To finance an independent feature, filmmakers have been known to max out credit cards and volunteer for science experiments. But for making and marketing Where the Rivers Flow North, their $2 million historical drama about a Vermont logger in 1927, producers Bess O’Brien and Jay Craven found a new formula: local pride and ice cream.
Craven asked Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s, to join a VIP-studded advisory board created to help the project along- including the governor of Vermont, Howard Dean; playwright David Mamet, who owns a house there; and part-time residents Michael J. Fox and Treat Williams, who both make cameo appearances in the movie.
The duo’s financing effort started in 1991, when Craven and O’Brien won a $35,000 NEA grant to adapt the novella, written by their neighbor Howard Frank Mosher. A month later, the filmmakers got married, netting $3,000 in contributions as wedding gifts. Then they went to town, so to speak, talking up the project and holding fund-raising cocktail parties with hors d’oeuvres donated by locals. While filming, they borrowed props, locations, and livestock, and even got the power company to remove wires for period shots. And to help attract viewers, Ben & Jerry’s chipped in 12,000 pints of ice cream to give to ticket buyers at more than 20 venues (so far) across the U.S.
Vermonters were so proud of their involvement that they bought a record number of tickets at theaters from Montpelier to Plattsburg, N.Y. ”We outgrossed Mrs. Doubtfire,” coproducer Lauren Moye says. ”And that was in four feet of snow!”