Attorney Gordon Toering looks to move public attitudes a bit through new film

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Pretty much everyone loves a romance. And this Valentine’s Day weekend, a sweet, authentic romantic film goes head-to-head against what some might regard as a story with a romantic angle, the much-harder-edged 50 Shades of Grey.

A sweet, authentic romantic film produced by a local attorney, that is.?Old-Fashioned, years in the making, was the first focus of Skoche Films, a company founded by Warner Norcross and Judd attorney Gordon Toering, his wife Susan and filmmaker Rik Swartzwelder.

Toering says that many have wondered if the film was negatively inspired by 50 Shades, but the history of its making indicates otherwise. Old-Fashioned production was originally started in 2007, before the 50 Shades novels were even published, and only the economic downturn of 2008 prevented much earlier production and release dates for Toering’s film.

After Old-Fashioned found investors and became a reality, Skoche Films was looking at starting to show it in late 2014.

But, as Toering puts it, “The film obviously wasn’t done in response to 50 Shades, but certainly the release date was set intentionally.”

Since the major goal of Skoche Films is to move the needle of popular culture just a “skoche” towards a more faith-based and less “Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll” orientation,  the opportunity seemed too good to pass up. “We just  thought that we’d like to present an alternative view of love and romance,” said Toering.

And while Old-Fashioned is indeed a very different look at courtship and matters of the heart, it is neither a diatribe nor a morality tale. A quick look at a trailer — there are several versions out but the one at http://www.

imdb.com/title/tt2048824/?ref_=nv_sr_1 has a slick counter-50 Shades theme, another is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-p0ozDjAQco — indicates that it is a tender, quirky love story with its fair share of insight into what happens when Christian principles start to lock someone into a life of isolation.

“Stop using the grace of God as a brick wall,” the hero’s aunt tells him at one point; learning how to do that seems to be one of the movie’s overriding themes.

“It should appeal to anyone with brokenness in their past. It offers hope and healing, it’s a second-chances type of story,” says Toering.

Moreover, the production values are high. Rik Swartzwelder is the star as well as the director, and portions of the film ring true, Toering says, because they come from Swartzwelder’s own life.

The female half of the romantic duo is Elizabeth Roberts, who is a charming, believable “free-spirited woman.” She has 25 acting credits to her name, including daytime TV, and such series as CSI and films like  Black Knight and Downstream.

“Cinematography,” comments Toering. “It’s a beautiful film, and we’ve heard so many good things about how high-quality it is.”

The film was pre-released last weekend to three theaters: the Celebration North here in Grand Rapids, one in Silver Spring, Md., and one in a suburb of Orlando, Fla.
And by at least one measure, the film did astonishingly well. As reported on the site boxofficemojo.com, Old-Fashioned ranked third in the whole nation for per-screen attendance.

But another measure is what Toering heard as he attended all of the screenings at the Celebration.

“I know that it ‘plays.’ I watched the audiences, and then asked people here and there who said they loved it,” Toering said. “I’ve heard good things even from some who’ve been skeptical.”

The history of the film dates even further back than the founding of Skoche. “In 2004 I sensed a calling to do something good in media — I viewed media as being so extremely powerful. Films can make people think about things, can be emotional, and they really can start to move people.

“At the time there were Christians and groups who were anti certain movies, and said we should boycott them. But I thought the better alternative is to produce something that you think is good and positive.”

Toering attended a conference at Calvin College and found a number of like-minded people there, including Swartzwelder, who had had critical success with a previous short film, The Least of These. Toering and his wife reviewed Old-Fashioned and thought it had a lot of potential for meeting their goals, so Skoche was formed.

But they had difficulty finding investors after the widespread financial difficulties in 2008. Over time they found a lot of small donors to fund it, and were able to scale back proposed costs through, for example, filming it in Swartzwelder’s home area near Canton, Ohio.

In the meantime, Toering says, “We kept talking about and reworking it, and the script got at least 40 rewrites. So during that time, a lot of improvements were made.”

Gordon and Sue Toering’s involvement in the film’s actual production was broad but not too time-consuming, including trips to Ohio, input on major decisions, and post-production reviews.

Toering is a bankruptcy, restructuring and insolvency lawyer who does litigation and dispute resolution.

He had a degree in engineering (B.S.M.E.) from University of Michigan, graduating summa cum laude, before attending U of M for his J.D., magna cum laude, where he also received the Saul L. Nadler Memorial Award for outstanding work in commercial law, corporate law, creditors’ rights and securities regulation.

The honors have continued as he has practiced at Warner Norcross since his graduation, including many years of Best Lawyers and Super Lawyers honors. He is a member fo the American Bankruptcy Institute, Turnaround Management Associa-

tion, and the Christian Legal Society.

Toering indicates that his attorney skills were best used in two ways regarding the film: first, he is adept at reading and dealing with contracts. Though they did hire an entertainment lawyer as well, he adds, “I was able to determine easily what were the big issues in a list of all the potential issues.”

Second, he likened the arc of the film project to the course of the way a legal case goes. “Not that I was running a show, but that ability really helped,” he says.

There is also a soundtrack, released Monday, and a book that derives the story from the movie.

But the anticipation is increasing in terms of this weekend’s 220-screen opening. The distributor is Freestyle Releasing, also handling the current Jennifer Aniston film Cake. “It’s in 38 states but it could go broader if it’s successful,” Toering points out.

“Right now I’m cautiously optimistic,” he says with his broad grin.w