Pat Proft remembers staying up all night to shoot a scene in the movie “Wrongfully Accused,” a 1998 spoof on “The Fugitive” that he wrote, directed and produced. It involved a bus getting trapped on train tracks.
Fourteen lattes later, everything worked out and “I couldn’t believe I was still awake,” said Proft.
On Saturday, Proft will talk about the movie’s making at a 1 p.m. screening in Columbia Heights. It’s one of the activities marking the 50-year reunion of Columbia Heights High School’s Class of 1965 — of which Proft is a member. It also coincides with Heights Jamboree, the city’s annual festival, running Wednesday through Sunday.
The movie, which stars the late spoofmaster Leslie Nielsen, includes multiple allusions to Proft’s home state and town, and he said the screening, a fundraiser for the high school alumni scholarship foundation, is a fun way to give back to the community. “I loved growing up in Columbia Heights. It was a tight group. My core group of friends goes back there, some since kindergarten,” he said.
His high school years shaped him, Proft said. Back then, he spent most of his time “thinking of weird things to do,” writing funny sketches and hamming up the morning announcements. His teachers understood him, and they encouraged his talents, he said.
Of all of his movies, “Wrongfully Accused” seemed most apropos for the reunion because of those local references.
For starters, the action swirls around a criminal plot with the code name “Hylander,” which is the Columbia Heights High School mascot, and the movie’s finale is set at the Heights Jamboree. Local places also come up by name, as do some of Proft’s classmates. The characters include a Dr. Fridley and a Lt. Orono, a Hibbing Goodhue and a Lt. Fergus Falls, to name a few.
Proft set out to “make the silliest movie any man has ever seen.” In his view, it contains some of his best jokes, he said.
Just as in “The Fugitive,” the movie is about a man who’s been wrongfully accused of murder. Nielsen’s character tries to solve the crime.
It was Proft’s directing debut. “I was shaky the first day,” Proft said.
However, he got over that quickly, and “I enjoyed working with everyone … I had such great fun making it,” he said of the film, which was shot in Vancouver.
To this day, Proft finds himself listening to the movie’s soundtrack. He told composer and conductor Bill Conti that he wanted a “Warner Bros. 1940s sound, something noirish,” and he delivered, Proft said.
When the orchestra played at the old MGM studio in Hollywood, Proft sat in. At one point, the conductor “cuts and stops and everyone turns toward me to give my opinion. As a joke, I said something that Charlie Chaplin said, like, ‘isn’t it a little busy in the woodwinds?’ They were like, ‘what woodwinds?’ ” he said.
Planning the 50th
Jim Hemak, a Shorewood resident who chairs the reunion’s planning committee, remembers Proft’s early start. In seventh grade, the two of them did a “man-on-the-street” type of skit, emulating the format of “The Steve Allen Show.” Hemak was the random interviewee.
During the reunion, Proft also will speak at a Saturday dinner at the Mermaid Entertainment Center in Mounds View. Military veterans and those from the 365-student class who have passed away will be honored during the event, he said.
The tagline for the weekend’s festivities is ‘reconnect, reminisce, recognize,’ said Hemak.
Barb Ritter, an alumna and reunion organizer who lives in New Brighton, said it’s surreal gearing up for the events. “Somebody else has always gone to their 50th reunion. You think, ‘it couldn’t possibly be me now. I certainly am younger than this,’ ” she said, adding, “Everybody feels that way.”
She’s hoping for a big turnout, and as of late last week, 184 people had registered, from Minnesota and 16 other states.
Hemak said that ultimately he hopes the reunion “generates a lot of excitement and participation” and that the relationships continue on. “We’re at a stage in life where we can value those friendships for their genuineness and not put on airs. We are who we are,” he said.
For more information about the screening of “Wrongfully Accused” or the Columbia Heights High School’s 1965 class reunion, check out http://chhs65.classquest.com.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.