Locally-shot “Ice Harvest” director Harold Ramis talks about directing, his career and philosophies

Major industry player and Second City alum Harold Ramis built a career as a leading writer, then writer-director of comedies like “Animal House,” “Caddyshack,” “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day.”

Ramis’ latest, darkest film, the noir “The Ice Harvest,” was shot in spring 2004, mostly in the area around Ramis’ Highland Park home, on a reported $16 million budget. It opens Nov. 23.

It stars John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton as a couple of Wichita Falls embezzlers trying to escape retribution on Christmas Eve. The supporting cast includes Connie Nielsen, Oliver Platt, Randy Quaid, and a host of local talent.

Filmmaker Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) moderated a discussion with Ramis after a preview screening at the IFP/Chicago’s Midwest Filmmakers Summit.

Steve James: How did you connect with the material?
Harold Ramis: The screenplay was by Richard Russo (“Empire Falls”) and Robert Benton (“Nobody’s Fool”), based on the novel by Scott Phillips. There were so many things about it that I had wanted to see in a script.

It was so well written that I wouldn’t have to do any writing, which is important to me as a lazy and reluctant writer. And it was darkly violent in a realistic way that made me think of the Coen Brothers, but with a literary heart. The novel had all the sick and twisted elements that you see in the movie, but it didn’t have the humanity that I think the movie has.

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