Next time you pull off a heist during a Duluth snowstorm and need a place to hole up, steer clear of Marshall School. You might get more than you bargained for.
Marshall’s Fregeau Auditorium played host Wednesday to a screening for students of “Christmas Break-In,” an independent family movie largely filmed at the school in April.
The school features heavily in the film, about 9-year-old Izzy, played by Cameron Seely, whose parents miss picking her up on the last day of school before winter break. As Izzy’s parents (Denise Richards and Sean O’Bryan) fight the snow to reach their daughter, a trio of robbers (Katrina Begin, Douglas Spain and Jake Van Wagoner) seek refuge at what they think is an empty school. Soon they encounter and kidnap Ray, played by Danny Glover of “Lethal Weapon” fame, who is the school's janitor and Izzy’s guitar instructor, and it’s up to Izzy to save the day.
Related contentUtah-based production company Koan Inc. chose Minnesota because they needed snow in April for a holiday movie. They found that Duluth and Marshall, with its sweeping views from atop the hill, fit the bill.
“They were blown away by standing here and looking the lake, and they saw more possibilities for outside shots once they saw Duluth from our front lawn,” Marshall Head of School Kevin Breen said.
While the movie doesn’t specifically mention Duluth, residents will recognize scenes shot in Lincoln Park, downtown Duluth and at Spirit Mountain, which complemented what was mostly a Marshall-set story.
The state’s “Snowbate” rebate program for film and TV productions also aided the decision.
As a bonus, Duluth received 13.4 inches of snow April 14-15, along with high winds, creating the blizzard conditions the crew needed.
As many as 50 Marshall students were on set as extras, and the crowd was excited Wednesday to see one another and the school on the big screen.
“They’re so excited; (nearly) a year’s a long time for kids,” Breen said. “I think they’ll be really surprised; I know a lot of them have their names in the credits.” Breen also noted that 90 percent of Marshall students are involved in arts or music, so the production fit the school’s spirit as well.
The extras spent their spring break week at the school filming, while the crew spent its second week on set shooting nighttime scenes, leaving school days uninterrupted.
“The parents showed up with their kids, and it ran all day,” Marshall Director of Annual Giving Reba Copeland said. “They fed the kids; they had a great time. … Cameron Seely, the little girl who’s in the movie, interacted with the students a ton.”
Ailie King, 12, of Superior was among the extras, and on Wednesday she had already spotted herself in the film while watching the DVD with her family. She spent several days on set and remembers having to stay focused during long days.
“I was so excited, like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s going to be a movie filmed at our school!’” Ailie said. “(The crew said) walk over here; OK, you guys, walk down … go in the girls’ bathroom, go over here … now you’re talking to your friends, ‘peas and carrots, watermelon,’” - a repeated phrase to simulate background conversation.
On hand for Wednesday’s screening were director Michael Kampa, executive producer Tanya Silver and actor Dawson Ehlke, who plays Izzy’s older brother. Each is a native of Minnesota.
The crowd giggled and clapped at the moments you’d expect; one enthusiastic burst of applause came when one of the robbers, looking for valuables in a classroom, muses that “it’s a shame we don’t pay our teachers more.” But it was the quieter chuckles - at Glover’s suggestion that Marshall was once a prison, or at the idea of Izzy’s parents trudging through the snow, far underdressed for a Northland blizzard - that showed the audience’s connection to the film.
“We see ourselves as just another part of America learning about Duluth,” Breen said. “And it’s fun to be a part of that.”
Copies of the DVD were on sale at Wednesday’s screening, and 15 percent of the proceeds went back to Marshall. The film is available from Amazon on DVD, and Kampa said plans are in the works for a wider release. A trailer is also available on Vimeo.