While we aren’t exactly the back lot at Universal Studios, Livingston County has seen its share of Hollywood action through the years.
Did you know that not one, not two, but THREE Oscar winners have filmed movies in our county? Quite true!
Here are six Hollywood films that have ties to Livingston County – movies that were either filmed here or have some other significant tie.
1. “Aspen Extreme,” 1993
Mt. Brighton plays a central role in this skiing comedy, which was a bomb both at the box office and with critics.
“Aspen Extreme” was filmed in part at Mt. Brighton in the spring of 1992, and the entire first part of the film takes place there. Paul Gross and Peter Berg (who later became a big-time director) play a couple of Detroit kids who decide to ditch the Motor City (and Brighton) to pursue their ski dreams in Aspen. Berg wears a “Mt. Brighton Maintenance” cap throughout the film.
You can see the opening sequence of the film below – the part that was shot at Mt. Brighton – and it’s intentionally hilarious for two reasons:
1. Berg’s character says that his boss wants to “start making snow” tonight, despite the fact that it’s obviously not close to being ski season outside. The scene was shot in late April or early May, and there are green leaves on the trees everywhere around them.
2. Gross’ character loudly professes that the Red Wings are NEVER going to win the Stanley Cup. Of course, they won the Cup just four years after the film came out.
Here’s Mt. Brighton’s big moment in “Aspen Extreme”:
2. “High School,” 2010
This is by far Livingston County’s biggest connection to Hollywood. This 2010 film was filmed almost entirely in and around Howell in 2008, but it wasn’t released until several years later because of distribution problems. It was a monumental failure at the box office.
Most of the filming took place at Howell’s brand-new Parker High School in 2008. The school was available for filming because after building Parker, Howell discovered that it didn’t actually need the school. It was a multi-million-dollar white elephant that Hollywood was able to put to good use for a few months.
Filming for “High School” also took place at several locations in downtown Howell, as well as at the old Sefa’s Market.
True to its name, “High School” is a stoner comedy about two seniors who try to beat a drug test by getting the entire school high (thus invalidating the test). Oscar winner Adrien Brody plays a drug dealer named Psycho Ed who helps them pull it off.
If you didn’t see this film, you weren’t alone. Almost nobody did. But here’s a taste of what you were missing:
3. “Stone,” 2010
Wait, Robert De Niro filmed a movie in Livingston County? The Robert De Niro? The Oscar-winning Robert De Niro? THAT Robert De Niro filmed a movie here?
Yes, he did. It was only one scene, but yes, Robert De Niro came to Livingston County in 2009 to film a movie.
The film was called “Stone,” in which De Niro plays a parole officer who has an affair with the wife of a convict (played by Edward Norton). This was back in the days when Michigan was offering generous film credits to Hollywood, so virtually this entire film was shot in our state. The prison scenes were filmed in Jackson, and there was a lot of other filming done in Ypsilanti and Dexter.
De Niro’s scene in Livingston County was filmed in the tiny hamlet of Unadilla. And if you blink, you probably missed it He gets out of one car and into another car, and then the car speeds off. That was De Niro’s big moment in Livingston County.
The scene was filmed in the summer of 2009, and while they were filming it, De Niro reportedly hung out with the folks at the Unadilla Store for a while. They even gave him a bottle of their house wine.
Here’s a look at “Stone,” which – like all movies filmed in Livingston County – bombed at the box office:
4. “Conviction,” 2010
A true-story legal drama starring Oscar winner Hilary Swank, this movie was filmed quite a bit in Michigan – including one shot at the historic Livingston County Courthouse in downtown Howell and a few other shots in town.
Swank plays Betty Ann Waters, a single mom who becomes an attorney to free her wrongfully convicted brother, played by Sam Rockwell.
Here’s a look at “Conviction”:
5. “Blood in the Face,” 1991
This was a documentary about white supremacists that was largely filmed at the Cohoctah Township farm of Robert Miles, the notorious Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. It was mostly filmed at a hate rally Miles hosted in the late 1980s.
Miles happily invited the film crew (which included a then-unknown Michael Moore) to attend the rally, and they captured some chilling footage. If you want to know what the evil Bob Miles was all about, here’s the documentary in its entirety:
6. “The Gate,” 1987
“The Gate” was a low-budget horror movie that wasn’t filmed here, but it did have its world premiere here.
The plot of the film concerned some kids who unwittingly open the gates to hell while digging around in their backyard. To help promote the film, the producers thought it would be cool to find a real place called Hell to hold the premiere.
As it so happens, Livingston County has a Hell! While there’s obviously no movie theater there, they did bring some of the actors to Hell in 1987 to do some promotional interviews, and then they had the actual premiere at the Brighton Cinemas.
The main actor who came to Hell in 1987 was a 13-year-old named Stephen Dorff, who was making his film debut. He went on to become a big-time actor.
Here’s a look at “The Gate”: