Is television production 'Northbound'?
For those tired of the Hollywood scene, one web series has been filmed in the Upper Peninsula for years and has pushed through the pandemic to continue production
With two short seasons already freely available on Seeka TV, the creators of The Northstar Saga weren’t about to let their season three production fall flat, but the COVID-19 pandemic did force a few changes.
Brothers Seth and Nathan Anderson, who grew up in the Iron Mountain area, launched the post-apocalyptic survival series with Jason Hagen, who grew up in Minnesota. The three first started working together in Los Angeles.
“My first thought was I’d like to show off the area and work with the talent that’s here,” Seth Anderson said.
The series includes many shots of the Upper Peninsula landscape in Houghton and Dickinson Counties, from all seasons, as the characters struggle to survive against the elements and each other after a mysterious cataclysm causes modern civilization to collapse. Northbound is a prelude, both in production and story, to their feature film named Northstar, which will include many of the same characters and build on the same narrative. The series is supported through a combination of sponsorships, crowdfunding, and volunteerism.
At the beginning of 2020, they were ramping up to begin shooting season three of their series. But the COVID-19 pandemic confused everything, arresting their production schedule while monthly costs drained their funds. They were able to shoot about half of the footage they needed for the four-episode season before 2020, but much of what they had to finish wouldn’t be possible under pandemic restrictions.
“We are a crowd-based show a lot of the time,” Anderson said.
Anderson said their set usually has at least 20 people on it, including cast, extras, and crew. Fortunately, the shots remaining for the first episode of the season, entitled ‘Hannah’s Way’, required minimal cast and crew, so the team devoted what they could to completing that episode.
Now they’re going to unveil that episode to the public in an advance screening at Braumart Theatre in Iron Mountain on Aug. 20.
“The big thing with the ‘Hannah’s Way’ screening is just to make sure people know what we’re doing,” Anderson said. “We’ve made some progress and … we’re almost there.”
Fortunately, many of the remaining scenes for ‘Hannah’s Way’ were in a medical atmosphere, so everyone wearing masks fit the situation.
“We really tailored that to work,” Anderson said.
“And we were able to put the resources we had into some really good sets,” Hagen added.
Hagen said that a lot of the things in The Northstar Saga, which was written about ten years ago, suddenly became very relevant. He and Anderson found a refreshed passion for their story because of its renewed relation to people’s day-to-day experiences.
“It was very eerie, but it was very motivating at the same time,” Hagen said.
Some scenes in Northbound, including the soon-to-be-released ‘Hannah’s Way’, were shot in Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center. The production team said MTU administration was helpful, with the former director of the GLRC, Mike Abbott, even appearing in the series and delivering a line in season one. A lot of other actors were connected through the school’s Visual and Performing Arts department, too.
The GLRC facility worked well for one of the key locations in the series.
“We needed a more high-tech facility for Allied Command, which is the focus of ‘Hannah’s Way’,” Anderson said.
Allied Command is the remnant government body in the Northbound fictional world.
The lakeside location also figures into the story. Anderson said he always wanted to include Lake Superior, too.
“We even got on the water,” Anderson said.
Hagen said there are several advantages to working in the rural Upper Peninsula, not the least of which is the Upper Peninsula itself. Between doing the work they enjoy and the environment they’re doing it, they said it doesn’t really feel like work.
“You have like this unlimited access to just a beautiful landscape,” he said. “It can not only be a character in your productions and everything… it’s a much better environment to shoot in.”
There are also some drawbacks. If they need to rent equipment, it’s difficult to get and oftentimes needs to be shipped into the area. However, they said they’ve developed some reliable relationships over the last seasons for acquiring that equipment when necessary.
Anderson said that the film industry is hard to break into in the 21st century, with streaming and other market forces creating a constantly shifting distribution landscape, paths to success re-arranging themselves to suit, and doors closing as fast as they open. He said the key is just starting to create something.
“And I was drawn to where I grew up,” Anderson said.
He said he’s also driven by the opportunity to create access to filmmaking work for other people in a rural area, and show that the industry is accessible to people outside of Hollywood and New York. Anderson’s hoping that the advent of remote work and streaming video will mean a local filmmaking talent pool can have access to a worldwide market.
“The connectivity is definitely happening,” Hagen said.
Ideally, Anderson said, filmmaking could become a new economic driver for the area.