FARGO — As she was preparing for her directorial debut, Nicole Rodenburg ran into actor/writer/director Greta Gerwig, best known for “Ladybird” and the 2019 adaptation of “Little Women,” and asked her for advice.
“You only make your first movie once,” Gerwig said, suggesting the new filmmaker embrace the freedom of not knowing any better.
Rodenburg took her advice to heart and brought the production back home to Fargo-Moorhead and the larger region.
“We had 40 locations. That’s an insane amount of locations, especially for a film we shot in 16 days,” says the Fargo native.
People can spot all of the regional locations with “Glob Lessons” screening as part of the Tribeca at Home Film Festival. The comedy streams through June 23.
Rodenburg teamed up with her longtime creative partner, Colin Froeber, to create a story of two actors trying to find themselves as they tour the Midwest in a children’s theater company around Christmas. Some of the story is inspired by Froeber’s experiences on the road in a more successful children’s theater company, but it’s not biographical.
Froeber’s Alan is insecure and not totally comfortable with being fully out of the closet, while Rodenburg’s Jesse is unpredictable and hiding her own secrets.
They started shooting just after Christmas 2018 and finished within a month. They shot at her alma mater, Lincoln Elementary, as well as Ben Franklin, the Fargo Theatre, public libraries in Moorhead, Ada and Hawley, the Holiday Inn pirate ship waterpark and the giant buffalo in Jamestown, among others.
She walked away from the shoot with a newfound appreciation of a number of spots, like the Mainline Bar & Grill in Downer, Minn.
“It looks amazing on camera,” she says. “I want to get married there.”
If she got married there, she may honeymoon at the Top’s Motel in Sterling, N.D., which she describes as “untouched, pristine.”
“It’s like it was built as a set,” Froeber says.
While their characters are thrown together, the filmmakers go back to high school where they were paired together by theater teacher Gwen Stark, who plays a pivotal role in “Glob Lessons.” They graduated from Fargo South High School in 2004.
Just the mention of Stark’s name strikes reverence.
“Oh!” they both exclaim, clutching their hands to their hearts and throwing their heads back.
“We just love Mrs. Stark. She’s the reason we’re here now and that we have this relationship,” Rodenburg says.
Stark’s drama class was structured on creating and not just performing. When Stark paired them together, they found out they connected on a creative level. So finding a spot in the movies for their former teacher was a no-brainer.
“When we interact with her, the joy you see on our faces is both our characters’ joy and our own personal amazement that we are in this full circle moment,” Rodenburg says.
The filmmakers are full of praise for everyone involved in the movie, which may have been a small cast and crew, but proved irreplaceable, particularly costume designer Sandy Thiel.
“She’s a miracle worker,” Froeber says.
“She’s a genius.” Nicole says. “We were obsessed with her in high school, we’re obsessed with her in an entirely new way as adults. She’s maybe the coolest person in the world, I would say. The costumes she gave us are such specific incredible visual jokes, they do so much of the heavy lifting for us.”
Just as Thiel sticks it with the costumes, Justin Morken delivers with his set designs for the actors’ plays. What starts off as uninspired productions take on a new life with found objects as the actors make the productions reflect their unique personalities.
“The sets are on a whole journey themselves,” Rodenburg says. “They start as kind of flat and basic and as the characters start making their show better they use found objects. Justin created this entire journey with these found objects.”
The film also features Theatre B ensemble members Carrie Wintersteen, Mary Cochran and Michael Sunram, but also untrained actors like Liz Lynch, regional director of Lake Agassiz Regional Library.
“Liz Lynch is so funny in her two lines, she’s funnier than we ever are in the entire movie,” Rodenburg says. “I didn’t even direct her. I was like, ‘OK Liz, this is your line,’ and she did something funnier than I ever could in a million years.”
“She nailed it. She’s a genius,” Froeber says
“The Fargo-Moorhead community will always astound me with,” he starts to say.
“How deep the talent is,” Rodenburg says, finishing his thought.
Still, the spiritual highlight may have been working with artist Gary Greff and his Enchanted Highway in western North Dakota.
“We want to view him as a kindred spirit, but he’s more advanced than us, not in age, but artistically,” Rodenburg says. “I admire him so much. That healing desire to create is what unites us all.”
She plans to bring the film back to Fargo to screen for backers and fans and hopes that it will make it to the Fargo Film Festival next March.
She thinks the themes of friendship may help it catch on around the holidays.
“It’s not for children, but it’s really a Christmas film for those who find a chosen family in the world,” she says. “That’s a lot of us. Especially coming out of COVID when we couldn’t be with our biological families. It could be a little offbeat Christmas movie for people who don’t get to have traditional Christmases.”
If you go
What: “Glob Lessons”
When: Available to stream through June 23
Info: Streaming is $15