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The Surface Movie: A Story of Milwaukee and Hope


Milwaukee has done a lot to attract different water-related industries to the region to take advantage of the Great Lakes. 

Scientists, fresh water equipment companies, and even water law experts all are doing business here.

But one area that hasn’t been part of the equation has been the film industry – until now.  Milwaukee and Lake Michigan will play key roles in a major motion picture that will begin filming here later this month.

“The Surface” is written and produced by Milwaukee’s Jeff Gendelman, a veteran of television and film work.  It’s directed by Gil Cates, Jr. – who is co-producer of the Steve Jobs movie due out nationally in August.

Gendelman developed the story for "The Surface" about 18 years ago, based on his childhood query, "What’s out there?"

Gendelman says the film is an adventure-drama based on true experiences, though he says he took some creative liberties.  It follows two strangers, Mitch and Kelly, who are both at the end of their ropes. They suddenly meet in the unpredictable waters of Lake Michigan and from there on, the story evolves.

Cates, a prominent film director, was instantly attracted to the universal theme of the story and the origin of its nature.

"You know, you get sent scripts or you develop scripts and you’re not really expecting, every time you start turning the pages, that you’re going to be attracted – but when I finished it, I just couldn’t shake it.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it," he says.

The story begins with the character Mitch, who is clearly up to something and not mentally intact. For the first nine minutes of the film, the camera follows him as he goes out to the middle of the lake. He later sees a man draped over some debris from a small engine float plane - Kelly, seriously injured and unconscious.

To help the injured man, Mitch  attempts to reach the shore, but he invariably runs out of gas. Once Kelly wakes, the pair are in constant conflict, with Kelly eventually finding out that Mitch had intended to commit suicide in Lake Michigan. The plot then develops into a mutual co-dependent relationship, wherein Kelly has to stay alive to keep Mitch alive and Mitch has to stay alive to keep Kelly alive.

In essence, they each become each other’s guardian angels. Gendelman says the story is ultimately about hope, the plaguing yet moving realization that “even on the darkest of days there’s light."

Though Milwaukee isn't exactly at the heart of the film industry, Gendelman and Cates both agreed that the story should be filmed there because of its personality. Plus, the film would bring global eyes to the city and the importance of preserving its unique environment.

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