Melonie Gartner of Manitowoc is striving to make her dreams come true as she works to finish production on her second film.
Currently a patient service representative, Gartner, who has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business Management, had an idea for a film and worked hard to make it a reality.
While Gartner was always been interested in films, she never dreamed she would have the opportunity to make one of her own.  
“The previous film is called “Two Rivers”,” Gartner said of her first film. “It’s a short film shot entirely in the city of Two Rivers with Mark Borchardt,  previously of “American Movie”, as the leading man.”
While Borchardt played the lead male role of Dirke, Gartner herself took on the lead female role, playing the part of Emma.
Gartner said the first film she completed is a story about the destructive relationship between the two lead characters. “Dirke is a  man with a lot of issues,” she explained. “He’s also abusive toward Emma.  This creates a lot of tension in their relationship, and Emma is a long-suffering woman who can’t find her way out.”

Love story with a twist
According to Gartner, “Two Rivers” is a love story with a twist. “This short is a psychological thriller and very influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, who’s one of my favorite directors.”
Gartner explained her first film by saying “Two Rivers” is a story about the destructive relationship between lead characters Dirke and Emma. “Dirke is a troubled individual who can’t hold down a job. Haunted by his own demons and coupled with an explosive temper, Dirke is a force to be reckoned with,” she said. “Dirke’s uncontrollable attitude also spills into his relationship with Emma, a long-suffering woman. Dirke’s abusive way leaves her cold and broken. Emma neither has anything left to give to their relationship nor any place nor means to escape her situation. She fears and resents Dirke. Her feelings don’t go unnoticed as Dirke can feel Emma is slipping away from him. The thought that he cannot control her feelings makes him out of control all the more.”
“The film “Two Rivers” represents two bodies of water that can’t be merged,” Gartner added. “It’s Dirke and Emma’s Mesopotamia. A tale of tainted love that has gone past the point of no return.”   
The idea for her second film, “Where the Great Spirits Live”, came to Gartner while still shooting “Two Rivers”. “The second film is the prequel to “Two Rivers”,” she said. “I just had the idea to elaborate on how Dirke and Emma meet. The story popped into my head just like that.”

Began work on second film
In 2014 when she finished filming the first film, she immediately began working on the script for “Where the Great Spirits Live”. “It took me two years to write the script and it evolved into quite a bit in two years,” Gartner said, adding she wrote several versions of the script, asking close friends to choose their favorite.
Gartner again teamed up with cinematographer Nate Haban who worked with her on “Two Rivers”. “This time around, I also had a brilliant prop master John S. Schwarz, Jr., who owns a haunted house in Two Rivers called Scare U.S.A.,” she said. “Because “Where the Great Spirits Live” is a psychological thriller/horror film, there was a lot more involved with special effects make up, and I was fortunate enough to have John to lend his talents.”
Haban, CEO of Haban Media Works, earned a Bachelors in Television and Film Production from the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh and has worked on over a dozen feature films and countless short films and music videos.
Haban said “Where the Great Spirits Live” is the continuation of the story Gartner began telling in “Two Rivers”.  “When we first met the characters in that film, they were at a very chaotic, destructive point in their relationship. So it was very compelling to go back  with this film being a prequel, and show how they met and how they came to be.”

Perception versus reality
“The heart of the story is to show how perception affects our individual realities,” he continued. “If our perception of things is flawed, then we could very easily slip into situation where we don’t know what is real and what is imagined. The goal of the film is to take that idea and explore it in an artful, entertaining way.”  
A crew of approximately 18 people helped Gartner create her second film. “We only had three people for the first film,” she said. “The prequel is a lot more detailed than “Two Rivers”, and I  was fortunate enough to have all these people coming together to support the project, and most of them were my friends, and the rest did it for the love of filmmaking.”
“We filmed the prequel at the end of May of this year. And even on the day of the shoot, I had to make some changes to the script at the last minute because things can happen at the last minute when you make a film.”
Most challenging for Gartner was working with a small budget. “I took care of everything myself. I was the executive producer, producer, and casting director, so pre-production took awhile.” Gartner admits it was a stressful time for her as she juggled all of the responsibilities.

Hard work and perseverance
“The decision to be in charge of all aspects of this project was nerve-wracking for me because, initially, I was going to bring someone on board to help produce.  However, I had to deal with too many personal difficulties that I decided to work two jobs to finance my film,” Gartner explained. “Then I would go home at night and work on the script. On top of that, there were other difficulties that happened during the pre-production stage that halted production. All very trying times.”
“This project is very personal to me,” Gartner shared. “I went through many personal struggles from conceptualization to production of the film. I had to make tough, risk-taking decisions to bring the script to life.”
“The day that we started filming “Where the Great Spirits Live” was so surreal to me, and every single day after that until we wrapped. I felt so much relief on the day that we wrapped, but experienced stressful dreams for about a week after that. I would jerk out of my sleep early in the morning thinking that I had to be on location somewhere.  You can say that it was some sort of PTSD.”
While Gartner worked day and night to make her film a reality, she said the finished projects were definitely worth the struggle. “It took me two years of ups and downs. There were many times when I thought that the film couldn’t be made. I felt so beaten down. I had to put out a lot of fires. Making a movie takes lots of time and preparations, and when you can stand back and watch the actors act out the scenes; that it’s actually happening.  It’s the best feeling for me.  It’s worth all the stress that I had gone though.”

Headed for film festivals
Gartner hopes to submit her second film to Wisconsin film festivals and then branch out to include festivals located in other states. “I hope that it will get as much attention as “Two Rivers”. So far 17 film festivals have accepted “Two Rivers”. In May, it was one of the winners at a film festival in Israel.  Both movie and trailer. I was over the moon about that.”
Gartner’s second movie is currently in post-production and she is working with an editor. “Editing takes a lot of time and it’s tedious work. I certainly don’t want to put the pressure on my editor to get the movie done in a hurry,” she stated. “We’re shooting to get the movie completed at the end of this year, so I can meet the deadline for submission for Wildwood Film Festival in Appleton.”
The movie will not be available at this time for public viewing as it goes through the process of submission to film festivals, although Gartner is considering a private screening in Manitowoc after the movie is completed.
Gartner has created a Facebook page for her second film which can be found at
While Gartner has developed a passion for movies and filmmaking, she has not considered filmmaking as a line of work at this time. “It would be nice though to be able to make a living doing what you love.”
Gartner’s second film was shot in Manitowoc and is based on the English meaning for Manitowoc. “It features the beautiful landmarks of the city. I am very grateful to have Mark Borchardt once again star in my new film. Mark is a great inspiration and is the reason I’m making movies.” Gartner said watching Borchardt star in  American Movie and seeing the passion of the intriguing indie filmmaker gave her the strength to go ahead with Two Rivers. “The most incredible thing was that I was able to find Mark and actually had my idol agree to be the leading man. That was beyond belief and still feels like a dream. Mark is one of my biggest supporters.”

Haban hopes the movie creates a greater appreciation and sympathy for those dealing with emotional health issues, in particular PTSD. “If they see someone acting strangely, they realize this is a person struggling with their own emotions, hopes, and fears. And I would hope that there is a sense of pride among the people that watch it.”
 “The film was made in the community, for the community, and with a huge amount of community support,” he added.

“I’m the luckiest person alive,” Gartner said.

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