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Buffalo Grove Is More Inspiring Than Hollywood For Filmmaker Brad Bischoff

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 11, 2016 6:16PM

Chicago director Brad Bischoff (photo via Facebook)

Buffalo Grove native Brad Bischoff is a Chicago filmmaker through and through. Take his wordless short, Wet, about a young man who's "always soaked, as if he's stuck with his own personal raincloud." That film was not only set and filmed in Chicago, but also won the Chicago International Film Festival’s Chicago Award in 2009.

Building from the success of Wet and his earlier short, Eyelids, which he premiered at the 61st Festival de Cannes, Bischoff has continued to create more shorts as well as music videos. Now he's about to start production on his first feature, The Grasshopper, which he describes as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in the suburbs." Like several of his earlier pieces, it'll be filmed in and around Buffalo Grove.

In anticipation of The Grasshopper, IFP Chicago is presenting an evening of Bischoff’s work at the Music Box on March 16, showcasing his earlier shorts while also premiering a new nine-minute film: Lady of the House, a miniature character study. Its focus is a mother, wife, daughter and... something else, not fully revealed until the last shot. Will Bischoff be able to maintain this same slow-burn suspense in a full-length feature? It will be a thrill to find out.

We got the chance to talk with Bischoff about The Grasshopper, what inspired him to jump into feature filmmaking, and how Chicago itself has been an inspiration through the years. At its core, good storytelling means revealing the right detail at the right moment. It's a knack that Bischoff displays time and again in his films, and also in our conversation.

CHICAGOIST: You've made so many short films. Why the leap to a feature-length movie, and why right now?

BRAD BISCHOFF: For a long time, I just couldn't get the story right. I never had something that would keep my attention for long enough. I almost made Where the Buffalo Roam into a feature, but as I kept workshopping the script, I started to feel like I had already explored what I had wanted to explore with the short film. The fire was gone. And I never want to feel like I'm doing something just to do it, especially when it comes to making a film. I want it to feel organic, exciting, adventurous. There is something both thrilling and scary about the unknown, and I thrive on that. I've been making short films for over a decade now and have explored many different visual techniques for telling stories. I'm at a point now where I'm both extremely excited and nervous about my feature, so naturally I'm intrigued and would like to go on our first date already.

What are your main influences on this project?

BRAD BISCHOFF: Ferris Bueller's leopard vest, the cocktail dangling above the pool in the opening scene of Frank Perry's The Swimmer, forgotten 80s rock ballads, Francis Ford Coppola's battle to get Al Pacino in The Godfather, Bukowski's poem "The Shower," drinking at noon, Al Pacino's coke binge in Scarface, Gregory Crewdson, John Travolta riding the rails all night in a white suit at the end of Saturday Night Fever, Susan Tyrrell in John Huston's Fat City, Francis Bacon, and the gentleman in the bottom right-hand corner of the Norman Rockwell painting, "Freedom from Want."

What triggered the story? What was the first image to come to mind?

BRAD BISCHOFF: The story was triggered after I went through what I felt to be a very stagnant, albeit necessary, period in my life a few years ago. I was in a creative rut, was drinking a lot, and was feeling like all of my days were blending into one very long day. It didn't help that I was also making my own hours through the work week. I was battling with Peter Pan syndrome, and supporting spontaneity over structure in all aspects of my life ... which is still a battle, but as Oscar Wilde says, "Everything in moderation, including moderation." That, combined with a burgeoning friendship with Malik Bader, led to the screenplay of The Grasshopper. The first image that arrived in my mind was of a middle-aged suburban man in a Hawaiian shirt calling in sick to work and drinking a Mai Tai at seven o'clock in the morning.

Why is Chicago a good place to make movies? Is it as practical as, say, New York or LA?

BRAD BISCHOFF: Chicago is a great place to make films. The people I've met here and have worked with here are some of the hardest working individuals I know. People are excitable here and eager to help. Jake Zalutsky, my cinematographer, walked into Save More Liquor Lounge one night to scout for a project we were doing and met Jason Ward, the son's owner, who is quickly turning into a friend. Not only did we get the location free of charge, but he helped us on the production and even played the bartender in the piece. In exchange, [artist] Jess Godwin and [production designer] Nick Santore decided to leave him a piano that we had been using in our shoot, for his bar. It was a beautiful trade. Strangers are willing to get their hands dirty and show love. It's very warm and humbling.

How has the city inspired your work?

BRAD BISCHOFF: I feel the suburbs that surround Chicago have inspired my work more so than the city itself has, mainly because I believe suburbia possesses a deep complexity that I feel compelled to explore through my art, and have for many years. I've often heard the suburbs get written off as a place where dreamers go to die, but it has to be much more complicated than that. There is something very moving to me about a middle-aged man sitting in a garage somewhere going through his tackle box, drinking a beer. I am more interested in him and the boat parked in his driveway than I am in the city.

What locations and resources have you taken advantage of here that you couldn't find elsewhere?

BRAD BISCHOFF: I've had the opportunity to shoot at some pretty unforgettable locations in Chicago ... from my old suburban schools (which are all lined up on the same street in Buffalo Grove), to the city's industrial districts, to many Mom and Pop restaurants, a few dive bars, and just about every family member's house. Like I said, people are very excitable here, and eager to help you. It's a very beautiful thing. Also, the neighborhoods surrounding Chicago each have a different feeling and vibe, so if you aren't feeling one place, take a drive or a train ride and end up somewhere new. We shot a street corner in Pilsen and made it look like Poland by adding some polish signage on the wall and building a small outdoor market.

One last question: What's your favorite Chicago movie?

BRAD BISCHOFF: I was going to say either The Breakfast Club or Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. But then I remembered The Fugitive. I credit that film as being one of the first moments that I fell in love with movies. I've probably seen it 10,000 times.

The IFP Spotlight on Brad Bischoff is March 16, 7:30 p.m. at the Music Box