“Steel City,” only Illinois feature at Sundance, plays IFP?an interview with director Brian Jun

The only Illinois-shot feature at the Sundance Film Festival this year was 26-year-old Brian Jun’s gritty family drama “Steel City,” shot in his native Alton.

“Steel City” stars John Heard (“Prison Break”), America Ferrera (“Real Women Have Curves”), and Steppenwolf company member Laurie Metcalf (“Roseanne”).

Heard had starred in Jun’s short “Researching Raymond Burke” at the Fox Searchlab, after his earlier short “Jimmy Brown” screened at the Los Angeles Shorts Film Festival.

Jun and producer Ryan Harper will present a case study on “Steel City,” along with the film’s first public Midwest screening, May 20 at the IFP/Chicago Producers Workshop. ReelChicago talked with Jun about making his first feature and getting into Sundance.

ReelChicago: What’s your background? How did you get into film?
Brian Jun: I was born in Alton, Illinois, just north of St. Louis. I grew up in a relatively conservative environment in Southern Illinois and was one of the only Catholics that attended a Lutheran high school. I was never the best on my soccer or baseball team, and from a very young age I gravitated towards theater (most notably the plays of Sam Shepard) and found an acute interest in writing and creating characters. How that translated to film I really don’t remember. Cinema was much more available, especially to a teenager in the Midwest. So my interest in theater abruptly switched to film.

ReelChicago: What got you to the point of making “Steel City”?
Jun: After film school and making a handful of short films, I kept writing sketches that would eventually become completed screenplays. This is at 18 and 19 years old. I was in love with the process, but had no practical experience of the film business itself. So, the journey to make “Steel City” started obviously with the screenplay, but I had to learn the business ? and this is what many young filmmakers find most frustrating. It’s not just about the “movie.” It’s about the “business” of making the movie.

ReelChicago: How did you finance “Steel City”?
Jun: I formed an LLC in my own name and worked with an entertainment attorney and set up an entity to raise private equity. After exhausting all my humble resources and with little to show for it, the script was submitted to Your Half Pictures in the spring of 2004, after John Heard became an attachment to the project. They agreed to read it, and decided to co-finance to bring our budget up to around $300,000. I was very fortunate to find some young energetic producers who were interested in making an intelligent drama. It was just the right time for both myself and the production company, and I’m very fortunate to this day that they’ve played an active role in bringing “Steel City” to the public.