Chicago Film Festival 2018: Industry Days – A Midwest Career

Chicago International Film Festival: Industry Days

During the 2018 Chicago International Film Festival, the panels held during Industry Days allowed for both conversations and networking.  While I was not able to get to everything I wanted to, I was able to get to a few key panels.

I don’t go into these panels from the perspective of reporting on them.  Instead, I attend Industry Days for the insights that the panelists offer.  Improv is one of the reasons why I moved to Chicago in the first place.  Previously, the plan was to move to Chicago before leaving for New York or Los Angeles. But a funny thing happened along the way.  Well, I wouldn’t exactly call it funny.  I came out as transgender and in case you haven’t noticed, trans acting jobs aren’t exactly easy.  Any time that I can chat with a producer and get their advice, I take advantage of it.  With that said, let’s start discussing the first Industry Days panel that I attended during the festival.

Should I Stay or Should I Go: Sustaining A Career in the Midwest and Beyond

Moderated by Anthony Kaufman, the panelists included Colleen Griffen, Suzanne Jurva, and Robert Teitel.

One can look at this panel as a spin-off of sorts to last year’s keynote from Joe Swanberg.  Does one need to relocate to Los Angeles in order to have a viable career?  Or is it only necessary to be there when only taking meetings?

If you’re looking to get into television, moving to LA is practically a requirement.  This is because of all the writers’ rooms being based in LA.

But what about for those of us looking to just write screenplays in addition to making films, do we really need to move to LA?

An agent once told Griffen that “the people with the most original voices don’t live in LA.”  Griffen recently produced An Acceptable Loss, which premiered yesterday during the fest.  Directed by Joe Chappelle, the film was shot in Chicago and not on a micro-budget.  IFC Films just acquired the distribution rights to the film, which stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Tika Sumpter.

Griffin was saying that we need to have a production company making films in Chicago.  She brought up the names of people like Joe Swanberg and Stephen Cone as local filmmakers who have been able to find success with their Chicago-shot films.  The thing that’s key are pre-sales and private equity.  Griffen wants to raise some $50 million and help support young filmmakers.  In essence, the city needs its own version of Jason Blum.

Teitel–who moved to LA with producing partner George Tillman, Jr.–finds it easier for someone to live in Chicago as a writer.  “I think having a that voice from here is extremely meaningful.”

It was while attending Columbia College Chicago where Teitel learned how to hustle and get the job done.  The producer believes that the increasing number of television shows being filmed in Chicago should help to give aspiring filmmakers and crews the experience.  Because of the TV season, May through July are the best months to film because of talent availability.

Teitel will always do the best he can to produce a film in Chicago.  One of the things that’s key to making this happen are the production tax credits.  Money is the biggest reason as to how a film gets shot in Georgia when it’s set in Chicago.

Suzanne Jurva moved from Los Angeles to Milwaukee, where she is now the director of the Milwaukee Filmmaker Alliance.  The tools are there to make an independent film anywhere.  John Ridley, an Oscar-winning screenwriter, just started up No Studios in Milwaukee.  The building is expected to serve as a creative hub for local artists and filmmakers.

During the audience Q&A portion, I asked about how to break into the industry as a transgender filmmaker wanting to tell trans stories when our stories aren’t an easy sell.  Asking this question may have been the best thing ever because of what happened AFTER the panel.

Industry Days during the Chicago International Film Festival run October 11-14, 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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