ESCANABA - Several people with Upper Peninsula connections play important roles in "Love of Life," a full-length feature film now in production in Alaska.
"Love of Life" is an adaptation of a Jack London short story about a starving gold miner who is abandoned and struggles to survive in the desolate Alaskan wilderness.
The tag line for the motion picture is "Where there's hope, there's life."
"We have assembled an outstanding staff of experienced filmmakers," said Robert Gregg of Escanaba, who wrote the screenplay and is also the film's producer.
Kevin Swigert of Sun Valley, Idaho, is the director. Swigert has been director and unit director on the films "Finding Idaho" and "Legend River." He has also directed and produced "Survival of the Fittest" and ESPN's "X-Games" for television.
Swigert has 32 years experience in the film industry working on many films including: "Vertical Limit," "Kundun," "Dante's Peak," "Waterworld," "Cliffhanger," "Pet Cemetery," "Critters II," "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" and Stephen Spielberg's "Eagle Eye."
Jeff Smith of Los Angeles is director of photography. Smith has worked on 44 films including: "Field of Dreams," "Take This Job and Shove It," "Connors' War," "Turbulence 3," "Living Out Loud," "Gattaca," "Slacker," "The Doors," "Dominick & Eugene," "Nobody's Fool" and "Fear City." He is also a major photographer on the TV series "Planet Earth."
According to Smith, the motion picture will be shot on an Arriflex Alexa camera, the most complete and powerful high-tech digital production system in the motion picture business.
"The images we are creating will convey the audience into the point of view of an individual facing insurmountable odds, while showcasing the beauty and vastness of Alaska," said Smith. "It's a privilege to work on a project like this."
Peter Ammel of Madison, Wis., plays the lead. Ammel grew up in Escanaba, where he had lead roles in several Players de Noc dramas and musicals, including "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Oliver," "Blood Brothers," "Macbeth," "Into the Woods" and "Guys and Dolls."
"I look on this as the role of a lifetime," said Ammel. "Not many actors get the chance to play the lead in their first major film. It's a huge opportunity. A chance to be an important part of a great story."
Roarke Boes, a graduate of Columbia College Film School and Escanaba High School, will be the first assistant director.
Since leaving film school, Boes has worked for several TV and movie production companies, including Spike TV in New York and Underground Films in Los Angeles. He has also worked for producers of "Remember Me," with Pierce Brosnan and Chris Cooper, "All About Steve," with Sandra Bullock, "License to Wed," with Robin Williams, and "The Invention of Lying," with Ricky Gervais, Jason Bateman and Tina Fey.
"We are creating a spectacular film," said Boes. "It's nice to work with some of the best in the movie business. Every day gets more exciting. It had to be a pretty good motion picture for me to leave L.A. in the fall and go north to Alaska. It says a lot about the project."
Shooting started last week on locations in the interior of Alaska where the original story took place.
"London based his short story on two newspaper accounts of gold miners who took too long to leave their claims and had trouble enduring their journey back to civilization," said producer/writer Gregg. "Love of Life is a vivid account of one man's battle against the wilderness and his drive to survive. Filming it where it happened lends even more authenticity to the motion picture."
Love of Life Productions, LLC of Grand Rapids, is producing the film. Robert Schellenberg is executive producer. Schellenberg has worked on more than 40 motion pictures in the past four years, including films starring Bruce Willis, Johnny Depp and Hilary Swank's directorial debut "Conviction."
"Schellenberg has worked for several of the biggest studios in the film industry and will be a valuable asset in helping us achieve our revenue and distribution goals," said producer/writer Gregg.
Other Upper Peninsula people involved in the production include the Hannahville Indian Tribe, headed by CEO and Tribal Chairman Ken Meshigaud, who along with Jeff and Rosalie Naser of Powers are also executive producers.
The film is set for release in the spring of 2012. Premieres are planned for Anchorage, Alaska; Los Angeles, Calif.; and Michigan.