Project Cornlight: Bringing Hollywood to the Heartland

Project Cornlight: Bringing Hollywood to the Heartland

Actress Tanna Frederick says too many people think movies are only made on the East and West Coasts.

The Iowa native knows better, having founded her state’s Independent Film Festival where she meets plenty of talented filmmakers who call Iowa home.

“A lot of local artists have picked up a camera and started filming things. Kids I graduated with are making films and doing well in the indie circuit,” says Frederick, star of “Irene in Time” and “Hollywood Dreams.” It’s astonishing to see.”

And she’s taking steps to make sure we see even more of it.

Frederick’s new Project Cornlight initiative will let Iowans tell their stories on the big screen. The new Project will enlist Iowa-based writers, directors and actors to create independent films to be distributed on a national scale. The effort also hopes to increase tourism, support area filmmakers and positively impact the local economy.

Frederick’s first Cornlight feature, “The Farm,” is currently shooting in North Iowa. The film follows a single mother (Frederick) who returns to her Iowa childhood home when her grandfather becomes ill and must deal with her abandoned daughter as well as her own past.

The film’s cast includes actors with Iowa connections including Tom Bower (“Crazy Heart,” “The Killer Inside Me”), Joel West (“Heroes,” “CSI: Miami”) and Rylie Behr (“Impulse”). The rest of “The Farm’s” cast consists of locals – 300 Iowans came out for the film’s audition.

Advanced camera technology is helping make Project Cornlight a reality, she says. Frederick recalls being handed a camera which would “shoot better than the camera that shot ‘Star Wars.'”

“The playing field is leveled out,” she says.

And Project Cornlight films, which will be budgeted around $200,000 initially, will have a chance to compete with more expensive fare.

“There are so many ways for individual filmmakers to compete on their own for distribution and get their production out there,” she says, alluding to both new business models and the power of the Web to promote one’s film. “Five years ago, we couldn’t have done this.”

The stories will reflect the heartland, she says, featuring characters “you can’t get unless you come to Iowa,” says Frederick, who’s also excited about an upcoming Cornlight feature about two hermits who fall in love. “These stories, for me, are so rich and exciting, not things you see elsewhere. You can’t record them on a sound stage … the only place you can film it is Iowa.”

Frederick’s next non-Cornlight film “45 Minutes from Broadway,” continues her creative partnership with writer/director Henry Jaglom. The movie, slated for an early Fall release, features a culture clash between a Yiddish clan steeped in local theater and an outsider who shakes up the family dynamic.

For now, the actress’s work and heart remains in Iowa. Not that she wouldn’t mind seeing other states embrace her Cornlight concept.

“I would love it to spread to Nebraska, Minnesota … each state has its own story to tell,” she says.