The Making of the Trailer: Behind the Scenes of a One-Minute Movie

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It was early August when I had coffee with the Chicago International Film Festival’s Anthony Kaufman and he mentioned that, for the first time, CIFF was inviting filmmakers to contribute trailers to promote the festival’s theme, “Because Everyone Loves Movies.” I brought the news back to Fawzia and Eugene in our weekly meeting and suggested we make one, using Fawzia in her “Signature Move” character Zaynab, albeit in a different scenario than those included in the film. This might be the foundation for a promotional technique we might deploy throughout pre-production, and would give the film a nice boost if CIFF chose to use it. And, it would give us a chance to work together as a team, rather than just talk about it, not to mention the opportunity to work with a director who might be a candidate for the director’s chair for “Signature Move” as well.

We did not have much time, as the finished trailer was due to CIFF by September 15, about a month away. And Fawzia had a heavy travel schedule for performances and screenings of her short films, one of which was working its way through the highly competitive NBC Universal Short Film Festival. Eugene had met Wendy Roderweiss at the Athens Film Festival, where both had short films. Since she was from Chicago and was working in the comedy genre with her short-film series in process, “Stages,” he thought she might be a good candidate for us. We had coffee with Wendy, she was interested, and off we went.  [Read more…]

How to (Pre) Sell Your Movie: Lessons Learned at The Pitch @ Industry Days

thepitch_1On October 25th, Fawzia, Brian, and I pitched “Signature Move” at Industry Days, a new event organized by IFP/Chicago and Chicago International Film Festival. “The Pitch,” as they billed it, was a chance for six local filmmaking teams to vie for a handsome package of in-kind services from various Chicago-based film companies. Sort of an “American Idol” or “The Voice” for film projects.

“Signature Move” was lucky to be chosen as one of the six contestants. Ultimately, the $20,000 prize and bragging rights went to Cornbred Films and their project “Oriole Park.” We were excited to walk away with an honorable mention, though, as well as a lot of great feedback from the jurors and the team of industry professionals who helped us prepare the weekend before. Of course, we would have loved to have won the big prize (we did receive a generous in-kind award of free office space from IFP/Chicago), but the lessons learned were in many ways more valuable. [Read more…]

Jennifer Reeder to Direct “Signature Move”


Jennifer Reeder, center, directs Jennifer Estlin on the set of “A Million Miles Away”

We’re enthusiastic to announce that Jennifer Reeder has joined us as director. One of Chicago’s leading filmmakers (included on Newcity’s Film 50 AND Art 50 lists), Jennifer’s singular style and voice has us all thrilled with the chemistry she’ll add to the project. We’ll have more to say about the process and search for a director later, but wanted to get the exciting news out first.  [Read more…]

“Signature Move” Readies Its Pitch For IFP/Chicago – Chicago International Film Festival “Shark Tank” for Film

Fawzia's notes for the practice pitch session held last Saturday.

Fawzia’s notes for the practice pitch session held last Saturday.

This coming Sunday, “Signature Move” will pitch to an audience of film distributors, investors and industry peers alongside five other outstanding film projects in various stages of development at the first-ever “Industry Days Pitch Session. Besides ours, audience members will see the latest undertaking of veteran Chicago team John McNaughton and Steve Jones (“Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer,” “Wild Things,” “Mad Dog and Glory”), from Jennifer Reeder, who made both Newcity’s Film 50 and Art 50 lists last year before playing the Sundance festival with her short film; from Collin Schiffli (director of the acclaimed debut “Animals”) and his brother Brandon Schiffli, the Chaz Ebert-executive produced Emmet Till biopic and a John Wayne Gacy-inflected period piece from the husband-and-wife team at Cornbred Films. Whether we win or lose the competition (we’re playing to win, of course), this event offers a unique showcase of some of the very best independent film projects in development in Chicago right now. [Read more…]

So how does a Korean-American guy from New Jersey end up producing a wrestling movie about a queer Muslim Pakistani-American woman who falls in love with a Mexican-American woman? Introducing Producer Eugene Sun Park.

Eugene Sun Park/Photo: Joe Mazza-Brave Lux

Eugene Sun Park/Photo: Joe Mazza-Brave Lux

Fawzia and I met for the first time in the fall of 2014. I wanted to acquire her film “Queen of My Dreams” for a collection of short films I was curating called “Chicagoland Shorts.” The idea behind the collection was to license and distribute the best of the local niche cinemas in order to celebrate the work being done by Chicago-based women, minority and LGBTQ filmmakers. I believe their stories are authentic and essential Chicago stories, and they ought to be recognized as such.

Once Fawzia heard what I was up to, she cut off my sales pitch and said bluntly, “Take my movie. It’s yours.” I was astounded, because Fawzia certainly didn’t need me or my nascent production company ( to boost her rising star. But I was also emboldened by her enthusiasm for “Chicagoland Shorts”—maybe what I was doing wasn’t entirely crazy after all.

Then Fawzia upped the ante. She said, “I’ve been looking for someone to produce this screenplay I wrote—it’s called “Signature Move.” I just haven’t found the right person. But I’m pretty sure you’re my long-lost Asian stepbrother. Do you wanna produce it?” [Read more…]

Here is how you can get a peek at what we’re working on for our movie, and not have to wait a year or more.

Still from “Zaynab Loves Movies,” a promotional trailer shot for the Chicago International Film Festival. Left to right: Jessica Thigpen, Griffin Rhyne, Fawzia Mirza

Still from “Zaynab Loves Movies,” a promotional trailer shot for the Chicago International Film Festival. Left to right: Jessica Thigpen, Griffin Rhyne, Fawzia Mirza

We’ll write more about this later, but we wanted to share the news that our team, in conjunction with director Wendy Roderweiss (, produced a promotional trailer for the Chicago International Film Festival. While it’s crafted around the festival’s tagline “Because Everybody Loves Movies,” we wrote an original script and, with the help of twenty-five Chicago film professionals, shot what is basically a one-minute film starring our own Fawzia Mirza in the role of Zaynab, the character she’ll play in “Signature Move.” [Read more…]

In the Ring: Newcity is ready to make its “Signature Move”

Photo: Alessandra Giordano

Photo: Alessandra Giordano

Now that we’ve finally chosen the movie we’ll produce for our thirtieth anniversary next year—it’s called “Signature Move”—I understand why most indie filmmakers write their own material. The road to great screenplays is paved with loose gravel. And when you find it, rights holders, agents and lawyers can grind that rocky road to quicksand. (Most of the metaphors you’ll read are even worse than this.)

I guess I thought finding the project would be the easy part. Since announcing this project in February 2014, I’ve reviewed more than sixty screenplays or other properties (novels for adaptation, plays, short stories, etc.). I’ve discussed projects over lunches, coffees and beers dozens and dozens of times. I’ve been on the verge of locking down not one, but two high-profile films, neither of which would have quite fulfilled this project’s mandate but would have been, respectively, great launch undertakings (a short film) or a great second film (a work by a legendary Chicago novelist) only to see both fall apart—though all principal terms had been agreed upon—when the rightsholders ultimately did not pull the trigger. I was not expecting inertia to be such an obstacle, one that proves not only frustrating but costly once the legal fees come into play.

I was somewhere in various states of stalemate a year ago during our Film 50 photo shoot, when I met one of the figures on the list, Eugene Sun Park. Park asked me if I was still looking at submissions, and I said I was. He said he might have something, and that was that. [Read more…]

How Kissing on the Mouth Leads to Happy Christmas: Joe Swanberg Spends 75 Minutes with IFP Chicago

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas

Joe Swanberg (in conversation with the Tribune’s Nina Metz) offered a chronological and candid assessment of his career to date last week as part of IFP Chicago’s “75 Minutes With” series.

A fascinating interview with Swanberg on many of the subjects he discussed last night was published online last month by Filmmaker Magazine and can be read here.

Here are a few observations from his IFP Chicago gig.

Metz asked him about his blogging about the making of his films, which she found insightful. He said he did this for his first five films, and that all are still available on the individual film web sites.

The candid sexuality in his early films was a kind of “political statement,” he says, in response to the lack of realistic depictions of the way sex is a part of our lives. [Read more…]

Crowdfunding Chicago: Put Your Support in the Bucket

I moderated a producers panel at the Midwest Independent Film Festival last night, and one of the unexpected pleasures of the evening was meeting the Lucas Brothers. Lifelong South Siders (104th Street), they’ve taught themselves filmmaking skills (“we wanted to go to Columbia but could not afford it,” one told me) and have nearly completed what looks to be a compelling and important documentary about the South Side “Bucket Boys.” They need $25,000 to finish the film, and you can check it out here: (Brian Hieggelke)

Crowdfunding Some More: Mind Over Mindy

I don’t know these folks yet, but here’s another local film project raising money. Robert Alaniz and his company Sole Productions operate out of the Southwest suburbs and have a decade and several films under their belt. This one includes some familiar faces from sitcoms we actually watch(ed). I bet Larry Thomas looks forward to the day when his name is not always followed by “Soup Nazi.” Perhaps this film will do it.

They’re looking to raise production and post funds, with a campaign end date of August 9. (Brian Hieggelke)