Hollywood is coming to North Dakota in July thanks to the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt.
The California-based Princebury Productions & Media, a company concerned with producing "clean," family-centered films, is interested in kickstarting North Dakota's film industry with a mini-series based on Roosevelt's life.
Richard Melheim, co-author of a biographical work on Teddy Roosevelt, "Young Four Eyes," has organized a banquet for July 3 at Fort Lincoln State Park in conjunction with Princebury.
The banquet will announce the production of a film mini-series based on "Young Four Eyes," and it will discuss the future of film in North Dakota as well as Princebury's proposals for further film industry-related projects in the state.
According to Princebury chief operating officer Chad Stewart, the company is interested in establishing a long-term film industry presence in the state.
Stewart said the first step will be to develop North Dakota's infrastructure in order to facilitate a film industry, like offering tax incentives for filmmakers, which exist in other states, or establishing an active film commission division at the Department of Commerce.
Because North Dakota does not have a film commision, there is no funding budgeted for film projects from the state.
Princebury also is interested in attracting the state's colleges and universities to the film industry, and establishing screenwriting programs and writing scholarship programs at the institutions.
The banquet discussions will address these ideas in addition to proposals for long term projects which would work in conjunction with the film industry, such as a film festival, or a North Dakota film fund.
While North Dakota does not have a film industry, the state has seen interest from Hollywood before, and reciprocated that interest.
The state-owned Bank of North Dakota loaned the film "Wooly Boys" $3.9 million in 1999. Most of the movie was filmed in the western North Dakota Badlands in the fall of 2000.
However, in January of 2006 the Bank of North Dakota disclosed that it wrote off $1.66 million of the loan after the film's release in 2004, meaning the bank did not expect to collect its money.
According to Melheim, because the proposed film projects are in early stages of production, including "Young Four Eyes," there are no current plans to seek money from the state.
Stewart said a North Dakota film fund could work in conjunction with a state film commission, but would not necessarily require state funding. Rather, it would attract the interest of investors.
Melheim, a native North Dakotan, and his sister Ruth Brubakken, a teacher at Jamestown Junior High for the past 38 years, wrote "Young Four Eyes" 15 years ago. It looks at Roosevelt's early years.
After initially finding "no interest whatsoever" from publishers or Hollywood investors, the siblings published the biography online as an ebook.
Then the executives of Princebury took interest in the project.
Stewart and Princebury chief executive officer Christopher Williams established the company in 2003 after they found themselves "appalled at what was coming out of Hollywood." They market themselves as a company that produces "clean," family friendly, and "story driven" or morally driven films.
Stewart was drawn to "Young Four Eyes" because of its strong moral center and multi-layered stories.
He said he and his company saw "a great need and an opportunity" for not only film projects in the state, but a family-centered and morally conscious film industry.
Melheim, who's now on Princebury's nationwide advisory board, said the project is an "exploratory piece." It is "one film to test the waters, but (we thought) why don't we propose more projects to help North Dakota ... economically."
They have ideas to produce more mini-series, based on other North Dakota-centered themes or historical figures, like Sakakawea, Sitting Bull, or Medora.
Princebury is interested in establishing a North Dakota-based production studio, which would produce films that could directly benefit the state and help build the industry, Stewart said. While their plans are still being discussed, they hope to produce two to three family friendly films a year in the state.
The primary focus for Princebury and Melheim will be to "give back" to North Dakota, Melheim said.
The discussions at the banquet will revolve around three main topics of interest for North Dakotans: the economy, tourism growth, and the conservation of North Dakota's resources and landscapes.
"We want to preserve the quality of living while taking advantage of available resources," Melheim said. "A film fund that also preserves the Badlands is certainly something (Teddy Roosevelt) would have supported."
Sara Otte Coleman, director of the state Department of Commerce Tourism Division, said she hears from many different projects hoping to use North Dakota as their backdrop, but said Melheim and Princebury's proposals are different.
They are not simply shopping around for the "best offer," she said. "They are looking for the best fit."
Coleman said their proposals stand out because theirs is not a short term project, but a long-term vision for North Dakota. They are proposing broad ideas which aim for "long-term sustainability" and search for further opportunities to give back to the communities in North Dakota, she said.
Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., will emcee the banquet and Gov. Jack Dalrymple will offer a welcoming statement. Ted Baehr, the CEO of MovieGuide, will give the keynote speech, followed by a panel discussion on "Integrity, Politics and the Bully Spirit for the 21st Century."
The panel will include Princebury executives Stewart and Williams; Clay Jenkinson of Bismarck State College and Dickinson State University; Kelly Monroe Kullberg, founder of The Harvard Veritas Forum; Theodore Roosevelt Mallock, chair/CEO of The Global Fiduciary Governance and relative of Teddy Roosevelt; and Baehr.
The banquet will be followed by a private brunch on July 4 for interested business leaders and the press, and a tour of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park on July 5 for the Hollywood guests. During the tour, Williams will make a proposal to turn North Dakota into the "family-friendly film capitol of the world."