Hugh Schulze, the CEO of West Loop marketing communications agency recently turned filmmaker, returned to his home town of Detroit in 2012 to direct his debut dramatic feature Cass, screening Aug. 17-18 in the Gene Siskel Film Center’s Black Harvest Film Festival.
Rachel Hilson (The Good Wife) stars as a middle-class, 15-year old African American girl, reeling from the loss of her mother, who is drawn to the mysterious white artist squatting in the abandoned house next door (David Dastmalchian, Animals, Ant Man).
Also starring are veteran TV actor James McDaniel (Detroit 1-8-7) as Cass’ single father and Craig Woodall, a Detroit theatre actor as her younger brother.
Dastmalchian also starred in Schulze’s two previous shorts, IFP Production Fund winner Arc of a Bird (2008)and the seed film for Cass, and Credits (2009). Schulze is a coproducer of Dastmalchian feature Animals, which premiered at SXSW this year.
Schulze founded c|change in 2001. He decided to tell his own stories after years of producing films for his clients. Comparing his day job to directing his first feature, he says, “They both demand you find people who are very good at what they do and with whom you can collaborate.”
The story was strictly Schulz’ own invention, he says, writing the screenplay based on his own experience in Detroit, where his earliest memories are of Detroit in flames during the deadly 1967 riots and “how intertwined race and economics are in the current challenges of America’s urban centers.
“There were also elements of a real life woven into the story, such as issues of middle class; I wanted to show how a father deals with his children,” he says.
Schulze employed what he calls the “Coppola Strategy” to finance Cass: “I felt strongly enough about the script that I put up my savings and went to the bank to take a loan out against the business,” he says.
Schulz spent a month in Detroit, working with a mixture of crew from Chicago, including producer Stacy Evenson, and DP Ron Forsythe, and Detroit. Casting was done in both cities. Laura Madalinski edited and Drew Weir was supervising sound editor.
Schulze says he “continues to look for distribution” for Cass. “There have been nibbles but nothing solid.”
He has three scripts with some “strong Chicago themes” that he’s shopping to agents and productions companies, but, he says, “I share the same dysfunction other writers I know have—I much prefer the writing over the self-promotion.”