New investment kick starts development for $3.5 million feature produced by L.A.-Chicago alliance

Director Dan Halperin and his producing partner Carey Lundin have set a late summer target date to start shooting their $3.5 million Stuart Dybek adaptation “Sweet Home Chicago.”

The project has been long in development, but a new influx of local private equity investment has brought the film back to the front of the production slate for Halperin’s Los Angeles-based Epiphany Pictures and Lundin’s local Viva Lundin Productions.

“We’ve been so frantically busy for so long, now we’re saying, before we start anything else we’re going to go for this and get it done before the weather turns bad,” Halperin said.

“We have other [financing] sources outside Chicago who have said, ?once you get to a certain level, we’ll cover the rest.’ Now we need to fill that gap so we can get to the point where the next money can kick in.”

The initial investment is covering development costs and has allowed the filmmakers to bring on casting director Scott David of April Webster Casting (“Mission: Impossible 3”).

Halperin said they’re in talks with several “actors originally from Chicago who have national and international visibility.”

Years ago, producer Mark Frazel acquired the rights to “Blight,” a story in Dybek’s “The Coast of Chicago,” which was a One Book-One Chicago selection last year. Halperin adapted the script with Terry Schwartz and Robert Birnberg.

It’s the story of four teenage boys who start an ill-fated rock’n’roll band in 1959, as their South Side neighborhood has been declared a blight zone, the White Sox are in a pennant race, and Cold War fears loom large.

Halperin and Lundin are looking for a neighborhood where they can not only base their location shooting, but also set up production offices and housing for out-of-town cast and crew like Halperin, a Chicago native who lives in Los Angeles.

“You get involved with a community, and they get behind you,” Lundin said. “We’re going into communities that have never been asked to be part of filming before. Not everything has to be about Wrigleyville or Michigan Avenue.”

One challenge is to identify locations that can provide the story’s period detail on a relatively modest budget.

“We have to shoot scenes tight with the actors and use stock footage to get the breadth and history of the period,” Halperin said. “It’s our job as filmmakers to create a universe, and if we’re effective at that, audiences will buy into the motif.”

“Hopefully the viewer will feel like they just took an El into 1959,” Lundin said. “You can go into this lost Chicago and be a part of that world.”

Producer Sunny Pinedo Chico, who is former school board president Gery Chico’s wife, is helping the filmmakers liase with neighborhood groups and set up an internship program with local high schools. “We feel it’s important to expand the Chicago base of talent,” Halperin said.