Epiphany Pictures got a boost in the long development of their dream project “Sweet Home Chicago” with the signing of new 4th Row Films of New York to co-produce the feature.
Producers will be 4th Row founder Doug Tirola, Epiphany partners Mark Frazel and Scott J.T. Frank, and Carey Lundin of Adelstein & Associates.
Epiphany director Dan Halperin plans to shoot the coming-of-age film in Chicago next summer with a budget between $3.5 and $7 million.
The four heroes and bandmates of “Sweet Home Chicago” live in Pilsen in 1959 as the working class neighborhood is declared an official federal blight area, against a backdrop of Cold War paranoia and the White Sox pennant race.
Halperin met Tirola at the IFP Market in New York in September, initiating talks that finally led to the 4th Row’s commitment to the project.
“We felt some strength in our union, that together we’ll have the wherewithal to put the casting and financing together to put us over the top,” Halperin said. “I’ve felt for some time that to get this film made will take a confluence of all three coasts, including the middle coast of Chicago.” Halperin, a Chicago native, and Frank are based in Los Angeles. Producers Lundin and Frazel are in Chicago.
Frazel found the source material some dozen years ago: Stuart Dybek’s Nelson Algren Award-winning short story “Blight.” “‘Blight’ is a perfect rendition of coming of age in Chicago,” Halperin said. “The characters are ten years older than me, but it was still so reminiscent of my experience.”
Frazel introduced Halperin to Dybek and helped secure the rights to the story. “That was an odyssey in that Stuart didn’t have an agent at the time &mdash” it accelerated his getting an agent,” Halperin recalled. “When I met him he was an amazing character, and when I read his stories I was blown away.”
Halperin turned to two school friends to write the script with him, UCLA classmate Terry Schwartz (“Little Nikita,”) and St. Ignatius classmate Robert Birnberg, recently seen as Ozzie’s yoga teacher on MTV’s “The Osbornes.”
Like the protagonists of the short story and film, Halperin and Birnberg had started a band together in high school. “The coolest thing was to play a sock hop and know all the girls were looking at us,” Halperin said. “We knew like three songs and we would play them over and over. One night we played ‘Light My Fire’ for 20 minutes non-stop.”
Halperin went on to other projects while he labored to cobble together the financing for “Sweet Home.” Now he feels the time is right. “It’s me saying, ‘dammit, we’re going to do it,'” he said. “I’ve never felt more confident.”
Halperin has the pedigree to back up his confidence. He and Frank produced “Road Dogs,” “an ‘Easy Rider’ for the hip hop generation,” which recently sold to Artisan Entertainment. An April release was scheduled prior to Artisan’s buyout by Lion’s Gate, and Halperin said he had no indication that plans for the film had changed with the buyout.
Epiphany produced the Emmy-winning Showtime series “Picture Windows,” with director Norman Jewison (“In the Heat of the Night”) as executive producer. A different director made a film based on a famous painting for each episode. Halperin directed the pilot episode, based on Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” and Harry Petrakis’ Greektown-set short story “Rosemary.”