Downtown Elk River’s charm and the Elk River Public Library that does a brisk business will be the backdrop for “My 7 Grandmas,” a feature-length film about a 16-year-old girl from California forced to move to Minnesota to help her grandfather, whose life is in shambles after the death of his wife.
Gigi is not impressed with Minnesota and wants nothing more than to get back home.
Kate Larson, who plays Gigi and has several films to her credit and also writes her own screenplays, was impressed with the city.
“I thought Elk River was beautiful,” Larson said. “I loved our drives back from the set. We saw some of the prettiest sunsets.”
Producers Scott and Diane Peterson chose Elk River for its close proximity to their home in Oak Grove as well as its cute downtown and a vibrant library to film much of the movie.
For D.J. Hill, who plays one of the seven grandmas, “My 7 Grandmas” is her debut role.
The mixed media artist and poet was surprised by the busyness of the library and pleased with how warm and welcoming the community was during their filming.
“The cast felt accepted,” Hill said. “People made us feel like we were part of the community while we were here. They made it home for us for 3 1/2 weeks.”
In addition to filming downtown and at the library, shooting was also done inside Pompeii Pizzeria and the Olde Main Eatery.
Gigi hatches a plan to get her grandfather hitched to one of seven grandmothers she meets while working at the library. Her grandfather, however, is not a Christian, something that Gigi learns would be an impediment for him to win any of them over.
The grandfather is played by Jeff Allen, a nationally known comedian and actor for roles in “Into the Spotlight” and “The Perfect Race” (2019).
Man on a mission
The comedic drama will be screenwriter Scott Peterson’s fourth film. The Oak Grove Realtor and his wife, Diane, set out on a mission in 2011 to make entertaining films that happen to have a Christian message. They wanted to produce “The Current,” one of the screenplays Scott had already written.
The couple struck out after dozens of calls, emails and other closed doors. A few months later, they attended a vision dinner hosted by a pastor at their church. He asked those in attendance: “When was the last time, for Christ, you attempted something utterly and laughably impossible?”
On their way home, Diane reminded Scott of his dream of producing that film. He couldn’t disagree, and resumed his efforts.
This time, doors began to fly open.
The couple formed iiFilms in 2012. By then, “The Current” had been named a finalist for the Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays. The Petersons received an email asking if they still wanted to produce the movie.
They still did.
They have since produced that movie and two more. Each has found greater success.
“We love using whatever gifts we have to create and help others create films that leave the viewer with a greater understanding of how much better a life with a relationship with Christ can be,” Scott Peterson said.
Scott is known for “Treasure Lies,” “Miles Between Us” and “The Current.”
The couple formed a new production company called iiFilms Ministries for this fourth film.
“We would not have been able to shoot one single frame had it not been for God’s guidance every step of the way,” Scott said. “We have been blessed with incredibly talented casts and crews on each of our films. We are very excited to continue producing films that have good positive messages that glorify Christ.”
Larson, Allen add to film’s synergy
The latest film has some added synergy with Larson’s career as an actress, writer and director starting to blossom and the name recognition Allen is bringing.
Larson’s films include: “Bye Bye Now,” “Strength from Within” and “The First Kiss.” She’s also a budding writer. She wrote and produced a short film called “Spotlight,” and she now has full-length film called “Into the Spotlight” coming out that Allen was in.
Peterson’s “Miles Between Us,” which came out in 2016, made it into 25 movie houses.
His next film, “Treasure Lies,” came out in 2020 and found its way into 45 movie houses. Dawn Long, the same actress in a lead role in the film called “Lifemark” by the Kendrick brothers, is in that movie.
But movie house showings are not the litmus test for success for the Petersons.
“A lot of people think the be all and end all is to get it in as many theaters as possible,” Scott said. “But with us, this is a message film, so we want to get it seen by as many people as possible. If you can get it on YouTube, you could have 3-4 million views. You’ll never get that many in the theaters, and it would cost you a fortune.”
The idea for ‘My 7 Grandmas’
“My 7 Grandmas,” is not based on a true story, but Peterson got the idea from a real life scenario. He was enthralled with the awkwardness of a teenager working with grandmothers that he came across that led him to write the latest screenplay.
“Just the thought of it generates laughs,” he said. “People really start laughing when you tell them she’s trying to set one of them up with her grandfather.”
There were 27 cast and crew members on the set of “My 7 Grandmas.”
Scott expects post-production to take seven months to a year, and he notes funds still have to be raised to cover the costs of post-production.
He senses God’s hands will push it through. He said that was the case during filming, when four members of his crew went down with COVID-19 during filming.
“Before starting this filming, I didn’t know anyone personally that had been diagnosed with COVID,” he said. “All of a sudden, I knew four people. But everyone took a next man up mentality and we all adapted.”
Now that the Petersons are under the umbrella of a ministry, they have employed a new way of doing things.
“People volunteering are being trained to create the next generation of (Christian) filmmakers,” he said. “We have people in paid positions above them who are teaching them.”
Jim Boyle is the editor of the Union-Times sister paper Star News in Elk River. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.