What Happens When Camera Crews Come Where Amish Go To Get Away

When someone says “tell me about Sarasota,” they will focus on the sugar sand beaches, the great weather, breadth of cultural options, spring training, shopping and the hundreds of homeless.

Further down on the list is Pinecraft. Just outside of city limits, Pinecraft is where Amish and Mennonite go to snowbird. They call this the Amish Las Vegas. You can use a cell phone here, watch TV even, use electricity (try living without A/C in FLA) and some other comforts.

The village seemed to be bombarded with media and entertainment coverage in 2012-2013 and it was taking a toll on the residents. No other outlet was talking about these problems. Enjoy:

‘Breaking Amish’ Experience Leaves Bad Taste In Pinecraft

The TLC reality show filmed scenes for its second season in Sarasota’s Amish village.
By  March 6, 2013

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories on Sarasota’s Amish and Mennonite village Pinecraft dealing with an increased demand of television coverage.

Sarasota’s Amish village Pinecraft will be featured in the second season of TLC’s “Breaking Amish,” to the dismay of a few members of the community.

The show is controversial all around, with some members presenting themselves as just now going through their journey of leaving the Amish community, while some have been out for quite some time, according to published reports and members of the Pinecraft community who know one of the cast members.

In the first season, the cast was placed in the middle of New York City, left to discover the “English” world, getting tattoos, finding love in a hopeless place and doing plenty of drinking. The show received the highest ratings for any first-season series for TLC.

The second season is due air in May, but had filmed part of the season in Pinecraft on around Feb. 19. The press previews on E! and NBC tout that the second season “promises more drama,” and that is what a Sarasota-based location scout had apparently told a business owner in Pinecraft.

The crew was in Sarasota last month to see if a cast member could find work in Pinecraft along with capturing their life in Florida, according to Pinecraft business owners.

Kathryn Graber, co-owner of The Village Cupboard grocery store in Pinecraft, refused filming at her store multiple times, and an employee saw one of the cast members with a flip camera shooting footage in the store as another cast member was shopping. Graber was adamant to the production company that the footage was not authorized to be on television, she said.

Graber was approached by a location scout for the show, whom she asked, “What’s the premise of this show?” The response didn’t entice her at all.

“She was real kind of quick and flippant about it and said, ‘Oh, you know, it’s a reality show. Come into the community and stir up drama and film it,’ ” Graber recalled. “I just remembered going, ‘And I want to be a part of that, why?’ ”

Graber stands by the account, and the interaction didn’t stop there, with crew coming in the store three times.

“We had a little conversation about these kids and how some of them aren’t in a good place in their lives and are struggling, and she said, ‘You could be a part of changing that for them,” Graber recalled. “I said, ‘Why would I believe anything that this production company is going to do? They can edit it anyway they want.’ ”

Patch reached out for comment to the show’s production company, Hot Snakes Media, but a voice message was not returned. The production company is also behind Discovery’s hit show “Amish Mafia

Viola Mast, Village Cupboard co-owner, was inside when female members of the cast came into shop.

“I look up and at the end of the aisle, there’s a guy with a flip cam,” Mast said. “… A couple minutes later they’re up here checking out, and he’s there with a flip cam, and I asked, ‘What are you filming?'”

So Graber called the production company twice to make it clear that filming was not allowed in the store and should not appear to television, and received an apology and the inside of the store shouldn’t appear on the show.

“We’ll see,” she said.

Graber is not a fan of either “Breaking Amish” or “Amish Mafia” because of the creative license used in the shows.

“I think because there’s so much false much information, it’s hurtful to the community for that reason,” said Graber, who is a former member of the Amish church.

Other Pinecraft community members were keenly aware of the production company’s presence in February.

“We’re only eight blocks wide. They had approached almost every Amish-owned business in the village asking if they could film. They were turned down by all but two businesses,” said Sherry Gore, a nationally known cookbook author in Pinecraft and who had an appearance in a rival production company’s documentary “Amish: Out of Order” on National Geographic.

Among the businesses that allowed filming are Alma Sue’s Quilts and Der Dutchman restaurant. When dealing with “reality” shows, producers can suggest situations to participants that may detract from reality. Local management made sure they wouldn’t participate in those scenarious, including one scene when management was asked to not hire an employee because they were not Amish or Mennonite. (Several members of the staff aren’t Amish or Mennonite anyway.)

“When you want something that’s exciting, sometimes you have to create excitement,” Der Dutchman General Manager Willard Schlabach said about the experience.

However, overall the production company “did not give us a problem,” he said.

Schlabach is aware of the concern and the protection needed for Pinecraft and hopes to not cross that line.

“Pinecraft is unique having people from the Amish community coming together from different sections of the U.S., and we get along quite well, and we want to keep it that way,” he said.

The segment of the show is expected to air in early June, Schlabach said.

Gore helped guide her son’s girlfriend, Mary Mullet, 20, through questions she received from a casting director via Facebook looking to talk to her about a show, too.

Curious, Mullet called and found that the show’s premise is to bring Amish youth out to the Los Angeles area and film them “fulfilling their dreams in Hollywood,” Gore said. The casting director disclosed to the family this would be for a different season of “Breaking Amish” than the Pinecraft-centered season, Gore said.

“She said she couldn’t work on a show that badmouths other people, and she didn’t want any other Amish slammed, and before she got another word out of her mouth, the casting director hung up on her,” Gore said.

Mullet, a full-time Pinecraft resident, has not been Amish since she was 10 years old, Gore said.

Pinecraft Blogger Hopes PBS Film Could Change Amish’s Minds

Pinecraft resident Katie Troyer was interviewed for a follow-up to PBS’s “The Amish” American Experience.
Pinecraft Blogger Hopes PBS Film Could Change Amish's Minds

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of stories on Sarasota’s Amish and Mennonite village Pinecraft dealing with an increased demand of television coverage.

Pinecraft resident Katie Troyer teeters between the English world, the media and the Amish.

It’s a delicate balance, but she manages it between taking photos for the Pinecraft Pauper, blogging and following her own relationship with God without attending church.

“I was looking for something to fill my empty heart, which was Christ,” she said. “There was something about Pinecraft where I felt at home for the first time, anyplace, ever.”

Troyer was interviewed and filmed in February for a PBS documentary follow-up to The Amish from the American Experience series of feature-length documentaries. At this point, it’s not known how much if any of the documentary will cover Troyer’s story or life in Pinecraft as producers talked to many people for the new film.

The film is one of several projects that have filmed in Pinecraft over the last few months, with more proposals being considered, putting the eight-block-wide village in prime time for at least the next year.

The documentary is produced by Callie T. Wiser, who was nominated for an Emmy for her work on The AmishAmerican Experience film in 2012. Wise’s team with Five O’Clock Films will also do work on the new feature length film.

The new movie that was shot in Pinecraft is in the editing process and does not have an air date but is anticipated to be released in the next year, Wiser told Patch in a telephone interview.

“What we wanted to show was something fair that showed both the positives of the Amish religion of life as well as the downsides,” Wiser told Patch about The Amish movie. “We didn’t want to build up things that might be more sensational, but we didn’t want to shy away from the negatives either.”

Producers followed Troyer’s Pinecraft-Sarasota blog for the last two years and then came to Sarasota for filming on Feb. 25 and 26, Troyer said. She was told that the producers wanted to take a look at why Amish leave the community.

“I’m a praying woman, and I said, ‘God, I’ll say yes if this glorifies you,’ ” Troyer told Patch.

Troyer was raised Amish and later jointed the Mennonites, who are similar, but have a different structure of church and are apt to use modern amenities and technology. She then renounced her religion and church, and never looked back.

“I was seeking God for 30 years before he saved me. I gave up absolutely everything,” to leave the church, Troyer said. “My job, my money my religion—everything for Him.”

Coming to Pinecraft

Producers were interested in Troyer’s personal story of how she left the Mennonite church, and wanted to capture her words and experience. Troyer said she hopes she makes it into the film.

Troyer permanently moved to Pinecraft 11 years ago after snow birding for a time, but she grew tired of finding a different place to live when she returned north.

“I never went back to the same place because my dad had congestive heart failure,” she said. “Ohio—I went there some summers, or I went to Tennessee to stay with my cousins. At that period of time, I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere.”

Troyer, who had practiced in the Mennonite faith when she grew up, stopped going to church, but still remains faithful and spiritual. In Pinecraft, religion is tucked away a bit more than usual, so she was able to relax.

“It didn’t take me long to realize that the people that come down here, leave their religion at home,” Troyer said. “They might not word it that way, they might not like it that way, but it’s still what I see.”

Who To Trust, What To Watch

Pinecraft residents may be skeptical of what is real and what isn’t given the reputation of the Breaking Amish and Amish Mafia shoots in Sarasota over the past few months, and some of those views affected the PBS production.

This original The Amish movie is a complete 180 from what viewers of Breaking Amish and Amish Mafia would watch. This is more journalism and educational than entertainment. Wiser has a journalism background and also worked for PBS’ Frontline to solidify her credentials.

Some of the shoots for TLC’s Breaking Amish were confused by local residents with the PBS shoot, Troyer said. In one case, PBS was told to leave Pinecraft Park after getting the OK to film people playing volleyball, Troyer witnessed, because of the experience one upset resident had with the Breaking Amish shoot filmed at Pinecraft the week before, Troyer added.

“Being Amish, we have been taught that TV is wrong, so it starts there,” she said. “Anybody that is connected with TV is doing wrong” in their eyes.

Given that it’s peak snowbird and tourist season for Pinecraft and Sarasota, it can complicate feelings in the village when television cameras roam.

“The people that come down here, they want nothing to do with anything,” Troyer said. “They’ve got all their tourists up there in Lancaster and Indiana. In the summertime, they are loaded down with tourists, and I think in their subconscious mind, they want to get away from that.”

On the other hand, the permanent residents work in the village and need tourists and visitors to make a living, she said.

“I don’t know how they’re going to react,” Troyer said about the upcoming shows and movie with Pinecraft ties.

In a village where modesty is preferred, and even regular cameras can cause some concern, Troyer told her Pinecraft-Sarasota blog readers that when it comes to TV cameras, be gentle:

“So I beg Pinecraft not to judge, not to chase out and condemn everybody that comes with a video camera. If God sends them to be used for His glory who are we to decide they are evil?”

Blogging is also a significant part of who Troyer is. She embraced blogging and photography after years of journaling and wanted an outlet to put her feelings out as someone who stopped going to church, maintained a relationship with God and also has dwarfism.

“Very few people understand me, and I learned to shut up because you can’t persuade anybody, anyways,” Troyer said with a chuckle. “But, I always needed an outlet, so for years, and I still do, I journal.”

And even if Troyer doesn’t make it into the film, she’ll always have her own story to tell online.

Pinecraft Cookbook Author Balances TV Appearances With Mennonite Faith

Pinecraft cookbook author Sherry Gore sees her share of time in front of cameras for TV for cooking segments, but balances her job with the privacy of Pinecraft.
By  March 7, 2013
Pinecraft Cookbook Author Balances TV Appearances With Mennonite Faith

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of stories on Sarasota’s Amish and Mennonite village Pinecraft dealing with an increased demand of television coverage.

If anyone knows what it’s like to be in front of the camera, and at ease, it’s Sherry Gore.

The renowned Pinecraft cook and author is both a Renaissance woman and a warm personality with media as she promotes her latest cookbook, Simply Delicious. The book received favorable reviews from New York Times bestselling authors. And yes, even a part on a documentary series in 2012 called Amish: Out of Order on National Geographic.

She is expected to return in front of the camera this spring for a Today show segment on NBC to cook with correspondent Sara Haines. Haines appears during the fourth hour with Hoda Kotb and Kathy Lee Gifford. Scenes around Pinecraft are expected to be shot this month.

“There’s a difference between sharing and exploiting—a big difference,” Gore said, as she makes sure that her potential morning television appearance doesn’t cause any undue stress in Sarasota’s Amish and Mennonite village.

Gore’s story is attractive for this wave of documentaries and reality shows depicting an undercurrent of Amish and Mennonite culture and those who leave the church. Why? Because she joined the Beachy Amish Mennonite church in her early 30s, seeking structure.

That helped match her up with a teenaged girl, Michaela, on Amish: Out of Order, where the young girl contemplated joining the Amish church. In that situation, the principal subject, Mose Gingerich, made a few calls to find a family for Michaela to stay with and a location. The production company footed the bill for the trip, but their involvement ended there.

Gore, who was compensated for her appearance, speaks glowingly of Stick Figure Productions’ documentary approach of the show. However, despite her relatively short screen time, she is approached by strangers, and not every interaction is a pleasant one. She blames that on the rival shows and what they portray because people don’t differentiate from show to show or what’s a documentary and what’s a “reality” show.

“I get approached all the time—’Oh, I know all about you. I watched Breaking Amish; I know how you live,'” she says, “No, you don’t know how I live. You have no clue.”

Breaking Amish, a show with four young adults with a Mennonite or Amish background living out their wild adventures, spent about a month in Pinecraft to film for its second season, due on TLC in May. Gore did not participate in the show.

The Amish and Mennonite community in Pinecraft have their own assumptions of the media, too, said Gore, who also writes for The Budget and Pinecraft Pauper Amish and Mennonite newspapers.

“They’re linking anything that’s decent and good like PBS and BBC and National Geographic, and there’s not that discernment of which production company is good or not,” she said. “Right now there’s this overview of if there’s a TV camera, we don’t want anything to do with it, where before they wouldn’t have minded as much if someone was doing a little documentary.”

Pinecraft blogger and photographer Katie Troyer said as much to Patch this week, relaying how producers for a PBS documentary were asked to leave Pinecraft Park. And to have that type of reaction is extreme for Pinecraft, which Troyer described as a relaxed community.

“Even the Amish that are members down here, are of the most open, liberal Amish that I’ve ever known,” Troyer said.

For Gore, she is admittedly caught in the middle of being media friendly, appearing on TV, and balancing the privacy desired by the Amish and Mennonite residents and snow birds.

Gore receives offers and pitches both directly and through her book agent in New York, and weighs heavily what to say yes to, and has said no to some lucrative offers because they didn’t feel right.

“The people in the village knew that I could be trusted to never exploit. I have been approached by production companies from both Hollywood and New York to participate in reality shows that I did not think were not conducive to my own Christian life or to the people in the village,” she said. “While the pay would have been high, I’m not a Judas.”

The impacts of all the national Pinecraft coverage won’t be known until the segments, shows and documentaries air. While Gore can’t be there for everyone in Pinecraft to guide them through media inquiries, she at least tries her best when she’s asked about the people, the culture and the food here.

“I just want to be a good example,” she said.

Der Dutchman Intends To Deny ‘Breaking Amish’ From Additional Filming

Der Dutchman Hospitality Group issues a statement following the filming of “Breaking Amish” inside the restaurant.
Der Dutchman Intends To Deny 'Breaking Amish' From Additional Filming

If the Breaking Amish cast and crew return to film again at Der Dutchman restaurant in Pinecraft, there’s a chance they will not be welcomed.

The restaurant’s corporate office, Dutchman Hospitality Group out of Walnut Creek, Ohio, issued a statement to Patch concerning the filming of Breaking Amish at the restaurant in February. The corporate office did not grant permission for the filming, according to Vicki VanNatta, corporate marketing manager of Dutchman Hospitality Group.

Residents in the Amish and Mennonite community have spotted Alvin Lantz of another reality show, Amish Mafia, working on roofing in Pinecraft, and have been told that cameras could return to Pinecraft for additional filming in March, but it’s unclear which show would be filmed here. Lantz is serving probation after he pled no contest to a DUI in Sarasota. The no contest DUI plea was adjudicated as guilty, according to court records.

Here is Der Dutchman’s stance on the filming:

“Mike Palmer, president of Dutchman Hospitality Group states, “We were not aware that filming would be done in our facility. And permission for filming in our Der Dutchman Restaurant was not granted from our corporate office. Dutchman Hospitality does not support the show or the premise of the show, Breaking Amish, and we do not want the public or our guests to have the mistaken idea that we are in agreement with what this and other reality shows are portraying in the media.”

The ‘rest of the story’ is that the production company had made arrangements to come into Der Dutchman to have a meal together. They had a party of twenty-five. When they arrived for their meal they asked the manager on duty if they could film the group while they were eating.

Willard Schlabach, the general manager, felt that no harm would be done by having them film something that actually was happening. He did not anticipate that they would ‘stage’ something to film while they were having their meal as a group.

They proceeded to film the group as they enjoyed their meal. How exactly this will be used in the episodes of Breaking Amish remains to be seen.

We do not intend to grant permission to the Breaking Amish producers for additional filming in Der Dutchman Restaurant, should they decide to return to Pinecraft in the future.

Dutchman Hospitality is dedicated to providing its guests with an experience that celebrates the traditional foods, simple comforts and rural charm of the Midwestern Amish and Mennonite communities. We highly value our heritage and our culture and while we welcome all people from all walks of life into our dining rooms, we do not support the use of our facilities to exploit or distort the life of our Amish and Mennonite neighbors, friends, employees and family.”

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