Local movie-maker scares up attention in Macomb County

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published October 9, 2013

 “The Plague of Willow Bay” is the latest release from St. Clair Shores moviemaker Mike Stanley. Stanley uses local locations, like Kennedy Middle School, in his productions.

“The Plague of Willow Bay” is the latest release from St. Clair Shores moviemaker Mike Stanley. Stanley uses local locations, like Kennedy Middle School, in his productions.

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Everything started with the introduction of cable in the 1980s.

“I first started making movies when I was a kid with a Super 8 camera,” said Mike Stanley, now 50. “When cable TV started coming through … the local cable company offered a public access training course. It was an opportunity to actually go into a small studio and use equipment and see how that worked.

“For me, that was kind of exciting.”

The company was Continental Cable in the city of Roseville, where Stanley — who now lives in St. Clair Shores — grew up.

From the class, he met others interested in filmmaking and together they created a show, “Tales from Beyond,” that began as a local-access offering but soon was picked up by Continental Cable affiliates in other areas, as well.

The show ran from about 1984-1989, but while Stanley and his cohorts were looking to push the envelope, television wasn’t as permissible then as it is now. An episode called “Labor Pains” spelled the end of “Tales from Beyond” with its tale of a husband turning into a zombie and chasing down his pregnant wife while she is in labor with their child.

But even though that led to the cancellation of their show, it was that episode that got Stanley and his friends the most notice.

“In a way, that was sort of a compliment,” he said. “We were pushing for something a little bit more … kind of like a modern- day ‘Twilight Zone.’”

Stanley still wanted to work with film, however, so he turned to making his own movie on video. His first, “Dead is Dead,” was finished in 1990, but the distributor he found didn’t wait for the finished product before trying to sell it, and the unedited movie didn’t find much acclaim.

“From that, I continued making … short films, but I didn’t try to get them distributed,” he said, explaining that getting married and having children put his movie-making on hold. “It sort of took a back seat.”

But a few years ago, his wife suggested he go back to doing what he loves, and that’s when Stanley created Filmlab Showcase Pictures and went back to the editing room to release “Dead is Dead: The Director’s Cut” in 2010.

And he didn’t stop there.

Since 2010, Filmlab Showcase Pictures has released eight films, including its newest, “The Plague of Willow Bay.”

He shoots much of the movies in and around Macomb County and throughout Michigan.

“I always mention Macomb County,” he said. “Quite a bit of it was shot in downtown Mount Clemens. We shot right around St. Clair Shores, different areas; some of it was shot in Detroit, (and) I shot in Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island.”

“The Plague of Willow Bay” is a short horror film about a fog that descends on the fictional town of Willow Bay, Mich., carrying a plague. It follows two individuals throughout the film who slowly come to realize they are the only ones left in the town.

There is no dialogue through the entire movie.

“There’s an episode of the ‘Twilight Zone’ called ‘The Invaders,’” Stanley said. “In that episode, there’s no talking. I really liked that when I was a kid, watching that, so I wanted to do something like that, myself.”

The movie is the first in a series of DVDs Stanley has pegged as the “nostalgia series,” which will contain an old-time cartoon, coming attractions from old horror movies and then the 30-minute film.

Allenton, Mich., actor Pat Caporuscio worked with Stanley on “Dreams and Delusions,” part of the “MichiGrim” series of movies, and applauds his use of local locations.

“No matter at what level, when you’re using local talent … they’re going to spend a little money in that area and give business a little more exposure,” Caporuscio said. “It’s amazing that he looks here first for his locations.”

Chesterfield Township actress Francesca Omilian said viewers love Stanley’s films.

“People love to be scared,” she said. “It takes them away from the hum drum.”

Omilian also owns her own production company and said she appreciates the attention Stanley is bringing to the area.

“Any attention for the Michigan film industry is wonderful,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of creative people here that are in our backyard that are doing great projects. Anything that highlights Michigan in a positive sense and entertains and brings a great life to us is wonderful.”

Filmlab Showcase Pictures is more than a hobby, Stanley said, but he does have a day job working maintenance at Lochmoor Country Club in Grosse Pointe Woods. He lives in St. Clair Shores with his wife, Jennifer, and his twin 12-year-olds, Veronica and Serena, who are students at Kennedy Middle School.

He’s already working on his next project, a feature-length film focusing on UFOs and a man whose spirit inhabits an alien mask to terrorize the city.