Chuck Frederick column: ‘Fargo’ snubs us, ridicules us — and I can’t turn it off
We’ve more or less made peace with being made fun of for the way we supposedly talk, even if we don’t really talk that way. But some of this other stuff, you know, first in the movie and now in the new TV series, “Fargo,” well, there are going to have to be a few stern words here.
I mean, for one thing, even though the first three episodes of the show were set mostly in Bemidji and Duluth, none of the doggone economic-boosting filming was actually done here in Minnesota. A crying shame. It was shot this winter in Canada with Duluth and Bemidji police cars and police patches, and, yes, with our Aerial Lift Bridge in the background toward the end of the first episode. Credit the magic of CGI, or computer-
generated imagery. But where was the respect there?
“It should have been filmed here,” a clearly perturbed Riki McManus of the Duluth-based Upper Minnesota Film Office said. “They cast out of here. They cast out of Minnesota.” And Minnesotans did make it into the series.
“But it’s all about the money,” McManus continued. “There was talk (of filming “Fargo” in Minnesota), and there was try. But you know what, when you’re fighting that provincial incentive in Canada, it’s tough. They rebate actors’ salaries there even. They rebate everything. It is hard.”
Not that Minnesota isn’t a player in the movie biz. We’ve had more than a few top-notch films to our credit, including Disney’s “Iron Will” (shot in and around Duluth), “North Country” (shot largely on the Iron Range) and “Grumpy Old Men (made and set in Wabasha, Minn.). The state offers a 20 percent to 25 percent rebate on many filming costs. We call it our “snowbate.” In addition, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board voted about a year ago to offer an additional
20 percent rebate to film on the Range. The rebates are good but not as extensive or as enticing as in Canada, clearly. They’re just giving it away up there, don’t you know.
“They still have us beat,”
McManus said. “But I’m still very optimistic. We are very competitive.”
Oh, yeah, we are. An independent film called “Heart of the Wilderness,” with a cast and crew of some 20 folks, started a month-long shoot just this week in Ely, according to McManus. In a month or so another independent film will begin production in the Crane Lake area. A third project is targeting a June start in the Northland; and two more projects, both with “recognizable talent,” are looking at August and in the fall in Duluth and on the North Shore. In addition, three TV shows are eyeing our region.
“We are the flavor of the year for filmmaking,” even if “Fargo” did pass us by, McManus said. “So much has been done on the East Coast and West Coast and down South, but no one really has taken a look at the Midwest and Minnesota. So they’re interested in finding out what we’re about and what we’re doing.”
If they’re truly interested, Minnesotans can hope they don’t watch much of “Fargo” on the FX network. As grippingly dark, utterly engaging and can’t-stop-watching-it well-acted as it is, the show is less than kind to us in the Gopher State. We’re portrayed as backward and naïve, and our police ain’t much better than a bunch of Barney Fifes running around.
In one scene, for example, a Duluth officer played by Colin Hanks — the son of Oscar-
winning actor Tom Hanks and someone who looks an awful lot like our Mayor Don Ness — is talking on his two-way, squad-car radio (do police even use those anymore?) with his 12-year-old daughter. She’s at home on a CB. The conversation is interrupted when Hanks’ character has to run down a speeder. Then he approaches the pulled-over car alone and lets the guy go without even seeing his driver’s license.
Give me a small break, please. First, no police officer would use his car radio for a private, personal conversation that could be heard by anyone with a scanner. Second, while the Duluth Police Department’s Jim Hansen declined to talk to me about specifics of police work, anyone who has been pulled over in Duluth knows the officer doesn’t just come bounding up to your car right off. He or she checks on your license plate number and then often waits for another officer in case there’s any funny business.
“It sounds like the only thing accurate is the letters on the patches and squad cars,” said Hansen, who hasn’t actually seen the show yet. “I have heard it is a good series, but if it is anything like the movie’s depiction (which I did see and liked) of law enforcement in Minnesota, it is not accurate at all. In Duluth we have one of the most highly respected, professional law enforcement agencies in the state and country. The officers that work here are well-educated, well-trained (and) conduct themselves and present themselves in a professional nature — ya know!
“As far as officers being bothered by it, I have not heard much talk either way, but I would guess they understand it’s just a show and would see the humor in it,” he said. “We’re comfortable in our own uniform.”
“People can either choose to take the show seriously and be offended or have a little fun with it,” Ness said. “It probably
doesn’t put Duluth in the best light, but you have to have a sense of humor about these things.”
In another scene, Bemidji officers get physically ill at the sight of blood. Apparently they never saw anything like it. Then an officer and the chief discuss their theories about a case and its details over their two-way walkie-talkie-type radios.
Give me another break. My dad was a police officer and my sister is a police officer. I can’t imagine either of them broadcasting such information for the scanner-listening public to hear.
That must have really ticked off the Bemidji department. Unfortunately I don’t know. The chief and others didn’t return several phone messages I left. Perhaps I should have called them from my CB at home, yeah?
Chuck Frederick is the News Tribune’s editorial page editor. Contact him at (218) 723-5316 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.