Chesterton Tribune



'Alexis Ronan' TV pilot filming in Chesterton and Indiana Dunes

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How cool would be it to make your own TV show?

How much cooler would it be if you didn’t even have to leave your hometown?

Thad Donovan and Carly Smith of Smith Donovan Marketing in Chesterton can tell you from experience: “It should be a fun ride.”

The two have, over the last year, penned a script for a TV pilot and are halfway along in filming “Alexis Ronan,” set against the backdrop of the Indiana Dunes. As with all TV pilots, their hope is to have a cable TV network or a streaming-media service (e.g. Netflix) pick up the project and develop it into a series.

The plot: a hotshot attorney’s life in a small town is derailed when her adopted son Elijah goes missing. The attorney, Alexis Ronan, will go to any lengths in order to find her son. She is a suspect in his disappearance, as are as her ex-husband, her former client and her son’s best friend. Each character has a unique set of flaws and secrets.

It’s dark, grisly and moody, as Donovan describes it, like a film noir piece. He also would like to say it is not for the squeamish or younger audiences.

“One of our goals is to stop the stereotypes. We want to challenge the audience and take them to (new) places,” he said.

“We hope it will make your blood curdle, to put you on the edge of your seat,” Smith added.

Donovan is taking on the role of director and Smith is one of the show’s producers, as well as co-director.

You may have seen examples of Smith and Donovan’s work around town or in the destination promotional videos they have produced for Indiana Dunes Tourism. They also spearheaded the advertising campaign for the Porter County Fair this year. But what has “consumed” them more than anything is “Alexis Ronan.”

On the map

Taking inspiration from modern TV dramas like AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” Donovan is using the environment to set the show’s tone. The production was lucky, he said, to have permission from the Indiana Dunes State Park to film there with “free rein.”

Filming will take place primarily here and in LaPorte. Some footage will be shot in parts of Lake County and southern Michigan.

A secondary goal, Smith mentioned, is for the show to help put local communities “on the map,” building up a national audience.

“Tourism is in our blood,” she said.

Indiana’s got talent

The cast and crew are also local, or have local connections. Lisa Varga, who plays the title character, works in Los Angeles but grew up in South Bend.

With the creation of “Alexis Ronan,” Smith and Donovan hope to start a film community in Northern Indiana.

“There is so much great local talent. We have the chance to create a lot of good things,” Smith said.

She and Donovan are also learning a lot themselves from the challenges of taking “Alexis Ronan” from concept to finish. The first draft of the script was “pretty dreadful,” Donovan said, but they never gave up. Smith said their breakthrough moment came once Donovan created an outline for the series and they had a full profile on each character.

Donovan said the keys to collaboration are having “trust” with your creative partners and being able to take criticism.

“You have to have a thick skin,” he said.

Help Alexis

Now that they are ready to film, Donovan and Smith are seeking the help of community supporters to raise $6,000 total for the shoot at A few “perks” available to generous donors include a walk-on role on the show (for $1,000), a visit to the set for a day ($500), art pieces inspired by the Dunes created by the show’s creative director Victor LaPorte ($375 each), an Alexis Ronan t-shirt custom made ($75 each), and, among other things, a postcard from Alexis ($10).

For $25, social media users can send a head shot of themselves and have Smith Donovan work its magic to create what it would look like through one of Alexis Ronan’s hallucinations, which makes for a pretty “wicked” profile pic.

Currently, $3,150 in donations have been recieved. The fundraising campaign lasts until Aug. 28. Supporters are also asked to “spread the word” about Alexis Ronan through outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

A link to the funding page, which features a short trailer for the show, can be found on

Smith says the crew is also looking for someone who could lend them a half-ton truck to haul equipment around for two months. You can contact Smith Donovan at (219)-926-3789. “We will return it,” she promises.

Lights, camera, action!

Donovan said he hopes to wrap up the pilot in early October. He expects post-production editing will take a few weeks, then the roughly 45-minute pilot will be uploaded to the web.

Time will tell if it will make it to the airwaves, but Donovan and Smith said they hope to make more episodes if they can raise the money on their own.

Additional filming in Duneland begins this month so don’t be surprised if you spot a film crew when you turn a corner, Donovan said. “If you see a group of people out with cameras, it will probably be us.”



Posted 8/1/2014




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