from family, friends and others who have been enthused about the project.”

The final scene of "LOON!" is shot in the middle of the night, after high winds delayed the shoot for hours.

    Right now is a “crucial time” for their fundraising efforts, Charles adds. If you’d like to contribute, he says you can visit https://loonmovie2021.wixsite.com/-donate. If you donate, he notes, you can bask in the “LOON!” spotlight as well at the Aug. 20 premiere at the Grand.

    “There are some awesome incentives for contributing, such as your name in the final credits, a premiere party, and an opportunity to meet the cast,” Charles says.

    From small individual contributions to the CCT and NWMAC grants, he stresses that every penny has played a crucial role in making “LOON!” a reality. “We owe a great deal of gratitude to these entities for their belief in our project,” Charles says.

    CCT not only made a financial contribution, they shared some actors who play prominent roles in the film, in the form of Anna Huck, Anders Berggren and Lynnette Mullins.

    CCT veteran Berggren says film-acting is definitely different than acting in live theater productions.

    “As a performer, you know the finished product because you are directly involved with delivering it. I am excited to see the finished movie because I was not involved with every scene,” he says. “Even the scenes I was part of have special effects and I can’t wait to see what the creative minds behind the project accomplish.”

    Imagining the film, creating it and seeing it through to completion is only part of the equation. Charles says he and Kale are also forming a business model – more of that St. Thomas finance degree in action – that will bring “LOON!” to the public via avenues like the premiere at the Grand Theatre, showings at other area theaters, a film festival tour, and other forms of distribution that would be followed by the film’s availability via online streaming.

The cast

    • Jake Borter is played by Charles Eickhof

    • Mom is played by Lynnette Mullins

    • Dad is played by Kurt Eickhof

    • Abbigail is played by Anna Huck

    • Ashley is played by Stephenie Schiller

    • Mario is played by Mario Schisano

    • Sydney is played by Nicole Johnson

    • Tim is played by Kale Eickhof

    • Bystander is played by Cecelia Eickhof

    • Sheriff is played by Anders Berggren

    • Jill is played by Jill Schisano

    • Pete is played by Paul Eickhof

    • Sydney’s Son is played by Rocco Johnson

    • Dylan is played by Henry Fischer

    • James is played by Hayden Spivey

    • Fisherman is played by Paul Bittner

    • Daniel is played by Jeffery Holberg

    • Bartender is played by Charles Brewster

    • Fr. Vincent is played by Matthew Volker

    • Deputy is played by Dan Fontaine

    • Squatting Owl is played by Will Robinson

    • Volunteer is played by Laurie Nordquist

    • Volunteer 2: Peter Nordquist

    • Volunteer 3: Jim Aakhus

    • Wildlife Expert: Dan Svedarsky