News Column

Film shoots on the down-low at Mundelein seminary

July 30, 2013

YellowBrix

July 30--For a short time, the sprawling campus of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein played host to a movie shoot for a film set to be released next spring.

The movie's production crew said the seminary, set far back in the woods off of Route 176 and Route 45, was the perfect spot to film the movie.

"All you have to do is drive around and look at this place," said James Tillman, one of the producers of "Killing Poe," which planned to wrap up filming at Saint Mary of the Lake Aug. 2. "It's a perfect campus."

University officials say they don't often approve requests to shoot movies on the campus--University Provost Fr. Tom Franzman said the school gets a number, which are typically denied.

And while many residents don't know that a movie is being filmed just a couple miles from Mundelein's downtown, Saint Mary of the Lake officials said that's just the way they want it.

"Normally it's not a venue that we open to that process very often," Franzman said. "We do get a lot of requests that we turn down. Basically, it's not our purpose."

The movie's writer, Chris Firestone, said it was his teaching experience at Trinity International University in Deerfield that got him interested in the Saint Mary of the Lake campus.

Nearly all of the movie's producers, directors and casting crew are from the area, Firestone said.

"A lot of us have Chicago-area ties," said Firestone. He says he taught philosophy at Trinity International for 14 years and grew up in Chicago. He also attended Proviso West High School in Hillside, he said.

"Our families are from here," Firestone said. "We're individuals that aren't L.A. or New York types."

Those area ties helped lead school officials to approve the group's request to film at the university, Franzman said.

He said the school only has a limited window during summer to accommodate filming requests, and with students coming back the second week of August, the "Killing Poe" filming fit into that timeframe. And with limited parking on the school's grounds, Franzman said the school isn't prepared to handle an influx of people visiting the movie set, which is why officials aren't publicizing the filming.

"It's meant to be a place for reflection and retreat," Franzman said. "It's not a forest preserve, it's not a picnic grove. It serves a whole different purpose."

Despite the low-key environment, movie officials said they have been reaching out to local businesses to cater meals for the cast and crew, and about 75 locals were recruited earlier this week to act as extras for the film.

The film follows a group of college kids who get into trouble while trying to teach their professor--of whom they're not fond--a lesson.

Associate producer and casting director David Brian Stuart, who owns the Improv Playhouse in Arlington Heights, said many of the extras are actors he has met through his work.

"I'm a Chicago guy, so I'm a believer in Chicago talent," he said. "Many of my friends are actors in the Chicago community."

One of those actors is Rick Plastina, an Oak Park native who plays the role of Dr. Lynch, the professor who teaches the Edgar Allen Poe class that's central to the film's plot. Plastina and Stuart worked on a local radio show together.

And while the five main students in the film--portrayed by those who've done everything from MTV shows to popular films like "Adventureland"--are played by actors from the Los Angeles area, much of the casting was local, with actors coming to either Chicago or Highland Park to audition for the roles, film planners said.

The key players in Emeritus Productions, which Firestone said he helped found about two years ago after teaching a class with the film's director, Nathan Jacobs, say they hope this is the first of many films shot in the area.

"There's not a lot happening in the North Shore area," Firestone said. "We would love to follow this up."

Jacobs, a 1996 graduate of John Hersey High School in nearby Arlington Heights, said though the movie isn't a big-budget production, he's sure that the film--described as a dark comedy with a surprise ending--will be "one of the most dynamic films of this budget range, maybe ever."

dwaters@tribune.com

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(c)2013 the Chicago Tribune

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