Billy Crudup’s remote connection to

One of Sheryl Jensen’s "break a leg" voicemails was definitely worth keeping: Actor Billy Cruddup heard she was directing the Duluth Playhouse’s production of "Rent" and wanted to pass along his well wishes.

Billy Crudup? What the what

Turns out the actor who played Russell Hammond in "Almost Famous" — not his only role, obvs, but my personal favorite — was in Minneapolis with a few other heavies like Greg Kinnear and Alan Arkin working on a film called "The Convincer." The film, listed as "in production" on IMDB with a tentative 2011 release date, is about a salesman’s search for a rare instrument.

Incidentally, Jensen’s sister and her husband own Dahl Violin Shop in Minneapolis where some scenes were shot. With rehearsals for "Rent" going on, Jensen wasn’t able to get to the shop to watch them film, but her sister Debbie Black told the actors about how much Jensen would enjoy this, how she’s really into theater, and how right now she’s directing "Rent."

So Crudup gave her a call. And lest there is any question that it is actually him, Jensen also received a photograph of Crudup on the phone with her. She also got a note from Kinnear wishing her good luck.

So that’s pretty cool.

PS: Since we’re here: Here is the story I wrote about "The Convincer" when they scouring Minnesota for locations in October.


Northland boosters hope region’s charms, financial incentives lure filmmakers

A production company is scouting areas in Northeastern Minnesota as possible locations for a film about a salesman’s scheme to get hold of a rare violin.

“ The Convincer ,” a drama-with-a-twist set in the Midwest, was written by Jill and Karen Sprecher. Locations being considered include Duluth, Cloquet, Carlton and the Iron Range, as well as other towns in Minnesota and Illinois, said Riki McManus, the director of the Upper Minnesota Film Office. The site is expected to be selected in December, with filming beginning early in 2010.

The film will be produced and financed by the young Minneapolis-based company Werc Werk Works, which recently released a feature film by Todd Solondz, “Life During Wartime.” “ The Convincer ” will be the company’s fifth film.

McManus said she recently took crews around to tourist sites in the area. The script also calls for an isolated farmhouse, a lake, an insurance office and a bank. She said she has seen the script, but couldn’t reveal too much.

“I can tell you that it is fabulous,” McManus said. “It’s a brilliant script by the two writers. You get very involved in the story line. It was one of those things that was hard to put down when I started.”

The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board approved an incentive rebate for the film last week, if the film is produced within the Taconite Assistance Area. Werc Werk Works would be reimbursed for 10 percent of the money spent on the film within the area — including paying laborers, tradespeople and extras — with a cap of $150,000.

The Taconite Assistance Area does not include Duluth, but McManus said other incentives such as free production offices could be offered.

The local rebate could help sweeten the pot for the film producers. Minnesota competes for films against states such as Michigan, where filmmakers get a 40 percent rebate on production costs, and Illinois, where filmmakers get a 30 percent rebate.

In Minnesota, the film production rebate — referred to as a snowbate — is 15 percent up to $5 million, and 20 percent over that.

According to a story in the New Ulm Journal, film and production scouts visited that area at the end of September.

Jill and Karen Sprecher have written indie films including the 2001 movie “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing,” starring Matthew McConaughey, Alan Arkin and John Turturro and the 1997 office comedy drama “Clockwatchers” starring Parker Posey, Lisa Kudrow and Toni Collette.