A Visit with Local TV Producer Keith Hopkins About His Upcoming Film Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House

“Don’t be afraid, little ones. It’s only something inexplicable.”

Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

In early 2018 our local TV station created a five week series called “A Night at the Armory” featuring several local musicians in this historic building where young Bob Dylan caught a look — a spark — from Buddy Holly just days before “the music died.”

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Courtesy Keith Hopkins

The concept for this show was ignited by a spark in the mind of producer Keith Hopkins as he drove past the historic site. The idea became a reality and the show produced a number of very special moments.

In 2019 the producer/filmmaker has been pursuing another passion, this time related to ghost stories. Over the past year he’s been interviewing Northlanders about local paranormal occurrences for an upcoming feature film. Some of these spooky locations include the Duluth Depot, Greyhound Bus Museum, William A Irvin, and Ely Steakhouse are just a few of the locations appearing in the movie. The film blends documentary with narrative storytelling, and challenges the audience to determine which stories are true, which are fictions.

The film is titled Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House, and what follows is an interview with its creator Keith Hopkins.

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Courtesy Keith Hopkins

EN: How did you come to take an interest in film and television media? How long have you been involved with local television production?

Keith Hopkins: I’ve been working in TV and film production since 2005, and in Duluth since 2014. I initially wanted to be an illustrator. I grew up loving comic books (and still do). But reality set in when my drawing skills were obviously lackluster. So I began to think about where else I could apply my passion. I realized that what interested me about comics wasn’t the illustrations necessarily, but the sequential storytelling, which you also see in film editing. Although movie making had always seemed like something unattainable, I decided to look into it and really fell in love.

EN: What prompted you to do a film about ghosts?

KH: My dad was an expert teller of ghost stories around the campfire. He and others would swear that some were true, and some were obviously made up. But the search for a REAL ghost story always excited me, and my dad is definitely where I got that interest. I don’t tell a great verbal story, and sometimes my movie pitches come out as incoherent babble. But I do think I have a certain talent in the editing room to create a creepy ghost story. I’m always trying to mimic my dad’s sense of pacing to create tension, even though I’m working in a different medium.

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Courtesy Keith Hopkins

EN: Once you pay attention, the Northland does have quite a few “ghost stories.” Without giving away too much, what is Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House about?

KH: Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House is about the ghost stories of St. Louis County. Between the Duluth Depot, William A Irvin, Ely Steakhouse, Greyhound Bus Museum, and plenty more, the area is rich with history of things that go bump in the night. But part of the fun of listening to a series of ghost stories is trying to figure out which are fact and which are fiction. So there is a mixture in this film. Some are shot in a documentary style but are not true. Others are shot in a narrative style and are absolutely true. The audience will need to pick up on the little clues that are dropped throughout the movie

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Photo courtesy Keith Hopkins

EN: What were your biggest challenges with this project?

KH: The biggest challenge was finding the right plot for the film. I had been making paranormal short films for several years and wanting to put them in an anthology before I settled on the ‘fact or fiction’ angle. But once I committed to that plot device things really accelerated. This movie is being made with a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, and my pitch in the application was to make a movie that blended entertainment with regional folk lore. However, crafting that pitch was far from easy. I wrote many other outlines for paranormal feature films that I never showed to anyone because I knew they weren’t quite right. And to write a 100 page outline for a film just to throw it in the garbage can be a difficult thing. But it was important to me that I make the right movie, not just any movie.

EN: What is the length and where will it be shown? I assume the DuSu Film Festival next spring… Will it be online?

KH: The movie is roughly an hour and fifteen minutes long. I’m going to hold a premiere at Zinema in Duluth on March 1st 2020, and then I will definitely be submitting to Duluth Superior Film Festival for a June 2020 screening.

EN: How many people were on your production team?

KH: About 50 people helped in the production of this film.

Thanks for sharing. We’ll be looking forward to Spring.

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Related Links
Duluth Armory Becomes Stage for CW Duluth Television Program
Trailer for Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House
If you’re into paranormal and supernatural, you will enjoy my small volume of short stories titled Unremembered Histories: Six Stories with a Supernatural Twist. It’s a little expensive online ($12 at Amazon) but if you want a copy and you see me locally, it’s $5. Money back if you do not enjoy it.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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