Minnesota has a starring role in a movie that is expected to wrap up production later this week.
"Downtown Owl," based on the Chuck Klosterman novel of the same name, has been shooting here since April 3. In St. Paul, it filmed for a week at Highland Park High School and another week at Spot Bar. It also shot scenes in Independence and Elko New Market.
All of those places are standing in for the fictional town of Owl, N.D., the setting of Klosterman's novel, which takes place in 1983 and 1984. That's where Horace (played by four-time Oscar nominee Ed Harris) meets with buddies to discuss their life's regrets and where high school teacher Julia (Lily Rabe, who was Nicole Kidman's lawyer pal in "The Undoing") hangs out, drinking to forget her woes in scenes shot at Spot.
"I optioned the rights to the book with Lily, who is my producing partner, several years ago," said Bettina Barrow, a lawyer-turned-filmmaker. "Lily had done the audiobook [of 'Owl'] back in 2008 and, randomly, I had found it at a bookstore in Portland, Oregon, and we both thought it should be a movie."
Although the book is set in North Dakota, that state does not have tax credits for filmmakers. Minnesota does, though — a transferable, 25 % credit for companies that spend at least $1 million here — and that was enough to attract "Downtown Owl" producers, who began setting up shop in March.
"We needed landscapes that could double for North Dakota," Barrow said. "I ended up connecting with Melodie Bahan and Jill Johansen at the Film Board and they've been unbelievably helpful."
The script is by actor Hamish Linklater ("The New Adventures of Old Christine"), who is co-directing with Rabe. In addition to Harris and Rabe, the cast includes Vanessa Hudgens ("Tick Tick Boom") and Henry Golding ("Crazy Rich Asians"). Local actors include Derek Hughes, Arden Michalec and Emma Halleen.
The film — like Klosterman's novel — climaxes with its characters trapped in a blizzard. So, like the Minnesota-shot "Fargo," "Owl" has had to rely on artificially-produced precipitation created by special effects expert Dieter Sturm (who's credited as "snowmaker" on "Fargo").
"It's been incredible to watch. We shot Ed Harris' character, Horace, in his house in a blizzard in Independence," said Barrow, who admits that as a Texas resident she's a little loose with the word "blizzard."
"We had piles and piles of snow in front of that house, and then it also snowed for real."
Also on board the project is music legend T Bone Burnett, an Oscar and Grammy winner who's doing the music. All the big names were attracted by the script and the other artists, according to Barrow, who joked, "Most agents are not telling their star clients to work for [Screen Actors Guild] low-budget scale in Minnesota in a blizzard."
The plan is to complete "Downtown Owl" in time for the Sundance Film Festival's November submission deadline (Barrow is a Sundance fellow). If accepted, it would premiere next January. No release date is set but "Downtown Owl" will be distributed by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions and Stage 6 Films.