Inspired by true events, Under Ground is the story of Katka Kovich, a young Slovenian woman who emigrates to a rough-and-tumble community on Minnesota’s Iron Range in 1915, where the workers have been brutally exploited and are on the brink of revolution. Working for her aunt’s secret newspaper, Katka chronicles shootouts at labor rallies, murders in the mines, police corruption, and false imprisonment. When the strikers are forbidden to assemble, she joins a heroic group of women who take over the strike, risking rape and murder to oppose corrupt lawmen and strikebreaking thugs.

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SYNOPSIS

A story of revolution and uprising, Under Ground has passionately-spirited, colorful protagonists and despicable antagonists. It chronicles shootouts at labor rallies, guns transported to and from secret bunkers, passionate love affairs, fights in brothels, police corruption, and false imprisonment.

Katka Kovich, a young Slovenian woman, orphaned and destitute, immigrates to northern Minnesota just prior to the tumultuous iron mining strike of 1916. Accompanying her on the ocean voyage is Paul Schmidt, a labor agitator who (unbeknownst to Katka) has a price on his head. Paul is arrested at Ellis Island and Katka travels on alone. Arriving at the rough-and-tumble town of Biwabik, Katka helps her feisty aunt Lily and her jovial uncle Anton manage the Slovenski Dom, a boarding house and tavern that becomes an epicenter for union organizing. The immigrant miners who work in the blood-red hematite tunnels owned by the Oliver Mining Company are on the verge of walking out. Lily and Katka publish an underground newspaper that fuels the unrest.

The company-owned sheriff murders workers who try to organize, and deputizes convicted criminals to intimidate the strikers by beating them and raping their wives. In the climax of the story, four thug deputies raid the Slovenski Dom under false pretenses. One deputy, the enormous bouncer at a local tavern/brothel, brutally beats Lily and starts to rape her — until Katka arrives with her Winchester. An all-out brawl ensues and two men are killed. The sheriff arrives and arrests Lily, Anton, and two boarders, accusing them of contributing to the death of a lawman. Anton and the boarders sacrifice their freedom to save Lily and her baby from unjust imprisonment, just as the striking immigrant workers have sacrificed their jobs, their peace of mind, and often their lives to create a union that would ensure better working conditions for their children and future generations.

 

WHY TELL THIS STORY?

Under Ground is set in 1916, but our story resonates to this day.

This is a story of immigrants. In the early 20th Century, thousands of people from dozens of countries fled war, disease, tyranny, and poverty to seek a better life in Minnesota. The work they found on the Iron Range was dangerous and back-breaking, and they also faced exploitation and violent intimidation from the mine owners. Overcoming differences in language and culture, they learned to unite in a common cause. We should know their story.

This is also a story of the rise of the labor movement. Stories about the struggle for the rights of labor, about dignity for the workers and respect for the work they do, can never be told too often. Although there has been an occasional movie, scripted television almost never deals with labor in a serious or realistic way. Told from the perspective of a strong young woman, this series shows workers battling overwhelming odds to make their lives better. We should know their story.

This is also a story of the women. When people think about strikes, most think of the men involved. But in every desperate situation, there have been women working, too. Women who had to explain to their children why there was no food. Women who took to the dangerous picket lines when the men were forbidden. Women who were willing to sacrifice nearly anything to ensure that their children would have a better future. These women were real. They still exist. They “hold up three corners of the house.” We should know their story.

 

AUDIENCE

Adults of all ages and genders will enjoy this story for its powerful drama and message of justice. The story does include strong language, violence, and sexual content. 

 

TIMELINE, BUDGET:     

2024: Development, Major fundraising, and Pre-production

2025: Principal photography & Post-production

Estimated budget: $2 million per episode, $10 million overall

 

MORE INFORMATION:

  • The script for the first episode of Under Ground was an official Selection (finalist for Best Drama Script) at the 2021 Catalyst Festival.
  • Under Ground, a story about the labor movement, will be shot with union cast and crews, and will patronize union establishments whenever possible.
  • This project can be shot entirely in St. Louis County, Minnesota. The State of Minnesota, St. Louis County, and the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board all offer generous production incentives.

 

PROFILES:

MEGAN MARSNIK (Novelist) is the granddaughter of Slovenian immigrants and the daughter of union activists. One of her first jobs was transcribing oral histories that recounted the atrocities that took place during the miners’ strike of 1916. Under Ground is based on those real events. Megan earned an MFA in writing from Naropa University, where she received the Jack Kerouac Award for outstanding prose. Under Ground was serialized in the Star-Tribune in 2015 and won the Slovenian Literary Award in 2021. Megan taught philosophy and creative writing in the Minneapolis Public Schools for many years, and has been a lecturer on the role of women in the labor movement.

 

MARK BRADLEY (Screenwriter, Executive Producer) has had a fifty-year career as an actor, mostly in Twin Cities area, and is a proud member of Actors’ Equity and SAG-AFTRA. In addition to the script for Under Ground, his writing includes a stage adaptation of The Shop Around the Corner, a screenplay adaptation of a British sex farce, and a one-act play inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone. His pilot for Dodo in London, a television dramedy set during World War II, was a semifinalist in the Pitch Now Season 6 competition, and his satirical video “Hot Buttons” won the top award from the International Labor Communications Association. A long-time union activist, Mark has served on the Equity Liaison Committee and the local and national AFTRA and SAG-AFTRA Boards.

 

 

SARA HAMILTON (Consulting Producer) is a development executive, producer, and consultant with 25+ years in film and media, marketing and branding, strategy and business development. She is the Executive Director of The Driftless Film Office in the Midwestern US [Rochester, MN?]; an Executive Producer with the global entertainment financial and packing [packaging?] firm Filmojy; the Head of Partnerships and Development for Catalyst Episodic Story Institute; and a Producing Partner with Superior Studios. In addition to developing and producing films and series, Sara consults with independent producers, studios, businesses, organizations, and non-profits to create meaningful and successful partnerships. She is also an advocate for the film and TV industry, serving on the Boards of FilmNorth, the Minnesota Film Alliance and EntertainMint.  Sara was Executive Producer on the award-winning documentary, Time Zero: The Last Year of Polaroid Film, and was Producer of the recent film, Seed of Doubt.