Arts & Culture

Discover All Things Regional in Central PA’s art and culture scene. Join hosts Cary Burkett and Joe Ulrich as they make artistic discoveries throughout the midstate. From music and visual arts to theatre, museums, literature and more! Listen every Wednesday and Friday on witf 89.5 and 93.3 for features highlighting the best and brightest cultural happenings in the region.

Midstate Filmmaker's Movie Set for National Release & Sneak Preview

Written by Cary Burkett, Arts & Culture Desk and WITF Host | Nov 6, 2018 2:51 PM

As a child, Zeke Zelker had opportunities other kids might only dream of.  His great-grandfather founded Dorney Park near Allentown in 1884.  Zeke Zelker spent a lot of time at the amusement park. It became his playground growing up.

He recalls, "We'd slide down the roller coasters on our rear ends like a big slide, and look behind all the different facades and so forth. And that really affected how I create because I've always been more interested in what happens behind the scenes than in the actual spectacle itself."

Zelker says his first job was as a clown selling balloons at the park. As he got older, he studied finance and economics. But it wasn't long before the entertainment world came knocking again. A friend of his graduated from NYU film school and asked Zelker to help produce his first film.

He knew nothing about the process but was keen to learn. And he found as he did, that he loved it. Zelker ended up going to grad school in Syracuse for film, and that's how it all started.

But after school, unlike other filmmakers who move to L.A or New York to pursue a career, Zelker made the unusual choice of remaining in Pennsylvania. He says, "I moved back to Allentown to produce films. I've been doing it for 21 years. I've always been based in the area. I do a lot of traveling mind you, but my business is located in the Lehigh Valley. And I literally did it to make a difference. It's just a matter of doing things a little bit differently than what the norm is. "

Zelker 1.jpg

Zelker's latest project is a feature film called Billboard. The main character, Casey, has inherited a failing radio station in Allentown.  To try to save the station, Casey comes up with a wacky contest, to challenge contestants to live on billboards. Whoever can live on the billboard the longest will win money and a mobile home. But of course, complications and conflict arise from the situation.

The inspiration for the fictional story came from real life events. In the early 80's a radio station in Allentown launched a similar billboard sitting contest.  Zelker says he remembers driving by the billboard sitters with his mom and wondering why the people were up there.

 Along with the feature film, Zelker is trying to tell this story from different points of view across multiple platforms. He has produced a 30-episode web series, The Billboard Sitters, which concentrates on the four people who entered the contest. And he has created an interactive play where the audience can interact with the characters via a mobile app.

When asked how much of the situation in the film Billboard draws from Zelker's own personal struggles in trying to be a film-maker in Allentown, Pennsylvania, he laughs. It's not the first time someone has made that observation.

"So yeah, I guess it is in hindsight a bit autobiographical," he admits, "because it is a struggle to be a film maker, especially in our state. It's always a struggle to get any project off the ground and to maintain it and sustain it. But at the same time, I chose this path, and so, you know, I have to fight for my success."

Zeke Zelker's film Billboard is set to release nationally in April, but there will be a sneak preview at the Midtown Cinema at 7 p.m. on Monday, November 12.



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