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On location at Sam’s Main Street Market

“East of Middle West” cameras and crew invade grocery store
Solon's Brad Randall receives applause from the film crew inside Sam's Main Street Market Aug. 28 after stepping in as a sheriff for a scene in the movie "East of the Middle West." photo by Doug Lindner

SOLON– It was a little bit of movie magic.
Customers at Sam’s Main Street Market shared the aisles with movie cameras, sound equipment, actors and technicians from the production crew of “East of Middle West,” on the afternoon of Aug. 28.
For about seven hours, scenes were filmed throughout the grocery store, including at the front register as rush hour was starting for owner Sam Lensing and his staff.
“I was kind of worried it might hinder the flow,” Lensing said. “It went pretty smooth.”
Lensing said the film’s director wanted a lot of bodies moving around in the background.
The crew started setting up about 2:45 p.m. and were packing up by 7:30 p.m., he noted.
“East of Middle West,” a feature film written and produced by University of Iowa (UI) graduate Mokotsi Rukundo and director Brian Lucke Anderson, began principal filming at various locations in and around the Solon area Aug. 8.
The movie was scheduled to wrap at the end of the month.
According to the film’s website, Rukundo was born in Mbabane, Swaziland, and moved to Iowa when he was 10. After graduating from the UI, he spent six years running a business before moving to Los Angeles to study and write film.
Anderson is a director and cinematographer who served non-profits and national brands through his own production company according to the website. In 2016, he also moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a feature film director where he resides with his wife and three kids.
“I wish ‘em good luck,” Lensing said. “I’m looking forward to seeing some of the scenes.”
The grocery store plays an important role in the plot of the “East of Middle West,” but Aug. 28 was the first day crews filmed at the location.
Lensing said some scenes were shot in the dining area, some in the aisles, with maybe seven or eight scenes total.
He spied out of the back room on one scene where an actor was in aisle seven playing a store employee mopping the floor who becomes angry after a conversation with a woman.
“He got so mad he took the mop handle and he smacked it against the shelf real hard and he cracked our mop handle,” he said. “I heard this BANG BANG BANG BANG. Put a nice big crack in the thing.
“One of the producers comes up to me in the back room later and says ‘Well, we owe you a mop handle.’”
Sam’s Main Street Market employee Jordan TePoel played the cashier for the shots by the cash register during rush hour.
She appeared later that night in a house party scene filmed off Sugar Bottom Road.
“When I was the cashier, I got to say ‘hi,’” TePoel said.
She invited three of her friends to join her at the house party shoot and they arrived early as the crew was setting up.
For the house party scene, TePoel said she and her friends were instructed to pretend to talk while holding red cups filled with water.
They and the others in the scene, which included other Solon kids she recognized, whispered random conversations to each other.
“It was really fun,” TePoel said. “I liked it. It was fun seeing the actors do their thing.”
In about an hour, it was a wrap, she said.
The scene at the register in Sam’s included a walk-on cameo by Brad Randall as a sheriff.
“They just found him,” Lensing reported. “They went running into Eastwood’s for people, didn’t find a volunteer there. Went into Big Grove and found Brad.
“He must’ve had just enough influence in him to accept the position,” Lensing added.
Lensing played the store manager, who shakes hands with the character of the sheriff before he walks out.
He owes his film debut to Bill “Ginks” Ginkens, of rural Solon, location scout for the feature film.
“He was asking around,” Lensing recalled. “He said, ‘Hey would you mind having a film crew in here?’ I said, ‘Well is it going to be too overbearing or anything?”
Turns out it wasn’t.
It actually wasn’t the first time the store has been in front of the lens, Lensing said. It was featured in a political commercial from the last major election.
He hopes Rukundo and Anderson can screen “East of Middle West” at the Solon Community Center.
“We’re going to become like those little Western towns,” he said. “Everyone’s going to want to come here to shoot a grocery scene.”