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Hudson filmmakers kept it local to make award-winning cancer videos

After losing his father and sister to cancer, Hudson businessman and community activist John Knutson had a pretty graphic idea of what he wanted to do to cancer. He shared it with Hudson filmmaker Jillian Nodland and the result was three award-winning spots including one with Knutson produced by Nodland’s company Picture Factory. (Submitted photo)1 / 4
With cameras rolling, David Weiberg, a colon cancer survivor, and his son Jack took their feelings out about cancer on a piñata that they were filmed making and then smashing. (Submitted photo)2 / 4
Jillian Nodland, left, talked with production manager Julie Kaupa in the art barn at Camp St. Croix, the location for their “Smashing Cancer” spots for the Relay For Life. Nodland and her husband Craig Peterschmidt started their production company in the late 1990s and moved their business and their family to Hudson eight years ago. (Submitted photo)3 / 4
Latasha was just 22 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her story is one of the three award-winning public service announcements produced by the Picture Factory in Hudson. She is seen here with her family who also are in the film during taping at Camp St. Croix last year. Photos courtesy of Picture Factory Inc. (Submitted photo)4 / 4

The death from cancer of his father and his sister in 2006 hit John Knutson pretty hard. But as anyone who knows the Hudson businessman, it was only a matter of time before he came up with an idea to make something good come from his family’s loss.

“It was a new experience for me losing people so close. And you go through all these emotions – confusion, anger and finally coping. But I got kind of hung up on the anger and all I could think of was what I wanted to do to cancer -- blow it up, shoot it with a gun, just obliterate it somehow. I figured other people felt the same and we could come up with vignettes showing what we wanted to do. But then the Boston Marathon happened and somehow blowing something up, even cancer, seemed not right. But we waited and connected with Jillian, a fellow Rotarian, and it just clicked.”

Jillian Nodland and her husband Craig Peterschmidt own Picture Factory Inc., a film and video production company based in Hudson. They moved their family and their business to Hudson eight years ago. The couple has worked all over the country and the world and have had one of their documentaries on the short list for an Academy Award nomination.

Knutson told Nodland about his idea and she immediately offered to help. “We love living in Hudson and having our business here. This seems like a great opportunity to do something local that could make a difference.”

It wasn’t long before Nodland had “Smashing Cancer” production up and running. The project was pro bono but that didn’t keep some 40 filmmaking professionals from signing on to provide their talents. And when Camp St. Croix agreed to be the location for the filming, it all came together.

Nodland said businesses in the community also responded enthusiastically providing everything from food on the set to gas cards for the crew. “Everyone we asked was so ready and willing to do whatever they could.”

Initially Knutson wasn’t going to be a spot, just use his story in one. He worried that since he was “only a caregiver” it might seem self-serving. But when the professional that was supposed to do it dropped out, Nodland and director Eric Howell convinced him to do it himself.

It is a more serious John Knutson than many who know him are used to, but that is what he hoped would come across.

“Cancer really cost me and my family and I had never experienced that kind of anger before. I wanted the videos to show that and maybe give people permission to feel that anger and maybe have that inspire them to do something about it.“

In more typical fashion, Knutson said he wanted the “Gallagher affect” when he smashed cancer in his spot. The window used in the spot was being replaced at a River Falls school. It was the perfect prop for Knutson.

The other two spots include LaTasha, a 22-year-old woman, diagnosed with breast cancer. The Cakery provided the cake she smashed in her spot free of charge. And a production designer David Weiberg, a colon cancer survivor, and his son Jack let a piñata they made take the brunt of their feelings. He wanted something that would have that “superhero edge” for his son.

Nodland said that what started as a way to promote Hudson’s Relay For Life has morphed into something different, especially with the spots winning national recognition recently. Knutson and Nodland both hope the spots will be used as part of Relay For Life events all over the country. Said Knutson, “It’s like the saying goes, none of us can do everything but all of us can do something.”

With cancer touching almost every family out there, this particular something should not be missed. To see the spots go to

The Hudson Relay For Life is Friday, June 20, from 5 p.m. to midnight at the Hudson Middle School. To enter a team or for more information go to or contact Kellie Burrows of the American Cancer Society at

For more information on Picture Factory Inc. go to or call (715)386-0777.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604