Silver screen to band of gold: Man makes unconventional proposal
JANESVILLE Jeremy Heesen and Jessica Simons had talked about marriage. When he proposed, he told her, it would be a surprise.
The Janesville woman said later it was more surprising than she ever imagined.
She caught him on the phone, a few weeks beforehand, obviously trying to keep her from hearing.
She asked what's up, and he told her he was planning a Christmas surprise. So she put two and two together.
But Christmas came and went. No proposal.
Heesen had actually planned it for Dec. 20, but the season's first major snowstorm intervened.
He had to get her into a movie theater for his plan to work.
Jeremy had enlisted his friend Stephen Pickering to produce a fake movie trailer that would run in the theater, and he had gotten the AMC Star 18 theater in Fitchburg to agree to it, giving him the use of one of their theaters for free.
Heesen had performed in commercial videos produced by Stephen and Cameron Pickering's Janesville-based Drywater Productions.
Pickering, who has done commercial work, wedding videos and baby-gender announcement videos, said it was the creative potential for the project that got him hooked.
"He was excited at the chance the video would go viral," Heesen said.
And the virus is spreading. The video got 3,600 hits the first day, followed by hundreds more.
Heesen said he's a minor celebrity now, getting lots of Facebook "friend" requests from people he doesn't know. Much, it seems, has to do with Pickering's professional touch. Heesen and Simons agree the production was first-rate—believable as a Hollywood film.
"It looked totally professional. I can't believe what a good job they did. I still can't believe it all," she said.
The men had spent many hours over many weeks planning the production of a trailer from a movie that never was. One idea was a "Lord of the Rings" theme, focusing on the engagement ring, but that was overly ambitious, Pickering said.
They settled on a story Heesen wrote.
"He's kind of alone. It's almost like a serial killer kind of alone, you know what I mean?" one character says, teasing the audience with a foreshadowing of dark deeds.
Turns out, the hero was interested in marriage, not mayhem. But we're getting ahead of the story.
Heesen got his cousin to take Simons to the theater Dec. 26. He enlisted friends and family to be in the audience, and the theater manager had the lights down low and the trailer starting as she entered. She didn't recognize anyone.
"I was excited to go see ‘The Hobbit,'" Simons said. But this would be an entirely different kind of unexpected journey.
The manager, who came in on his day off, got employees to fill in some seats, and he asked movie patrons if they would sit in, too, Heesen said.
Simons had no clue. She sat down with her slushie and watched.
"I should've known. Everybody was in on it. They even showed me to the seat they wanted me to sit in, and I didn't know it then, either," she said.
Well into the trailer, Jessica heard her father's voice.
The hero had arrived at a house, apparently with evil intent, but it was Heesen, who had come to ask for Simons' hand in marriage.
The video used a hidden camera to show Simons' face as she realized what was happening. She put her hand over her mouth.
The plot continued, showing Heesen running into the theater, and then it's real footage that Pickering shot as he trailed behind Heesen, with the help of hidden microphones.
"Jessica, I love you, and I can't imagine spending the rest of my life without you. So with God as our cornerstone, will you marry me?"
Heesen got on his knee as he ended the question. "Yes of course," she said. They held each other tight as onlookers applauded.
"I didn't know how to act when I turned around and saw everybody we knew sitting there and applauding," she said. "There was kind of a brief awkward moment of silence. … I was shocked."
Heesen is a certified nursing assistant at Huntington Place. Simons manages a McDonald's restaurant in Beloit and is raising her 3-year-old son. The busy couple have yet to find a time to see "The Hobbit," but it's on their schedule.
They're also working on wedding plans, but no date has been set.
The couple knew of each other in high school but connected as Facebook friends about 18 months ago, Heesen said.
Months later, they started chatting online.
"We clicked right away," he said.
They would share videos with each other online, but there was one Heesen didn't share, a marriage-proposal video he liked.
"I decided not to show her, just in case there would be a time I would use it. So even early on, I had kind of an idea," he said.
The rest is local cinematic history.
Simons gives her future husband points for style and creativity.
"I still can't believe he did it all," she said. "It's amazing."