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John Lamb, Published March 04 2012

Production team based in Fargo lands Hollywood movie in this week’s Fargo Film Festival

Ten years ago if you would have told Jeff Schlossman that he’d be in the movie business, he would have called you crazy.

At the time he was, and remains, a successful Fargo Realtor, the senior vice president and owner of Goldmark Schlossman Commercial Real Estate Services.

But from his Fargo base, Schlossman and a pair of North Dakota natives have quietly been making movies out of Hollywood.

So when the comedy “High Road” screens at the Fargo Film Festival at 4 p.m. Saturday, the film, made by Schlossman’s Northern Light Films production company, will bring it all back home for Schlossman.

“If there wasn’t a Fargo Film Festival, there wouldn’t be a Northern Lights Films,” he said, adding that relationships fostered through the festival started the company that includes partners Kirk Roos and Erik Rommesmo.

While Schlossman manages the finances, Roos, formerly of Minot, N.D., and Rommesmo, from Fargo, are on the ground in Los Angeles collecting scripts and taking meetings.

Schlossman met Roos at an earlier Fargo Film Festival, introduced by Margie Bailly, then the Fargo Theatre’s executive director. At the time Schlossman was a board member of the Fargo Theatre and interested in the idea of a North Dakota film board. Roos was a Minot-based director screening his 2005 documentary, “After Meth.”

The two got to talking about a shared taste in movies. As talks evolved over time, Schlossman also liked that while Roos had experience behind the camera, he also studied business and marketing.

“Jeff and I approach it as those guys that can be patient, find the right project where we love it creatively, but also be pretty critical of the budget and where people are spending their money,” Roos said.

Getting rolling

Schlossman says his production company gets pitched about 30 movies a week, everything from scripts to raw ideas.

The group works with agent Jay Cohen from the Gersh Agency to find new projects, which is how they came across “High Road.”

The film is written and directed by comic actor Matt Walsh, who founded the comedy troupe, Upright Citizens Brigade.

Roos met with Walsh and talked about the comic’s vision of working with more than a dozen of his comedic friends on improvised dialogue. The story centers around a stoner at a turning point after he loses his band, his girlfriend and thinks the police are after him.

“It’s a road movie with the funniest people in the world you can imagine,” said Walsh, who has a non-speaking part in the movie.

The cast features Ed Helms and Zach Woods (“The Office”), Rob Riggle (“The Daily Show”), Joe Lo Truglio (the nudist in the current release “Wanderlust”), Abby Elliott and Horatio Sanz (“Saturday Night Live”) Lizzy Caplan (“New Girl,” “Party Down”), Kyle Gass (Tenacious D) and more.

Walsh said making a movie with his friends and so many comedians was easy, it was the business side that was hard.

That’s where Northern Lights Films came in.

“They had an appreciation for what I wanted to do,” Walsh said. “They seemed to understand the people I wanted to work with.”

Walsh and Lo Truglio will join Schlossman and Roos Saturday at the Fargo Film Festival.

The film had screenings in New York and Los Angeles last week and comes out on DVD Tuesday.

“I can’t believe what he’s done. I’m very proud of him,” Bailly said of Schlossman and his group.

A tricky business

Things are getting even better for Northern Lights Films.

The production team’s next movie, the dark comedy “The Brass Teapot,” is due out later this year and already has a European distribution deal.

While he wasn’t on-set during the filming of “High Road,” Schlossman visited the set for “Brass Teapot,” and developed an understanding and appreciation for how hard the cast and crew works.

“You let the creative people be creative and things tend to come together, as long as you have a good story,” the producer said. “A good story is the most important quality of a film. It always gets back to picking the stories. It’s so important.”

Schlossman uses an analogy to his other profession as a business model for both of his jobs.

“Real estate is like our model in a way,” he said. “You want a range of projects going at the same time. You have a better chance of making it with a lot of properties instead of just one.”

Roos says they treat their business like a stock portfolio with a mix of risky projects and less risky ones.

“People like that we’re honest and straight-forward,” Schlossman said. “I think for some reason people are willing to talk to us because we are from Fargo. Once they see what we can do, they’re really interested in talking to us.”

He won’t name names on who Northern Lights has been talking to, though he does say they are attached to a William H. Macy project.

While watching the Oscars the other night, Schlossman didn’t dream of sitting in the crowd there, but knew he was already close in another way.

“There are people in that crowd we’ve had discussions with, or their representatives,” he said. “We are definitely close to people that win awards, but I won’t tell you which ones.”

Every step he takes forward brings him closer to a project that is closest to his heart.

“Stan’s Cup” is the story about an older Minnesota hockey team that travels to Russia for what they think will be a friendly hockey game, but turns into much more. It’s a fictionalized turn on a true story and something Schlossman and Roos have been working on for years, though it’s still in development.

“That’s something we learned in this business, it’s all about finding the right time,” Schlossman says.

But he, Roos and Rommesmo are content to stay with their game plan.

“I think we’ll be able to continue to grow and have success along the way,” Schlossman said. “And I hope people enjoy what we’re doing. Time is valuable and if you’re asking people to take the time to watch your movie, you’re asking a lot.”

While his group continues to make its way in L.A., Schlossman doesn’t feel drawn to give up his Fargo life for Hollywood just yet.

“It’s a nice place to visit, but I prefer living here,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533