1-minute film sends team to Sundance


MANCHESTER CENTER -- Michael D. Ellenbogen created "Citizen Producer," a 60-second promotional film, in Manchester, in a competition sponsored by Entertainment Partners. And he rode that film all the way to Park City, Utah, when it won the grand prize -- an all-expenses-paid trip to the Sundance Film Festival.

The "Make Movie Magic" contest, seeking films that advertised two products by Entertainment Partners, was announced exactly two months prior to the upcoming Feb. 8 premiere of the film at Mulligan’s of Manchester.

The contest announcement read:

"Simply create a 30- to 60-second promotional video for the new Movie Magic Budgeting 7 and/or Movie Magic Scheduling 5 products. We’re looking for creative and inspirational ideas showcasing how these products can help make Movie Magic. A panel of judges will pick the winner. The grand prize includes airfare, hotel, and tickets to select screenings at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival where Movie Magic really happens."

The production came together fast after Ellenbogen, a photographer and filmmaker who has been focusing on other projects recently, decided to enter the competition to give his "filmmaking muscles" a workout. He filmed entirely in the Manchester area, and used a local cast and crew. The "workout" took him straight to the victory line.

"We’ll be premiering the movie at Mulligan’s next Monday night from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.," Ellenbogen said. "We’ll have the one-minute film and a slideshow, pictures from making the film and from the trip to Sundance." The film and slideshow will be shown on a loop, so no matter what time guests arrive at the premiere, they’ll get to see it all.

"There was never a doubt in my mind," says Ellenbogen, "from the moment I had the idea to make a film noir with a pop twist, let’s call it ‘pop-noir,’ I was packing my bags for Sundance. This was about making a great film, on no production budget, and winning."

Ellenbogen imagined a dramatic moment in filmmaking leading up to a meeting with investors, where a Young Producer, played by Alyssa Polacsek, could not meet the demands of the Veteran Producer, played by Bob Hartwell (Vermont State senator from Bennington County), who sought a production schedule and a budget "that works."

The cold, dark, and snow-piled streets and alleys of Manchester provided perfect locations to create a beautiful, stark, ambiance. "Basically, we selected sites for exterior shots and then, on the spot, asked permission to shoot and even plug into existing electric boxes to power lights," said Ellenbogen.

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"Interior scene casting was perfect and thanks to hosts at the Dorset Union Store, Wilburton Inn, and GNAT-TV, these interiors match the story and look great," says Ellenbogen.

Ellenbogen chose to reference two films involving Orson Welles, "Citizen Kane" and "The Third Man." The creative spark from which the winning film came was the famous Rosebud scene at the opening of "Citizen Kane." The meaning of "Rosebud," a reference to a sled and his lost childhood, the dying word of Kane, eluded the intense efforts of the diligent reporters.

In "Citizen Producer," the Young Producer is more fortunate when she begs the Veteran Producer for the "secret" of success. He reveals "Movie Magic" to her, enabling her to succeed.

A few weeks before receiving the e-mail from Entertainment Partners, Ellenbogen joined the Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce and produced the Chamber-Daze event, Photo Aspects, at The Wilburton Inn to launch his photography business, MDE Photography. It was here that he met the GNAT-TV team with Garrett McCarey as well as Wendy Rae Woods and Senator Hartwell. These introductions became instrumental in the production of "Citizen Producer."

"Would you like to go to the Sundance Film Festival this year? All your expenses will be covered." That is how Elliot Long, co-producer of "Citizen Producer" and studio technician, cameraman, and editor at GNAT-TV in Manchester, recalls being asked to participate by Ellenbogen. "Basically, he said we were going to make a film and win."

"In addition to a talented cast and crew, the most important element is food," reveals Ellenbogen. "Without food, there is no film. The moment that Tom Norton of Mulligan’s joined the production to provide food for cast and crew for the two-day shoot I knew it was a done deal ... Utah here we come."

Ellenbogen was able to make the film on a production budget of zero, thanks to the investment of time, talent, goods and services provided by everyone involved.

Ellenbogen is a transplant from New York City who sought the quiet mountains of Southern Vermont to focus on his writing and photography. With six feature projects on his development slate, he returned to Park City for the fourth time in his film career. His interests range across filmmaking, art consulting, event productions, photography, and fine chocolate.

Ellenbogen will soon introduce a feature film project to Manchester, hoping to expand the circle of partners and talent in the area to accomplish the production of a low-budget romantic comedy written by a veteran reality-TV writer.

Ellenbogen said the script currently stands at 90 pages, a fairly standard feature length. "Bringing a feature to Sundance next year is now my objective, and yes, I do believe it can be accomplished right here in Manchester," he said.


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