by Lucas McNelly

Here’s what I’ve learned so far: no matter where you are in the country, Brainerd is a long way away. Like, a really long way away. I’m told this is Central Minnesota, but who are we kidding? This is where they filmed FARGO. Thing is, I knew that but I was still under the impression that Brainerd was an hour or so outside of Minneapolis–until I looked at the map.

It’s far. Really, really far.

My GPS took me around the Twin Cities, and I barely saw them. Then, the interstate turned into a divided highway, and for two and a half hours, the roads got smaller and smaller. The snow started reappear. Then suddenly I’m driving by a frozen lake so large I can’t see the other shore.

FARGO, indeed.

And what the hell am I doing all the way up in Brainerd? I’m here for Ego Fest, one of the events on the calendar that brings the online film community together but, you know, in person. It’s a rare chance to break free of the 140 character restrictions. Or, to paraphrase what Jake Stetler said, “it’s really invigorating to spend a couple of days with so many like-minded people”.

I hit Brainerd around 8pm and Phil Holbrook has me meet him at the Last Turn Saloon, a very cool bar where you’re required to throw your peanut shells on the floor. Phil Seneker (A MUSING, MISSING ELIZABETH) is already there, working his way through the bar’s New York themed drinks.

Phil and I are in the same hotel (a hotel room! My Own Hotel Room!!!), so we’re pretty much carpooling around Brainerd all weekend. Friday’s events start around 6pm, so the next afternoon is spent catching up on work and meeting Phil Holbrook for lunch. We do a few local TV interviews. And then people start showing up.

Between this and DIY Days, I’m really working my way pretty quickly through the Twitter film community. Here in Brainerd are: Jake Stetler (@jakestetler), Julie & Jessica (@kingisafink), Phil Holbrook (@philontilt), Phil Seneker (@philseneker), Nathan Schilz (@StudioAlethea), Jim Vendiola (@kinosaur), Jeremy Wilker (@TWEAK), Rick Vaicius (@FlywayFilmFest), Jennifer Peepas (@JPeep), and many others.

The schedule is a pretty eclectic one, as you might expect from a shorts fest. The production value ranges from the very low to the very high. The first block ends with John T. Trigonis’ CERISE, and John Skyped in for a Q&A, live from Jersey.

Phil Seneker (minus director David Spies, who got stranded in Seattle), closes the second block with a Q&A for A MUSING. [NOTE: Video to come].

Then, it’s to the after-party for the real focus of the evening: the release of Brainerd Lakes Beer’s “Tilted T-Ale”, a beer made for and named after Phil Holbrook’s upcoming feature film TILT (of which we got a nice sneak peek in the second block). And, man, is it good beer.

Tomorrow: a full day of Ego Fest. Stay tuned….

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.