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« 2 Questions for 3 Filmmakers The Chin in Chicago »

Interview Wed Feb 24 2010

A Local Filmmaker Round-robin

I recently sat down with Joe Avella, Steve Delahoyde and Paul Thomas to discuss the state of the art of film-making in Chicago. All three are part of a small but hardworking group of filmmakers who call Chicago home. Though New York and particularly Los Angeles may hold the allure of glamor and money, these three find that they're able to do work that they're proud of right here in the second city.

Something that these three have in common is that they're all self-taught filmmakers. Each felt the need to learn the craft if they wanted to bring their film ideas to fruition. "It's a lot easier to do it yourself than I previously had thought," said Avella, who claimed he initially lacked the know how or confidence, but quickly taught himself the skills of film-making out of necessity. Paul Thomas added that one of the benefits of being self-taught was that, particularly with shooting comedy, he avoided some of the technical hang-ups that a film school grad might face. The others agreed that with their inclination toward shooting humorous work and not having a formal film background did not necessarily hinder them.

"If you've got a good idea you can just put a camera on a tripod, and if it's funny enough the work will stand on its own," said Delahoyde. The group thought that many of the conventions of film school are perhaps better suited for dramatic works, whereas in comedy the content and timing are more important than the cinematic intricacies. If a joke hits, the audience is far more forgiving of any technical shortcomings. That's not to say that technical skills don't play a role in comedy film-making. The sort of "baptism by fire" approach of DIY film-making really causes an individual to jump in head first, and Avella believed that experience helped to fine tune his instincts as a film-maker and editor.

The group agreed that one of the best things about filming in Chicago was the homegrown talent that they were privileged enough to work with here. Both Avella and Thomas are performers themselves, and all three film-makers regularly work with some of the most talented actors and comedians in town. They sang the praises of the Midwest work ethic, a phenomenon that's potentially exclusive to Chicago, that is a mixture of hard-work, determination, and good spirits. The performers and artists that they're working with haven't yet been stricken with the ego or desperation that you find so frequently on the coasts, so a commitment to a project is what motivates all parties involved.

These film-makers are, in fact, the poster children for the Midwest work ethic. Said Thomas, "I do it ultimately for myself...I had an idea, I executed the idea, and no matter what you can't take that away." It's not promises of success or money that motivate them, but a pure joy that they find in their work.

When I asked them if they wish Chicago could offer some of the same opportunities that Los Angeles has, all of them were quick to say no. "(In LA) You're making something as a commodity thinking, 'How can I sell this to someone?' There's this weird desperation, whereas I'm just making stuff because it's funny," said Delahoyde. In fact, there was very little at all that the group would change about Chicago, citing it as one of the best cities for taking artistic risks. That's not to say that they think Chicago is perfect. Mused Delahoyde, "I wouldn't change anything about Chicago, I like it here," but then he added, "Maybe I'd put in some mountains."


 
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Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

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