Indie film production went non-stop in 2003 amid otherwise lagging economy

By Ed M. Koziarski

Even as 2003 saw the lowest level of Hollywood expenditures in Chicago in years, one sector of local production seems to have remained firmly recession- proof and non-stop: independent film.

At least 29 independent films shot at least some of their production in the Chicago area in 2003, up from 14 indie features registered with the Chicago Film Office in 2002. The total estimated budget for the 30 productions was more than $4 million, actually a sizable amount considering that indie budgets range from credit card charges to occasional $1 million-plus budgets.

(, however, estimates the number of annual indie films to be higher by at least half inasmuch as many indie productions fly far under the radar and would not seek filming permits, which are the official gauge of the CFO.)

With the exception of Parris Reaves’ horror picture “The Evil One,” financed by Florida-based Breakaway Films/Maverick Entertainment, all indies whose financing sources were known were self-financed by the filmmakers, or raised through private investment.

Most of the films drew heavily on local theater talent and first-time performers, with the exception of Pete Jones’ “Doubting Riley,” featuring Jeff Garlin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Scott Dikkers’ “Bad Meat” with Chevy Chase, Robin Peters’ “Crab Orchard” with Ed Asner and Judge Reinhold, and the horror movies “Unaware” and “A Voice from the Grave,” both with Robert Z’dar and Joe Estevez.

“The Evil One” was the only film with an upfront distribution deal, although as of this writing, prospects already looked strong for “Riley,” “Bad Meat,” and Lance Catania’s “Cup of My Blood.” Split Pillow’s collaborative improvisational “The Cliffhanger” recently signed a video deal with Emphasis Entertainment.

Digital production played an increasingly prominent role in the local scene, with at least two indies shot on 35mm, at least four on 16mm or Super 16mm, at least three on HD, and at least nine on DV.

Below is a non-comprehensive roundup of the Chicago Indie class of 2003, with budgets ranging from under $1 million to $15,000.

“Doubting Riley”
Budget: $700,000
Director: Pete Jones. Producers: Judd Nissen, Pat Peach
Cast: Jones, Jeff Garlin, Steve Dahl
35mm, comedy: Gay Irish Catholic man tries to come out to family, but they won’t believe him.

“Bad Meat”
Budget: Under $1 million
Director: Scott Dikkers. Producer: Michael Hirsch
Cast: Chevy Chase, Billie Worley, Lance Barber
35mm, comedy: A scheme to kidnap and ransom a congressman goes horribly wrong.

“The Magic of Summer”
Budget: Under $1,000,000
Director/Producer: Roberto Blanchard
Cast:Nefra Burlock, Eric Prince, Tim Taylor, Kenneth Torry, John Solvent
S16mm, family drama: A coach teaches baseball and self-respect to a team of inner city kids
Blanchard Films, 773/275-6257.

“The Evil One”
Budget: $500,000 Producer: Delvin Molden
S16mm, horror: The ghost of serial killer H.H. Holmes rises to kill again.
Maverick Entertainment, 1191 E. Newport Center Dr., Deerfield Beach, FL 33442, 954/427-2530.

“Crab Orchard”
Budget: Under $500,000
Director/Producer: Robin Peters
Cast: Ed Asner, Judge Reinhold, Ruby Handler
HD, family drama: A woman brings her young son to live with her father after her brother dies in the 9/11 attacks.
Dreamscape Cinema, 888/359.8484.

“Cup of My Blood”
Budget: Under $500,000
Director: Lance Catania. Producer: Noel Olken
Cast: Daniel Sullivan, Jenina Gavrankara
HD, horror: A photographer protects the Holy Grail from supernatural threat.
X-Ray Productions, 1400 W. Hubbard, 312/738- 9729.

Budget: Under $1 million
Director/Producer: Mark Selz
Cast: Joe Estevez, Robert Z’dar, Linnea Quiqley, Ellie Weingardt, Amy Brown
HD, suspense thriller: An escaped mental patient is suspected in a string of teen slayings.
Selz Film,

“Grand Theft”
Budget: Under $100,000
Director: Malik Bader. Producer: Sam Bader
Cast: Malik Bader
S16mm, fake documentary: Doc crew follows burglar plotting to escape the business.
Bader Brothers Pictures, 1248 N. Milwaukee, 773/ 772-1234.

“Peep Show”
Budget: Under $100,000
Director: Justin Baron. Producers: Baron, Matt Woodburn
Cast: John McClean, Meraiah Guerra, Stephanie Podolny
16mm, drama: A voyeuristic photographer tries to find a deeper human connection.
Redworks Productions.

Budget: Under $1 million
Director/Producer: Richard T. Celenza
Cast: Guy Petruzzelli, Noah Gregoropolous, Abby Sher
DV, psychological thriller: A cop investigates the murder of his criminal pathologist father.
Sorelosers Productions.

“A Voice from the Grave”
Budget: Under $200,000
Director/Producer: Anthony DiGuida
Cast: DiGuida, Robert Z’dar, Joe Estevez, Rasheeda Ali, Victoria Bourne, Desmond Diamond
DV, horror: A cop is haunted by the ghost of a murder victim’s father.
Windy City Films, 630/351-1400,

Budget: Under $1 million
Director/Producer: Gregory Edwards
Cast: Patrick O’Brien, Kristin Williams, Morgan McCabe, Beau O’Reilly
24P DV, drama: Secret turns heir against family construction empire.
Apoyando, 446 N. Wells, 312/498-2815.

“To Kill a Killer”
Budget: Under $100,000
Director: Ricardo Islas. Producer: Diana Romero
Cast: Salamon Carmona, Lindsey Jimenez, Jorge Reynoso
16mm, action thriller: A Mexican hitman tries to protect his family in Chicago from a former boss’s revenge.
Metropolitan Filmworks, 401 W. Ontario, 312/654- 0684.

Budget: Under $75,000
Director: Filip J. Rymsza. Producers: Rymsza, John Yaworsky
Cast: Wesley Walker, Jennifer Ohlinger, John Lordan
DV, thriller: A construction worker investigates the source of his mysterious memory loss.
m31 Films, 847/806-1704.

Budget: Under $75,000
Director: Natalie Berning. Producer: Annie Price
Cast: Jason Denuszek, Chris Genebach
DV, drama: Estranged twins reunite to reconcile their dark past.
New Theatre Collective, 773.294.7238.

“The Cliffhanger”
Budget: Under $75,000
Director: Various. Producer: Jason Stephens
DV, improvisational drama: An interlocking web of characters vie for control of a tape containing “perverse secrets.”
Split Pillow, 773/529-5074.

“Love Made Visible”
Budget: $28,000
Director: Lisa Fisher. Producer: Anne Adametz
Cast: Angela Mullenhour, Sean Cahill
DV, rock drama: An L.A. video director finds love and sacrifice in the Chicago rock scene.
2321 W. North Ave., 773/354-3898.

Budget: $15,000
Director: Gill C. Carpenter. Producer: William Pierce
Cast: Devin Wesley, Keith “Silk” Mayberry
DV, action thriller: A retired cop takes on a gang of hostage-takers in a shopping mall.
Urban Pictures, 6858 W. North Ave., Suite E, 773/ 637-4876.

“On the Down Low”
Budget: $15,000
Director/Producer: Tadeo Garcia
Cast: Tony Sancho, Michael Cortez
Super 16mm, drama: Two men from rival gangs struggle to conceal their budding romance.
Iconoclast Films, 773/720-8239.

“Strange as Angels”
Director: Steven Foley
Cast: Marie-Fran?oise Theodore, Christian Payton
A painter leaves behind her former life and finds love with a journalist.
Almost Reel Productions, 651.645.2896.

Other 2003 Chicago independent features include “The Lot,” “Even Trade,” “Legally Besi,” “No More Mondays,” “Repetition,” “On the One,” “The Icing on the Cake,” and “Blank Verse,” Juan Ramirez’s followup to his 2002 Slamdance selection “Exile in Israel.”

? by Ed M. Koziarski,