Documenting a documentary
Independent film producer Mike Van Laanen brought a crew to campus over winter break to show off two UW-Green Bay labs in the Laboratory Sciences Building.
Well, maybe not “show off,” but Biology Labs 303 and 305 will provide the backdrop for a documentary he is producing about stem cells.
Van Laanen, who is producing the piece for his master’s degree at Montana State University, is hopeful the documentary will be aired nationally, possibly on the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, the BBC, or PBS.
Van Laanen is a member of the Kress Family, which provided financial support for the construction of the Kress Events Center on the UW-Green Bay campus, and has been a philanthropic supporter of stem cell research in Wisconsin. James Kress, Van Laanen’s stepfather, was a lead donor for a $25 million addition and remodel of the Waisman Center on the UW-Madison campus, where groundbreaking stem cell research is conducted.
Van Laanen chose the UW-Green Bay labs as a setting because of the family connection to campus and proprietary issues that would preclude filming in private labs. There is no stem cell research being done on campus, and the shots were simply staged using lab equipment.
UW-Green Bay Prof. Craig Hanke, Human Biology, provided technical support around the labs during the filming.
Shelly Nowak, a 2005 Human Biology grad, was the “actor” in many of Van Laanen’s shots.
“I couldn’t be more thankful and happy to have UWGB in my backyard. The facilities that they have here, the help that I’ve gotten, the willingness for everybody to just pitch in and provide an opportunity to get this filming done (is) unbelievable, just tremendous. I couldn’t ask for more.”
(text) UW-Green Bay plays backdrop role in new Stem Cell documentary.
Mike Van Laanen
Producer, MVL Films
I’m Mike Van Laanen. I’m a graduate student at Montana State University in Bozeman. I’m doing my graduate thesis film on stem cells, and we’re here at UWGB labs to shoot B-roll and some narrative that we’re going to be using in the film.
(Director, “Action, go ahead.”)
I actually was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I went to school at St. Francis and then at Abbot Pennings (High School). I worked in town, raised a family here. Once the kids were gone, I decided to go off and start a new career in documentary film. I found Montana State, went out there and came back here to film this as most of my principle interviewees work around here with stem cells down in Madison. So, the connection to Madison is through Dr. James Thomson, who discovered stem cells in 1998.
My stepfather, Jim Kress, has Parkinson’s and he has been very helpful in funding this film and allowing me the opportunity to make this documentary. My niece, also, has leukemia and therefore stem cells are one of the possible cures for both my stepfather’s and my niece’s diseases. So it was something that was close to my heart and something I felt needed to be done.
In the manner I’m doing it, I wanted to present the facts and allow the audience to make an informed decision on either side of the fence. I’m OK with whatever they choose to believe or whatever they follow in their heart and think is right to do. I just wanted them to base it on the facts. There’s so much misinformation and misunderstanding about stem cells, and where the embryonic stem cells actually come from that I thought it was time that somebody put out a documentary that just explained the facts; no propaganda. That’s the purpose of this thesis film that I’m doing.
My hope is to have a film ready to go for broadcast—Discovery, NatGeo (National Geographic), BBC, PBS—whomever wants it can then air it and get the message out to the public and allow the public to, again, make an informed decision based on the facts. We’re hoping for a broadcast nationwide.
I couldn’t be more thankful and happy to have UWGB in my backyard. The facilities that they have here, the help that I’ve gotten, the willingness for everybody to just pitch in and provide an opportunity to get this filming done (is) unbelievable, just tremendous. I couldn’t ask for more. As a producer, you hope and pray for opportunities like this and to be able to work with people like this. It’s truly remarkable and I’m very thankful.