Award winning film "The Novice" produced by Crookston, Minnesota, native

The Novice,” written and directed by Lauren Hadaway, opens on Friday, Dec. 17. Steven Sims, a native of Crookston, Minnesota, worked on the film as a producer.

THE NOVICE Still 2.jpg
Isabelle Fuhrman as Alex Dall in Lauren Hadaway’s "The Novice."
Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

An award-winning film with regional ties is coming to theaters this week.

“The Novice,” written and directed by Lauren Hadaway, opens on Friday, Dec. 17. Steven Sims, a native of Crookston, Minnesota, worked on the film as a producer. River Cinema 15 in East Grand Forks will show the film and it will also be available for streaming on demand.

The film centers on Alex Dahl, played by Isabelle Fuhrman (from 2009's “Orphan”), a first-year college student obsessed with making it into the varsity boat on her school’s rowing team. The film premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in New York City in June, and won awards for "Best Narrative Feature Film," "Best Actress" and "Best Cinematography" at the festival.

Sims works at H2L Media Group, an independent production company in Beverly Hills, California. Hadaway came to the company with the semi-autobiographical script after writing it, and executives at H2L decided to produce it. Sims was part of the team that helped with securing funding, finding a filming location, booking talent and entering the film into festivals.

“The Novice” is Hadaway’s directorial debut, but far from the first movie she has worked on. She has sound credits in dozens of movies like “Zach Snyder’s Justice League,” “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” and Academy Award winner “Whiplash.” Sims said Hadaway had a strong presence on set.


“Sometimes when you get especially first-time filmmakers but even filmmakers that have made several movies, they don’t know what they want and then the story can become a bit of a mess because certain things aren’t lining up,” Sims recently told the Grand Forks Herald. “Lauren had such a strong vision overall of what she wanted while shooting that she was able to capture all of that.”

Hadaway loosely based the film on her own experiences rowing in college, but Fuhrman was completely new to the sport. She spent six weeks before filming training with a rowing coach and strength coach, and gained 12 pounds in muscle for the role. Alex is a quiet main character, with most of the story taking place in her actions. Fuhrman said the training helped her connect to the character.

“I got to dive into this role in a very physical way,” Fuhrman said in an interview with the Herald. “Mentally, you start to kind of get into that same mind space of being an athlete and, you know, going after specific numbers and having those goals set for yourself.”

The movie was filmed at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, in October and November of 2019. Many scenes in the movie take place on the water, with Alex rowing alone, or teams of rowers practicing and racing. To take advantage of the warmest weather during filming, scenes on the water were filmed during the first week.

“Shooting on the water can be quite complicated and very tricky because of the continuity aspects of it and you have a lot of moving parts that need to line up in order to get a shot that’s usable,” Sims said.

Sims said while filming in the water, there were as many as a dozen boats on the water at a time. This included boats with actors, crew members and safety personnel.

“My first week as a director was water week,” Hadaway said. “It was all of the cliches: thrown into the deep end, sink or swim, all of that.”

The Hollywood Reporter compared “The Novice” to Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” and Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash,” two other movies about obsession. Between workout montages and a heavy, brutalist setting, Sims described the film as “genre-bending” – something between a sports movie and a dark thriller.


“It feels like, wow, this is something new I haven’t seen before,” said Sims. “I think that is probably what excites people in independent film, when they see something fresh and new or a genre or type of movie through a new lens that hasn’t been shown before.”

Sims is also a producer on two upcoming films, which he expects to come to theaters in the next year. One, called “Blood,” is directed by Brad Anderson (“The Machinist”) and filmed in Manitoba. The other, “Marlowe,” is directed by Neil Jordan (“Interview with the Vampire”) and stars Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange.

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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