MILFORD — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and closed the doors for many two years ago, it surprisingly opened up a new opportunity for Milford filmmaker Mike Fox and his family.
Mike and wife Trisha Fox and their 15-year-old daughter Arianna “Ari,” who have lived in Delaware since 2004, own the design company Splash DesignWorks and have experience in video production, such as making commercials for clients.
While Mr. Fox has done short films in the past, the start of the pandemic allowed him to take a deep dive into filmmaking as he tried to fill some time by adding extra footage to Arianna’s show reel for her acting pursuits.
When he decided to help his daughter with her acting portfolio, he had no idea the routine project would blossom into a full-fledged feature-length movie called “The Box in the Basement.”
“Basically, this was originally created to be just some extra show reel for our daughter Arianna,” Mr. Fox said. “Within an extremely short amount of time, that timeline began to grow.”
It was the confidence Mr. Fox gained from adding to Arianna’s reel that helped him land a position as a director/producer/editor/creator for a family-friendly comedy sitcom called “WannaBe A Star,” which he co-produced with Marquis Skinner.
“We filmed that, I directed and produced, and was co-writing this comedy sitcom last year and it garnered a lot of attention for Delaware entertainment,” said Mr. Fox. The show’s pilot episode can be seen on YouTube or crystalfoxfilms.com.
Soon after came Mr. Fox’s walk with his wife at Killens Pond that set the wheels in motion for “The Box in the Basement.”
“Another filmmaker friend here in Delaware said, ‘You know what, Mike, you really need to make this into a feature film,’” he said, “And I just laughed, I said, ‘C’mon, we can’t make this a feature film. We don’t have the funds for that.’
“So, my wife and I were on a date just walking in the park and I told her that and she started adding up all of the scenes that we had.”
Once they added all of those scenes up, they realized it could be a full-length feature film.
“Finally, I completed the post-production on it and submitted the trailer for the film and garnished over 10 awards for the trailer,” he said. “And my wife’s like, ‘Hey, you got these for the trailer. Wait until they see the movie.’”
The feature film, which was both shot and produced entirely in Delaware, was released in front of a packed audience at Westown Movies in Middletown on Nov. 20.
It was a day that Arianna will never forget, complete with a red carpet and Hollywood-style reception following the private showing. She plays the role of lead characrer Avery in the film.
“It was incredible. It was an absolute blast,” Arianna said. “There were so many people that we knew in Delaware and then also people from the cast. It was packed out. It was incredible.
“People really loved the movie. It was crazy. I can remember walking into the theater and just seeing literally almost every single seat being taken by somebody.”
The home-schooled Arianna has been acting since the age of 5. She has also been a three-time Amazon best-selling author, a professional voiceover talent for names like Plato’s Closet, Old Navy, Taco Bell, Amazon, and the Boys & Girls Club, and serves as a keynote speaker for both youth and adults.
“I’m overjoyed with the movie, the premiere and everyone participating in this entire project,” said Arianna. “It’s amazing to see the wide array of talent in the actors and actresses, and how the storyline and characters come together to create the emotionally impacting movie. And then to see almost the entire cast and crew at the premiere is simply epic.”
Mr. Fox said “The Box in the Basement” addresses many difficult issues that face teenagers today.
“This is a sci-fi film, with twists and turns, amazing acting, super storyline, and it tackles real-life challenges like bullying, teen-parent relationships, family issues, depression, potential teen suicide and emphasizing that everyone — especially teens — have the choice to create their future,” he said.
The movie’s plotline revolves around the main character, Avery, who leads a difficult life and is dealing with myriad teen-related issues. She has lost her younger brother to cancer, is dealing with bullies at school, has family tensions, a teacher on her case, a lack of true friends and self-identity, and even has thoughts of killing herself.
However, the plot evolves into science fiction when Avery finds a mysterious box in the basement, which has the power to transport her to her own future, beyond the cares of youth — but without the possibility of a return.
She is then faced with choices that could impact not only her life, but those she loves.
“She’s about 13 or so years old and she’s a teenager and she’s bullied a lot throughout the movie and her life basically sucks,” Arianna said of her character Avery.
“Things are going kind of wrong in her life. Her parents are arguing, and all kinds of things are happening to her. She’s a very fun character to play because she’s always depressed until like … well, you’ll see.”
The film gave Mr. Fox a chance to also spread his wings as a filmmaker.
“The film side just hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s a drive,” he said. “I just had a feeling, like a burst out of nowhere, to create this character of Avery, who is going through a hard time and has temptation from this box.”
As a bonus, there are plenty of places — and cast members — that people might recognize in the movie, such as scenes at Bibi’s Restaurant and bed-and-breakfast spot Causey Mansion in Milford and Killens Pond State Park in Felton.
“There are so many places here that are amazing to shoot,” said Mr. Fox. “I was surprised to find so much talent within Delaware.”
The family’s production company, Crystal Fox Films is in consultation on distribution and looking for investors and partners to bring the movie to the Hollywood circuit and beyond, including streaming platforms such as Amazon and Tubi.
The family that films together
Mr. Fox said each member of his family has input when it comes to the projects they are creating — and that’s what makes them so strong.
“Absolutely 100 percent — our daughter is the lead actress and script editor,” he said. “Her main passion is writing, so she’s an Amazon best seller, but she’s also a scriptwriter and editor.
“My wife was an extra and a (production assistant). So we do everything as a family. We’re known throughout Delaware as the Fox family, whether it be the business, or when we do cosplay for Comic Con, movie making or chamber events.
“Making the movie brought us closer because when you are already close, and you work hard together, that in itself helps bring hard work and camaraderie and makes you want to help each other succeed.”
The family feeling during the shooting of the film went far beyond blood lines.
Having little more than out-of-pocket expenses, donations of material and time — from a school bus and driver, production crew, staff and other supporters — came from all over to help the project.
Mr. Fox said he appreciated the help with creating a milestone moment for filmmaking in Delaware.
“This is a big deal for Delaware because I’ve been working with Akima Brown, who is very, very big in the entertainment and arts part of Delaware, especially with legislation and helping the film commission to get back moving forward,” he said. “When I talked to her, she said basically, you’re an answer to our prayers because all the legislators who are movers and shakers were like, ‘Where’s the proof that there are filmmakers in Delaware?’
“I’m hoping that this film would change and impact a lot of lives and a lot of youth. I’m really excited we can do it for, and in, Delaware. There’s a lot of talent out here — it’s just nobody knows.”