Although cities like Los Angeles and New York may be the first ones that come to mind when film students begin to plot their post-graduation careers, major markets definitely aren’t the only options in America. 2013 Full Sail University Film graduate Tanner Havens embraced that perspective when he created his latest short film I Am Me in various towns and cities of his home state of Michigan.
Written and directed by Tanner, I Am Me is based on the fictional character David Nolan, a world-renown wildlife photo journalist who sets out on a mysterious project through a cold winter adventure after the passing of his soulmate. The premise of the story was definitely fueled by the environment that Tanner returned to after moving back home from Florida.
“I had gotten home and we were having a really bad winter within my first few months back. I’ve always loved films that are really motivated by visuals, and so I wanted to shoot something that looked like a winter apocalypse,” he says. “I had gone through a pretty bad relationship at the time, and so the feel of the film was somewhat based around that.”
I Am Me’s producer Anthony Lietz is also based in Michigan – but what’s interesting is that he and Tanner actually met in Orlando at Full Sail, and the two lived together as roommates while attending school. Once they were both back in Michigan, he introduced the writer/director to the movie’s lead actor Michael Danes. Michael’s love for traveling and outdoors made him a perfect candidate for I Am Me – despite the fact that he had never acted prior to the project.
“Michael is exactly the character that he plays in the film – he’s adventurous, he travels, he has a dog,” Tanner says. “He was the perfect person to play the part. We really clicked after meeting one another, and became even closer through shooting the film.”
“We both had similar interests in travel, nature, and photography. Shooting was new for me, and that was a bit intimidating because I didn’t want to let Tanner down,” Michael says. “Working with such a small group on the film made it more intimate and beneficial because I had no knowledge of anything film-related.”
That small group – the crew was comprised of 10 people – knocked out production in a total of six days. Shooting primarily took place in Traverse City and Royal Oak. Free of many of the limitations and constraints that often follow independent filmmakers in bigger cities, the production was able to get things done quickly and often fly under the radar.
“It’s definitely a lot less competitive out here. It’s always been my dream to go out to Los Angeles but I feel like working out here is a better way to get my name out and really establish myself,” Tanner says. “For I Am Me, we went out and shot in the middle of the woods. There are definitely some places in the area that you might need to obtain a permit to shoot, especially if you are in populated areas like downtown Detroit, but we also have endless opportunities to shoot where we want and not have to necessarily ask for permission. There are definitely perks to doing your own thing and not operating as part of a big crazy studio.”
Working independently can bring about its own challenges, and things got even trickier as Michael had to take time off to plot a move to Seattle, Washington in the midst of production. Filming came to a halt three days into the shoot, and two weeks later they finished the remaining scenes. Shortly after production wrapped, Michael moved – but he returned back to Michigan to attend the film’s premier in Royal Oak.
“Seeing myself on the big screen for the first time and having so many people seeing it with me was intense,” Michael says. “I just remember looking at Tanner every few minutes, and the guy was on Cloud 9. His first film was about to change lives and I got to be a part of that experience.”
The experience making the film definitely inspired Michael in more ways than one, as shortly afterward, he enrolled in Full Sail’s online Media Communications degree program. As a frequent traveler, he hopes to use what he learns in the program to tell stories about what he experiences via video, photography, and writing.
“I never knew about Full Sail, but I actually gained information about the school through Tanner and Anthony,” he says. “The fact that they are both from Michigan and met at Full Sail is super strange.”
Creating I Am Me connected a small group of people in one location and has already impacted those involved. With the film currently being submitted into festivals and being shopped around to marketing/distribution companies, Tanner hopes to see the message of the movie have an even greater effect on more people.
“I want people to see that no matter how hard things get, there’s always a plan and everything happens for a reason. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that, but I want people to have faith and know that no matter how hard things get, they do get better,” he says. “The whole film is more about that message than anything else. If I can change a life, then that’s what I want to do.”
“Tanner really put something special together. I walked away from this film more inspired to achieve my dreams than I ever have felt before,” Michael says. “I really hope those who are privileged to see this film walk away with that same feeling and understand that you can really do great things if you just have faith in your dreams and continue to believe in them every day.”