Riki McManus – Minnesota’s First Lady of Film

JoAnn Jardine

If anyone deserves the title of “Minnesota’s First Lady of Film,” it is decidedly Riki McManus. She has been working in the film and broadcast industry for her entire career, beginning with her own talk show on KQRS Radio in Minneapolis while she was still in high school.

Her work in the commercial film industry in Minneapolis included both on-camera and voice-over jobs. McManus later became an agent and then the Director of Plaza Three Model and Talent Agency.

Riki McManus in the old St. Louis County jail on the set of a music video. -Photo by JoAnn Jardine

Riki got her big break when she was asked to work on the casting of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” She said, “That was a really exciting project, getting to meet Prince. After the shoot, he gave a concert for the cast and crew at the World Theater in Minneapolis.”

After “Purple Rain,” she established the first casting company in Minnesota, Riki Wuolle Casting. Since then, she has been involved in the casting of many feature films.

She was part of a group of founders for a Film Office in Minnesota and has served as past President, as well as Interim Director of the organization.

For the 1994 Disney film, “Iron Will,” McManus did the local casting and was the initial scout who convinced Disney to shoot the film here instead of Montana.

in 1996, McManus and IRRRB Commissioner Mark Philips started the Upper MN Film Office as a public/private partnership. For the 2005 film, “North Country,” with Jessica Lange and Sam Shepherd, Riki worked with IRRRB to set up incentives for “North Country” which would have otherwise gone to New Mexico.

McManus explained, “Because IRRRB set up the incentives, we did shoot almost half the film in the Northland. I also did the local casting for the project.”

She has long been a leader in bringing incentives to Minnesota for the state and counties to entice film companies and projects considering coming here to film.

McManus also played an important role in bringing the Catalyst Festival to Duluth with Philip Gilpin Jr. and working with Gilpin to move Catalyst’s home base to Duluth. She has been hard at work on many Catalyst initiatives devoted to bringing series television projects to the area.

Philip Gilpin Jr. (CEO/Executive Director at Catalyst Story Institute) and Riki McManus (Chief Production Officer at Upper Midwest Film Office).

She explained that this connection is working to bring the executives of HBO, Netflix, Hulu, Disney, etc. together with creatives in a quieter setting away from the hustle and bustle on either coast. She loves giving tours to a variety of locales when prospective producers and other filmmakers come to town.

“Catalyst is such a huge step in the industry, by bringing the eyes of the world to the Northland,” McManus said. She is excited about the Film Fest and Catalyst Festival to be held here in Duluth this fall.

There has an educational connection as well. Students at UMD are now working on a production creation process called Maroon Loon Studios. It's a first of its kind partnership between UMD, Catalyst Story Institute, and the National Academy of TV Arts and Sciences, also known as the Daytime TV Emmys. The goal is to create a pathway for UMD students to enter the television industry.

A large part of bringing productions here, according to McManus, is the number of local jobs this can bring across all sectors. This can include restaurants, hotels, housing, and jobs in everything from construction to working on makeup, costumes, and hair.

She noted that besides showing the executives and content makers amazing locations that the Northland has to offer it also shows that the cast, crew, and vendors are also here to support their productions.

McManus and others are working to put together a resource guide ready to give production companies the information to help them to find people and places they need to film here.

Scouting on Park Point with the Director of Cash For Gold Robert Enriquez and writer-director–actress for the film, Deborah Pruette.

“All my working career, I have looked for ways to lift up communities by making it easier to film here in Minnesota,” Riki said.

She has recently been involved in the film “Cash for Gold” filmed in Chisholm and doing the scouting for shooting the pilot for a TV series “Canusa Street.” McManus has been working on the initiative to build a state-of-the-art soundstage and film production campus in Duluth.

McManus has been listed in the Who’s Who for Women in Minnesota. She has served on the Variety Club Heart Hospital Board in Minneapolis, the Duluth Playhouse Board, Duluth Entertainment and Convention Board, VisitDuluth, Northeast Regional Sustainable Development Board through the University of MN, the Northern Film Alliance Board and Catalyst.

Riki was born in Duluth, moved to the Twin Cities as a child, and moved back here in 1989 to the area she loves. She is married to Cary McManus and lives on Fish Lake with their two dogs, a Standard Goldendoodle named Finn and s Medium Goldendoodle puppy named Lulu.

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