Four-figure “Nightingale” one of 12 features competing at Slamdance

Among the many Chicagoans at Park City, Utah this week is Leigh Jones. She’s not at Sundance, however, but at Slamdance 2004, where the film she produced was one of 12 that made it into the feature competition.

Slamdance, now in its 10th amazing year ? the founders never expected it to last, much less grow ? limits competition features to first-time filmmakers who work with limited budgets and do not have U.S. distribution.

Jones’ sci-fi thriller, “Nightingale in a Music Box,” fits right in. It was made for “four figures” she said, by first-time filmmaker Hurt McDermott, a well-known, Jeff-nominated playwright. And their hope and goal is to sign with a distributor.

“The story is about a frightening new technology that can alter people’s memories and cause bio terrorism if it got into the wrong hands,” she described. The technology does alter a woman’s mind, a code breaker is brought in to untangle the woman’s memory “and the result is experimentation on an unsuspecting person.”

The 97-minute, low-budget indie came together over the course of three or four years, starting in 2001, shooting between everyone’s other projects, and finishing in 2003.

“We shot a couple of days a week, with the actors rarely in a room together, and whenever locations ? mainly friends’ houses ? became available to us.” The crew was never more than five, and Jones said “the entire list of credits consists of less than 20 people.”

Everyone who worked on the film was a partner in the production.

Jones met writer/director McDermott and producer Todd Slotten, also a playwright and a Yale classmate of McDermott who arranged for financing and services, when they went to Maestro-Matic for music and sound design on “Nightingale.” Jones was also working on a project there.

In the end, Maestro-Matic didn’t handle the sound design. Instead, “Nightingale” got into the hands of a major music and sound production company, the Saul Zaentz Film Center of L.A., which put an Oscar-winning mixer on the film. “And with that nice little plum we were able to find the money to make a print.”

The three lead actors had appeared earlier in McDermott’s plays: Catherine O’Connor, the housewife with the altered memory, and Kelley Hazen, a government agent, currently live in L.A. Polish actor Andrzej Krukowski is the other government agent.

Other credits: Co-producer, Rob Turfe; DP, Michael Dunne, the colorist at Astro/Filmworkers; music by Brian Eno and Robert Fripp; music supervisor, Dave Martin and recording mixer, Mark Berger. McDermott also edited; Chris Bacardi was supervising editor.

“Nightingale” screens Jan. 18 and Jan. 20 at the Park City Mountain Inn. If it wins, they’ll have great cause for celebration at Slamdance’s blowout 10th anniversary party ending the festival Jan. 24.

Competing are 18 features and seven full-length docs, including 13 U.S. and world premieres and 21 short films.

Reach Jones at 773/307-8782; see a trailer at