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Through interactions such as this, Tailford and Cronk came to understand the film industry as a world built on personal contacts, relationships, where a phone call from the right person makes things possible. And of course, where you have to deliver once the opportunity comes around. And they saw the industry layered like an onion. They started at the outermost layer, and one relationship at a time took them a little closer to the middle.
All along, they never lost sight of their desire to create their own content. The pair wanted to collaborate on screenplays. Cronk wanted to direct; Tailford wanted to produce and act.
“We needed the next piece of artwork out there,” Cronk says. So the pair collaborated on a 10-minute short titled War Prayer, based on a short story by Mark Twain about a post-apocalyptic world. “So many short films are about, like, two people sitting around in an apartment talking about drugs or relationships,” Cronk says. “We needed to make something that was way beyond that, something people couldn’t believe we had made.”
They returned to Michigan and enlisted the help of friends and family. They shot War Prayer on a friend’s farm near Evart,
in a pine stand that a wind had laid to waste a couple summers prior. They made props, from junk scavenged from the scrap yard—a giant fan blade connected to a tank became an airplane engine smoldering on the ground. Some 1-inch pipes welded to a metal plate became a machine gun turret. Friends found the recipe for making smoke bombs on the Internet, and they cooked up big batches.
“It’s just saltpeter, sugar and water, and you cook it, and when it reaches a certain temperature, you put it in a canister and put a wick in it,” says Pat Babcock, who lives on the farm and has been a go-to guy for props.
Once they finished the film, Tailford and Cronk did the standard thing: submitting it to film festival competitions around the globe. At first they received a half-dozen rejection notices. They wondered if they’d made it too dark, too obscure, too artsy. Then the director of the 2006 Beverly Hills International Film Festival—one of the nation’s most prestigious film festivals—called Cronk and told him it was accepted.
They went to the awards ceremony and after the awards for best shorts were done and they didn’t win, they figured, Oh well, it was a great event and good exposure. But then, a big surprise. The announcer said the winner of the best director
award goes to Harold Cronk for War Prayer.
“It was a total shock,” Cronk says. He went to the podium, fumbled some words, thanked everybody. When he returned to his table, his wife, Amy, pointed out that he hadn’t thanked her.
Winning best director at the Beverly Hills festival gets people’s attention, opens more doors, peels back the onion another thin layer. Cronk began receiving more phone calls in Hollywood. But when Michigan passed the tax credits for the film industry, Cronk and Tailford decided to set up in Manistee.