The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Interview: Will Slocombe, Graham Ballou, Marc DeMoss; Filmmakers

By Scott Smith in Miscellaneous on Dec 26, 2005 4:00PM

The increase in Chicago-based film productions this year brought money into the city’s coffers, recognition of Chicago’s cinematic vistas, and Vince Vaughn to River North. But while big Hollywood productions get most of the ink, many independent films lens here under the radar of Us and People.

2005_12_27_crimefiction.jpgOne of those films is Crime Fiction, a movie that began as a small film financed through the University of Chicago (some of the filmmakers are members of U of C’s Fire Escape Films) and grew into a larger independent film.

We last posted about Crime Fiction after it finished shooting this summer. After viewing the film’s recently-completed trailer, we contacted producers Graham Ballou, Marc DeMoss and director Will Slocombe for some follow-up. Via e-mail, we discussed the “nerdy charm” of U of C students, their future plans for the film, and their infamous, unofficial production blog, Yes, They’re Reel.

Chicagoist: The film started as a small project financed by the University of Chicago but grew in budget and scope. What prompted the desire to make a bigger picture?
Graham Ballou (Producer): I think the desire is always there to make a bigger and better picture. In our case, if I had to single out one factor that allowed us to make the jump from "student" to "independent" film, I'd have to say the talent. After meeting with a number of talent agents (most notably Peter Forster of Arlene Wilson Management) who liked the script, we were able to get some amazing actors on board. The first actress who attached to the project, Katrina Lenk, was in town playing opposite John Malkovich in "Lost Land" at Steppenwolf. We met with Katrina, discussed the script a bit, and were thrilled that she accepted the role. After that, Christian Stolte and Yasen Peyankov signed on, followed, I believe, by Amy Sloan, with whom we'd been corresponding in LA. The last major addition was Dan Bakkedahl. After these principals were secured, it was much easier to raise the funds required to make a substantially larger picture than we'd originally intended.

C: Why is making a film with U of C students much more interesting than making a film with other actors/crew persons, etc?
Will Slocombe (Director): Because of our devastating nerdy charm.

Graham: I think a lot of the actors initially signed to the project because of our more intellectual way of thinking about things. They were attracted to our approach: we were thinking about literary and structural aspects that are often overlooked in the hectic world that is low-budget filmmaking.

C: Why was it so hard to put together the trailer?
Will: It wasn't, really. But, using the blog-inspired assumption that it was as my guide, I will say that it was because we were trying to distill 90 minutes of movie into 90 seconds.
In actuality, the trailer was just a short that evolved slowly because the production itself was in a bit of a lull, and all of us weren't as busy as we could be. So, we nit-picked it to death. One of the things that makes filmmaking unique as an art form is that you have to have most of the evolution done before you ever start to actually make the piece. I can write and rewrite a song or a novel all I want. You can do it alone, and so the only person you have to answer to and be responsible for is yourself. But because filmmaking relies on more people, more types of media, more money, you have to have most of the thinking, most of the artistic evolution, done before you ever get to set.
Graham: From concept to finished product, there are really three films being made: there's the film you think you're going to make before you've entered production, the film you think you're making after getting your footage back and beginning to piece it together, and there's the film you eventually end up with after color correction, mastering, music, titles, etc. This evolution isn't a bad thing: filmmaking is a very fluid and collaborative process, and one really has to adapt and take in all the different elements.

C: What's your plan for distributing/showing the picture? Will there be screenings in the city?
Graham: We hope to run the festival circuit for a good span of time, and we'll begin our applications this spring. Ideally, we'll pick up a limited theatrical and/or home video/broadcast deal somewhere along the line.
Will: We are applying to as many top-notch festivals as possible. If all goes as planned, someone will decide that we're worth picking up. We are considering hiring a producer's representative to help guide us through the movie/festival/distributor cattle auction as well. We would love to show it in Chicago. At the very least, I can guarantee that at some point during the Spring, the film will be shown at the University of Chicago's Doc Films.

C: If the blog is any indication, you've had a rocky production. What problems do you think you've had to deal with that other independent films haven't?
Will: A hyperbolic blog.
Graham: I actually think that we've had an amazingly smooth trip, all things considered. None of us had ever made a feature before, and yet were able to raise the necessary funds, get locations and equipment at a price, and sign all of the actors that we wanted. Everyone in this city was so nice to us (SAG, the Chicago Film Office, etc.), it would really be dishonest to complain. So I'd have to second Will's response to this question: the blog's a bit hyperbolic.
Marc DeMoss (Producer): If anything, we've had advantages that other independent films haven't. We're getting a lot of attention because we're not the typical filmmakers. "Wow, you're U of C students making a MOVIE?! How'd you pull that one off?" And we have the advantage of being both a professional enterprise AND a group of students. We're getting to work with heavy hitters in the film industry to help us with things like talent recruitment and post-production, but we can also claim the student discounts at the same time.

C: Were there any worries about posting up so many stories about conflicts on the set?
Will: No. If Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, Gangs of New York, and Citizen Kane are any indication, breathless stories about actor-infighting (and insleeping), directorial egomania, and suit skepticism all sell newspapers, which in turn sell movies.