The Weird Science of Pickles: A Q&A with Michael Manasseri

New comedic film serves up a lot of love for metro Detroit culture

You might remember Michael Manasseri as the fresh-faced nerd on the Weird Science sitcom back in the ’90s, but more recently he has gotten rid of the glasses and decided to take a turn behind the camera. The Michigan native’s slapstick comedy The Pickle Recipe opens locally on Nov. 3 at Bloomfield’s Maple Theater and Emagine Novi.

Hour Detroit: Where did the idea for the film come from?

Michael Manasseri: The film is actually based on a true story. Co-writer/producer Gary Wolfson’s grandmother used to make these incredible pickles when Gary was a boy. He remembers to this day going into her kitchen and the pickles would be sitting in jars fermenting and they tasted amazing. When she passed on she never gave anyone the recipe.

One day Gary and fellow writer/producer Sheldon Cohn were sitting around discussing ideas for movies and Gary mentioned the story and that his sister said she would have killed for that recipe. And that lead to what would happen if someone had to steal his grandmother’s secret kosher dill recipe.

What are some of the locations used in the film? I noticed some Eastern Market coverage — is the space used for “Irv’s Deli” occupied? Where is that located?

The Irv’s Deli location is actually the Hygrade Deli on Michigan Avenue [in Detroit]. The deli is almost another character in the film — so it was incredibly important for us to find a place that had the feel of a deli that Rose and Irv would have run for over 50 years. When we walked into the Hygrade Deli we knew immediately that we found our location.

In terms of Eastern Market early in the morning and other local locations, our characters live and work in and around Detroit. We wanted to show what it’s really like as they journey through their day-to-day lives. And we also wanted to make sure we showed Detroit in a positive light. Almost everyone involved in the film is from metro Detroit. This is our home. The world has seen enough Detroit blight and we wanted people to see how much we love our city.

Why are you guys interested in filming in Michigan?

I’ve been in southeast Michigan for seven years and my family has been in the area for 12 years. Before that I lived in Los Angeles for many years making films and acting. All of the other Above the Line personnel (writers, producers) are Michigan natives. And 95 percent of our crew and cast are Michiganders as well.

What do you think of Michigan governor Rick Snyder ending tax incentives for film production in Michigan? How do you think the film industry would be faring in Michigan if incentives still existed?

I was in Michigan for the entire saga of the political football that was the Michigan Film Incentive. My family was living in Rochester Hills and I had reached a point in my life where I wanted to be closer to my parents. The incentive started and I thought this could give me the opportunity to come back home and still do what I love.

I might be the poster child for the Michigan Film Incentive as I relocated to the state, paid rent, frequented local business, paid taxes, and have employed hundreds of people over the past 7 years. I’ve been very fortunate in that I was able to shoot a number of projects and establish a foundation with my production company during the incentive era.

I also understand that many in the state thought we were giving money away to Hollywood producers and the government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers. But the truth is, if Michigan wanted to attract the global entertainment industry it had to something spectacular in terms of incentives as the competition is so fierce. And for a while, it was working. The studios came to town and they were shooting massive blockbusters in the Great Lakes State where this kind of film activity never before existed. And if you want to really stem the brain drain and develop a new industry from the ground up, that’s what is needed to be done. Unfortunately, the plug was pulled too soon.

How long did you spend filming the Pickle Recipe? What about writing and coming up with the creative aspects and concept?

We shot the film in May and June of 2015 but the writing process started long before that. In fact, Sheldon and Gary’s initial pickle discussion was back in 2010. They probably wrote over 80 drafts of the script between 2010-2015. At the end of 2014 we decided it was time and between January and April, with the help of Paul Finkel and Jason Potash of Storyboard Entertainment, we raised the financing and went into production.

Why did you make the transition from acting to directing? Was it a natural progression?

I had been acting professionally since I was 11 years old. When I finished my four-year run on #Weird Science# in the late ’90s I was ready for a change of pace. I knew I wanted to stay in the entertainment industry and that I wanted to tell stories. So yes, it was a natural progression for me.

Do you enjoy working with students at Oakland University? What do you like about the film program there?

My younger brother and sister are Oakland University graduates. When I first moved here, some of the professors in the Cinema Studies program approached me about conducting a workshop around one of my earlier films. Soon after, we formed an academic/entrepreneurial partnership where OU Cinema Studies students would get the opportunity to work in various production capacities on professional projects I brought to Michigan. It’s been a tremendous success for the program and we’ve worked with over 300 students in the past 5 years.

The kids at Oakland University have been terrific to work with and to mentor and it’s been great to be a part of the expansion of the Cinema Studies program. I know that the students who got the chance to work on The Pickle Recipe had a pretty phenomenal time and learned more about making pickles than on any other film set!

The Pickle Recipe Official Theatrical Trailer from Jeff Lipsky on Vimeo.

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