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Creating a Short-form Documentary: A Day Filming on Lida Farm

“Life is better when I’m not eating “cardboardy” tomatoes, but the community is just sort of stuck. Like, “Oh, it is what it is. What are we supposed to do? How do you better promote or grow sustainable agriculture/organic agriculture in a region or in a state? It just isn't that simple.” But, I think sometimes it’s like, we’re just this little town. Nothing all that exciting happens here. So for me, I always think well why not? Why can’t we do this?” - Ryan Pesch

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One of the most rewarding aspects of filmmaking is having the opportunity to work on projects and deal in subject matter that feels like it matters. Things that grab your interest, that move you, that align with your values. One of the best ways to showcase the heart and soul of a client is through a short-form documentary.

We're passionate about documentary work because it allows us to explore the human side of brands and companies. Sure, we could always create slick, polished commercials that showcase products and services, but they sometimes only tell part of the story. While we love working on those types of projects and they have their place, by creating documentaries, we can show audiences what makes each brand and company truly unique: their people, their values, their mission.

We've worked with a number of clients over the years, helping them to create short-form docs. One of our proudest moments was working with the non-profit West Central Initiative. When they first reached out to us here at Thicket Film Company, they wanted to shine a light on some of the movers and shakers in West Central Minnesota. People that were finding innovative ways to improve their community and weren’t going to resign to the status-quo. One person can make a big impact in a small community, and they wanted to showcase those moving the area forward. We were immediately excited about the project and couldn’t wait to meet some of these small town rebels.

One of the people that immediately came to their mind was Ryan Pesch, a local organic farmer living with his family near Pelican Rapids, MN on what he’s dubbed Lida Farm. Ryan has made quite the impact on the community of 2,500 residents with numerous farm stands, a CSA program, and having a hand in starting local farmer’s markets and food co-ops.

When we reached out to Ryan he was more than happy to invite us out to his farm for the day to get an idea of what he was doing there. We had a lot of fun meeting him, his farm hand and his two dogs. It was the first time that any of us ever ate raw corn straight off the cob, and it's maybe the best we’ve ever had! Talk about fast food… Ryan’s philosophy is straightforward. Local food is better food.

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“Good food doesn’t need to be complicated. I prefer the term “the good food movement”. It’s a movement towards fresher product, better food. It’s the sight of the farm stand. It’s the sign about my family on this place, where they can see with their own two eyes where that tomato came from. And it should feel good. It creates a small little change in people where they’re like, “Huh, there is something different.” And it kind of attaches them to their food in a little bit of a way.”

Ryan is a dream subject for filmmakers - the beauty of the farm, his electric personality, and his passion for his work all lend to a great story. When we’re making commercials there’s not a lot that slips through the cracks of our team. As the adage goes… fix it in prep. But doc work can be a different beast. While we always plan as much as we can there are a lot more variables that might not work out when you’re sometimes still finding the story as you’re filming. But there are subjects that sometimes just make everything work out perfectly. This happened to be one of those shoots. From Ryan, to his farm, to his philosophy, to the perfect weather, there’s not much more that we could have asked for both from a story perspective and logistically.

We set out with a minimal crew from sunrise into the early evening. The land is bright, lush, and tranquil. There is serenity in simplicity. Not to say that what Ryan is doing is simple. While he may be going back to some early, more straightforward farming practices, he is bucking the trend of so many modern processes. It takes a certain type of person to swim against the current. Because of this, we wanted to craft the film in a minimalist way that complemented the uncomplicated, quiet pace of life in West Central Minnesota. Life there isn’t flashy, but it’s substantial.

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With the cinematography and production design we took a pretty straightforward approach. We wanted this story to feel authentic - because it is. We hoped to capture Ryan’s lifestyle in the most honest way possible and to use filmmaking techniques to immerse the audience in what it’s like to walk a day in his shoes. We followed Ryan during a regular work day for him on the farm, largely shooting handheld to ground the story and suggest realism. We did shoot a lot of closeups as well, as we wanted to capture the small wonders that could be found all over the farm, whether it were morning dew on the prairie or the small red splashes of tomatoes sprinkled throughout the lush greenery.

We didn’t fabricate things like props and wardrobe, but instead kept an eye out for things that we thought were interesting that already were on the farm. Things like a large chalkboard in the farm stand at the end of his driveway that Ryan uses to list his vegetables and prices as they cycle in and out or an old stranded tractor that sits as a monolith in the center of it all.

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One of the greatest things about filmmaking is having the privilege to meet all sorts of new people and travel to places you probably otherwise would never go. It gives us the ability to learn something new and then translate it into a film to give others the opportunity to peer inside that same window. We’ve been happy to spend time in many places, but there’s nothing like working with your pals out on the prairie. Being on the farm with Ryan for a day was an experience that we won’t forget anytime soon, and hopefully he may even have us back for some more of that sweet corn!

"People are everything when it comes to documentaries. There are a lot of reasons for why I think that’s true, but you don’t have to watch a well-made documentary for long before you are engaged at the most fundamental human level. That’s how creating this doc felt. Ryan was existing on camera in an authentic and unique-to-himself sort of way. So much so that all our team had to do was listen and film."

- Reid C, Director

This project was a wonderful reminder for Thicket, as we felt we could get back to our filmmaking roots: to tell stories that make a difference. We bring passion and enthusiasm to any project that we work on, but sometimes a project like this comes along that reveals to us why we wanted to make films in the first place. Not only is it a pleasure for us, documentaries have a way of adding a human element to a brand’s identity.

While each type of video is unique, they all have one thing in common: the power to tell a story. We believe documentaries have the ability to achieve this in the most authentic way possible. By combining stunning, real-life imagery with compelling narratives, we can tell a story in a way that's not only informative, but also emotionally resonant.

We capture the essence of brands and companies and turn it into an engrossing experience that will captivate audiences. We have a team of seasoned filmmakers who know how to tell a great story and have access to high-end equipment and editing software, allowing us to create a polished final product that makes the businesses we work with shine.

We truly care about our clients. We take the time to get to know them and their brand, so that we can create a film that truly reflects their values and mission. A documentary is an investment, which is why we work hard to ensure that every project we take on is a success. In our eyes, this project is one of our greatest successes yet.

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“The world should be rich and interesting, and we should be independent. We should be able to create good things in our community. Why are we stuck here sitting in neutral all the time? It really isn’t that hard. Just push it into drive and give it a whirl.”

Thank you to West Central Initiative for bringing us on and to Ryan Pesch for letting us into your world.

We hope you enjoy this short documentary, and we will keep sharing these stories with you along the way!

Thicket Film Company is a full-service, creative film and video production company. We are a family of filmmakers dedicated to craft, problem solving, and supporting our talented collaborators. For us, it is about how we can make great work and have a positive influence on everyone we work alongside.

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