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Film crew brings cash to Backus area

Cinematographer Massimo Zeri and Director Andrew Lauer greet Miss Brainerd Lakes Serena Schreifels, an extra during a scene at 371 Liquor Locker near Backus.1 / 7
Set designer Cory Shubert discusses the 371 Liquor Locker scene with Director Andrew Lauer while script supervisor Aleshia Mueller listens.2 / 7
Director Andrew Lauer and Producer Doug Taylor envision a scene for "Velvet Prozak" being set at Bayside Cabins and Resort in Backus.3 / 7
Director Andrew Lauer and Producer Doug Taylor envision a scene for "Velvet Prozak" being set at Bayside Cabins and Resort in Backus.4 / 7
Chanel Page, Script Supervisor Aleshia Mueller, Cinematographer Massimo Zeri and others prepare for a scene shot inside of 371 Liquor Locker outside of Backus.5 / 7
Cinematographer Massimo Zeri and Director Andrew Lauer greet Miss Brainerd Lakes Serena Schreifels, an extra during a scene at 371 Liquor Locker near Backus.6 / 7
Script Supervisor and local Aleshia Mueller speaks to a sound technician ahead of a scene at Bayside Cabins and Resort in Backus.7 / 7

The first week in October, when most businesses near Backus are normally starting to feel an annual slowdown between vacation season and snowmobile season, some local businesses got a boost from a surprising source.

A film crew was in town.

"I think it's brought some business into the area and the bar," said Patty Alexander, owner of Willard's Saloon and Eatery. "The first night they shot we had 25-plus people that came in. During the evening and the following days after that we would have two to four people in for breakfast and lunch. For dinner we had several more."

The crew was in town on a weeklong shoot for an episode of "The Adventures of Velvet Prozak," a series that will run on an online streaming service approximately one year from now. The cast and crew of approximately 25 worked 14-hour days in Backus from Oct. 1-6. During that time local businesses met their needs.

The crew bought props from Treasures-N-Tiques in Jenkins and the Backus Trading Post. The Backus Corner Store and Willard's were popular spots for the crew to get a bite to eat, while they bought random necessities from Godfreys and Dollar General in Backus. As for catering, a must-have for any film crew, Sage on Laurel in downtown Brainerd kept everyone well fed.

During the fall season, with road construction in town and along Highway 371 providing challenges, some local business owners felt the film crew's presence was extremely advantageous.

Troy Watring, who owns Bayside Cabins and Resorts with his wife, Stacy, had nothing but positive comments about the crew.

"This time of year up there is very slow," said Watring. "I only had a couple inquiries this weekend. I was working with Doug (Taylor) for a while now. They brought everyone in slowly all week and that helps. It's nice to be the new owner and get some Hollywood coverage right away. It's been a very positive experience to have them come."

The Velvet Prozak crew not only stayed at Bayside, but they featured the resort in some waterfront scenes where actor, location manager and producer Taylor staged a crash landing with the series' main characters.

Bayside was not the only business that benefited from exposure and advertising through the filming. Another scene featuring a shotgun-wielding clerk and the theft of a beer truck occurred at 371 Liquor Locker just north of Backus.

"I think it was pretty cool. Anything we can do for some free advertising. They did leave the 371 Liquor Locker signs up, but they covered all the trademarked stuff," said owner Scott Schubbe.

Schubbe said exposure isn't limited to signs that manage to pop up in the background.

"They are going to give us a special thanks in the episode, but I didn't watch them shoot outside so I don't know how much of the front of the building they got," Schubbe said. "I know inside the building there was quite a bit of filming all around the building. They had one of the scenes was a guy trying to sneak around to steal some beer and avoid the person working at the counter. They followed him around the store."

The filming is a positive advertisement not only for select businesses, but for the Backus area as a whole.

"I think it's a really good idea. Backus sometimes has (not a great reputation)," Alexander said. "Sometimes we don't get the best reviews. Sometimes it can be negative, but this is a positive thing for the Backus area."

This is not expected to be an isolated incident either. The arrival of a film crew in Backus took approximately eight years of background work by Taylor, who many remember for his western shows, Halloween performances and carriage rides. Taylor, who said he has been a stunt man in more than 100 films, has always dreamed of developing a budding film industry in the lakes area. Taylor said more film crews could be coming to Backus soon.

"This footage is our advertisement for more production here. I have two people with scripts that will fit this and are interested," Taylor said. "I think after the footage comes out from this shoot, I'll have what I need to close the deals. There is a potential western coming and a potential horror movie to be shot at the Bailey House and possibly the Foothills."

Business owners who witnessed the surge of business this time around are excited to see more.

"I think for the local economy it's going to have some impact," Schubbe said. "It depends on the size of the crew that comes in and where they are staying. They were really localized in town. I think it would help if they were filming more locations around so they would have to travel around. Obviously it brought business into the area. They have to eat. I think anything we can do to help out this area would be good, especially in the fall and winter."

One thing that was attractive to the film crew was the ease of booking a place to film scenes. For this episode the crew shot at Bayside, the Liquor Locker, along the highway and at the Bailey House, which Taylor owns. Compared to the cost and red tape necessary to book scenes in big cities, getting permission in Backus was often as simple as walking in and asking if the owner would mind.

"I think the community should be excited," Watring said. "People like the area. They all told me they like the area and not having to deal with the cities to use my property and his property. They didn't have to do anything special. We made it easy for them to come in and let them do their thing."

"The Bailey House was a great location. We were able to create a lot of production value. There was no stress. It is a great place to do your art," Taylor said. "In LA you deal with helicopters and traffic noise. It was a peaceful, quiet place to do our art and stage stuff."

Director Andrew Lauer, known for his role as Charlie in "Caroline in the City," said that willingness could be enough to attract prospective crews to Backus.

"Yeah, when they find out how accommodating it's been," Lauer said. "To get a location in Los Angeles is like pulling teeth. You have to go through all sorts of hoops. Here it's a friendly, 'Hey, do you want to shoot? Sure, what does it entail?' And it's not a big circus to jump through hoops to be able to shoot."

Lauer was only one of several big names in the production. He has 61 acting credits to his own name, but working alongside him was filmographer Massimo Zeri, who has 81 film credits on IMDb, and David DeLuise, with over 100 credits, including 'The Wizards of Waverly Place" and many more.

The whole crew found Backus to be incredibly welcoming.

"The town has welcomed us with open arms," said Lauer. "It's been a great experience with us getting to know a small town and I think it's been an interesting, enjoyable experience for the town to get to know us and the film crew. It's definitely a different sort of experience for both sides that's working out really well."

Locals even got a chance to join in. Script supervisor Aleshia Mueller got to return to her hometown of Backus for the shoot. Miss Brainerd Serena Schreifels and almost 60 other locals filled in as extras during various scenes. Mike Nelson of Pequot Lakes got to play the role of the beer truck driver.

It took a long time and a lot of work, but Taylor is basking in the light of this most recent success, and anticipating more where that came from.

"When it actually happens, you have been working on it so long and visualizing it so long it just feels normal," Taylor said. "I'm excited, it feels good because I feel a sense of prosperity coming this way and I have more leverage to get more productions to come here. It feels great."

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