Locally filmed movie puts new twist on deer hunting.

December 19, 2020

Locally filmed movie puts new twist on deer hunting.

Firearm deer season is a special tradition for hundreds of thousands of hunters in northern Michigan. A new movie filmed almost exclusively in Mason and Oceana counties, tells the story of a group of friends who travel from Detroit to northern Michigan to enjoy a hunting excursion. Their excursion, however, goes bad very quickly when they become the hunted by a Native American forest demon. 

Deer Camp ’86, as its name implies, takes place in 1986 around opening day of Michigan’s firearm deer season in mid-November. The story features a mixture of suspense and laughs as the hunters become the hunted. 

The movie was filmed in the fall of 2020, in the height of the pandemic. 

“Like most industries, the film industry took an incredible hit during 2020,” said producer and writer Bo Hansen. “My writing partner and fellow producer, Riley Taurus, and I wanted to create a project that would put cast and crew back to work. This has been a project that we have always wanted to create and it seemed like a perfect time, since the majority of the film takes place outdoors. Northern Michigan is well known for its deer hunting tradition and we felt it was perfect to bring our production to the locations where the tradition takes place.” 

Deer Camp ’86 begins with the introduction of characters Wes (Noah LaLonde), Buck (Jay J. Bidwell), J.B. (Brian Raetz), Simon (Arthur Cartwright), Karlos (Josh Dominguez) and Egbert “Ep” (David Lautman) as they make their way into northwest Michigan’s Mason County for their annual deer hunting trip. Things quickly go wrong for the group as the forest demon turns them into the hunted.

Paul Wilson is likely the best known actor in the film, who has appeared in several films including Angels in America, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Big Stone Gap, and soon, The First Lady, playing the part of President Richard Nixon. The film also features up and coming actors Noah LaLonde and David Lautman.

“We had a great cast and crew, many of whom are based in Michigan,” Taurus said. “We also had a few actors from California and Florida. When working on locations like this it’s always important to try to be respectful of the cast’s privacy and also respectful of not causing too much of an inconvenience to the local residents. Naturally, in a small town, word gets out very quickly that a motion picture is being filmed. The local communities were very supportive of our film and we received a large amount of help that made our work a success.”

Deer Camp ’86 was shot mostly on location in Mason and Oceana counties, near Ludington, about 100 miles northwest of Grand Rapids. The majority of the film takes place at a rustic cabin located in a hardwood forest.

“The cabin made the perfect setting for this film,” said director L. VanDyke. “It’s rustic and musty feel in the middle of the woods, complete with an authentic outhouse, set the tone for the film. To add to the feel, our first three days of filming included non-stop rain. This also presented some challenges for the crew but they overcame those challenges.” 

Some of the most intense filming took place on Woodruff Lake, a secluded lake owned by the Michigan American Legion, located within 500 acres of private land surrounded by the Manistee National Forest. The land is used as a veterans’ retreat known as Wilwin Lodge. 

“There is only one structure on this entire lake, which made it an ideal setting for the climactic ending of the movie,” VanDyke said. 

While Deer Camp ’86 is a super natural thriller, it is full of messages about friendship, respect for nature and culture, and tradition. The film’s producers sought guidance from local Potowatomi and Ottawa tribes to assure cultural sensitivity.

“Before any filming took place, the script was reviewed by elders of local tribes,” writer Bo Hansen explained. “One of the actors who played the part of the creature, Anthony Sprague, is a member of a western Michigan tribe and connected us with the proper people to make sure our portrayal was accurate. Whenever we had a question of cultural sensitivity we always had a consultant to speak with.” 

An underlying message for the film was the topic of trafficking and neglect of Native American women. 

“Our social messaging was intentionally subtle in this film,” VanDyke said. “Often a good film can be overshadowed by social messages. The feedback from our screening audiences has been very positive about the message of raising awareness of this often unnoticed offense against humanity.”

“We wanted to balance Deer Camp with a mix of horror, comedy, culture and social awareness,” Hansen said. “Based on feedback from audiences in small town Manistee, Michigan, Tampa and Los Angelas, we have created a film that appeals to a very diverse audience who each interpret its messaging differently. This movie is destined to have a cult following.” 

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