Going Northbound: Filmmakers Investing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Photo credit: Taylor Andrews
Photo credit: Taylor Andrews

Iron Mountain natives Seth and Nathan Anderson always knew they wanted to produce a feature film where they grew up in Michigan.

In 2015, the brothers, along with friend and producer Jason Hagen, came home to shoot a proof of concept for a feature film they developed, Northstar.

Between 2014 and 2015, the film industry shifted to digital formats. This shift made filmmaking and video production more viable outside major media hubs, such as Georgia, LA, and New York.

“The timing felt right as Michigan offered film incentives during this time frame,” remarked Seth Anderson, Northbound director. “While we faced headwinds attracting investors, our early drone footage of Piers Gorge caught the attention of a new web streaming service.”

The web streamer suggested a web series rather than a feature-length film. Northstar was adapted to a series called Northbound, and the footage was adapted to fit a prequel story line to the original feature film story line.

“We made the Michigan film incentives a major part of the package to film investors for Northstar for why you would shoot in Michigan at that time. When the incentives were discontinued, a third-party investor dried up unless we gave up shooting in Michigan in favor of Eastern Europe,” added Hagen. “We didn’t want to give up the Northstar storyline as a feature film, and we were committed to staying in Michigan, so we adapted.”

Season one of Northbound was produced in 2015 with the Anderson team working from LA and directing a volunteer cast and crew on the ground in Dickinson County. Seth returned to Michigan in the summer of 2015 to complete production. Northbound: Season 1 premiered at The Braumart Theatre in September 2015 to a sold-out crowd. The sell-out crowd was also a milestone for The Braumart, as it was the first sold-out crowd since Friends of The Braumart had taken over theatre operations.

A community-driven crowdfunding campaign raised $16,500 for Northbound: Season 2 in 2016. With additional funding, Northbound gave local acting talent an opportunity to develop their art. It also gave those interested in being behind the camera hands-on experience on a set.

Streaming was becoming mainstream, and the digital shift in the film industry accelerated accessibility by the time of the production of Northbound 2.

“Students graduating from film schools in this time frame were digital natives and had dabbled with YouTube; they weren’t learning to shoot and edit analog film,” shared Anderson. “At the same time, the quality of digital film cameras output was in parity with film.” The funding model evolved as corporations and regional businesses realized the significance of product placement in streaming television. After the successful release of Northbound: Season 2, a major sponsor came forward to help fund Northbound: Season 3 in 2017.

Northbound: Season 3 was shot on location in Norway, Iron Mountain, Houghton, and Marquette County with a $35,000 budget. Production began in 2018, with professional actor Dan Klass joining the cast.

A larger budget afforded a higher production value, which extended the duration of episodes in the third season. With plans to wrap in 2020, the pandemic interrupted production. Following safety guidelines, episode one was completed in late 2020, and episodes 2-4 wrapped in 2022. With the release of episode one of season 3, Northbound received accolades, including Best Ensemble Cast nomination and winner of the Best Streaming Pilot in 2022.

Photo credit: David Heritsch

The world premiere of Northbound: Season 3 was exhibited as a seamless feature film experience on December 9 at The Braumart in downtown Iron Mountain. The red carpet event included a Q&A after the screening with co-creators Seth Anderson and Jason Hagen. Dan Klass was in attendance.

On December 10, the team hosted a workshop for students in grades 7-12. The focus was a breakdown of the filmmaking process using one scene from Northbound as an example. LA-based Dan Klass and Iron Mountain-based Ali Mondloch discussed film acting and broke down one of their scenes together.

From 2008-2015, Michigan offered film incentives. These incentives attracted productions to Detroit, such as Transformers and Batman vs. Superman. It also built a film production infrastructure in lower Michigan and helped train a generation of talent. It didn’t work because major film productions exploited the tax incentive and left once production wrapped, leaving long-term investment behind in Michigan.

New bipartisan legislation, The Multimedia Jobs Act (MJA), is on the floor in Lansing. MJA aims to build creative and tech-related industries to attract new jobs and talent to Michigan in a growing industry while prioritizing in-state labor and businesses that promote diversity, minimize Michigan’s “brain drain,” and boost tourism. Unlike many other states, this legislation includes commercials, corporate videos, and commercial photography and incentivizes companies of all sizes to stay local in commercial advertising production and content creation. It also encourages production companies to consider Michigan for making feature films.

MJA differs from previous film incentives as it is a transferable tax credit, not a tax break. The tax credit always stays in Michigan. It is issued after production wraps – after communities experience the economic benefits of bringing media productions to the area.

Photo credit: Taylor Andrews

Today, the barrier for technology and upfront investment is lower, and your audience is niche with streaming distribution.

Northbound is a case study for MJA to put Michigan back on the map. It demonstrates what can be done with limited resources and driven by a community. It is also part of a catalyst for developing a thriving creative economy in Dickinson County. With the exception of directing the first season from LA, all production, editing, and distribution happened from Iron Mountain, with local restaurants, transportation services, and hospitality economic benefits.

The full Northbound series can be viewed on https://watch.seeka.tv/en/northbound.

Find additional information about the Multimedia Jobs at www.mifig.org.

Seth Anderson has lived in Michigan full-time since 2018. He co-founded Mountain Media House, a media and marketing company in Iron Mountain, in 2021.

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Elsa Pontbriand

Elsa Pontbriand is the founder of CWRK Collective, a coworking business in Downtown Iron Mountain. She is also a co-founder of Mountain Media House, a media and communication company. After living in Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., and Chicago for many years, she returned to the U.P. and found an entrepreneur-friendly community with a demand for marketing, communication and media services.


  1. Paulette Meyette on February 14, 2024 at 9:30 am

    Wow, I hope they are successful to stay in Michigan and make movies or videos so folks all around see the beautiful areas of the Upper Peninsula.

  2. Sally A. Seith on February 14, 2024 at 12:38 pm

    My husband and I are extremely happy with our times spent in the UP. I have been coming to the UP since I was about 8 yrs old with my family took me to Ralph and Felch. We are 82 and 83 and have vacationed there for all of my life. Love 💗💗

  3. Danny on February 16, 2024 at 3:56 am

    We real Yoopers don’t want you here, trolls need to stay below the bridge we have our Gods country up here still because you people never come up here disturbing the tranquility, make your movies down there and leave us alone up here, the areas are beautiful because industries like the movie industry for the most part stay below the bridge, how long do you think it will stay pristine if that changes, then it’s just like the rest of lower Michigan, industrialized and full of people that shouldn’t be there

  4. Michele Smith on February 16, 2024 at 8:39 am

    Found this interesting. I as well am in love with the UP. I have a cabin in Germfask. This is a getaway location for most and hopefully stays that way. I will watch your Northbound and hope to see how this reflects needs to keep this location mystical.

  5. Jack Lockwood on February 16, 2024 at 11:57 am

    I can’t see anything positive or good that could come from encouraging people to come here (the U.P.)

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