One of Minot's own is coming home this week to show the fruits of her latest labor of love.
Holly Lynn Ellis, who graduated from Minot High School in 1997 and currently lives in New York City, is producing a new independent film called "The Graduates." The film will be screened in Minot's Oak Park Theater Tuesday and Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. After the film, Ellis will take questions from the audience in a filmmaker question-and-answer session.
Although she wasn't born in North Dakota - her family moved to Minot from Tallahassee, Fla., when she was 6 months old - Ellis was certainly raised here, and still keeps her Midwest values after moving away to pursue a career in movies.
Submitted Photo •
This publicity photo taken by Tye Lautenschlager shows Holly Lynn Ellis, formerly of Minot and currently residing in New York City, who is producing a new independent film being screened in Oak Park Theater Tuesday and Wednesday.
After getting a bachelor of arts degree in drama from the University of Portland in Portland, Ore., in 2001, Ellis was accepted in the Actor's Studio Drama School in New York City, where she received a master of fine arts in acting in 2004.
While Ellis loves being in New York, she said taking a vacation from the Big Apple every now and then is the key to keep loving it.
"I love it. There are definitely times when I get exhausted and tired of it, and I'm actually getting to that point right now, so I'm really looking forward to my trip back home," Ellis said. "The thing about New York, and I think someone said this, is the only way to keep liking it is to leave every once in a while. You know, to get some fresh air, see what else is out there, and then come back and New York is exciting again."
Independent film screening
"The Graduates" will be screened at Oak Park Theater, 1500-4th Ave. NW, Tuesday and Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m., with a filmmaker question-and-answer period with producer Holly Lynn Ellis afterwards.
Tickets cost $5 at the door.
The film is an award-winning comedy about four friends who head to the beach after graduating from high school and learn there's a little more to life than having a good time.
For more information on "The Graduates," visit the Web site (www.thegraduatesmovie.com). A DVD of the film can be purchased at the Web site. The film is unrated, and while it does not contain any nudity, there is some adult language and situations.
In addition, the entire soundtrack is also offered as a free download. Just go to (www.thegraduatesmovie.com/music) and enter the code "MAGICCITY" at check out. The soundtrack is appropriate for all ages.
Like many up-and-comers in the movie business, Ellis has a day job to pay the bills. She's an office manager, and while not too glamorous, her bosses are very understanding of the scheduling constraints she is sometimes under, which makes the job a perfect fit.
"I have incredibly generous bosses who, you know, when I first started let me take off for auditions, take long lunches if needed, that were always kind and let me take days off for film shoots or let me take the two months unpaid leave to do the shoot in Minot ("Prairie Love") last December and January, and then let me have my job back when I returned," she said. "I'm exceedingly lucky, which I think is ultimately good for them too because it means I work really hard to make them happy because I know how lucky I am to have this job."
She has always been interested in acting, having started in Mouse River Players when she was 6 or 7 years old. She said her entry into a behind-the-scenes filmmaking role stems in part from the frustration she experienced as an actor after going to numerous auditions and seeing many others similar to her reading for the same role.
"They for the most part look like you, have similar training, similar experience, and it'll come down to a strange factor like so-and-so knows so-and-so, or they really wanted a redhead, not a blond," Ellis said. "It comes down to all these factors that are out of the actor's control. And so it's hard, I think it stemmed from that frustration. I wanted to be on the other side of the table."
Ellis said the latest film she is producing is a comedy about four high school graduates. It's unrated, and while there is some adult language and situations, there is no nudity.
"It's a comedy about four guys who just graduated from high school and go to the beach," she said. "There's a tradition in Maryland called 'Senior Week,' where all the senior kids go to the beach for a week, and no parents, no chaperones, and mayhem ensues."
"The Graduates" starts off as kind of a raunchy teen comedy similar to "American Pie," but later becomes a much more serious, grounded movie.
"It's still a comedy, but it really explores the relationships between the four guys in a much deeper way than a lot of those comedies tend to do," Ellis said. "So as much as there's sophomoric, gross-out humor and cursing and kids doing stupid kid stuff, there really is, at its root, a real heart to the kids kind of figuring out what it means to grow up."
Unlike "Prairie Love," which Ellis helped make from beginning to end, she didn't get involved with "The Graduates" until the film was basically completed. Two of her friends, Ryan Gielen and his brother Matt Gielen, made the film and asked her to come on as a producer to assist with getting the film distributed.
Besides Minot, Ellis also lined up screenings at the University of Michigan, Texas A&M University, Penn State University and several smaller colleges on the East Coast.
Although the film is so small that its $95,000 budget is categorized as "no budget" by filmmaking unions, that hasn't stopped it from winning a few awards and even having a little bit of star power.
Two prestigious awards "The Graduates" has won include Best Comedy at the Seattle True Indie Film Fest and Director Discovery Award at the Rhode Island International Film Fest. The movie also boasts Robin Williams' son, Zak Williams, in his feature film debut.
Ellis said the Director Discovery Award was actually created specifically for their film because the festival organizers wanted to recognize Ryan Gielen as an outstanding new director and didn't have an established award to do it with.
"For me, it's not really my own personal glory. It's really fun to promote a friend's achievements, which is one of the reasons I think I'm enjoying 'The Graduates' so much," she said. "While I have an ownership of it now as a producer and as someone that is helping it get attention, in reality it's my friends who were with it from the very beginning that I'm really promoting. I'm proud of them, proud to be associated with them.
"It's kind of fun to gloat about how great your friends are. It removes some of the egotism that comes from self-promotion. You just get to say, 'Look at this guy! Isn't he awesome? And he's friends with me!' "
(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.)