Producer vows ?the magic will
happen’ to bring script to screen

“Sweet Home Chicago” up next for Epiphany Films’ Dan Halperin and Mark Frazel

When Mark Frazel and Dan Halperin of Epiphany Pictures asked me to produce their feature film “Sweet Home Chicago,” to be shot here next summer, I said “yes!”

The “Sweet Home Chicago” screenplay, written by Terry Schwartz (“Little Nikita”), Robert Bernberg and Dan Halperin, was accepted into the prestigious IFP Marketplace held recently in New York. As you know, that’s where industry executives get an early glimpse of what could be the work of the next Spike Lee, Quentin Tarentino or Coen Brothers.

Our goal was simple: to meet as many executives as possible and we did. The week started with the IFP Gotham Awards ? red carpet, celebrities, paparazzi. Dan worked the end of the red carpet like its official greeter. There, he cornered Ismail Merchant, Alec Baldwin, Sam Waterston, Matthew Modine and countless executives he had pitched in the past.

Bingo! During the cocktail party a development executive told Dan he was ready to help us make our movie.

Mark and Dan have been quite successful so far. Artisan just picked up their indie feature, “Road Dogs,” with Glenn Plummer and Chris Spencer that filmed in L.A. Their TV series with Norman Jewison, “Picture Windows,” in which famous directors made short films base don famous paintings was sold to Showtime. And PBS ran their “Phenomenon: the Lost Archives,” a documentary series around formerly classified government secrets.

“Sweet Home Chicago” was almost sold at one time, but Dan felt so strongly about it, he refused the offer. Call it lunacy, call it love or call it a dream.

“Sweet Home Chicago” is about four teenage boys wanting to avoid the bleak future that awaits them in their 1959 South Side neighborhood, by forming the greatest blues band ever. Once they convince the nuns to let them play the church fair, fame and fortune is surely theirs.

But this is no cakewalk, as everyone and everything conspires against their success. While “urban renewal” bulldozes their neighborhood, the Sox play for the pennant and the threat of nuclear war is a reality, bandleader Dave Lujack enlists his three best friends, Ziggy Zelinski, Deejo DeCampo and Pepper Rosado to pitch for another outcome.

It’s a modern take on “Stand by Me,” “Diner,” and “American Graffiti” but instead of beautifying that era, Dan’s vision is to meet it head-on by integrating newsreel and stock footage that depict life the way it was — or the way Ziggy, who believes an atomic bomb will be dropped on the city the night the Sox win the pennant, fears it might be.

“You have to fight for your film,” is the credo of every independent filmmaker and the words spoken most often by executives at the Market who spoke on panels entitled: “Attaching Name Actors to Your Script, “Risky Business: Why Invest in an Independent Film,” and “Meet the Buyers, United Artists /Miramax/ Goldwyn/ Universal-Focus Films.”

What they all said was: If you’re not in it for the long haul, you’re not going to end up talking to them for a distribution deal, a negative pick-up, or production money.

To raise money in Chicago, our next step is to enlist the services of a high powered Hollywood casting director. Without a bankable cast, we can’t raise the money and without the money we can’t secure a cast. It’s the old ?which came first, the chicken or the egg story,’ but we’ll crack it, “The magic will happen,” says Dan.

Carey Lundin is a partner in Ontario Street Media, a media strategy and production firm, managing public relations campaigns and producing political ads and PSAs.