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Cleveland, We Love This Movie: Filmmaker Eric Swinderman Creates the Ultimate Cleveland Love Story


Eric Swinderman is making the mother of all Cleveland love stories.

The filmmaker, born in New Philadelphia, Ohio, and a Cleveland area resident since 1996, is quietly making an independent film in and around Cleveland, on weekends and late nights, which will turn heads and have people talking within the year.

And not just because it has the backing of writer/director and Cleveland native David Wain. Or the bona fides of Shaker Heights native and director Jamie Babbit (United States of Tara, The Middle) and writer Karey Dornetto (South Park, Community, Arrested Development).

No, people will be talking because the film – a collection of love story vignettes loosely tied together – is the collaboration of dozens of Northeast Ohio writers, directors, actors, crew members and cinephiles. Not too mention the talent of local celebrities like Robin Swoboda and Leon Bibb.

Midwest Movie Maker sat down with Swinderman not long ago to talk about Made in Cleveland:

Midwest Movie Maker (MMM): How’d you get involved in film? What made you want to become a filmmaker? What was your journey?

Eric Swinderman (ES): I moved to Cleveland in 1996 with $75 in my pocket and the crazy notion that I could make independent films with little or no budget. But it wasn’t until graduating from Cleveland State University in 2000 that I started writing in earnest. I wrote a number of screenplays at that time. The first was a dark psychodrama called The Donut Hole. Realizing that it was too damn expensive to film a feature (digital was just on the horizon), I decided to adapt it into a short film based on one of the characters. That film became the short film Clean.

It was about this time I met my business partner and producer Mark Pengryn. We met in grad school, shared a love for film and decided to make Clean together. We shot it in 2007 and released it in January 2009, mostly to positive reviews.

After Clean, Mark and I produced a micro-short film called The Anniversary for the Cleveland Plain Dealer's 2009 Scary Movie competition. We placed third out of 75 entries and started gaining a little notoriety. The film also played to audiences at the Cleveland Truly Independent Film Festival, where it was nominated for a Best Direction Award.

We have experienced many ups as downs. In this business, particularly in Cleveland, you tend to get picked up just long enough to get knocked down. But we continue our quest to make meaningful films in Cleveland.

The biggest challenge you face in Cleveland as a filmmaker is finding the right people to surround yourself with. There is a great deal of flakiness in this town. Some of it is laziness, some of it because people have day jobs and projects become too much to handle. And sometimes I think it’s a fear of success.

MMM: Tell us about Made in Cleveland. How did the concept come about and how did you get started?

ES: Since 2009, I have searched for a project that would bring together some of the best talent in Cleveland. I had a few ideas. One was to do a collaborative project about nightmares, with multiple directors creating short films about nightmares. But it just didn’t seem right.

Then I saw Paris, je t'aime and New York, I Love You and the idea just clicked. Eleven short films about love in Cleveland by 11 different directors. The only problem: I couldn’t find 11 directors with the skill level and willingness to collaborate on a project of this size. So I approached David Wain, writer and director of Role Models and Wet Hot American Summer about collaborating with me. David and I worked together in 2009 on a local venture and talked about doing a totally Cleveland film project.

The timing wasn’t right for him to direct on this because he was busy with his film, Wanderlust. But he has been very supportive and says he is willing to help us with distribution on the back end.

MMM: How did it grow from concept to where you are today? Did you look for financial help? Start pitching? Decide to tackle it on your own?

ES: I decided at first to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise money. But one of my friends, actress Robyn Griggs, told me that it’s very difficult to actually collect your funds from them. So I launched a website that operates like Kickstarter, but collects funds immediately. We just reached out via social networking and asked for help. In two months, the website raised $10,000.

Along the way, I grabbed some pretty talented writers and directors like Robert Banks, Sage O’Bryant, Tony Hartman, Robby Ingersoll and Dan Sanek, and we started piecing the short stories together to tell our Cleveland love story.

MMM: You mentioned David Wain as a support? Is he your Master Cylinder?

ES: David has been a huge help. He is an amazingly gifted comedian and he has a big heart. Being from Cleveland he loves to get involved when his schedule permits. Not only is he excited to help with distribution but also just having his name on board opens doors for us and allowed us to bring in talented Hollywood heavyweights like Jamie Babbit and Karey Dornetto.

MMM: When did filming start? Where are you shooting? Will vignettes be shot simultaneously or will you shoot one at a time?

ES: Filming began November 12 and runs through March 2012. We will shoot in various locations throughout Cleveland and the greater Cleveland area. The vignettes will be shot separately as individual films, but will seamlessly tie together in the feature.

MMM: Some actors involved?

Leon Bibb and Robin Swoboda are the two local icons involved in the film. But we have hired more than 60 local actors for the project and will add approximately 40 more extras. We also are in talks with two Cleveland born Hollywood A-listers to come on board. The cast of this film is certainly the strong point of this film. We are truly blessed to have so many amazing actors involved.

MMM: What have been the ups and downs of the project? Surprises?

ES: The biggest surprises have also been the downs. We have had no less than five major players quit unexpectedly. I think it goes back to the fear of success and scope of this project. I think when some people come on board, they see our no-nonsense, laser focus and determination, and I think it freaks them out a bit. They realize we aren’t doing some laid back, “let’s see where this goes” kind of film, that we hold everyone accountable, and that failure and mediocrity are not acceptable. Ultimately those people bail under the pressure. But those that stay are the best of the best and we know they are going to help us make the best film possible.

The biggest ups have been the amazing cast and crew. I can’t say enough positive things about them and can’t wait to see them in action!

MMM: When might we be able to see the film? Next summer?

ES: We wrap in March so hopefully next summer it will be released.
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