Smile Politely

Champaign has a movie studio?

Hollywood actors, former WWF wrestlers, movie studios, and Champaign, Illinois. Wait, is this one of those selection tests where the reader decides which thing doesn’t belong? Because Champaign seems like the thing that doesn’t belong, but, oddly, they all tie together.

Jesse Ventura

Although Champaign may not seem like the most natural place for a movie studio, a distant 2,000 miles away from the glitz of Hollywood, the city’s own Shatterglass Studios, located downtown in the M2 building, just completed filming their second feature-length movie with a talented cast that includes a well-known household name and a seasoned Hollywood actor. Scheduled for release next year during the politically active time of a presidential election year, The Drunk (working title) is a comedic political fiction based on a descendant of the real historical labor leader from Indiana, Eugene V. Debs. In the movie, the fictional grandson of the famous socialist Debs gets arrested for drunk driving, then runs for governor against the corrupt prosecutor trying to imprison him. Not too far-fetched from current political candidates.

The movie’s cast includes former WWF wrestler and former Minnesota Governor Jesse “The Body”/”The Mind” Ventura, who plays — hold on, this is a significant repertoire stretch — the governor of Indiana. Tom Sizemore, best known for his roles in Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down (and some more risqué off-the-screen activities), plays the character Bruce Frye. Shatterglass Studios filmed The Drunk in Debs’s home state, Indiana, using sites like the Eugene V. Debs historical house to evoke a sense of reality in the film. Ventura said about filming in the Midwest, “It means authenticity … if everybody involved in this film is from this general area … it should have quite a Midwestern flavor to it.”

Shatterglass Studios co-owners Luke Boyce and Brett Hays joined forces in April 2005, a year after Boyce established the company. Their success on previous films led their industry contacts made on other films to call them about the script for The Drunk six months ago. Their first short film, Sugar (2008), garnered attention and an array of awards at film festivals nationwide. Even more successful was their first feature-length movie, Leading Ladies (2010), which has thus far played in more than thirty film festivals worldwide, and is slated for another eight international film festivals this fall.

Leading Ladies Official Movie Trailer

Although most of the acting talent for The Drunk came from Chicago and St. Louis, many of the crew trekked from Champaign to Indiana to participate in the filming process, including Hays, the producer on this movie. Rebecca Bedinger, from Ippatsu Salon in Champaign, is pictured (right) working with Tom Sizemore’s hair. Chris Lukeman (videography), Myles Beeson (production coordinator and still photography), and Nick Mustille (camera and electrical), all from Champaign, were also on the set for filming.

The day I dropped by, they were filming in the historic Ohio Building in downtown Terre Haute, Indiana. While Ventura sat filming his scene among the crew and an array of hot lights, Hays toured the set to make sure everything went smoothly. The scope of his role as a producer at an independent studio is broader than a producer at a major studio, but he “love[s] the whole aspect of it from script to screen … [and putting] the puzzle pieces together on how the movie is going to be made.”

In polite Midwest fashion, Lukeman and Beeson showed me around the set between takes and talked about the cooperative spirit of the film community in Illinois. One example of this is the Red One camera loaned to Shatterglass Studios from another company for filming. Mustille explained that the Red One camera shoots a quality in between HD and film, allowing higher resolution than one would expect for a small studio.

Ventura compared working on this film to working with larger film studios like Twentieth Century Fox, with a professionally run set and standard operating procedures. One thing wasn’t quite standard operating procedure, though. The independent movie set was small enough with only a few dozen people around that within 20 minutes of my arrival, most everyone recognized me, so I didn’t need a press pass. But as I stood upstairs taking photos of the set and the film crew, I noticed someone handing out press passes to extras who were playing members of the press in the movie. The irony did not escape me that the fake press (pictured below) received press passes and prop cameras while someone from the real press walked around unbadged, taking photos of the fake press.

Like many artistically inclined people, the team at Shatterglass Studios has a “day job” when they’re not making feature-length movies. But unlike some actors who wait tables or writers who teach to pay the bills so they can do what they love on their own time, Boyce and Hays still get to direct and produce films during their day job, just a different kind. On location in Champaign-Urbana during the past few years, Shatterglass Studios has filmed commercials for the University of Illinois, Carle, and other local businesses. “We try to be more cinematic, as far as making them look more like film, rather than commercials,” said Hays.

Boyce and Hays briefly considered moving the company to a more film-centric city like Austin, but Hays noted that in a smaller, “community of artistic people” like this one, an aspiring studio encounters a cooperative spirit rather than a competitive one, both among filmmakers and businesses. He mentioned his appreciation for the encouragement the studio receives from Mike Ross, the director of the Krannert Center at the University of Illinois, and local business owners, like Cody Sokolski. Hays said, “I’ve never been in a community where you meet people, and they ask, ‘What can I do for you?’ so when we meet people, we try to do the same thing.”

Catch Leading Ladies on the big screen at the Art Theatre in Champaign this week, or wait for its release on Netflix and Amazon on September 13.

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