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So, in walked Calista Flockhart…
Now, when people hear her name, or used to hear her name, they’d think anorexia. Which was unfair, because while Calista was waifish back in the day, you wouldn’t think eating disorder. And, as to the little matter of talent, whatever it is, she had it.
Which lead to a tough call. My brother Chris, the producer and lead actor, wanted Calista. I was sticking with Lara P. from Chicago. I had a working relationship with her, knew what she was capable of, and damn it, I was the director! Chris wasn’t backing off, we were deadlocked. I remember three days of pure warfare, the two of us going back and forth. Chris pulled the chemistry card, that unfathomable connection. If he was to act this thing he had to have chemistry with the actress playing Jane. He had it with Calista and didn’t with Lara. I called BS and suggested it might just come down to him wanting to bed Calista. He, of course, objected to that rude notion. I laughed in his face. We were arguing loudly, in our Southern Italian manner, in and out of bars. This was going nowhere.
The solution was to take it out of our hands. Give it to an inner circle of producers, those who knew the project best. Audition tapes were distributed to five people. 48 hours later, the results were in: Calista would be Jane. The vote: 5 to 0. Shit…
If we look at any single reason why Jane Doe landed four boxes across at every Blockbuster and Hollywood Video store in the country, it’s found right here:
Life Lesson 1A: Cast well. When given a choice, always choose the actress who will become nationally famous within 10 months.
Had we known that inside a year Calista would become Ally McBeal, or that on June 28, 1998, just three years later, she’d be on the cover of Time Magazine, we might have done things a bit differently. Maybe we tell Unapix, makers of Jack Frost 2: Revenge Of The Mutant Killer Snowman, that we were passing on their offer, and slide that $150,000 check back at them. Maybe we keep domestic distribution, find the money for pick up photography, re-shoot some of the 20+ scenes that we didn’t have time to shoot the first time around, reshape the Fine Cut with all new design elements and a fully re-edited version according to our vision. Maybe maybe maybe…
Life Lesson 1111A: Ain’t no do-overs. Just…ain’t.
I used to open up all my Columbia College classes showing the video of my brother appearing on Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood. When Jane Doe came out we were besieged. Ally McBeal as a junky?! Calista as you’ve never seen her before!
I remember walking into video stores. In New York for Christmas, there’s Jane Doe at a Blockbuster on 14th Street & Union Square. Shopping in Times Square? There’s Jane Doe at a Hollywood Video store on 44th Street. Friends called me from Seattle and Portland, seeing the movie for sale there. It was all over Chicago, in Wisconsin…even had reports of an appearance in Atlantic City. This for a movie without a theatrical release, with next to no reviews, that appeared at exactly ONE film festival (which it won).
Absolute… fucking… insanity. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
Unapix Entertainment went bankrupt in 2001. We never did get a full reporting on dollar figures. The public figure they disclosed for sales of Jane Doe was just over a million dollars. Knowing the crafty accounting standards of distributors in general, and how trustworthy our bankrupt partners in specific,especially where it came to profit sharing with us, one might assume more money flowed in from Jane Doe. We’ll never know, but have only ourselves to blame.
The beauty about taking a beatdown from Life is that you can make a conscious decision to never let that happen again. Won’t guarantee that it doesn’t, but take it from a craps dealer, the mathematical possibilities diminish. It’s better to have lived it, learned from it, and moved on.
Life Lesson 332: “Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.”—William Faulkner
Essanay Studios is currently running an IndieGogo Campaign to raise money for the preservation and revitalization of their historic film studio — the first and last remaining silent film studio. CMH is a huge fan of Essanay and their efforts, and is very pleased to be able to present this exclusive interview with Essanay’s Gary N. Keller.
Essanay cast and crew.
CMH: I understand that Essanay Studios originally started out as Peerless Manufacturing Company. Can you tell us how it evolved from that into the country’s premier silent film studio of the early 1910’s?
Keller: Well, it started with George K. Spoor and Gilbert M. Anderson. Spoor was in the business of selling equipment and was a technology guy. From his first exposure to film and projection technologies, he knew there was money to be made in the film industry. Anderson was a vaudevillian/film actor who had played one of the four bandits in the landmark film The Great Train Robbery. He saw the potential in film, especially the Western, as a story telling medium and wanted to be more involved in the behind-the-camera production aspect of filmmaking.
In 1907 Anderson approached Spoor about forming a film production company and thus, Essanay Studios was formed. They were originally called Peerless but soon renamed the business to Essanay Film Manufacturing Company, “ess” for Spoor and “ay” for Anderson.
So, basically Spoor wanted to be more than just an equipment guy and Anderson wanted to be more than an actor. By coming together, and using their complimentary skills, they were able to create something bigger than themselves. It’s like the left side of the brain and right side of the brain. One knew business and technology as a whole; the other knew production and was creative.
CMH: Charlie Chaplin made fourteen films for Essanay Studios. Can you explain how his time at Essanay helped shape his career? What other famous stars worked at Essanay?
Keller: As I’m sure most of your readers know, Chaplin was one of the first global celebrities. In the 1910’s, there was Chaplin-mania. Magnets, books, pictures, dolls – all sorts of merchandise and Chaplin paraphernalia was being eaten up by the public. And you know what, it’s Essanay Studios that helped start and foster that level of stardom. They pretty much ushered in Chaplin-ism by heavily focusing on marketing Chaplin to the world and embarking on a marketing campaign that was beyond the scope of what any other studio in the world was doing at that point. Because Spoor had a brother in Europe that worked on Essanay’s European development, Chaplin’s appeal went worldwide while working at Essanay. So, a huge part of the Chaplin legacy came from his work at Essanay.
Chaplin wearing a tribal headband, the symbol of Essanay Studios
As for other stars at the Studio, well, Gloria Swanson got her start at the Chicago studio. In fact, she made her film debut in the Chaplin film His New Job. One of the Studio’s very first stars was vaudevillian comedian Ben Turpin. He starred in the studio’s first film, The Hobo on Rollers. Essanay’s roster also featured famed French actor Max Linder, whose daughter, Maud Linder, currently serves on The Essanay Centers for Early Film and Cultural Performance advisory board.
CMH: There is an Indiegogo Campaign currently running to help raise funds to preserve and revitalize Essanay Studios. There’s a lot planned for the space beyond restoring the historic Terra Cotta entrance way. Can you elaborate on some of the restoration/renovation plans? I’m sure our readers will be very curious to know about how the space will be used.
Keller: One aspect of restoration includes The Essanay Center for Early Film (ECEF). This will act as a historical repository for archival materials, references, and artifacts. The center will be used to educate the public on early film. The Charlie Chaplin Auditorium will be used as a screening, performance and multimedia exhibition space for film related activities. I am particularly excited for the “Essanay Alive” Series. Essanay Alive is a prototype project to provide the history of Essanay Silent Film Studios in Chicago through multimedia digital imagery set to music and presented to audiences in Essanay’s original production studio space. The content of the exhibit will be displayed on scrims that are mounted to the walls of the auditorium or the exiting production backdrop as well as possible columnar or horizontal scrims for display.
This was inspired by the exhibit Van Gogh Alive.
This combination of state of the technology and historic display is very much in-line with the spirt of Essanay Studios, a leader in innovation during the silent film era. We are very excited to used modern digital technology to create an immersive but also educational experience for the public. We’ve spearheaded this project with online broadcast of our film catalog at www.essanay.tv. With widely accessible projects like this, we are creating a history that is FOR something, instead of simply ABOUT something.
Studio A/Chaplin Auditorium
One thing I am happy to say is that part of the studio will be used for production again. The Center is redeveloping Studio A/Charlie Chaplin Auditorium to use for digital photography and filming to support education, the use and presentation of historical content with digital technology, and to conduct programs and courses on silent film and public history.
We will also develop The Essanay Center for Cultural Performance. This space is designed to accommodate the use of the historic Essanay Studios for the performing and visual arts including film, music, dance, theatre and exhibition.
CMH: The Indiegogo Campaign stresses the importance of Essanay Studios in the context of Chicago’s history. Can you speak a little about that?
Keller: Before there was Hollywood, there was Chicago. Its location between New York and Hollywood literally places Chicago at the center of silent cinema history. Essanay was one of first silent studios to open outside New York and helped to bring movie stars and entertainment to the Uptown community, forever transforming the area. The creation of Essanay helped evolve that space into something more – into an entertainment capitol of the silent era.
Cameramen outside Essanay Studios
This initiative seeks to preserve and revitalize one of the world’s first and last remaining silent film studios and a unique piece of a great city’s history. The 1996 City of Chicago Landmark report for the Essanay Studios describes the history and significance of the company and property as follows:
“ ‘Essanay Studios is the most important structure connected to Chicago’s role in the early history of motion pictures. Essanay was one of the nation’s premier movie companies, producing hundreds of motion pictures, featuring such stars as Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, and cinema’s first cowboy hero — and a co-founder of Essanay – G. M. “Bronco Billy” Anderson,’ states the Chicago Landmark Designation plaque on façade of 1345 West Argyle St entrance. This terra- cotta entrance (the façade) is adorned with the fanciful Indian heads that served as Essanay’s logo.”
The restoration and rebirth of the Essanay Film Studio Complex will provide an opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to learn and experience the magic and mystery of early film-making and Chicago’s unique role. It will also extend and expand the studio’s cultural legacy by providing a community space for the performing arts. Last, but far from least, it will enhance the educational mission and prestige of St. Augustine College through its stewardship of this historic site, and as a community partner and anchor of the historic Uptown Entertainment District.
CMH: While watching the Indiegogo Campaign video I couldn’t help but notice the iconic ‘pie in the face’ clip. I understand that this is in the tradition of Chicago’s long relationship with comedy. Can you tell us more about that?
Keller: Today Chicago serves as a global center for comedy and especially improvisational comedy. Essanay was a silent film studio that had a real focus on comedy. And silent film comedy really is the father of improv. Think about it. The pace of it all. A comedian, usually wide shot, has to make ‘em laugh and do it in one take. Quick, funny, one gag after another, this is improv. Chaplin was certainly the expert at doing this successfully, as demonstrated in His New Job filmed in Studio A. And today Chicago boasts a number of places for improv like Second City TV, where many of the world’s leading comedians got their start.
CMH: How will the new developments at the Essanay Centers be used to showcase the studio’s role in both film and local history?
Keller: The story of Chicago’s role in the development of the motion picture industry is largely untold, as well as the development of Hollywood by leading Chicagoans. Having the precious resource of one of the world’s first and last remaining silent film studios is the perfect place to tell this story using digital technology to create experiential public history, and access to rotational and permanent exhibits and displays. We believe the further back you look, the further ahead you can see; the only way to understand a place’s future is to understand its past.
CMH: I understand that the studio recently managed to acquire some interesting early silent film artifacts. I’m curious to know what they are and if they will be on display at the new Essanay Centers.
Keller: One of the greatest items we have is the George K. Spoor NaturalVision Prototype. The NaturalVision camera was a project Spool spent years developing and was one of the first 3D cameras. Unfortunately for Spool, the technology never caught on; he destroyed 11 of the 12 cameras he made.
The camera prototype
So, you see, this piece is truly a one of a kind. Absolutely amazing. We also have recently received a collection of original Essanay Stills and autographed photographs from Jim Harper, the son of Billy Harper and nephew of Jimmy Harper, two Essanay child stars.
CMH: What’s next for the Essanay Centers? Are there any upcoming events on the calendar or recent developments that you can share with us?
Keller: We just had a media brunch on November 19th for key members of the press, radio, and news. And, we are currently planning a number of events for next year and are exploring an event to highlight Chaplin’s 100 years in film next summer.
Of course our on-going focus is to continue to outreach for funding support for the restoration and reuse of Essanay Studios as the Essanay Centers for Early Film and Cultural Performance at St Augustine College. Because, you see, the time is now. With the world rapidly changing, we need to preserve historic sites like this one before they are forgotten. So here is a chance for people who love film to step up and help preserve a precious resource for all those who love film and it’s history.
To donate to the Essanay Center indiegogo campaign, Just click here:
Save and Restore Essanay
Sal Pelligrino was the man. While no one ever confused him for Brando or Jimmy Dean, his rep was made as the inventor of “The Method”. Not Stanislavsky’s, but his own time tested system. A commercial actor with a knack, Sal could close the deal on any commercial/Extra work he put his mind to, not only getting the gig, but with an intuitive sense for camera angle and lens, knowing exactly where and what the shot would be, and getting his face in it.
His resume spoke for itself. “Tool Belt Man” for Ace Hardware. “Dancing Freak” for Ice House beer. His national spot for A & W Root Beer as “Thick-Headed Man” brought him nearly cult status. Remember the Thick Headed job applicant? “Mr. Dumbass, I can bring a lot to Dumbass and Dumbass! I’m a go-getter! Dumbass material all the way. So, am I your man, Mr. Dumbass.”
“The name…is Dumas.”
His latest film credit, the hostage drama THE NEGOTIATOR, demonstrated the method of Sal’s Method. For his crucial role of “Swat Team Member” Sal worked his magic—checking the shooting schedule, checking the camera setups for each upcoming shot—and making the judgement. Am I in the shot, or out? If he was out of the shot, he went into energy conservation mode.
“Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lay down.” Two handy Salism’s he imparted upon a fawning newbie. Sal knew the shooting schedule cold, memorized wrap times and was sure to be the first extra back in the Holding area, changing clothes and first out the door.
Not to say his contribution wasn’t critical. In the money shot, Kevin Spacey was to race from a van as the building explodes, passing Sal who watches the carnage behind a pair of binoculars. Sal examined the scene from all angles…camera there, Spacey there, Sal here…yes!
Looking into binoculars on the call of “ACTION!” Sal dropped them as the building explodes, with a stunned expression out of the Clenched Jowl school of acting, Spacey racing by in the melee, bumping into Sal: “Who’s firing? Who’s firing?!” No lines were scripted but Sal offered up: “Don’t know! Take cover!” Improvisation being another in the master’s bag of tricks. It seems unjust Sal’s moment was left on the cutting room floor.
But what was Sal’s Method? Rule 1: “Don’t try!” Sal spilled the concept to one of his many admirers. “You work yourself into a frenzy at the audition, you set yourself up to fail. Don’t give a shit.”
Rule 2 was equally poignant: “Take the money, man. The check’ll clear.”
The take the money strategy worked best, of course, when money was coming in. Lately though, it wasn’t. Two months of nada. The dry spell would have shaken the confidence of many of his compadres, but not Sal. No, sir! Even Babe Ruth struck out now and then, thought he, fielding a page from his agent, Billy Steepanich.
Billy was a high-powered guy who picked up Sal’s $18 buck hamburger lunches at the Pump Room. Patience was not his forte. He didn’t want to hear about Babe Ruth striking out.
“I got something for you. You’re perfect. Age is right. Physical type. Ethnicity. It’s a buzzer-beater. Jordan shooting over Ehlo.”
“What is it?”
“Phisoderm. You know, the itch cream.”
“What’s the part?”
“They want a…well…you’re playing Mr. Blemish. You got any wrestling training?”
“”Sure, tons. Who doesn’t.”
“Can you find a tight red Spandex top and bicycle shorts?”
“”Sure. Who doesn’t have bicycle shorts and red spandex laying around the house.”
“Get over to 810 North State. And don’t fuck it up.”
Sal raced home, finding a pair of shorts so tight that you could tell his religion. Grabbing a lobster-red muscle shirt, out the door he went.
At 810 North State street, he was greeted by an audition greeting table, and about 20 short, dumpy “George Costanza” types in red tights. The concept was cake: Mr. Blemish wrestles Captain Phisoderm. Captain Phisoderm kicks Blemish’s ass. The universe is safe. End spot. Not a difficult premise to grasp, though looking around the room at this bunch of rejects, Sal was depressed. What was he doing here with these losers?
They paired up. Captain Phisoderms in white, Mr. Blemish’s in red. Sal caught a break, pairing with a Captain Phisoderm with wrestling training.
“Let’s give ‘em something to chew on,” suggested Sal. And so they prepared a routine. And what a routine! Sal choreographed it to minutiae, every last move: The Kansas City Twirl, Sleeper hold, climactic reversals and a “Thousand Wink” headlock, then a bam-bam-bam series of uppercuts, Mr. Blemish caught with a final pile driver, wobbling, Captain Phisoderm moving to him and…blowing him off his feet with a breath. Oh, what understatement! It was sensational!
“You got it?” Sal asked.
“Let’s Rock!” replied Captain Phisoderm.
And so came the moment of truth, called before a long table of casting agents, many of whom knew Sal well. Sal was oozing confidence, doing calisthenic warm-ups, cracking his knuckles in grand fashion, already in character. Finding places when the call came: “ACTION!”
What followed can only be described as stupendous. Captain Phisoderm raced toward Sal and BOOM! Sal was taken down in three, count ‘em, three seconds.
One of the casting agents was diplomatic, as casting agents often are in such circumstances. “Good, good…could you try to move around a bit more? Put up a struggle, Mr. Blemish.”
Sal pulled Captain Phisoderm aside, nonplussed. “What happened?”
“I went up, man! Sorry, I’ll get it right this time.”
Amateur? Scene stealer? Sal looked over this fellow in white tights a moment before shaking his head, the two actors taking their places for the second call of “ACTION!” Amazingly, Captain Phisoderm again raced in, again taking Sal down in seconds.
The casting agent was casual again. “Goooood. I like what you’re doing, but do it, like, with a thousand times more struggle. ‘K?”
Sal waved his partner over. He was apologizing before he even arrived. “I’ll get it this time, I swear.”
What could Sal do? Thinking about his dry streak, the two months nothing, his lousy luck, his leech of an agent, his July rent due and WHAT WAS HE DOING IN THIS STUPID FREAKING COSTUME ANYWAY?! Sal took his place for the third and last chance, the casting agent screaming out ACTION! Captain Phisoderm coming at him fast, like a nightmare, grabbing him hard and pulling down.
But Sal didn’t go down.
Hand on his hips, Sal thrust his leg between his opponent’s. This got a laugh from the casting agents, but was only the beginning, for Sal was “en fuego.”
“Go down! Go down!” begged Captain Phisoderm.
Something had happened to Sal. Breaking his own code, Sal tried. Picking Captain Phisoderm up, twirling him Kansas City-style.
“BLEMISH IN THE HOUSE!” Sal howled like Godzilla, twirling the fellow in white tights faster, and faster still. “BLEMISH WHIP YOU AND YOUR MAMA TOO!” And with that Sal sending Captain Phisoderm into the non-too-padded mat, pinning him hard. Rising up with ripped Rockyesque arms raised in a blood-in-the-teeth howl!
The blood drained from Sal’s face before the casting agents, whom just looked each other a moment, looked to Sal and the moaning Captain Phisoderm.
“Well great, guys! Thanks so much.”
Sal never even looked back. He hit the bricks fast, knowing: He blew it. Violation of Rule 1: Don’t try. The cold streak had rattled him. In the moment of truth, a moment all men must surely face, he had lost himself. How could things have gotten to this point? These thoughts and July’s rent on his mind when his cellphone hummed. The voice was Billy Steepanitch.
“I blew it, Billy. I don’t know what to say.”
“Yes! Thank you, ye Gods of Dead Presidents!”
“Break Coffee! You got the part!” Billy was squealing by now.
“Break Coffee. The Jap iced coffee? They’re flying you over next week. You’re one of Satan’s Minions. Four days, 5K a day.”
‘And get this…the costume…no shirt, black shorts, cat-o-nine tails whip, black leather penis hat.You get to beat up on slaves in Hell! You were born for this!”
“Sounds soft all right,” said the now beaming Sal.
High-fiving his cellphone, Billy Steepanich gushed: “You’re the MAN, Sal!”
“No shit, Sherlock. Remember that the next hitless streak.”
Sal was getting his stride back as he crossed over the Ohio Street bridge. Then he stopped at once, and wondered: Black leather penis hat?
My favorite scene in Amadeus is when Wolfgang’s wife shows up at Salieri’s place. She’s there of her own accord, looking for help for her husband from the powerful court composer. Salieri is exactly the wrong guy to come to for help (and will shortly plot Mozart’s doom) but here comes off as benefactor par excellance, listening to the gabby wife’s babble, even offering her some cool coconut candies as he learns that the works she brought with her were Mozart originals.
“Originals?” Salieri says.
“Oh yes, Wolfy doesn’t keep copies.”
Salieri picks up the folder with Mozart’s work and opens up to find, a miracle… Mozart’s work contains no corrections. Of any sort. Here’s the clip…
I preach killing the perfectionist instinct. This means that, unless you’re feeling it like Mozart, chances are 100% you’re going to have to write, and rewrite, and rewrite again. The idea of penning something once that is for the ages might have worked for Percy Shelley or John Keats, but for you, the Unknown Screenwriter, it’s not an option.
Now, if you’re getting paid for every rewrite at Studio level (a quaint notion which recent WGA surveys have shown to be bogus in the age of the “producer drafts” and “pre-writes”) this isn’t how it will work for low and micro-budget screenwriters.
A great deal depends on the project, and your relationship with those who have creative control. For Jane Doe, I had no creative control, on any level. That meant when I signed the contract with Unapix giving up creative control for the $150,000 they anted up to make my movie, I became legally responsible to their production demands. This leads to difficulties if, for any of 10,000 reasons, during the filming of the movie, they’re unable to shoot a scene and unable to do pickup afterwards. When this happens we move into the process of bridge building. Example: We shoot scene A but run out of time and can’t shoot scene B. There is ZERO in the budget to go back and shoot it later. And tomorrow we’re shooting Scene C. Only thing is, Scene C doesn’t make sense without Scene B.
You call the writer who has likely been the writer-on-set up to now, meaning pretty much fucking useless. And you tell him to find a fix.
The writer has to build a bridge from Scene A to Scene C that didn’t exist before. This will probably be some dialogue addition into Scene C that will accomplish what Scene B was supposed to have done. Figure out what Scene B needed to do and build the bridge.
Same deal when you have to condense inner-scene. Schedule says you’ve got 6 ½ pages to shoot but you’re running waaaaay long and won’t make it. The director’s mind (perhaps you) moves into high-gear plotting on how to make it work.What can be simplified or changed? Can the scene be cut altogether? If you make inner-scene cuts it might lessen the coverage you’ll need to shoot it. You scheme, you improvise, whatever it takes.
And the script? Frankly—and this sounds crazy coming from MR. WRITER—it’s no longer the prime concern. Or, put it this way… you’ve moved beyond script level. You’re making the movie now and changes will happen.
There’s a famous saying about the three movies: The one you write, the one you shoot, and the one you edit—the final movie. These are usually very different things. The movie in your mind from months before doesn’t much matter when you get into the edit room. What matters is what you got on film, maximizing what you have in the can. Or…on the discs. The scene you fought for at script-level might have turned out mediocre. Are you going to fight for it because it’s in the script? “It’s not your fault that it turned out mediocre! It should have been fantastic! It was perfect!”
Remind me again…where was it perfect? Oh yeah, in your brain. Guess what Mozart, that’s not how micro-budget works.
For Chat Boris and I had a good seven year old working relationship going in. Even with that we signed paperwork (and I would recommend you do the same) giving me final say at script level. This was an insurance policy I insisted on after Jane Doe. Should something happen, nothing would go forward that I didn’t feel good about. There was no money into the project yet, the lion’s share of work was my own at this point. Boris was not relinquishing his final cut control as director and I wasn’t giving up mine in case things soured for me. We would just go our separate ways. Which didn’t happen…
Nearly two years into the process of Chat, I’d still categorize our relationship as good. By good, I mean—we’re still talking to each other. Did we argue about the script? Ahhhhhhh, yeah. Did we bicker, scream, lose patience, groan, and curse the other guy? Yeeeeeeep. Were a thousand and one changes made to the script? Yes and yes.
Outlining the script for Chat took six months. Writing it took another six months. I should say scriptS. I wrote four full drafts before we called it the Shooting Script (White Pages). After that came the sullying of those White Pages with Blue, Green and Yellow production drafts. After these came on-set “tweaks”—an actor line here, a small interchange for camera purposes there—on and on…
Get the picture?
The script is never done. Even when you’re printing up the DVD’s (which deleted scenes make the Director’s Cut, which don’t?)
Hey, don’t feel bad. You can always re-purpose the stuff that ends up on the cutting room floor.
Example: Our producers on Jane Doe were Unapix Entertainment. The Unapix taste-makers who brought you Jack Frost 2—Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowmen—ended up with final editor’s cut of my passion project Jane Doe (I know, let’s MOVE ON!). In their wisdom, they cut what I thought was a pretty good monologue from Jane about the death of her birds, Rock and Rock. A true story told by my girlfriend, she came to find that her boyfriend had killed her bird. So she killed his. Here’s the monologue:
When it came time to make Chat we needed a deeply personal moment for the Annie character. Remembering this monologue, I built it into the new script, giving her the birds and having a drunken mother—instead of the drug-addict boyfriend—kill her bird. She then kills the mother’s bird. It’s a character-defining moment and one of the most powerful scenes in the movie.
And it’s re-purposed.
Life Lesson Fugue in D Minor: You ain’t Mozart. That’s ok.
The film community in Chicago reminds me of a Matryoshka doll. You know what those are, right? Russian nesting dolls. Body within a body within a body.
What the hell is Peditto raving about now?
Think about the mainstream film community here in Chicago. Think about it like a big Babushka nesting doll. Seriously…
Chicago has always been a great place to make movies. You have only to look at this Chicago magazine article to see the classic films shot here.
100 years of films ranging from The Tramp to Batman, Charlie Chaplin shooting His New Job at the Essanay Studios in 1915, through North By Northwest (1959), Home Alone (1990), all the way up to The Dark Knight (2008).
While there isn’t a ton of investment capital in town, Chicago draws major L.A. money in both TV and Film by offering healthy tax incentives including 30% on Illinois production spending.
There are plenty of sound stages in town. Look here for who and where they are. Multiple TV shows are currently under production or scheduled for production. According to a Chicago Reader article from yesterday by Deanna Isaacs: “Thanks to the state film industry subsidy, expanded infrastructure and a very lucky pilot season…there are six TV series shooting here now: Chicago PD and Chicago Fire, plus Betrayal and Mind Games, both on ABC; Sirens, a USA Network comedy featuring Dennis Leary; and NBC’s Crisis, with Gillian Anderson.”
While we’re talking about sound stages, let’s give a shout out to my own Columbia College who have a great new facility.
So, with all this visiting Hollywood action, it would be easy to forget one of Chicago’s greatest resources… the homegrown micro-budget movement.
At Columbia College alone, in what is surely an incomplete list, I can count a dozen adjunct and tenured professors with micro-budgets projects in various stages of development in 2013. This doesn’t include the dozens of students among Columbia’s 1,200 film students raising money on Kickstarter and Indiegogo for independent projects.
Chicago Filmmakers sponsors Meetup.com groups for grants funding micro-budget documentary and narrative projects. These meetings draw between 50 and 100 people with active projects in the planning stages, seeking financing.
DePaul University has a vibrant film department. Wonder how many micro-budgets are coming out of there?
Art Institute of Chicago, Northwestern, likewise.
All this activity far, far away from the exploding cars of Transformers.
So many film communities in Chicago, each with their own energy and force. Like Russian nesting dolls, one community inside another, inside another.
Now, here comes the Commie notion…
Imagine the power you’d have if you joined forces? A Collective of all these talented folks–what would happen if you could harness those energies into a single producing entity?
I can’t speak for others, but I’ve never collaborated with anyone from DePaul, or Flashpoint/Tribeca. There is no sharing of resources between those schools of which I’m aware. We are insular communities, self-sustaining. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we pooled resources, both technical and personal.
Even within the Columbia College community, it would be a formidable collaboration, putting together those dozen professors into one room, joining talents for a collaborative effort.
Such high-mindedness, of course, understates THE WORK involved. To even get those 10 Columbia micro-budget filmmakers into one room at one time would be a monumental effort of juggling schedules. Then some not so basic questions: How would you fund this Collaborative? Who chooses the projects? What role does each filmmakers take? Who gets to direct when you have 10 directors in the room?
When I brought this idea up with Brenda Webb, who founded Chicago Filmmakers, she mentioned something super-basic. The infrastructure work that would have to be done would be considerable. Would this be a not-for-profit? If so, paperwork would have to be drawn up. Will there be a physical space needed and if so, who pays for that? Will fundraisers be necessary and if so, who organizes that?
For those of you outside Chicago, you might want to look into some sort of Collective. Joining forces with other talented folks in your community. Taking advantage of other people’s skills is a no-brainer. Just understand that it takes more than that to create a collaborative enterprise. It takes the GRUNT WORK behind those behind the camera. Like the Russian nesting dolls, one inside the other, inside the other.
A Commie idea for sure.