Behind the scenes of the Chicago-made ‘Conrad’ series

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Jennifer A. Goodman and Ryan Atkins traveled separate journeys before finding one another and partnering up to create Conrad, a highly anticipated Crime Drama television show that recently finished filming in Chicago.

Conrad tells the story of Kate Conrad, a rookie police detective in a male-dominated environment who fights to prove the innocence of her father’s death.

While revealing the truth about the twisted history of the Conrad family, the series highlights an empowering woman following through on a career choice that she truly believes she deserves and is working hard to attain.

The cast is packed with bankable stars like Eric Roberts, who plays Police Chief Michael Conrad, and Harry Lennix, who plays Detective Don Brewer.

Impressive, no doubt; but at the beginning it was nothing more than the extracurricular project of two people who came to know one another through an undeniable passion for film.

Goodman was a professional saleswoman raised on Chicago’s north shore. Although her career was going extremely well, she had a yearning to get back into the theater that she enjoyed in high school and studied at Ohio Wesleyan University, where she earned a degree in English with a concentration in Psychology and Theater.

Atkins came to Chicago from a small town in Ohio where conservatism dictated that you didn’t do anything too unique for a living. Equipped with a degree in Digital Media from the Virginia Marti College of Art & Design, he found work filming and editing short performances by actors who wanted to expand their demo reels. Then, he decided to write his own two-page script.

The story he wrote needed an actor to go along with it, so Atkins placed an ad and Goodman came calling.

They finished a predecessor to the current show in 2018, and it sparked the interest of Harry Lennix after Jennifer enthusiastically reached out to the actor and he saw the excitement through her messages and Facebook. So the filmmakers began shooting a revamped and reloaded version of Conrad in the spring of 2019.

Filmed throughout downtown Chicago and the suburbs as well as Brooklyn, the series represents the work of about eighty cast and crew from Chicago, LA, and New York.

Goodman and Atkins offered a red carpet preview of Conrad at the Davis Theater last week, and Reel Chicago was there to get an exclusive look behind the scenes.

 
JENNIFER A GOODMAN | RYAN ATKINS
CONRAD OFFICIAL TRAILER

 

How did you each get into film?
Jennifer A. Goodman: I have always been on the front side of the camera as an actress. I participated in theatre growing up and I was involved in a lot of dance and musical performances at New Trier High School in the Northern suburbs of Chicago. I went to Ohio Wesleyan, a small liberal arts school not too far from home, and I studied English Psychology and Theater. After graduating, I went to a lot of auditions, but I did not have an agent. I was in sales and I was doing well financially, but I still was missing something inside that allowed me to grow, and that was what I enjoyed doing and I missed it. I realized I needed to take a leap of faith. I saw Ryan’s post seeking actors for his script when I was watching The Blacklist and Homeland and thought it would be really cool to play a bad-ass detective. A professional who was handling my anxiety told me that I was not developing a part of myself and advised me to do what I enjoy, so I made up my mind to get back into acting. That was the night that I saw Ryan’s post.

Ryan Atkins: I was born in the Cleveland suburb of Fairview Park, Ohio, and was raised in Ashland, a small town between Cleveland and Columbus. It was customary that you go off to college. I barely got in to Ashland University. I did not do very well at school. I initially tried out for the music program at Ashland and I failed it miserably. I didn’t realize I couldn’t play in front of a group of people. I had a rude awakening to my personality. I contacted a few professors who recommended electronic media production. I had a hobby in computers, self-taught. I got really interested in the way camera systems work. I transferred to Virginia Marty College of Art and Design where I finished my degree, in digital media. I focused on cinematography and editing. My best friend and I made music videos back in the day on point and shoot cameras and I also freelanced for the school. One summer, an actor friend of mine suggested that I approach upcoming actors about their demo reels, because when they go to casting agencies, they often present sub-par content, which affects the agency’s perception of them. I filmed a few of them on demo reel scenes. I was living in Cleveland enduring an economic hardship, and I decided on a whim to move to Chicago with my brother. One of my first jobs was writing a short film script about teenage bullying. That took a lot out of me, so I went on a movie watching binge and the films that affected me were Salt and Gone Girl. So I had decided to write my own demo scene. I wrote a mash-up of a character with a storyline that had some intro and outro. Jennifer was one of several people who I auditioned. She asked about character development and I told her I had some ideas but nothing written down. So we worked on it and it became a little more. One night, Jennifer wrote a bunch of stuff in the middle of the night and sent it to me. She has a-don’t-tell-me-it-can’t-be-done kind of attitude.

 
REEL CHICAGO
ERIC ROBERTS ON ‘CONRAD’

 

What was the original marketing plan for ‘Conrad’ and how has it evolved?
JG: It was interesting. I thought it would be fun to just get some people involved and I was looking to get some SAG credit because I wanted my SAG card. We decided to make it a TV episode because the way I had it in my head was much more than a film. When people were drawn to the story and the depth of the story and they realized how much was in my head. There were people affiliated with networks who told us, ‘when you film this you should get this in front of people.’ So I started to convince myself and tell the crew, ‘guys, we’re going to take this to the network.’ We felt that television provided the best opportunity to tell an audience and we intend to take it there. Sooner or later people started asking me, ‘can I audition for your show?’ Then people told me to get celebrities, and the next thing I knew, okay, we’ve got celebrities. I channeled my inner Elizabeth Keen (female lead character in The Blacklist played by Megan Boone) during the first audition with Ryan and told to Ryan that, by the way, we’re going to get people from The Blacklist people in this show (they eventually landed cast members Harry Lennix, Hisham Tawfiq). A lot of believers invested in this who believed in the idea and the value and the transparency of our team. My sales skills did not go to waste. Every person who invested in this has told me that I’d do it again.

RA: When they keep on reaching out to tell us that if you need any more help and show general interest on the project, that’s when you know that you’ve captured the right people. No one really knew the impact that the idea would have later on.

 
REEL CHICAGO
JENNIFER GOODMAN & RYAN ATKINS ON ‘CONRAD’

 

How did you plan the red carpet screening at Davis?
JG: Our EP Sharon and I decided that we wanted this to be a very big celebration for everyone on the team and we didn’t care what we had to do to make it happen. It was cast crew and industry and special guests and it was something that we felt everyone deserved to feel like a star. It was a celebration of success, becoming the future, and all the hard work. We did a lot of planning. There was a step-and-repeat. We flew people in from out of town. We booked a photo shoot for the cast. It was like being on set.

What were the results?
RA: Within hours of the screening, we were fielding offers and opportunities from people who want to take us in the direction towards success.

JG: We’re fine tuning details on a few things and we’ll announce when we’re ready to share. Also, I’ve gotten a couple offers to produce peoples’ work because of what they’ve seen me do with Conrad and I also got offered a manager who wants to represent me as an actor.

What’s next for Conrad?
JG: We are are working towards getting green lit, and we’ve been given offers, and, once we hone in, we will share the exciting news when we have it.

To learn more about ‘Conrad’, click on this.

 
Pictured at top: Eric Roberts at the ‘Conrad’ screening, Davis Theater, Chicago (photo by Ethan Chivari)

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