But what makes the story of Manistee as a movie-making destination all the more unlikely is how it came about. Tailford and Cronk met as two freshly graduated art teachers while doing their “art on a cart thing” in a Reed City elementary school. It was a day in late August, a prep day before the kids arrived, and Cronk heard that a new art teacher had hired on, a man. “I thought, Cool, a guy—kind of unusual to have another man teaching art in the elementary school—so I went down and put a note on his door saying I’d just be getting my cart together all day, so stop down.”
The two hit it off right away, in part because they shared a remarkable number of résumé points. They had both studiedsculpture in college, they were both college athletes (Cronk track, Tailford hockey—plus, he did a stint in the Marines), both had done some acting (Cronk in high school, Tailford extensively in college), and they both eschewed the dark artist persona. “When I met him, it was like this guy is my brother,” Cronk says.
Barely five months later, Tailford got a call from an old colleague saying he was shooting a pilot for a TV show in LosAngeles, and he wanted Tailford to do the art direction on the set. “Asking Cronk to come was a nobrainer; he’s a creativeforce,” Tailford says. “Plus, to see how excited the students were about us doing this was all the more reason to move forward.
It showed them that things in life are attainable if you reach for them.” The two left during spring break 1999, Cronk wouldstay one week in L.A., and Tailford would stay on a bit longer. Art directing a set means getting a sense for the look and feel that a script calls for, then picking the set props and making sure they show up on time and are arranged for each scene. Los Angeles has warehouses filled with props to make the shopping easy, and Tailford will never forget walking through the Sony Prop House for the first time.
“It’s like walking through time,” he says—but not necessarily in a linear way. “The first thing you see is the camera from Apollo 13. Then you’re in the 19th century, Little House on the Prairie stuff, then somehow you are in the 50’s. There was an entire room for toasters, every toaster you could possibly imagine. I can still smell it, like your grandpa’s workshop,dusty and electrical and industrial.”
Tailford recalls something else from the visit, something at once so everyday, and also so oddly important in the 10 Weststory. When the guy at Sony gave Tailford an item he’d come to pick up, Tailford said, “thank you.”
“He looked at me and said, ‘You’re from the Midwest, aren’t you?’ And I said, ‘How did you know?’ And he said, ‘Becauseyou said thank you.’” It was a trivial exchange, but was one that began to help Tailford and Cronk view their Midwest ways as an advantage that could overcome their lack of industry knowledge. Through this same lens, they were able to eventually see their Midwest landscape and Midwest small town as competitive assets, not liabilities.