‘Deer Camp ’86’ movie wins Best Special Effects at film festival

October 21, 2022

Producer/Writer Harold Cronk of Scottville holds the award.

‘Deer Camp ’86’ movie wins Best Special Effects at film festival

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

LOS ANGELES — Locally filmed and produced movie “Deer Camp ’86” won the Best Special Effects award during the recent Screamfest film festival in Hollywood. Screamfest is the largest and longest running film festival in the United States and included over 20 feature films. Other feature film categories included Best Feature, Best Directing, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Special Effects Makeup and Best Musical Score. 

The film was written and produced by Harold David Cronk of Scottville and Eric Michiela of Holland under the pseudonyms Bo Hansen and Riley Taurus and directed by L. Van Dyke Sibsoutszen. The super natural thriller/comedy is about six guys who drive up to northern Michigan from Detroit to spend time deer hunting. In the process, they manage to wake a “forest demon” which proceeds to haunt them. The movie was filmed almost entirely in Mason and Oceana counties in the fall of 2020. 

“This movie was a community project,” Cronk said. “We could not have made this film without the support of our locals. We also would not have won this award without the local support, as many of them helped with our special effects.” 

Most notably was a vehicle flip scene that was filmed in a gulley on property owned by Thurow Farms in Riverton Township. During the scene, the 1982 Chevrolet Suburban, called “The Beast” in the film,  is flipped over by the forest demon and then explodes. 

Members of Riverton Fire Department pose with the Suburban “The Beast” following the flip.

“This movie was made during the COVID pandemic on a very small budget,” Cronk said. “Whenever you start adding stunts and live action special effects, the costs increase. Flipping a Suburban was not going to be an easy task and was the most challenging part of making this movie, outside of the constant threat of someone catching COVID. Hiring a professional crew from Hollywood to come to Michigan in order to perform the stunt was out of the question. About a week before we needed to perform the stunt, Todd Quillan, owner of Auto Ranch Towing & Salvage and Robin Reese approached Eric and I with an idea.” 

Quillan had been assisting on the set with towing services. Reese had furnished one of his antique cars for a parking lot scene. 

“Todd and Robin said they knew how we could flip the car, using a beast of a vehicle that Robin owned, and utilizing cables that would be secured around trees,” Cronk said. “This would be a one and done stunt. We wouldn’t have an opportunity to re-shoot it. But, It was absolutely perfect.”

The Suburban then needed to explode. 

“The Riverton Fire Department stood by for several hours over two different days while we created an explosion,” Cronk said. “I can’t say enough about the help we received from Chief Joe Cooper and his crew.”

Cronk also thanked Dan Nelson and his grandson, Dustin Nelson, of Amber Township for their work maintaining the Suburban and preparing it for the flip scene. 

Other live action special effects included a boat scene that was filmed on Woodruff Lake in Eden Township. Members of the Mason County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team assisted moving the boat. Members of the Custer Fire Department stood by for emergency services. 

“Many of our special effects were a result of the great set designs by art director Mike Anderson with assistance of Paul Cooper,” Cronk said. “This included a complete replica of a vintage beer trap that was loaned to us by Jamie Flewelling of Legends Taxidermy.”

Harold Cronk poses with “The Beast”

Judges also mentioned the post production special effects that helped the film win the award. 

“Our visual effects supervisor Dustin Solomon made this movie look like it was high budget,” Cronk said. “He worked a lot of magic and the judges noted several of the effects he created. One of the things that really made me happy about this film is that we were able to blend actual effects, such as the car explosion, with enhanced effects in post production.” 

Cronk also credited the late Tom Sheppardson for loading safe and reliable blank shells. “Safety is always the top priority on any film set, but especially on a set that includes firearms. Having the guidance of experts like Tom Sheppardson, who was my middle school English teacher and a master marksman, made the filming of this movie successful on a safety standpoint.” 

Cronk also gave credit to the Mason County Road Commission which provided recently deceased deer. 

“In my years of creating movies, I am always impressed with the support and enthusiasm we get from our locals. I feel this movie is just as much theirs as it is mine and Eric’s,” Cronk said. 

The movie is a mix of adult humor, suspense and thriller. It also has a social message about the exploitation of indigenous American women.   

The concept of “Deer Camp” came to fruition in the early days of the COVID pandemic when it was clear that many in the motion picture industry were forced out of work (like most other people). Cronk and Michiela had each been developing story lines over the years and they merged their two concepts into a project that became “Deer Camp ’86.” As a result,  many creative people, the majority from Michigan (including several local) were put back to work. The film also invested money into local businesses through lodging, catering and set design. 

Members of the cast pose outside the Thurow cabin

The majority of the movie was filmed at a hunting cabin owned by Thurow Farms.  Most of the other scenes were also filmed in Mason County at locations including the former Johnny’s of Custer, Sanders of Custer, Wilwin Lodge (and Woodruff Lake) in Eden Township. An exterior scene was filmed at Murphy’s Tavern in Weare Township, Oceana County. An additional scene was filmed in Tampa, Fla. 

Several local people served on the film including co-producers Rob and Becky Alway of Scottville and Shelly Newman of Manistee; camera assistant Dawson Segraves of Ludington; prop master Caroline VanHouten of Ludington; hair and makeup by John Bailey of Ludington; production assistant Seth Wade of Ludington; catering by Gloria Ann’s Catering of Fountain; transportation by VanderHaag Car Sales & Rental of Scottville; and several local actors who served as extras. 

The musical scores also included contributions from Mason County natives Edgar Struble, Jonathan Letsinger, and Lonnie Spangler.  

Cronk said selling the distribution rights of an independent film can be a challenge. Now that the movie has won an award at a major film festival, it will gain a lot of credibility. 

Locally, the movie is scheduled to be shown at The Vogue Theatre at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 4. Tickets are now on sale. Click here for more information. 

Members of the cast and production crew pose at the screening of “Deer Camp ’86”

See the trailer here.

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