Women only to work on Split Pillow’s second improv film shooting in April

Seven women have set out to accomplish what it took 14 men to do before.

The Women’s Cliffhanger Project is a more streamlined, structured version of the improvisational filmmaking process that produced last year’s surprisingly popular feature “The Cliffhanger.”

“All 14 directors of the first ?Cliffhanger’ were men, and it showed in the work,” said Jason Stephens, president of Split Pillow, the non-profit he founded last year to foster and market improv film as a distinct Chicago art form.

“There were some raised eyebrows from women audiences about how female characters were treated,” Stephens said. “We wanted to see what a group of women would come up with. And we decided a smaller number would create something more streamlined and manageable.

“We selected seven women whom we thought would work well together, coming from a diversity of backgrounds to stay true to the idea of a collage of different styles coming together,” Stephens noted.

The seven participating female directors are Etta Worthington, Ai Lene Chor, April Winney, Amber Mohammed, Laura Lonigro, Maria Gigante and Wendy Jo Carlton.

An anonymous donation has allowed Split Pillow to pay each filmmaker a stipend for their work this time.

Starting with Jessica Wilber’s poem “Brush Fires” as inspiration, each of the filmmakers are responsible for creating an episode that builds on the prior participants’ work to become a feature film.

“Brush Fires” takes a step away from more purely improvised format of the original “Cliffhanger” ? the filmmakers consult on one another’s scripts, hopefully ensuring a more collaborative, cohesive product.

“Brush Fires,” now in script development, will shoot from April 12 to June 20. Each director has 10 days in which to shoot her segment and deliver a rough edit to the next filmmaker in line.

Stephens and producer Andrea Mortensen plan a fall premiere for “Brush Fires.” He said, “We’re going to model ourselves off the way theater companies work, and have a number of small screenings to build word of mouth.”

A committed emissary of improv film, Stephens was on the road in January, screening “the Cliffhanger” in his native Washington, D. C. and coordinating the New York incarnation of Split Pillow’s 72-hour Challenge. The Challenge gives filmmakers a weekend to complete a short for a group screening at the end of the three days.

Challenge 2.0, the second annual Chicago event, will run Memorial Day weekend. This year’s Challenge will be divided into two categories, unrestricted, and family-friendly, which allows participants the option of targeting their work to their intended audience.

Two “Cliffhanger” dates to note: On Feb. 21, a wine-tasting benefit for “Brush Fires”at Valhalla wine shop, 3317 N. Broadway, 5-8 p.m, featuring previous work by the seven directors.

One March 3, Split Pillow celebrates the release of the “Cliffhanger” DVD with a screening at 6 p.m. at Columbia College, 1104 S. Wabash, room 302.

Designed by Swell’s C.J. Dugan, who also created the feature’s title sequence, the DVD features Dennis Belogorsky’s documentary on the distinct filmmaking process, “Searching for Exquisite.” The doc premieres at the March 3 screening.

Reach Stephens at 773/529-5074. See www.splitpillow.com. ? by Ed M. Koziarski, edk@homesickblues.com