Michigan Movie at the Michigan: "The Pickle Recipe"

Fermented foods are a form of pickling, but pickles can just be ... pickles, straight up.

See, sauerkraut and yogurt are fermented foods that engage in a form of pickling, with the preservation caused by lactic acid fermentation.

But straight-up pickling is the process in which a vegetable -- in this case, a cucumber -- is preserved by vinegar, an acidic.

In the The Pickle Recipe, a new film set in Detroit, whatever secret ingredients have been added to Grandma Rose's pickling process -- whose dill-icious concoction has had patrons flocking to Irv’s Deli for years -- is the driving force behind Joey Miller’s desperate attempt to steal the recipe from her.

In other words, this ain't no straight-up pickle.

Miller is a DJ/MC for weddings, bat mitzvahs, and any other party that needs its roof blown off. But Miller (played by Jon Dore) is in debt and he loses his only source of income when all his sound and lighting gear gets destroyed by accident. He turns to his sneaky Uncle Morty (David Paymer) for a loan, who agrees to give Miller the dough -- on one condition: That he steal Grandma Rose’s (Lynn Cohen) pickle recipe, a secret creation she’s long sworn to take to her grave.

Hijinks ensue and viewers are treated to comedic caper flick with more than a touch of heart.

Director Michael Manasseri and writers/producers Sheldon Cohn and Gary Wolfson are Michigan natives, and nine of the cast/crew members attended the University of Michigan. The Pickle Recipe is playing at the Michigan Theater through December 22, and we caught up with Manasseri, Cohn, and Wolfson in an email interview, whose questions they answered as a group.

Q: I know many of the film's makers are from the Detroit area, but are pickles a THING around here in the Jewish / Eastern European communities?
A: I would say that pickles here -- and not the ones that are sides with burgers because they are "kosher style," unless you're in a deli -- are part of the deli scene in Detroit and the great Jewish food scene here. I don't think we are an intense pickle state, but we have some great delis, the best bagels in the U.S., and a great and vibrant Jewish community. Gary's grandma was from Russia and she made incredible kosher dills that her family just loved. But she never gave anyone the recipe and when she died she took the recipe with her. About 5 years ago when Gary told me the story is where the idea for the film was born.

Q: I understand that in the pickle-tasting section off the movie, Sheldon and Gary wrote a rap song to score the scene. Why rap -- when you originally wanted to use a Neil Diamond song! And why didn't the cast take to it?
A: The "song," if you could call it that, was a fairly easy song to write since that's all my sons listen to and rap is such a part of Detroit. Because that's the setting of the film we thought it fit, especially since the deli crew each had some lyrics. Since Neil Diamond was out and neither Gary and I are songwriters, we felt we could do a pickle rap. Well, we wrote it, Gary's cousin put a beat track behind it, and I recorded it on my iPhone. Michael had listened to it and said don't send it to the cast, but I did anyway. And I'm glad I did because the song and my rendition, Jon Dore just hated. He felt it was very dated and said he wouldn't do it; the rest of the cast thought it was lame and corny, and this was on the morning of the day we were supposed to shoot the scene. Since [Dore] was a comedian and also played guitar, he asked if he and the cast could try to come up with something, and we are so glad they did because the rap was so bad. The “She's Tasting Pickles" song saved the scene.

Q: How was it for Sheldon and Gary to make the leap from the advertising world, where they worked together, to feature-length filmmaking? Did the former inform the latter to a degree, or did you discover that selling things versus telling a story were different enough that you had to figure out more things than you thought as the film progressed?
A: In terms of our advertising experience, it was great preparation for movie making. I made short films in college, and advertising -- at least good advertising -- entertains viewers as it sells. Gary and I worked on many commercials and a lot of humorous ones for which we won a lot of awards. Funny spots and emotional tearjerker spots, which was great training. Our directors and crews were very accomplished, with some feature directors and Academy Award-winning cinematographers. We worked with good actors, and spent many hours editing the commercials since in our world the directors didn't edit the spots; we did with editors we hired while the directors went off to their next projects.

One interesting side note is that we hired [legendary documentary filmmaker] Errol Morris for his first commercial years ago, a whacked-out idea called "Mobile Judge" for 7-11 about a judge whose courtroom is on a flatbed and drives around town judging convenience stores. Errol went on to be huge, with a very strong and successful commercial career.

What we weren't prepared for was the pace of a low-budget film. We spent a week filming a 60-second commercial, but here was a 90-minute film in 22 days. There was so little time to play with lines or do alternate reads. But not having to sell something and not having a client and a stopwatch was great. Our best commercials had the sell woven into the story, so the viewer was being sold a product in a subtle way and not with a sledgehammer.

We had the luxury of time to perfect the script, which was 100 drafts over 5 years, and a good amount of time to edit. But one thing that was tough is that when you make a 30-second ad, you can watch it 10 times in a row and make changes. You can't do it with a film. And you get so close to it, it's hard to keep your perspective. But all in all, it was a blast and I was very sad on the last shoot day. I'd love to do it again and I know it won't take 5 years. At least I hope.


Christopher Porter is a Library Technician and editor of Pulp.