LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION! | Narrative storytelling drives local movie-maker

A West Michigan move-marker shares his inspiration for story-telling.

For every single person who stood on stage Sunday night and accepted an Oscar, there was an army of people behind him or her who helped make that dream become a reality.

Actors, actresses, writers, musicians, producers, directors, along with all the crew members, work tirelessly at their craft so their combined talents can produce incomparable art.

Loading ...

West Michigan movie-maker, Tom Norton fell in love with narrative storytelling decades ago, drawing his inspiration from one of the best and most decorated directors Hollywood has ever seen -- Steven Spielberg.

"[Spielberg] formed the entire industry, in my opinion," said Norton. "It was one of his little-known films, 'Empire of the Sun', that got me going."

Norton was also inspired by other iconic Spielberg offerings like, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "E.T." and "The Color Purple."

"The intense emotional chords that are struck in 'E.T.' have stayed with me for decades," added Norton, who started narrative storytelling filmmaking in 2011.

His first short film was entitled, "7 Stones," and was released in 2012. A few years would pass before Norton was inspired to create his second short movie entitled, "The Projectionist."

"When I look back and try to remember the genesis [for "The Projectionist"], it has to do with an old movie projector that used to sit in the lobby where I work," said Norton. "I started thinking of all the storytelling that old piece of hardware has told to audiences."

Norton began to write "The Projectionist."

"I thought of a story about a 12-year-old boy who loves watching American Western movies," said Norton. "The boy is living in occupied France during the deprivation from World War II. The Jews have been rounded up by the Germans, and one of them is an old projectionist from a local cinema. This young boy can no longer see his favorite movies, so he starts to sneak into the cinema. The boy tries to make the projector work again, and while doing so, realizes that all of the town's Jews are hiding in the closed cinema.

Loading ...

"That's all I will say, for now. If you want to know more, you'll have to see the movie."

After putting out a casting call throughout the state of Michigan, Norton settled on four actors for "The Projectionist." He and his crew began shooting the film in late summer of 2017.

"All of the shooting locations are in Grand Rapids and a few are in Allegan County," said Norton. "One of the scenes needed to be in a corn field, and a dairy farmer in southern Allegan County allowed us to run through his corn field and push through a bunch of the stalks."

Norton says "The Projectionist" is about half shot.

"We have the largest shoot of the movie coming up on March 15," said Norton. "We will have a hundred extras who will pack into the Regent Theatre in downtown Allegan.

"We have another key shoot in May, and aim to complete the project by July so we can submit it to some of the major film festivals."

Norton says since he began shooting the film last year, he's put in many 12-14 hour days, but he wouldn't have it any other way.

"You do it because you have this intrinsic reward hat comes of it which is the creative process," said Norton. "You literally get to make something out of nothing and then it becomes something that moves other human beings.

"The connection a filmmaker creates with his or her audience is all done through the bond of emotion."

If you know of a story that should be featured on "Our Michigan Life", please send a detailed email to WZZM 13's Brent Ashcroft: