The principal characters are coming off an emotional night and are engaged in a state-of-the-relationship conversation.

They stroll through the nearly empty restaurant, they fiddle with knick knacks, they bump into each other and push away.

"Let's play a game," says the character Annika, played by Minneapolis actress Nora T-O'Brien. "We'll only speak to each other mysteriously. We'll use cruel metaphors."

The cast and crew of a feature-length film project spent Thursday afternoon filming a scene that features a weighty conversation at JJ Astor Restaurant at the Radisson.

"In Winter," co-directed by Alex Gutterman of Duluth and Aboubacar Camara of Minneapolis, has been in production for months. The filmmakers expect to wrap in mid-March and have the film completed in time for the 2014 festival season.

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Camara was a late addition to the project, but predicted it will be in demand among film distributors.

"People are going to be rushing to our door," he said. "And we're going to be picky."

The film

Gutterman began writing "In Winter" two years ago, building off a short film he had previously written. It's the story of Annika, who works in a laundromat and is caring for her sick grandfather. Mark, played by Minneapolis actor Charles Hubbell, is an older wealthy sailing aficionado who visits the unnamed coastal town.

The two are drawn to each other, causing snags in other peripheral relationships.

Gutterman speaks abstractly about the film. He considers the cold, with its ability to draw people together as well as isolate, as its own character. The story is about the collision of two worlds, and: "God, death, sex and the cold," he said.

Gutterman said he picked Northeastern Minnesota as the location because this is where he found "the core emotional kernels to turn the tendrils into a project."

Scenes have been filmed in places that include industrial areas in Cloquet and at a private home on Lake Superior, on the shore and at the Radisson Hotel in Duluth.

Joah Colby, the director of photography, said that "In Winter" is an homage to early cinema.

"I describe it as painterly," he said.

After getting a good shot, a popular joke among the crew is: "Oh my God, Alex, you just out-Europeaned the Europeans," Colby said.

Financially speaking

Gutterman has budgeted $75,000 to make "In Winter" -- a small price compared to the multi-millions that go into making a Hollywood film. He's found people who are willing to donate time in exchange for the experience of involvement with a feature-length film. He's also gotten a few discounts along the way. He's talked a cast and crew into supporting his passion project "by speaking the truth," he said.

Matt Maturano contacted Gutterman about getting involved with the project just to have front row seats for the experience. He started as an intern and on Thursday was an extra.

"We're not looking to get paid," he said. "We're all that passionate. We're all on set to make this as good as possible."

For T-O'Brien, the movie offered a chance to play a genuine character, rather than the ingénue or the tough girl with attitude.

"This is so real," she said. "Everyone has known this girl."

On set

On Wednesday night, the cast and crew worked late filming a scene in which an out-of-place Annika ditches out of a swanky dinner party and ends up tossing her fancy shoes into the lake. Despite the snow, she ends up barefoot at the hotel.

In a film that considers the winter a character, actors can't get cold feet.

"I don't get to make films every day," said T-O'Brien. "(I said) 'We're going to get a master shot if I lose a toe.' "

Thursday's shoot at JJ Astor Restaurant covered the events of the morning after. The couple strolled through the circular restaurant having a sometimes flirty, sometimes intense conversation using nature metaphors. The crew, half of them packed on a dolly, moved backward as the couple walked toward them.

Colby dug the effect of the restaurant's rotation, coupled with the movement of the characters.

"The cool thing of this shot: The whole background moves faster than normal," he said.

Gutterman used words like "fluid," "dreamscape" and "magical realism" and referenced filmmaker Stanley Kubrick to describe the scene he calls a "circular poetry walk."

Gutterman was on at least his third 20-hour day of filming, he estimated. He held on to the same partially eaten apple for more than an hour. He was wide-eyed in a good way when he realized the restaurant's natural sounds -- groans and creaks -- are similar to those inside a sailboat.

On set, the character Mark leaned into Annika.

"Swans mate for life," he says.

"People don't," she responds.