Levi Obery: From the farm to Hollywood

DeWayne Bartels
Levi Obery

In Woodford County and beyond the Obery name is synonymous with farming.

But, in Hollywood, the name Obery is starting to get recognition for something else — film.

Levi Obery, a Metamora native, who graduated from Metamora High School in 2005, is pursuing a career in the field of independent film — a career choice that got its start on the family farm in Metamora and spawned his company Ten Thirty-One Pictures.

Moving out

Obery, 23, now calls Burbank, Calif., home.

But, not so long ago Metamora was still home as he studied entrepreneurship at Bradley University before graduating in 2009.

Life in California, he said, is just a tad different than life in Central Illinois.

“Things are definitely more fast-paced,” he said.

Still, he misses Metamora, but said he is enjoying this phase in his life and career.

“I left primarily as a strategic move for Ten Thirty-One Pictures. I felt it is vital to the company’s success to have a presence here, in the heart of the industry, if we want to be able to continue our transition into large film projects,” he said.

Film-making has been part of Obery’s life since the sixth grade, though he is not sure what inspired him to pick up a camera.

“I’ve always enjoyed movies, and my uncle Ted (Cowling) having an ever-expanding movie collection at my finger-tips growing up, certainly provided fuel for my future passion as a filmmaker,” Obery said.

A young movie-maker is not what Obery envisioned himself doing as an adult.

“As a child, I remember wanting to be a farmer, a doctor, and then a film director,” Obery said.

But, he has been told by family he was always a creative child. As a high school  freshman he saw the movies as his career choice.

“It was my freshman year of high school when I met David Zimmerman, my producing partner, and we made our first film together. It was a film based on the Halloween horror franchise,” Obery said.

“That first project was when the name Ten Thirty-One Pictures was born.”

Obery said his parents supported his decision 100 percent and provided considerable assistance to the production of each of his films.

Obery said he never found heading to Hollywood to make film his career a scary proposition, but said it has been very hard at times.

Obery said after meeting Zimmerman, things started moving quickly.

“We were lucky to have parents that supported us 100 percent. If it wasn’t for our parents and Metamora Township High School, especially teacher Jerry Stowell and principal Greg Christy, ‘The Only Way,’ my second film, would not have been made. It was a challenge, but certainly paid off and moved our careers forward significantly.”

There have been hardships, Obery said, but said it has been fun so far.

Getting noticed, he said, was not so hard.

“‘The Only Way’ was very controversial and received a fair share of press, most of which was very positive,” Obery said.

A new career

Obery said getting a degree in entrepreneurship was the right decision in retrospect.

“Film itself is very entrepreneurial. Every film project is like starting a small business and managing it through to a sale or acquisition,” Obery said.

He considers his Halloween fan-film produced with David Zimmerman in 2002 his first film.

“At the time we thought it was great. Today, it’s not something that gets shown very often, but it was definitely a learning experience for David and myself. It certainly created a solid foundation for not only our friendship, but producing partnership,” Obery said.

But, it is his film on the family farm and its 135-year history “Obery Farms: A Family’s Legacy” that put him on the map.

“Following the tragic and unexpected death of David Obery, I began helping with the business side of the farm. It was during that time that I became inspired by the farm’s history and discovered that there was a story to tell. As we approached the 135th anniversary, I pitched the idea of a documentary to my grandmother, Marcella, who has a strong passion for history,” he said.

“We then began assembling photos, articles, interviews, and new footage for the film. It look about 14 months to complete.”

The recent success has inspired him to dream bigger.

“I want to continue to make quality films and bigger films. I also want to nurture Ten Thirty-One Pictures into a successful, thriving enterprise similar to Obery Farms and building upon the Obery legacy,” he said.

“I hope that one day Ten Thirty-One Pictures will be celebrating its 135th anniversary.”

In the meantime Obery said making independent films is his passion.

“At times it is hard, but I like the challenge. I also like working on different projects because each one is different and a new adventure,” he said.

His dream is making big budget films.

“Of course, that is on my mind and is hopefully not too far from reality,” he said.

So far his resume includes six films — the Halloween fan-film in 2002, “The Only Way” in 2004, “Before the Storm” in 2005, “Into the Woods” in 2008, “One Hour Fantasy Girl” in 2009, and “The Magic Stone” which was shot in December/January and is now in post-production.

“The Magic Stone” is a psychological thriller about an 18-year-old homeless boy, raised by a violent schizophrenic mother, who believes he’s been given a stone that allows him to enter and control the minds and bodies of people.

The company is also scheduled to begin production on a TV pilot in July.

“We also have several new projects at various stages of development,” he said.

Asked now that he has done this if this is what he wants want to devote his life to he said, “Absolutely. I’m in the industry to stay.”

Hollywood may have its advantages for film-makers, but Obery said he has not forgotten home.

“Making a film here is easier here at times because everything is more film friendly primarily because most people are aware of and familiar with the industry,” he said.

“Even still, Metamora and the surrounding communities were very welcoming to our projects and David and I plan to bring a ‘Hollywood scale’ project there very soon to take advantage of the state’s tax credits for film production.”