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Reel Life: getting filmmakers in sync

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Elizabeth Owen was frustrated. Even though she had worked in filmmaking for years, she still felt it was like pulling teeth to find the resources and people needed to produce a film. "Tracking down people was a lot harder than you would think," says Owen, who owns a production company, Girlie Girl Productions. "I would call one number and it would say to call another number, which would be disconnected." Then she read an "angry" letter to the editor by filmmaker Chris McKay in New City last August; McKay was urging Chicago's independent film community to pool its resources, so Owen decided to call him.

"He seemed to share a lot of the feelings I was having about wanting to connect with other people," Owen says. The two ended up meeting that same night in a coffee shop, and they quickly realized that they both wanted to start an organization aimed at uniting the city's filmmakers.

"One of the worst things about Chicago's film community is it's very insular," says McKay, who is the owner of Brand X Filmworks, a production and postproduction house. "You've got all these entities out there, like a theater group over here that doesn't talk to a film group over there....Nobody's hooking up and getting things done."

By forging connections through sponsored events and a talent database covering everything from composers to technicians, they hoped their organization would bring people together as well as support the development, financing, and production of local film projects. Owen and McKay recruited filmmaker Rob Rownd and Nicole Bernardi-Reis, managing editor of the biweekly theater trade PerformInk, and FilmBureau 606 was born.

Still relatively young (all of them are in their early 30s, with the exception of Bernardi-Reis, who's 24), the founding members come from all corners of the industry. McKay, a cameraman and editor, has worked on commercials, music videos, and industrial films; he's also supervised postproduction on several feature films, including 35 Miles From Normal. Rownd, who recently opened his own design and production studio, has worked on some larger-budget studio productions, commercials, and the occasional television series since earning his MFA from Northwestern in 1993.

The head cheerleader is Owen, who's handling most of the logistics to make FilmBureau 606 (named for the first three digits in Chicago's zip codes) a reality. Before starting her own production company, Owen worked as an actress in both New York and Chicago, and she was the managing director of the Lookingglass Theatre Company from 1988 to 1990. She envisions a time when out-of-town productions will land here and find "a centralized resource of current, up-to-date information on anything they need. So if a director decides he has to make a film in Chicago, he's not going to have to bring 17,000 people to Hotel X. He's going to come here and go into our database and find 40 grips who speak fluent Russian if he needs them, and they'll be here, and they'll be paid."

FilmBureau 606's kickoff event, Circus '98, will showcase the work of people involved in nearly every aspect of filmmaking. Short films, trailers, works in progress, and directors' reels will be screened, and members of Annoyance, Dolphinback, and Strawdog theater companies will perform readings from screenplays. Circus '98 takes place this Tuesday from 6 to 11 at Subterranean Cafe & Cabaret, 2011 W. North. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door. For more information, call 773-477-4978.

--Nadine Ekrek

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Rob Rownd, Elizabeth Owen, Nicole Bernardi-Reis.

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