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Local filmmaker produces Emmy-nominated PSA

Les Sholes, founder and president of Fat Cat Productions, sits outside his lake front home just outside of Hatton, ND. A Grand Forks based company Fat Cat Productions creates everything from independent films to public service announcements and commercials. (Luke Franke/Grand Forks Herald)2 / 6
Les Sholes, founder and president of Fat Cat Productions, sits outside his lake front home just outside of Hatton, ND. A Grand Forks based company Fat Cat Productions creates everything from independent films to public service announcements and commercials. (Luke Franke/Grand Forks Herald)3 / 6
Les Sholes and the rest of the crew pose for a photo after shooting one of the public service announcements to help recruit and retain volunteer firefighters. Fat Cat Productions is currently completing a four-year campaign with the firm. (Submitted photo)4 / 6
Former President Bill Clinton and Les Sholes pose for a photo in March 2012 in Grand Forks. Clinton was in town for the North Dakota Democratic Convention. (Submitted photo)5 / 6
Les Sholes directs a public service announcement to help recruit and retain volunteer firefighters in North Dakota. The PSAs have won several international awards and were nominated for an Upper Midwestern Emmy. (Submitted photo)6 / 6

Ideas flow from Les Sholes’ mind with ease.

There was the time when Sholes created the world’s shortest feature film and was featured in the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records.

Or the times when he’s come up with ideas similar to movies such as “Back to the Future” and “Paranormal Activity” years before they ended up being released.

“The ideas just come to me like that,” Sholes said, snapping his fingers.

As the head of Grand Forks-based Fat Cat Productions, Sholes has turned those ideas into television commercials, public service announcements, web videos, training videos and independent feature films. Sholes and his crew are currently wrapping up a four-year campaign for a firm in North Dakota to produce a series of public service announcements to help recruit and retain volunteer firefighters and EMS agencies in the state.

The PSAs have aired in North Dakota during primetime television shows, including “Chicago Fire.” Those spots won several international and local awards, including a 2013 Upper Midwestern Emmy Nomination.

“Since starting this campaign, me and my wife have gained so much more understanding and respect for what firefighters do and the effort and dedication needed.”

The campaign has featured Hall of Fame Boxer Virgil Hill and Congressional Medal of Honor winner Clint Romesha.

“It’s been a really rewarding experience,” Sholes said.

Starting small

Sholes said he was always interested in the arts and was drawn to video and movies. After working a few odd jobs and owning several small businesses, Sholes said his interest was still in art.

He began studying filmmaking and took courses at various places around the country, receiving certification in film production, directing, screenwriting and directing television commercials.

He began working on several film sets in the U.S. and Canada as a boom operator, gaffer and production assistant. He also directed and produced music videos for bands and artists in the upper Midwest. In 2001, Sholes and his wife founded Fat Cat Productions.

Fat Cat Productions produced the feature film “Ole and Lena” in 2003. The film was played at several film festivals throughout the United States and Canada and had some success in Grand Forks, with the movie breaking a box office record for movies at the Empire Arts Center in downtown Grand Forks.

Fat Cat Productions went on to produce “Soldier Boy,” the world’s shortest feature film at the time. The film was made with the purpose of a large company using the film as an advertising promotion. The movie went on to be featured in the Guinness Book of World Records and was purchased by a regional company as a sponsor for Fat Cat Productions’ website.

“It was a really long process,” Sholes said. “You wouldn’t think that (about) a movie that was only a few seconds long, but there was a lot of time and people involved in its production.”

Detail-oriented work

Sholes said television production is a complicated process that involves a lot of detail-oriented work, something Sholes takes great pride in. He said he feels any of the details has the potential to transform a campaign into either an award-winning success or a disappointing failure.

Fat Cat Productions handles the writing, directing and producing of the creative process. The company hires outside professionals, such as location scouts, camera crews, sound and lighting crews, actors and makeup artists to handle the remainder of the tasks.

“We’re one of the few places left that storyboards everything they do instead of just winging it as we go. That’s really rare nowadays, and I think the actors and everybody on set like and appreciate that.”

Sholes said his biggest worries come on the day of the shoot. He wonders whether or not the weather will cooperate or if they will have to shoot many takes of a certain scene.

“I compare it to a military exercise,” Sholes said. “Everything is on a time-based schedule with no room for error.”

Sholes said, depending on the shoot, he might shoot 20 or more takes for a shot until he gets it exactly how he wants it. Sometimes this causes him to re-shoot some of his scenes and make creative decisions on the fly.

That detail-oriented work and creativity is what Sholes said are some of his strongest suits. In the near future, Sholes said he hopes to focus on filming a couple of films. He’s begun writing some scripts and scouting locations in and around the area.

Sholes said he’s got a strong clientele in the area and has never been drawn to the bright lights in Los Angeles, preferring to stay in North Dakota.

“In places like L.A., you’re a small fish in a big pond. Here in North Dakota, I’m able to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. You’re able to get a lot of work that you wouldn’t be able to get in places like Los Angeles. I’ve gotten a lot of support here, so it’s worked out really well for me.”

Call Rupard at (701) 780-1122; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1122; or send email to

Wade Rupard

Wade Rupard is a reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. Rupard is a 2014 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and is originally from Normal, Ill. 

(701) 780-1122