Indiana CD creates, directs dark, Dunes-set TV pilot

Thad Donovan

Thad Donovan, president/creative director and producer Carly Smith of Northwest Indiana’s Smith Donovan Marketing Communications, make their first film this summer, Alexis Ronan, a dramatic TV pilot set against the lonely Indiana Dunes.

LA actress Lisa Varga (Armed and Deadly) stars as the title character, an attorney on a relentless search for her missing son, Elijah. The premise draws from the template of contemporary prestige TV drama, centering on a deeply flawed protagonist with a dark secret.

“One of our main goals was to avoid stereotype and challenge the audience,” says writer/director Donovan.  “A male lead would have been more obvious, but we didn’t want to be obvious. But the role that is going to cause the most uproar is that of Max,” one of four suspects in Elijah’s disappearance.  

“Max does terrible things to innocent people, but we’ve made him sympathetic,” Donovan says.  “The audience will have to juggle between their hatred of his actions and their sympathy for why he is the way he is.  I think Max is a groundbreaking character.” 

The role of Max is still being cast, along with a number of supporting roles.

They start filming in August in and around the Indiana Dunes, in Chesterton, LaPorte, Porter, East Chicago, and Rolling Prairie, Indiana and southern Michigan. 

“We also plan to use the dunes landscape as our backdrop,” Donovan says.  “It’s beautiful, yet foreboding. There are secrets in those dunes.”

Lisa VargaSeries suited for major cable outlets

Donovan wrote the script with Smith, his colleague at their Chesterton, Indiana marketing firm, which offers digital and video content creation and production. 

He says Alexis Ronan “was initially intended to be a self-contained project to hone our skills as filmmakers and build relationships in the filmmaking community. By the time we worked out the storyline and characters, we realized we had something much bigger.”

They’re hoping they can sell the series to a cable outlet like HBO or AMC on the strength of the pilot.  “Short of a network pickup, we will build our audience online,” Donovan says. 

“Episodes will be free to watch and we hope to leverage fan growth with networks moving forward. We have some fun marketing ideas to help further promote the project.”

Donovan was second unit director on Swan Song, the latest film by Oscar nominee and fellow Hoosier John Hancock (Bang the Drum Slowly).  Donovan had done marketing and design work for some of Hancock’s earlier indie efforts. 

Swan Song producer Kelly Daisy is also producing Alexis Ronan, and that film’s DP, Dean Jacobson, is shooting the show.