by Kayla Williams
Behind the scenes of Toledo, there is a formidable film community hard at work. There are many players, and while all of them can’t be named in just one take, here are a few who are currently stepping into the spotlight.
Inspiration: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Day Job: Community Engagement Specialist (Americorps), The Arts Commission of Greater Toledo
Originally from Columbus, Sanchez founded the film group Reel Ohio in May 2014 after graduating with a film degree from UT. The group is a way for local filmmakers to collaborate, network and share resources and equipment, and it serves artists, nonprofits, and local businesses.
The Toledo Museum of Art is one of Reel Ohio’s clients. The group also helps produce Kitchen Talk, a monthly web-based talk show.
“Toledo has a lot of nonprofits. We’re thinking of how we can make ourselves better. Being in that culture motivates me . . . filmmakers are driven by their surroundings,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez placed several shorts in competitions. One of her films, Margot Come Home, about a girl who misses her father’s funeral, made it into the Seattle Film Festival. It was particularly meaningful because of the loss of her own father around that time. “I went to his funeral. But at the time, the act of missing a funeral was similar to the emotions I was feeling then—kind of numb and disconnected from my family—so that’s what that short was about.
“I think about film all the time,” Sanchez said. “The happiest I feel is when I am on a shoot.”
Michael E. Cullen II
Inspirations: American Beauty, Once, Cinema Paradiso
Day Job: 3rd Shift Retail Stocking
The logo for Cullen Park Productions shows a drawing of Michael E. Cullen as a small child, holding his grandfather’s hand. “When I was a little kid, I saw E.T. with my grandfather. That is the first movie I remember seeing in a theater,” Cullen said.
Cullen studied film at The University of Toledo, and started Cullen Park Productions in 2011. Cullen Park in Point Place is named after his great grandfather, a former vice mayor of Toledo—his production company’s namesake.
Cullen’s current film project is Down Along the Road: The Life and Times of Fulton Williams, a music-based fake documentary that features local musician Ryan Roth. Roth’s father passed away in the ‘90s, and the film is in his honor. Unlike other fake music documentaries, it’s a drama, not a comedy.
“There’s a lot going on in Toledo that gets ignored. I just want to help make Toledo known for filmmaking,” Cullen said. “We have a lot of good filmmakers here.”
Inspirations: Scream, classic ‘80s horror
Day Job: Assembler, Parker Hannifin
Alongside Allan Mayette, Zuver co-owns Shattered Images Films. Zuver’s interest in filmmaking dates back to 1996, when Scream was released. He was a horror fan before he saw it, but it was the film that solidified horror for him as an important genre.
“[Scream] really addressed the society we live in,” he said.
Zuver describes himself as “100-percent self-taught.” One of his first major horror features was New Blood Rising. Shattered Images Films came together shortly after that, and the first official production from the company was a remake of Night of the Living Dead, made with local talent.
“I think doing a remake is challenging for a director . . . you have to get the main points, but you also have to provide a new take on the story,” Zuver said.
He’s currently working on New Blood Awakening, the sequel to his first film. It has a higher production value than anything Zuver has done in the past, and has an anticipated 2016 release date.
Zuver believes that filming ambitious projects locally will open up a new window for Toledo, and he’s impressed by the people he has worked with on films. “The actors I’ve found here have amazing talent,” he said. “The film community here is a nice resource to have.”
Larry D. Williams II
Inspirations: Storytelling music videos; action films like The Fast and the Furious
Day Job: Active U.S. Military
Owner and operator of Project A Studios, Williams founded the project in 2012 after returning from military service. But even before the studio came to be, Williams was already involved in film work.
“In 2008, I started doing music videos for a friend, who is a rapper,” Williams said. “I remember seeing a lot of Busta Rhymes and Jay-Z videos that captured my interest . . . I love music videos that are story-based.”
Williams got into film after realizing that due to his service, the military would pay for his tuition, providing him the opportunity to choose something he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He went on to study film at the University of Toledo.
“One thing that is great about filmmaking is you’re not doing the same thing every day,” he said.
Williams is currently at work on his film Fire Power. It follows two detectives on an arms case, and is part of a series. The second part is currently being written by another Toledo filmmaker, Lapala Crawford, who also plays the main character.
“I wanted to start a studio here because Hollywood comes to Ohio to shoot. Why is this something that we can’t do ourselves?” Williams said. “We have everything here.”
Inspirations: The Godfather, Amadeus, Samsara
Day Job: Client Setup Representative, APS Medical Billing
“When my family first moved here, it was the late ‘90s, and we didn’t have a lot of money. We barely had any furniture, but we had a TV. A family friend of ours recorded movies for us, because we didn’t have cable. Family movie nights were a cornerstone of my childhood. That was probably the biggest influence film had on me, in my [early] life.”
This influence returned later. After graduating from the University of Toledo with a degree in political science, Areas moved to Detroit, MI. The reason?
“A girl,” Areas replied.
Things with the girl didn’t work out, and seeking refuge in his early love of film, Areas created Patient. “The film was my way of letting go of her,” he said.
The impetus for the film was a music video Areas saw, shot on a handheld camera. “After I watched the video and saw that they used equipment and software that wasn’t expensive, I said, ‘Why am I going to buy a $3000 camera? With technology today, you can make things happen.”
Patient was shot and edited on an iPhone 6. It has no dialogue, and uses evocative imagery to tell the story. The movie premiered at The Oliver House last December.
“I wrote the ending on a positive note. At the moment that I wrote it, I wasn’t [in a positive place]. That’s what I wanted. I felt so much better once it was done and out there for people to see.
“I want to create imagery that will make you think,” Areas said.
Steve J.P. Rodojev
Inspirations: Shaft, Heat, El Mariachi, Minority Report, Carlito’s Way
Day Job: Director/Camera Operator/Audio & Replay at Buckeye Cable Sports Network
Rodojev’s first feature-length film was made while he was a second-year media production student at The University of Akron. He was a fan of the ‘80s show Miami Vice, and planned to write a script inspired by the series, but changed his mind after seeing the 1971 film Shaft. “I loved how the soundtrack of that time period worked with the storytelling of the film, so I decided to make a Shaft spin-off with a different storyline . . . what it’d be like if Shaft moved from New York to Akron, Ohio,” he explained.
Rodojev’s Shaft: The Akron Chronicles became the first part of a trilogy.
Recently, Rodojev premiered Hindsight (a prequel to his other Toledo feature Light Eyes) at the Maumee Indoor Theatre. Rodojev Films is the moniker Steve uses for all of his projects, and Stephen Domanowski, Jeremy Parlette, David Born, and Gabe and Al Rios are also part of the company. The filmmakers live together in a house they have converted into what Rodojev describes as a “small production headquarters.”
“I intend to keep my films local. Toledo is enriched with so many great locations and interesting people . . . this city never ceases to amaze me,” Rodojev said.