The scenes take place in the historic Pritzlaff Building constructed in 1875 in downtown Milwaukee.
The Countryside Motel in Sturgeon Bay has a starring role with a cabin in Ootsburg, the Mee-Kwon Park golf course in Mequon and the Trattoria Stefano, an Italian restaurant in downtown Sheboygan.
The crayfish nibbling at the toes of the cast and crew wading through the Pigeon River were unexpected but only added to the Wisconsin vibe for Ryann Liebl.
The backdrop to his first feature film, “Mags & Julie Go On A Road Trip”, was a serious but comedic way for Liebl to show the geography, architecture and people of his home country beyond the cheese, kids and Green Bay Packers.
âThis is my love letter to the state I grew up in,â Liebl said last month from Florida where she is working on another film project. âI’m not making fun of them at all. I’m talking – which is very true I think – that Wisconsin is full of character. And what I find with Wisconsinites is that everyone is really themselves. They don’t apologize for who they are and they are very helpful and they really are part of their community. And that’s what this movie is about. These are real people in real life situations which are themselves very unique. “
The film, slated for release Nov. 24 on iTunes, Amazon Prime, and other video-on-demand platforms, was shot entirely in Wisconsin and with cast and crew born, relocated, or otherwise related to. the state. The only exception is co-star Elisabeth Donaldson, who lives in Nashville.
The plot revolves around best friends Mags and Julie whose life trajectories are contrasting. Julie has an almost perfect life and marriage. Mags is stressed, hates her job, and is single. A set road trip ensues that includes the Milwaukee cityscape as well as the rural roads of Sheboygan and Ozaukee counties and a stop in Door County at a 16-room motel owned in real life by Liz Merner, who bought the place in 2016.
Merner initially thought that an email she received from Liebl was a hoax, but was delighted to offer her motel once she realized the request was legitimate. The motel was built in 1962 in Bailey’s Harbor and remarkably in 1994 it moved in three parts to Sturgeon Bay. The filming took place over three days in the middle of the week.
âThe weekends are really where we get a lot of our stuff from the fishermen, so during the week it’s a bit slow, so they pretty much had the place to themselves,â Merner said. . “It will really help promote the business.”
Liebl (pronounced lee-bahl), who also wrote, directed and co-starred in the film, said the film “takes audiences on a journey of what it means to be a woman and balance life” and has a certain sensation of Schitt’s Creek, the recently completed Netflix Emmy Award-winning comedy, which tells the story of a once wealthy family forced to live in a motel and have to adjust to life in a small town. But she thinks her film is more in the spirit of a John Hughes production, usually located in Chicagoland and filled with ordinary people.
âHe liked that kind of down-to-earth, non-politically correct, character-driven comedy. And what he did that was so brilliant was he just wrote about people, real people he knew. And he put these people in his films and that’s what made them so endearing, âsaid Liebl. âYou see in all of his films, no matter how ridiculous they are, there is a lot of sincere stuff in it. You really care about people.
Liebl’s film, shot over an 18-day period in July 2019, also stars Wes Tank, an artist from Milwaukee who plays a boss in the film, and Oshkosh’s Franki Moscato, who plays a young hitchhiker. Tank, since 2015, has been rapping Dr Seuss books and other children’s stories to Dr Dre beats and rose to fame with his YouTube videos which have garnered millions of views.
In 2018, Moscato was an American Idol Golden Ticket winner who qualified for the 175-contestant final round but did not reach the final cup. There were around 15 people in the main cast, but another 55 to 60 people, many of them Sheboygan, were used as extras in the film. It included employees from the Field to Fork and Trattoria Steffano restaurants who participated in the restaurant scenes in Sheboygan.
Angie Campbell, 31, grew up in West Allis, lived for a time in Southern California and most recently in Chicago. She now lives in Milwaukee and has been involved in commercials, film projects at UW-Milwaukee, studied at Second City in Chicago, and appeared on an episode of “Chicago Fire”. In “Mags and Julie”, Campbell stars as the owner of the motel and was delighted that Liebl shot the film in Wisconsin.
âIt really drew me to the project,â said Campbell, who was impressed with Liebl’s energy. âHe’s one of the most focused people I’ve ever worked with. And even though she is so motivated and focused, she was always ready to mess things up. She really wanted people to have fun on set. It’s something she wanted to create for a long time and we were all just thrilled that it was finally happening. “
Liebl, who just turned 43, lived in Cedarburg for a while before graduating from Nicolet High School in Glendale. She started acting at age 14 and two years later began to land professional roles in the theater. After high school, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career and became a student at the School of Drama at the University of Southern California where she obtained a minor in Film and began studying with the famous theater teacher Milton Katselas, who pushed her to pursue writing, directing and filmmaking.
After several roles in which she worked alongside Dennis Farina, John Travolta, Zachary Quinto, Joe Manganiello and John Michael Higgins, Liebl founded her own production company, REL Films. She had shot music videos and commercials in Wisconsin and for years had an idea for a movie based on her condition, centered around the two main characters struggling and arguing in a swamp. She settled on the Pigeon River on the northwest side of Sheboygan.
âThe whole movie was built around this one concept,â Liebl said. âI started writing it with Wisconsin in mind, but it’s not just a funny story and putting it all together. You have to find spaces and have the quality of the product so high that it looks like you spent a million dollars.
For ‘Mags and Julie’, Liebl rented a large office in a historic building in downtown Sheboygan where she did her pre-production work by setting up film locations, acquiring props and setting up a guard. dress. She also did the casting, set design, much of the post-production and promotion for the film which only cost “tens of thousands” of dollars to make. It was funded through social media channels which led to investors.
âI’m really happy that the first movie I do is about Wisconsin and that it’s a comedy,â Liebl said. âI think people need to laugh right now more than they ever have. The film is not political, it does not divide, it does not try to force or convey a message. It’s just a very accessible movie that families can watch together and just have fun.