MARQUETTE - If you're out and about in Negaunee today, don't be surprised if you see some filmmaking going on.
Dana Ferguson will be hard at work on a short film, with interiors and exteriors being shot in his hometown this weekend. The 1997 Negaunee High School graduate is serious about establishing himself in the film world from right here in the central Upper Peninsula.
"What I wanted to do would change on a weekly basis when I was a kid," he said. "I would go to movies in my spare time. It's what I did to get away. When I wanted to laugh, when I wanted to cry, I went to the movies.
Dana Ferguson has always wanted to be an actor but instead of moving to Hollywood, he has started his own production company here in the central Upper Peninsula to make his own films. (Dana Ferguson photo)
"One day it hit me: What I wanted to do was act. I have never changed from that ever since," he said. "But living up here is a tough spot for doing that."
In his youth, Ferguson turned to the Peninsula Arts Appreciation Council for some answers.
"I got in a play at the Vista. It was fun. It was so much fun," Ferguson said. "That reassured me.
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"When I went to Northern (Michigan University), I started acting there. It was being in a place I had never been before. Doing other things, time would drag," he said. "But when I was rehearsing, when I was on stage all day, time would go by in a flash. I knew I would have no trouble doing that again"
Once he earned a degree from NMU, Ferguson considered his next step carefully.
"After graduation, I wanted to move west, but that's hard with a family," said Ferguson, who with his wife, Rebecca, now has three sons, Jake, Oliver and Sebastian.
"I debated what to do," he said. "But I was not going to give up on my dream. I had to take it in my own hands and make it my own."
So Ferguson started writing his own screenplays.
"I am really critical of my own writing so I would write, then start over. I did that with five or six screenplays that I was not happy with," he said. "Then I made a short (film), 'Why,' without a crew, with just some help from my family. It took me a while as I did the editing and the music myself.
"When it was done, seriously, it gave me a bigger sense of accomplishment than anything else I had ever done," Ferguson said. "From there, it has been a slow process. Each project has gotten a little easier."
The next short Ferguson made, "The Composition," got him some notice. It was selected as a top-10 finalist in the 2009 Stella Artois Short Film Program. That program is coordinated by triggerstreet.com, which is the website of Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey.
"I didn't really expect that," Ferguson said. "It was a theme-based competition so that was hard. I couldn't come up with a story for the longest time. Then the week before the deadline, I was ready to give up, when I came up with an idea. I told my wife, 'You're helping me with this...'
"It was shot, edited and had the music added in just three days," he said.
This weekend, Ferguson is working on a short, "In Walks a Stranger," in Negaunee. It was written by Dan Aho, another Negaunee native who is finding success in commercials and who was just cast in an upcoming Steven Soderbergh movie.
Then the week after next, Ferguson will begin work on a feature film, "So Simple," in the Escanaba area.
"It's a dark comedy," he said. "It is like real life, with a bit of darkness in there, but there are little incidences we point out so you can see how funny they are."
Ferguson said he'd like to help other realize their movie-world dreams.
"I really, really want people who really want to do this to become part of this," he said. "I have found a few people up here, like Andy Tippett from Ishpeming, and a couple from Houghton, who want to get involved. This is a way in, something to put on a resume.
"We depend on each other up here," he said. "Out west, there are thousands of people who do this. Here, I need actors. I need crew that want to do it.
"My production company wants to help out people," he said. "If we can help other people realize their dreams, be it working in audio, as an actor, with music, that's what I want to do."
He hopes to grow his company to the point that a budgeted movie is a future project, one in which he can compensate actors and others who work on the film.
People interested in becoming part of Ferguson's filmmaking can contact him through his website, eclipseproductionsinc.com.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.