“(Screenwriter Gary Wolfson) and I would talk about movie ideas,” said “The Pickle Recipe” producer Sheldon Cohn in a recent interview. “One night, out of nowhere, Gary said, ‘My grandma used to make these unbelievable pickles. My sister said she’d kill for the recipe.’ But his grandma never told it to anybody, and she died. So the pickles are gone because the recipe’s gone. And I said, ‘that’s kind of a funny idea for a movie.’”
So began the journey of “The Pickle Recipe,” a feature-length film about a desperate grandson stealing his grandmother’s prized pickle recipe to pay for his daughter’s bat mitzah. It opens in Ann Arbor Friday at the Michigan Theater.
Cohn is an alum of the University of Michigan film department and graduated from what was then called the Speech, Radio, TV and Film department in 1977. After working in advertising for most of his adult life, Cohn began to work on “The Pickle Recipe” with seven other University alums. Cohn emphasized that he mostly enjoyed the storytelling components of filmmaking, particularly writing and editing.
“One of the most fun parts was the writing process,” Cohn said. “Sitting with Gary, whether it was my house, his house, in my treehouse smoking cigars. Just throwing ideas back and forth — what if, what if, what if.”
The pre-production of the film as a whole was gratifying for Cohn — after finding Lynn Cohen, the woman who plays the grandmother, Rose, on YouTube, he reached out to her to see if she would want the part. She confirmed her interest a day after she was sent the script.
The entire film was shot in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs. Cohn said one of the most important things for him was creating a positive representation of Detroit.
“We saw the film as a depiction of working Detroit. And just the shots of neighborhoods and the skyline were important to get,” Cohn said. “People from out of state say, ‘I didn’t know Detroit looked like that!’ The media has depicted Detroit as burnt-out buildings and vacant lots. They think Detroit is horrible looking. We have quotes from people saying (director) Michael Manaserri shoots Detroit with the same affection that Woody Allen shoots Manhattan. You can see that, in the way we photograph the city.”
“The Pickle Recipe” has been screened all over the country and audiences have been very receptive to it. According to Cohn, though, the critical reception has been less than ideal. “Not everybody likes the film,” Cohn said. “If you go on Rotten Tomatoes, the critics, they’re not nice to us … We didn’t sit there and want to make ‘Citizen Kane.’ We wanted to make a fun, enjoyable movie that was both funny and emotional.”
Despite the negative critical reaction, Cohn affirmed his excitement to release the film in Ann Arbor, with his fellow University of Michigan alums that worked on “The Pickle Recipe.” He underscored the importance of his education at the University and the way it gave him hands-on experience filming that would help him throughout his career.
“I got hands-on experience with equipment, worked with really good people and professors and appreciated what I did,” Cohn said. “My career after U of M is working at real projects. Learning how to tell a story. Something I kept in mind from Michigan was, ‘is there anything I can do to make it better?’ You just have to keep working on it until it’s as good as it can be. I like working with the people from Michigan, and I love the idea that it’s going to play in Ann Arbor. That’s very sentimental.”