The Frightening Saga of The Creature

The Creature From Lake Michigan is a super-low-budget comedy/horror/spoof feature film that began production on the shores of lake Michigan on September 5th, 1989 and was finally completed in Portland, Oregon on September 14th, 2010.

That's right, it took twenty-one years.

Shot on 16mm film for less than $30,000, The Creature From Lake Michigan was originally intended to launch Nocturnal Pictures, a Chicago-based movie studio. The brain-child of four starry-eyed Columbia College film school students (a producer, a cinematographer, a writer/director and his film-maker wife) the shoot was supposed to be completed within a month and the movie on video store shelves within half a year.

And then everything went spectacularly wrong.

From personality clashes to revoked permits, from freezing weather to being brought up on charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Creature became a slow-motion train wreck.

Two years later, the grueling production had wrecked the friendship of the original partners, left everyone broke and become a huge source of guilt for the producer, who had borrowed most of the original budget from his family. The film was essentially finished, but way too long, without a musical score and only on a low quality video transfer from the original work-print edit. To finish it with the technology of the day would take at least another $50,000. And so The Creature From Lake Michigan was shelved.

There was one positive note. The guilt-ridden producer had hired a lovely production manager for the shoot and the two had fallen in love.

The film probably wouldn't have ever seen the light of day again except for two things. The first was that in 2006, the five-year-old daughter of the producer and his lovely production manager wife asked him how he met her mother and was very upset that she couldn't see the film that had brought them together. The second was that the following day, one of the producer's friends got a job at a film transfer company and mentioned that he could offer really low rates on after-hours transfer sessions.

And so, the painstaking process of finding, transferring, logging, restoring and digitally re-editing the original film began. There were opening titles to create, special effects to generate and a musical score to commission - all to be squeezed in around a full time job and later, the birth of a second daughter.

There were countless late nights, tons of technical setbacks and a few very pointed questions from friends about why so much time, effort and money was being put into a film that was decades out of date. But, despite it all, in September of 2010, twenty-one years after the cameras first rolled, The Creature was finally finished.

Now, whether it was worth it or not, whether it's sometimes better to just let go of a dream or keep on working even after it all seems pointless, those are questions for other people to answer. As far as The Creature From Lake Michigan goes, the producer and his lovely-production-manager wife showed it to their daughters (who wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for the movie) and they both laughed and asked to see it again.