It’s compelling and sensational. There’s action, suspense and fascinating characters.
It’s also a difficult reality in Neenah and the announcement that one of its darkest days would become the subject of a film has created a mixed bag of emotions.
Los Angeles film producer David Starr arrived at the Neenah Police Department last month with assurances that he’ll make a truthful film.
After all, it’s why he made an appointment to sit down with them.
“We want both sides,” Starr said.
Officials, however, couldn’t help but show skepticism based on what they’d seen online. A video tied to the project included the assertion that police engaged in a targeted assassination.
Police Chief Aaron Olson walked through his issues with the promotional work in a firm, though cordial manner. He pointed out falsehoods.
“Let’s not embellish,” Olson implored as they sat across the table from one another.
Script writing is beginning this month for “The 50 Million Dollar Bullet,” a docudrama project surrounding the 2015 death of Michael “M.L.” Funk in Neenah. And though the film remains in its very early stages, it’s had the community talking.
It doesn’t take a final cut and a showing at the cineplex to stir emotions. The creative process can bring forth the full range.
It’s evident on the Internet. It was evident in the meeting between the filmmaker and police.
On Dec. 12, Starr met with Olson, City Attorney Jim Godlewski and Officer Craig Hoffer — one of the officers who shot Funk.
Kay Reetz, a friend of Funk, joined the conversation.
Certainly, Starr had to anticipate some uneasiness.
His project follows in the wake of “Making a Murderer,” which raised debate across the country and created furor here in Wisconsin — from both sides of belief into the guilt or innocence of Steven Avery.
The name of Starr’s film is based on a conspiracy theory in the most literal sense of the term. At the time of his death, Funk was among those who filed a $50 million lawsuit against the city for a 2012 drug raid they believed was unjustified.
For some, the announcement of the film tore away the scab as a slow, but certain sense of healing was under way. For others, it’s hope that yet more bright, disinfecting light might finally initiate a healing process.
“We’ve been living it for four years,” Reetz said.
Starr quickly addressed an elephant in the room.
“It’s not going to play like ‘Making a Murderer,’” he told them.
Funk was held hostage and shot by police after he emerged from Eagle Nation Cycles on Dec. 5, 2015. Words and actions of police in the wake of his death created ill feelings as well as the belief among some that officers were bad actors.
Olson was matter of fact: There were no conspiracies and lengthy, exhaustive investigation confirmed that “it was an awful, but lawful day,” Olson said.
“There are so many unfortunate circumstances that happened in a short period of time,” he told Starr.
Starr learned of the incident while in Appleton for The Film Forte, a first-year independent film event that took place in October. The project was announced soon thereafter.
Starr brought a lengthy, handwritten list of questions to the police department.
Olson put in requests for records.
Officials had questions of their own and Starr assured he was listening. He said the hostage situation in itself contains all of the elements of a compelling film. The project would remain strong even if it was shown that the more sensational aspects are not fact and are not included.
“Whatever verified truth can be told to me, I’m all ears,” Starr said.
It was a generally amiable meeting, but frustrations surfaced.
Hoffer was indignant and didn’t mince words: “What you’re telling people on YouTube is false,” he told Starr.
He suggested inferences that he planted drugs at Eagle Nation in 2012 were simply ridiculous.
If he were to frame someone for drugs, “I would have had access to more than one crusty, single bud of marijuana,” he said.
Filming is slated to take place this summer and the goal is to release it to coincide with the fifth anniversary of Funk’s death.
“We’re going to portray it accurately,” Starr told Godlewski.
“We’ll take you at your word,” Godlewski said. “Until you show us otherwise.”