MCC Alumni Feature: Harold Cronk, filmmaker, artist, writer, entrepreneur 

April 25, 2022

MCC Alumni Feature: Harold Cronk, filmmaker, artist, writer, entrepreneur 

Spartan News is presented by Mason County Central Schools in partnership with Mason County Press. This special series of Spartan News features alumni of MCC. 

By Sarah Jensen, Contributing Writer. 

  • MCC Class of 1993
  • Undergraduate degree: Associate degree, West Shore Community College; bachelor of science, K-12 art education, Central Michigan University
  • Current position: Founder and CEO, 10 West Studios, Manistee; writer, producer, director, entrepreneur

SCOTTVILLE — Harold David Cronk’s interest in the arts began early. His family moved to Scottville from Baldwin when he was in the sixth grade, and his middle school science teacher, Jim Falconer, offered an extracurricular arts class during study hall. For Harold, a lifelong devotion to the creative was born.“I knew I had a passion for art,” he recalls. 

When Harold discovered that the high school offered no art courses, he took matters into his own hands and advocated for a change in the curriculum. “I went to a school board meeting,” he explains. “I asked the board members to stand up and look at the chair they were sitting in and the shelf supporting a TV on the wall and the table they were sitting at. I asked them if they knew what those things had in common. I told them all these things had been designed by an artist.”

His presentation had no effect. “It went over like an eighth grader telling adults what they needed to do,” he laughs. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people that were on the board. But Scottville didn’t start an arts program until the year after I graduated.”

Harold was determined, though, and if he couldn’t study painting and film making in high school, he could learn the next best thing. “I took all the printing classes I could from Joe Taranko,” he says. And in his junior year, he traveled to Ludington to take a graphic arts class from Dan Neil at Ludington High School.

Cronk signs the movie poster for “God’s Not Dead” at the Ludington AMC theater.

“I learned so much about leadership, about myself, and about dealing with adversity through athletics,” he remembers of his days on the basketball court, the football field, and the track. But his artistic activities had the longest-lasting influence. Harold was cast as Captain Hook when MCC staged Peter Pan, and he credits drama director George Reed for encouraging his creativity. “And I had Tom Richert for drama and an English class,” he adds. “He was incredibly supportive of my involvement in the arts.”

Taranko’s influence went beyond teaching Harold to ink the press. “I will never forget sitting in Joe Taranko’s printing class,” he says. The television in the classroom was tuned to MTV, and Harold was transfixed by the song “Sober” by the rock group Tool and its accompanying claymation video. Taranko explained that Tool had been founded by fellow Spartan Maynard Keenan, class of ’82.  

“That’s when the light bulb went off,” Harold says. “I was like, wow. Not only is what I’m seeing on that screen incredible, but it was created by somebody who grew up in the same town that I did and who sat in this classroom. That made the impossible seem possible.”

After graduation, Harold knew exactly what he wanted to do. “I told my dad I wanted to go to college and study art and become an artist and a film maker,” he recalls. His father responded with wise advice. “He encouraged me to get my art education degree so I’d have some stability and to pursue my art during the summer.” 

Harold’s first job out of college was teaching art at the high school in Evart, and just as Dad had suggested, he spent summer vacations working on his sculptures and films. In 2004, he and his friend and fellow art teacher Matt Tailford completed a short film The Agent. Fortuitously, the film caught the eye of X-Men series producer Ralph Winter. “I met with him in Los Angeles,” Harold says. “He told me I should consider giving this a shot.”

That’s when Harold took a leap of faith. He and his wife, Amy, sold their house, packed their belongings, and with Tailford, set out for LA. 

Before long, he was working as a production designer and art director for feature films and directing award-winning commercials. One of his first gigs was directing a commercial for the Magic Johnson Foundation, Lincoln Navigator featuring LA Lakers legend Johnson himself. 

With the skills gained in his hands-on work in the industry, Harold returned to Michigan the next year to complete the short film The War Prayer. He discovered that using the resources available on his home turf was more economical than filming on a Hollywood movie set. He transformed a wind-damaged woods near Evart to a war-torn battlefield and easily found props the film required. “I’d lived in west Michigan my whole life, and I knew people who would be willing to help us out,” he said. “If we needed a tractor, we could call on one of our friends.” War Prayer received the Best Director award at the 2005 Beverly Hills Film Festival, beating out 42 feature films in the category.

By 2008, Harold’s own career seemed a sure thing and Michigan the place to be. The state had put film incentives into effect that offered tax breaks to filmmakers, and he and Tailford returned to the area to make movies.

Their first project was to form a partnership of experts – Jeff Seng of Manistee; Harold’s sister Melinda Nypen, who was experienced in the banking industry; members of the Grand Rapids law firm Varnum – to founding 10 West Studios, a 150,00-square-foot production studio complete with seven sound stages in the former Seng’s Marina in Manistee.

10 West has produced more than a dozen films, including The Adventures of Mickey Matson and the Copperhead Conspiracy, Pirate’s Code: The Adventures of Mickey Matson, and God Bless the Broken Road in collaboration with Scottville’s Edgar Struble (MCC Class of ’69). Most of the films were shot locally.  

Cronk also directed the critically acclaimed Pure Flix production God’s Not Dead and God’s Not Dead 2, along with Unbroken: Path to Redemption, the sequel to Unbroken, the true story of World War II war hero Louis Zamperini who was captured by the Japanese. 

As successful as Harold has been, the road to that success has not been without its struggles. “I think about where I might be if I had taken art or a film making class in high school,” he says. “It’s our job as a community to give our young people the best resources and facilities to explore their talents and interests. We can give them a head start. Then when they’re ready, they can come back to Mason County and enrich our community and help it to grow.”

Last fall, Harold’s first book, The Beard Ballad, a whimsical tale of the bond between a father and son was published. He will be holding a book signing next month at West Shore Community College. In May, will be the debut of his directorial project, the Disney Plus fantasy/reality series, The Quest. No sooner will those projects wrap than he’ll turn his attention to directing a Christmas movie and a three-film family fairy tale adventure project.

Harold and his family live in the Mason County Central School District where he often assists MCC coach (and high school principal) Jeff Tuka on the basketball court. His wife, Amy (née Letsinger, MCC class of ’93), is a teacher at MCC Middle School. Their children Evelyn, 10, and Harry, 7, are MCC students, and nearby family and friends continue to be an inspiration. “You’re only good as the team you work with,” says Harold. “There are some absolutely wonderful people in Mason County. This is home.” 

 

On May 3, voters in the Mason County Central School District are being asked to decide on a 1.95 mills bond request that will raise $33 million towards school facility and technology improvements. Highlights of the bond include safety and security upgrades in all five of the school buildings, upgrades to the high school (including renovations to B and C halls, new administrative offices, renovations of A.O. Carlson Gym and construction of an auditorium), repairs to the school campus streets and athletic facility upgrades. 

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