SHEFFIELD, Iowa – Seeing a teen-ager frantically pushing grain away from himself as he’s sinking deeper into corn is terrifying even if you know it’s just a scene from a movie.
For those who have lost a family member to grain entrapment, it might be too much to see, Diane Hughes, sales director at Sukup Manufacturing Co., said quietly after watching on a monitor during filming in North Iowa.
Inspired by true events, the yet-to-be-named movie depicts 24 hours in a small Midwestern farming community where, due to carelessness and bad luck, a young farmhand gets trapped in a grain bin and rescuers struggle to get him out.
It’s a scenario that is repeated too often on family farms, but not one that a lot of people outside of the Midwest know about, said the movie’s New York-based producer, Samuel Goldberg. After a director pitched the idea to him four years ago, screenwriting began. Two years ago when scouting out filming locations, Goldberg learned about Sukup Manufacturing Co. and asked the family-owned company to design bins that could be used for filming. Goldberg met with Steve Sukup, vice president and chief financial officer, and his daughter Emily Schmitt, general counsel, to get the project rolling.
Sukup Manufacturing designed and built a 42’ diameter six-ring bin for filming in a Sukup Steel Buildings-designed hangar at North Iowa Air Service in Mason City, Iowa, about 25 miles from the company’s headquarters in Sheffield, Iowa. The bin roof was fortified to support lighting and other equipment. Four sidewall panels were left out to provide access for a camera boom and other equipment. Flooring was modified to give the effect that there was about 15’ of grain in the bin. In addition, the set included a partial bin roof for above-the-bin scenes.
Sukup Manufacturing also designed a 42’ diameter 12-ring bin at the main filming site on a farm in Kentucky. The movie is expected to be released next summer.
The opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of farm safety is what interested Sukup family members in helping with the film, Sukup said.
In talking with Goldberg, “you could see he was passionate about the topic and the movie,” Sukup said. Throughout the farming community it’s often hard to talk about grain entrapment because so many people have been hurt or killed, he said. Besides focusing on a way of life that most people really don’t know, the movie “will be something that people can really learn from.”
Goldberg said he knew nothing about grain entrapment four years ago. The more he learned, the more he became interested in doing a feature film on the topic. The extensive research included interviews with multiple grain entrapment experts and meetings with entrapment survivors and with families who have lost members in grain bin accidents, he said.
Since 1964, a total of 1,156 farm workers have died in confined spaces, including more than 200 teenage boys, according to silothefilm.com, the website for a short documentary that Goldberg and his team produced to market the full-length film. The filmmakers are still seeking a title for the longer film, acknowledging that “silo” was a bit of a misnomer. Grain tanks are called silos in some regions, but are mainly called grain bins throughout the United States.
While there will be dramatic effects to carry the story, Goldberg said, the film will be well-grounded in agriculture, depicting the love and promise of farming as well as the danger.
“Film is an amazing empathy-producing medium,” said Goldberg, whose previous productions include Mildred & The Dying Parlor (2016), The Heart Machine (2014), and The Last Survivor (2010). “We hope this wakes people up to the dangers of farming,” he said, adding that a portion of the film’s proceeds will be donated to farm-safety causes.
Main actors include Jeremy Holm, who portrays Agent Nathan Green on the Netflix series House of Cards; Chris Ellis, who played the part of Flight Director Clark in Armageddon; Jill Paice, a regular on major Broadway productions like An American in Paris and Matilda; and Jim Parrack, best known for playing Hoyt Fortenberry in the HBO series True Blood.
The cast also includes many up-and-coming actors like Danny Ramirez and Jack DiFalco, Goldberg said, explaining that he was looking for cast members who are “of the world” – people who viewers can relate to well.
“It’s thrilling,” Holm said of the movie. He recalled spending summers at a family farm in Scottsbluff, NE, when he was young. “So in a way this feels like going back in time. It’s exciting to be around a farm set. You really get the feeling of danger.”
It was great getting to know North Iowa, he said, including a fun day at a Clear Lake beach.
Production for the film began July 30 at Affinity Farms in New Haven, KY. The crew of 45 arrived in North Iowa on Aug. 10. Filming there was completed by Aug. 24. Three members of the Clear Lake (IA) Fire Department were enlisted to help depict actual grain bin entrapment rescue techniques.
Goldberg said the more he learned about the Sukup family, the more he wanted to work with them. “I know the Sukups are very passionate about farm safety and very loyal to the farming community,” Goldberg said.
Set designer Joel Sisson said there were many unique challenges in creating a realistic environment in the bin while making sure it was safe for actors. A “corn blanket” was made to replicate the slope of grain, and a hydraulic table was used to “submerge” actors into the grain.
Sisson provided Sukup employees sketches early on showing what he wanted to do. They provided the parts and assistance in assembling the bin-turned-movie-set.
Several employees who had a role in the project, including Hughes, who was the initial contact for the project, and bin sales representative Elizabeth Brinkman, visited the set Aug. 22 to watch some of the filming.
They stood in silence as DiFalco, playing the part of 18-year-old Cody Rose, frantically brushed grain away from himself as he sank deeper into the corn, shouting for help.
“It’s definitely hard to watch, especially since it’s something that has claimed so many lives, including one just recently in our North Iowa community,” Schmitt said during Farm Safety Week, Sept. 16-22. “But if this movie can help save lives going forward, as well as raise awareness of what rural America does to feed the world, it’s absolutely worth it.”
A bin sidewall panel commemorating the late Eugene Sukup, founder of Sukup Manufacturing, was signed by every crew member and was presented to the Sukup family at the conclusion of filming in Mason City.
“Silo: Edge of the Real World is a meditation on life in a small Midwest farm town. When a grain entrapment shocks their community, Adam Fox, a young farmer, and Clay Althoff, a senior in high school, both consider the risks and rewards of a corn farmer's life.”
“Inspired by true events, Silo spans one long day on a small farm in Middle America: a day that begins like any other when a mother wrangles her two teenage sons out of bed and sends them off to a neighbor’s corn farm to lend a hand and learn a trade they will likely inherit. But a combination of carelessness and bad luck lead to an all-too-common tragedy felt by grain farmers across the country. This story shares a true vision of the modern farm and illuminates the current reality of life in rural America; a vast expanse seen by too many as merely a speed bump between coasts.”
About Sukup Manufacturing Co.
Sukup Manufacturing Co. is the world’s largest family-owned and operated grain storage, drying and handling equipment manufacturer. The company is headquartered in Sheffield, Iowa, and covers 1,000,000 sq. ft. of office, manufacturing and warehouse space. The company employs more than 600 people, making it one of the largest employers in North Central Iowa. Three generations of the family are now active in the business.
Sukup’s product line includes on-farm and commercial grain bins, portable and tower dryers, centrifugal and axial fans and heaters, stirring machines, bin unloading equipment and bin floors and supports. Sukup also manufactures a line of material handling equipment that includes bucket elevators, drag conveyors and chain loop conveyors, as well as a line of steel buildings.
Sukup has six distribution centers located throughout the Midwest. Sukup products are sold throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as more than 80 foreign countries.
For more information please contact:
Sukup Manufacturing Co.