Is rapport not WANTED with C-U?

A week ago Monday night, the Illinois Film Office presented a free screening of the action film WANTED under the banner, “IFO Night at the Movies,” at the Savoy 16 multiplex. A little more than 250 downstate citizens took up IFO on the gesture according to this News-Gazette overview by Melissa Merli, making for a lively house that included numerous friends of C-U Blogfidential. Attendees included Luke Boyce of Essence Films, Ed and Meagan Glaser of Dark Maze Studios, Anne Shivers and Chris Lukeman of Illini Film and Video, Chris Green of Sidetrack Films, Robert Picklesimer and Claire Cowley of Creative Dramatics Workshop, Linda McElroy of the Route 66 Film Festival, and Cameron Counts of The Writing Initiative. Strangely, not one of them started a popcorn fight, but I digress…

IFO Managing Director Betsy Steinberg spoke to the audience before the movie, explaining that this “Night at the Movies” would be the first of several across the state to present movies whose production companies brought business and jobs into Illinois. WANTED itself amounted to 800 hires and $8 million in revenue when the show filmed in Chicago last year, according to the IFO’s original press release, while the entertainment industry as a whole brought a record $155 million into the Land of Lincoln throughout 2007. In fact, Steinberg’s speech pretty much followed said release note for note; you can skim over the high points right here.

After IFO Planning and Production Manager Todd Lizak picked raffle prize winners, the lights went down, trailers unfolded for the likes of DEATH RACE, SWING VOTE, and THE PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, the audience clinged tightly to their complementary concessions, and WANTED wasted no time blitzing all sensory organs in the house. I noted after the lights went back up that 15 to 20 people lasted through the end credits crawl with me, and regardless of my feelings for WANTED – let’s just say that I’m in no hurry to see it again – I was left wanting for other reasons.

Was this event not supposed to be promoting the business of entertainment media in Illinois, reaching out to citizens and professionals in communities outside of Chicago proper who might be interested in the field’s local potential? Were Steinberg and Lizak not particularly interested in meeting and greeting those persons who could be instrumental in the future success of the IFO’s mission when Hollywood or New York comes calling?

Maybe I missed the boat. I know at least some people wondered similar things as me at the time. How do I know? Many of the folks I mentioned above were the ones who sat with me through the end credits of the movie, thinking that something more tailored to their specific interests – that would be film making, not just film watching – awaited them on the other side. Networking? Business cards? Sign-up sheets? Flyers? Industry professionals on hand to answer questions? Nyet. A few glances back and forth between the bunch of us confirmed that this “Night at the Movies” had already come to a close.

After we finally exited the auditorium, I spoke very briefly to Steinberg and Lizak in the lobby. They seemed to be very happy with the turnout, but they also seemed interested in settling up with the Savoy 16 managers and splitting as soon as possible. And, that’s exactly what they did. Luckily, the main man John Jennings of Eye Trauma fame (see item: 1/11/08) arrived with friends to see a late show of WANTED, so I struck the arguable short shrift from my mind and chatted with Jennings and others who actually wanted to chat.

Don’t get me wrong. As far as I can tell, we all had fun that night. Yet, I certainly felt weird about it since I was partially responsible for inviting many of the film people to the event in the first place. A few even came all the way from Springfield, spending money on high gas prices and killing a weeknight to do little more than see a movie they could have easily seen back at home.

Maybe I should have known better. The News-Gazette report, which appeared two days later, spelled it out for me retroactively:

“[Roger] Ebert is one reason Champaign-Urbana was selected as the first site for the new ‘IFO Night at the Movies.’ [Betsy] Steinberg was at Ebert’s Film Festival in April in Champaign, kicking around ideas with employees of the Champaign County Visitors and Convention Bureau [sic]. They suggested that the new ‘IFO Night at the Movies’ start in Champaign because it’s a movie-loving town.”

But, apparently, not enough of a movie-making town for the event and its organizers to appeal directly to those in Champaign, Urbana, and the cities beyond who are genuinely interested in getting in on the action. It could be argued that it is these very people that the IFO needs to convice the least about the virtues of attracting media business to the state, but it is also these very people who would love to become more instrumental in that very business the IFO touts – especially since most of the good stuff takes place north of I-80 and out of their everyday reach.

At least the Illinois Film Office could have waited three weeks to pimp their wares before a showing of THE DARK KNIGHT instead…

~ Jason Pankoke

p.s. I would like to give sincere props to good guy Nathan Rice of the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau (a-hem, N-G copy editors) for being instrumental in arranging this event. At least it’s a start in forcing the IFO to actively recognize the lower nine-tenths of the state as a potential resource apart from the occasions when a LEGALLY BLONDE 2 or an INFORMANT appear on the radar.

p.s.2 Ironically, Ebert gave WANTED a half-hearted, three-star (?) review, the most telling parts of which are quoted in the News-Gazette article. Go here instead for the critic’s full opinion.

p.s.3 I will end this fit of late-night ill temperment on a constructive tack that is friendly advice to the IFO on how to angle future “Nights at the Movies” without having to necessarily wait for a Hollywood vehicle to open nationwide. C-U Blogfidential secret agent man L. Rob Hubbard recently put me (as “editor of MICRO-FILM“) in touch with the Lawrence, KS-based producers of AIR, a contemporary feature-length musical. Director Jeremy Osbern and team are working with the Kansas Film Commission on an “in-state theatrical run” of AIR, which would pull the neat double duty of promoting Kansas-born and independent filmmaking that still helps boost the economy and engage the indigenous creative class, if not to the massive heights of a DARK KNIGHT or a WANTED. The Illinois Film Office should consider a similar program to roadshow quality Illinois-made films, maybe in conjuction with groups like Independent Feature Project-Chicago or the Midwest Independent Film Festival, to give audiences a realistic taste of what could be accomplished on a regular basis in our great state by our own hard-working people.

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