Young entrepreneurs launch video production business


Courtland Tell and Daniel VanderMolen ought to be able to do good wedding videos and Internet commercials for small business: They’ve already made a horror movie.

Tell and VanderMolen just launched Tell Tale Productions, which thus far is operating out of an office at Tell’s home in southeast Grand Rapids. However, a production studio is “in our plans,” according to VanderMolen, 28. He recently relocated to Grand Rapids after having lived in Oregon for a couple of years.

“We’re starting small and working our way up as we build capital,” said VanderMolen.

Tell, 26, has had experience on several films, including “The Genesis Code,” which was shot in West Michigan with Tell as production assistant. He also has worked as an editor on website commercials.

Tell is a 2009 honors graduate of GVSU, with a degree in film and video production. VanderMolen also graduated with honors, from Columbia College in Chicago, with a degree in film and video production. The two Grand Rapids natives collaborated on the film “Spat” this year, which VanderMolen wrote and Tell directed and produced.

According to the Internet Movie Database (, “Spat” is “equal parts horror and satire,” a 20-minute film shot in Grand Rapids. It is based on VanderMolen’s Web comic “The Portland Underground,” and stars April Basile, Josh Breuer and Jennifer Brown.

With production costs of about $2,000, “Spat” was far too small to qualify for the Michigan film industry incentives, which require production expenditure of at least $50,000. But that doesn’t matter much, as the future of the Michigan movie industry incentives is up in the air, and in fact, largely on hold since Gov. Rick Snyder put a cap of $25 million on the total incentive in 2011.

VanderMolen said the Granholm-era movie industry incentives provided an avenue in Michigan in which people suddenly were able to get jobs “in the film industry without creating their own production company, and for a lot of people, that has been taken away.”

With the drop in feature film productions shot in Michigan, VanderMolen said the only option now for people who want to live here and work in film production is “to do your own thing.”

The Internet, however, may have increased the opportunities to work in commercial film productions here, since many companies now put their video commercials online rather than on television.

VanderMolen said Tell Tale Productions will “definitely” be working on commercials that air on websites.

“There’s a lot of people doing some pretty interesting things in Grand Rapids, starting their own businesses. (There’s) a lot of opportunity out there to collaborate and use the Internet as a way to take the next step, for a small production company,” said VanderMolen.

One example is WhizBang! Training in Grand Haven, which Tell Tale Productions has worked with on video projects. Bob and Susan Negen took their 30-plus years of retail store experience to launch WhizBang!, which offers retail sales training to owners and employees at independent retail stores. WhizBang! now has clients in several states, as well as West Michigan.

And then there is the wedding industry, in which digital media is playing an ever-larger role. In addition to filming the wedding and reception as a keepsake, there are increasing opportunities for production companies to help prepare entertainment for wedding receptions, with videos and multi-media shows that feature the newlyweds and their families and friends.

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