Ryann Liebl, an actress, producer, and director who was born and raised in Wisconsin but lived in Los Angeles most of her life, found herself missing the old-school, feel-good comedies that she grew up with and loved. She also found herself desiring to return to her Wisconsin roots, so Liebl made her first independent film, Mags and Julie Go on a Road Trip, set entirely in Wisconsin, highlighting Milwaukee, Sheboygan County, Ozaukee County, and Door County.
The film will premiere at the Weill Center for the Performing Arts on August 28, 2021 at 7:00 p.m. Visit weillcenter.com for tickets.
Likened to movies such as Bridesmaids; Planes, Trains and Automobiles; and National Lampoon’s Vacation comedies, Liebl’s film, shot in 2019, features the misadventures of best friends Julie and Mags, played by Liebl and Nashville artist Elisabeth Donaldson, as the two set out on a road trip together. Scenes shot in Sheboygan County include driving scenes through Kohler and Plymouth, a cabin in Oostburg, Trattoria Stefano restaurant in Sheboygan, a funny scene at Kohler Andrae State Park, and a scene in the Pigeon River, where the cast and crew were startled by crayfish nipping at their toes. Other Wisconsin locations include a historic building in Milwaukee, a golf course in Mequon, a motel in Sturgeon Bay, and rural roads in Ozaukee County.
The film also features Wes Tank, a Milwaukee artist who went viral with his videos rapping Dr. Seuss books and other children’s stories to Dr. Dre beats; American Idol Golden Ticket winner Franki Moscato of Oshkosh; actress Angie Campbell, who is a native of West Allis; and many extras from Sheboygan, including employees from Field to Fork and Trattoria Steffano, who took part in the restaurant scenes in Sheboygan.
Liebl, 43, lived in Cedarburg for a while as a child and graduated from Nicolet High School in Glendale. She started acting at 14 years old and two years later began landing professional roles in theater. After high school she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career and became a student at the University of Southern California School of Theater, where she minored in film and began studying under renowned acting teacher Milton Katselas, who pushed her to pursue writing, directing, and film making.
During Liebl’s acting career, she worked alongside Dennis Farina, John Travolta, Zachary Quinto, Joe Manganiello and John Michael Higgins, before founding her own production company, REL Films. For more than a decade, she has been producing and directing everything from music videos to short films and commercials.
For “Mags and Julie,” Liebl rented a large office space in a historic building in downtown Sheboygan, where she did her pre-production work setting up filming locations, acquiring props, and coming up with wardrobe. She also did the casting, set design, much of the post-production, and the promotion for the film.
Liebl said she decided to shoot in Sheboygan County because it has all of the locations and the beauty she was looking for, and people in the area are so helpful. “I’ve spent a few summers in Sheboygan and fell in love with the town and its people. People in Sheboygan are innovative, open, and they love to help. I find that the people in Kohler and in Sheboygan County are extremely helpful, so it made sense to do much of the film in the area. People in Sheboygan County aren’t jaded about movie making – it’s something that is still magical to them. Which is my viewpoint. Movies should be magic.”
Liebl also credited Kohler’s passion for the arts. “Because of the support of Kohler, Sheboygan has become a place where the arts can really thrive.” Liebl said the landscape in and around Kohler “is quite beautiful and it was the perfect backdrop for a road trip movie.”
Many scenes were shot in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, but Sheboygan also has a few buildings that look like Milwaukee buildings. “When it came time to find a restaurant, Trattoria Stefano’s in Sheboygan fit the bill,” Liebl said. “It had the Cream City brick and the downtown vibe we were seeking for the film.”
Because of Covid-19, the premiere of the film has been on hold. “We were never able to do a live premiere for the film,” Liebl said. “The event at the Weill Center is my way to finally celebrate the people who helped us make the film. It’s also a way to celebrate being together again after a very tough year.”