Founder and Owner, Odd Obsession Movies and Co-Founder, Deadly Prey Gallery
Odd Obsession video honcho Brian Chankin credits thirteen years as one of North America’s last, best video stores to “ultra-consistent customers” and “dedicated staff” who have been around since he lived in the back of the first store on Halsted Street across from Steppenwolf. On its third location now, on the North Milwaukee corridor equidistant to Wicker Park and Logan Square-Avondale, Chankin says “the kindness of our current landlords keeping our rent very low” has been a salvation. “It’s a volunteer-run business made possible by movie lovers for movie lovers. Keeping customers motivated to visit us for the most hard-to-find titles, as well as current new releases,” he adds, “is a huge challenge, especially when streaming the same movie might be similarly priced to renting it physically from us. We’re always trying to get our name out there as the place to be, sponsoring events, especially small screenings.” Incoming neighbors also help. “The niche aspect of the store has definitely enticed folks who are new to the neighborhood, excited to support a brick-and-mortar, even if I wish more people fell into this category! But a huge portion of our clientele are still, thankfully, destination folks who are longtime customers.” The storefront has “survived an otherwise trying time,” he says, “mainly because of these ultra-consistent customers, and of course our dedicated staff, some who’ve been with us in the almost fourteen years since our first store across the street from the Steppenwolf on Halsted. I lived in the back of the store then!” Three years ago, Chankin started the Deadly Prey Gallery project, “which developed from my over-the-top collecting practices! With help from my partner in Accra, Ghana, Deadly Prey has archived over 1,000 hand-painted Ghanaian movie posters. A product of a much larger industry called the Ghanaian mobile cinema, these paintings traveled throughout Ghana’s countryside advertising movies playing in villages otherwise without electricity!” The practice started in the late 1980s, Chankin says, when bootleg VHS tapes arrived from Hong Kong and India as well as the United States. “Traveling movie theater businesses began, consisting of a truck, VHS players, VHS movies, a gas-powered generator, and these movie posters.” After mobile cinema’s demise in the early 2000s, the posters were so well known, the artists continued to paint movie posters as fine art. Deadly Prey houses a large collection of the older, well- traveled paintings as well as newer ones for sale in an appointment-only studio space. “Since the beginning we’ve had close relationships with the artists, so much so that we are able to offer commissioned works for movies of our customers’ choice. Currently, we have our first art book in the works, on Ghanaian movie poster artist Mr. Brew, possibly the most famous of all artists in the genre for his old-time carnival banner style.” Mr. Brew’s art book is planned for a May release from Featherproof.
Steven A. Jones
Producer and Producer in Residence in Cinema Production, Post Production, Animation at DePaul University School of Cinematic Arts
Steve Jones remains a highly active producer despite recent droughts in the way independent films, like his work with John McNaughton (“Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,” “The Harvest”), are financed and produced. McNaughton has a long-in-the-dreaming “Carny Kill,” and Jones is also developing an adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s “The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins” with McNaughton directing, and an adaptation of Alice Munro’s “Passion” written and to be directed by Chicago filmmaker Maria Finitzo. (Jones is quick to note he also recently directed the music video “Gone, Gone, Gone” for Styx.) But an intriguing new role for the always-cheery raconteur is his post as a “producer-in-residence.” “At DePaul I try to use my experiences on the films I’ve done as cautionary tales! A producer has to deal with creative, financial, logistical and personality issues. Often I have to stop and remind the producing students, after some particularly harrowing recollection, that there is no benefit to them hearing me describe things that went smoothly, because the job of producer is almost entirely about problem solving.”
Through an array of approaches, producer and seasoned media and entertainment executive Reid Brody has consolidated a working model for making work that can be made locally and distributed worldwide. As founder and vice president of Filmworkers Club, among other ventures, Brody created and built a post-production house with facilities in Chicago, Dallas and Nashville, which encompass a digital production studio, a motion graphics design firm and an editorial division. Four recent low-budget but commercially pointed features, “Nothing Like The Holidays,” “Phunny Business,” “Bad Johnson” and “Who Gets The Dog,” are also under Brody’s belt. “I am very happy with the four films that we produced. But the business has changed drastically and content is harder and harder to monetize. Therefore, the move into distribution makes more sense to me at the moment.” Of his myriad pursuits, Brody says he’s a “rogue son of Jewish retail” who escaped the family business on the South Side, Market Fisheries, to become a multi-hyphenate. New work is being developed through Provider Media and has also begun a distributor, Ammo Content, which “was created for two main reasons. I want to have the ability to distribute my own content and I want to use the Ammo platform for development. Ammo provides a great window into how our acquired content is trending on Amazon. If something is doing well we have a built-in relationship with the producer which could lead to the development of a sequel or series.” He intends to do it here, but he’s aware of what that takes. “I am a lifelong Chicagoan,” he says, “and have been heavily involved in the postproduction scene for a long, long time now. Chicago is a great city to live and work in but you can’t create content in a vacuum in Chicago. The business is on the coasts. So, while I live here we always work through the Los Angeles-based agencies and get them involved at the earliest stages of development.”
Founder, Johnsonese Brokerage
Looking forward to the January 2018 tenth anniversary of his insurance agency, Chris Johnson continues to provide necessary services for independent-level filmmakers. Located at two incubators for creative business, both Stage 18 and 2112, Johnsonese hopes to stay close to potential clients and their contributions to the Chicago community. “The energy at Stage 18 at Cinespace is fantastic,” Johnson says. “With so many film projects under one roof, there’s always something happening and that motivates me to get even more involved. I want to insure every production at Cinespace! And it’s super convenient for clients to just stop by and ask questions.” Johnsonese is newer to the 2112 Chicago-Fort Knox complex. “But we’ve already had a seminar on ‘Entertainment Insurance 101,’ which we’ll offer again in the fall. I enjoy sharing my business experience with creatives, and I have mentoring hours there.” The company has also expanded beyond insurance services. “We now offer film permit services. Basically, we handle the paperwork and legwork of getting location permits from government entities. This lets the production team focus more on the creative aspects of the film. Insurance will always be the heart of our business, but we will continue to offer related services that make life easier for our clients.” Among recent projects Johnsonese insured, Johnson is excited about “The Pages,” from writer-director Joe Chappelle and producer Colleen Griffen. “They’re a power couple who are looking to produce a slate of films in Chicago. I think this is a sign of big things to come, not only from Joe and Colleen but from the Chicago film community in total.”
Alan Medina, Alyx Christensen, Malia Haines-Stewart and Rudy Medina
“Four of us started and run filmfront,” Malia Haines-Stewart relates of the two-year-old media enterprise in a Pilsen storefront: herself, Alan Medina, Rudy Medina and Alyx Christensen. “We generally refer to filmfront as a project, cine-club or studio rather than a business, as we don’t charge for tickets to any of our screenings or events.” Within the diverse community, the group hopes to spark cross-cultural dialogue by combining discussions, panels, lectures and exhibitions in addition to regular screenings, which range across global, documentary, experimental and local cinema. “It started as a combination of a private studio space for our own practices and a public project, filmfront,” Haines-Stewart says. “We primarily program film screenings with a strong focus on post-screening conversations, which often include rearranging the chairs and asking each other questions, sharing immediate responses and other thoughts.” Filmmakers shown in the thoughtful, eclectic lineup just this year include programs of local shorts as well as the intellectual fiber of Jia Zhangke, Jean Marie-Straub and Danièle Huillet, Pedro Costa, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Krzysztof Kie?lowski, Harun Farocki, Tsui Hark and Adam Curtis. “In the last year, we’ve included more open reading groups that consider particular topics, such as Brecht’s constellation of influence on film and art, as well as an investigation of the idea of Third Cinema in Latin America. These projects include readings and screenings and are occasionally, as with the Third Cinema one, running parallel to a public film program.” She adds, “Since the spring we’ve gotten into making books on our in-house risograph printer.” A second book is planned for late fall, following “Film Food Footnotes,” made in collaboration with Imani Jackson of Conjugation Press.
Producer, DePaul University School of Cinematic Arts Visiting Artists Series
Chicago-raised, USC School of Cinematic Arts-trained filmmaker and DePaul instructor Wendy Roderweiss has produced DePaul’s School of Cinematic Arts Visiting Artists Series since 2013, an invaluable educational and community outreach program that brings innovative filmmakers and industry leaders in film, television and animation to DePaul students, but also the community. “Nearly all of our events are open to the public,” Roderweiss relates, “and with the uptick in Chicago’s film and television production, the series is a great cultural complement to the growing local industry. We stream and record all of our events as the equivalent of a four-camera live television show, which I produce, and are crewed entirely by DePaul students.” The excitement comes, she says, in multiple ways. “Because we run the events as an actual television show, the students get the hands-on, experiential learning that is critical to the field of film and television. Students have been hired onto professional sets right from their experience crewing Visiting Artists Series. And the series provides in-depth conversations with artists in an intimate setting. We try to strike a balance between local artists and those from Los Angeles and New York, which gives our audiences a greater sense of the growing Chicago film culture as well as bringing guests to them that they would not ordinarily have access to. Some of our guests have decades of experience, and others are just starting out, but all are willing to share their insights and stories. Because of our format, we are able to have honest discussions, delving into the nitty-gritty of working in this industry. The series is film school-centered, knowing that our audience is looking for takeaway points that will help them advance their careers. And because we bring in such varied guests, I feel like I always walk away learning something new, or with a new perspective. “
Founder and Executive Producer, Quriosity Productions
“I always remind the team that the work we do today will be reviewed by people for generations,” Qadree Holmes says of four-year-old Quriosity Productions. “We’re fortunate to be part of the visual storytelling that will represent our current culture in years to come.” Quriosity is a minority-owned, Chicago-based production-, post-production and photography company that also has Los Angeles offices, representing directors, photographers and editors domestically as well as internationally. Advertising is a large focus, but Holmes is impressed with the booming economy for film in general. “I credit this largely to the Illinois Film tax incentive, parallel to our amazing production crews, which give us topnotch infrastructure. Quriosity has definitely done its fair share of convincing clients to work in Illinois!” Holmes began his career twelve years ago, interning for O’Connor Casting, then a production company where he eventually became their rep. And now, “Quriosity has had a great run in the market. We work on really cool projects that have impact and meaning. Collectively, we’ve been able to take part in storytelling all around the country. It is great when you can always be learning, while sharing stories and experiences of others through film and print photography.” Quriosity’s recent post-production credits include Netflix’s “The Jamz,” Amazon’s “Written Off” and the feature “Signature Move.”
Raul Benitez and Nando Espinosa Herrera
Programmers, Comfort Station
The Comfort Station film series, ground zero in Logan Square, takes advantage of its location as well as its well-earned reputation at the hands of programmers Raul Benitez and Nando Espinosa Herrera since 2013, after the Comfort Station opened its doors as a gallery space. “Comfort Station itself is now its own nonprofit,” Benitez reports, “and we are looking to get funding to expand not only the film series, but the rest of our great programs there. We’re very proud that we have been able to do amazing screenings with the limited resources we have.” Thing began simply. “This crazy little idea that Nando and I had five years ago, pairing local bands with silent films, I would never have guessed would become so popular. This year has been the best yet with the last screenings with attendance over one hundred.” Of that turnout, he says, “This is why I went into film programming.” Benitez programs elsewhere as well, including at the Nightingale Cinema. “The Chicago independent film programming scene has exploded the past couple of years with so many independent film series, especially at DIY venues. The city is big enough for all of us. Nando and I always felt that there shouldn’t be any competition, we’re all doing the same thing: bringing cinema to the public. We host a seasonal potluck for all the independent film programmers at Comfort Station to acknowledge our community. Beyond that, we need to help each other and share resources etc. As Latino film programmers, we advocate very hard for Latinx films and films made by people of color, and we hope that is reflected in our programming.”
Jason Brett isn’t content to have his career as a producer marked only by his early successes co-founding Lincoln Avenue’s Apollo Theater and overseeing almost fifty musicals and plays, and co-producing “About Last Night…,” Ed Zwick’s 1986 filming of David Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity In Chicago” as a Rob Lowe-Demi Moore-Jim Belushi vehicle. Or holding the reins in the 2000s of Second City’s film and television division, including oversight of the “SCTV” series. While under the radar for much of the Chicago film community, Brett’s involvement in Portofino Partners has generated a diverse array of educational projects, much like other, lesser-known producers in town, including 2013’s launch of MashPlant Studio, described as “the first-ever, digital classroom platform [to blend] the power of social media with the engagement of project-based learning.” Hundreds of classrooms, across every curriculum from STEM to the creative arts, reportedly employ its materials. More recently, Brett and Portofino developed “MySciLife” for The Source for Learning, a science-based classroom platform. A lifelong musician, Brett is also developing a teaching platform for jazz instructors in partnership with the Jazz Entertainment Network. “While Jason’s experience is in entertainment, and mine is in complex corporate litigation, both require a keen understanding of narrative,” says Nick Weir, Brett’s partner in Portofino. “It’s all about story—that’s what connects us as humans,” Brett says. “So we look for projects with a strong and compelling narrative. My singular goal is, and always has been, to do what I love with those who also love what they do. From collaboration, comes joy. From joy, comes magic.”
Aiman A. Humaideh
There are pockets of legend and lore in Chicago film finance, exhibition, distribution and production that may never see the light of day. It’s the kind of stuff shared when film people get together, a strand of story that weaves workers together on a film set, for instance. Here’s one assistant director Aiman Humaideh told me the first time we met, on how he got into the business in the early nineties, related with abashed wonder as if he hadn’t told it many times before during production of locally made movies like “High Fidelity,” “Wanted,” “Ocean’s Twelve,” and “While You Were Sleeping” as well as smaller films (and newer filmmakers) that gain from his years of experience. Wearing long dreads, hoping for a ticket outside a Grateful Dead concert, Humaideh got lucky when a stranger offered him an extra, gratis. A few weeks later, around Lincoln Avenue, he got luckier when he happened onto a film set and heard a voice call him over: it was the woman who had passed him a ticket, and she was the producer of the film being shot, “Mad Dog and Glory.” Bill Murray had just run through another assistant, could he use the work? One of Humaideh’s careers had just begun. (He also works in real estate, with a notable 2008 “flip” of a Loop office building to his credit.) “Being on the set sixteen-to-eighteen hours a day for me is not like a job. I like what I do,” he said in a 2008 profile in Springfield’s State Journal-Register on how an assistant director assists. Humaideh represents the kind of industry-wide affable, unflappable professionalism that keeps crews and productions bustling in Chicago, as well as inspiring others to follow similar paths.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.