How I Got to Chicago

I didn’t expect to be in Chicago for long.

My plane from LA touching down on the tarmac was a cocktail of uncertain joy and a two fat olives oozing a cloudy brown bitterness. I’d bought the tickets to see a girlfriend; a day later, she was an ex and I decided to go anyway. I sorta lost my job doing so.

“You’ll be gone for how long?” he asked. Twelve days, I replied. Matt nodded.

I was working for Matt Lessall, a fantastic casting director, in the Samsung Building on Wilshire & LaBrea. We had worked together on-and-off since the summer of my Junior year. He and Monika, the other casting director who shared his office, were like family to me by then; at least the best of friends. As the breakup reached a head I had no interest in popping my work became sloppier; I regressed back to my intern days. I knew it, as lists showed up mis-dated or with improper font consistency. So did Matt. But his patience and goodness were large.

“When you get back, come to the office and let’s talk about what you want to do,” he said. “We’ll talk. Don’t worry. We’ll talk.” I nodded.

We’ll talk, I was sure of it. I would get to Chicago and she’d see me and there would be little choice but to fall back in love with me. We would talk and it would be my ticket to her heart, a place I had once lived – joyfully, then uncertainly, then reluctantly, and now desperately.

“It just feels like your mind’s not on your work,” he said. I had forgotten we were speaking about my professional ethic.

“Absolutely,” I said. “Thank you.” And I left.

We didn’t talk. Day one I realized we weren’t going to as I sat in the Mustache Café and wrote. When I begin a screenplay I write free-form. When the time comes to transcribe it to CeltX or Final Draft it can get sticky, but it’s easier for my thought process.

“Get over it, he said. He tugged at his mustache. Get over it. He shook his head. There’s a time and place for desperation, and it isn’t now.” Like that. Run on, with commas. I’m sure there’s a word for it.

Being fairly ambitious and restless, I decided to make the most of my visit. I had always wanted to end up in Chicago. It could be that I had two ex-girlfriends now who had filled the city with a mythic spark and vigor. The screaming L, rumbling overhead. The dive bars that reminded me of my study abroad in Prague, the hidden taps and live band karaoke. Also the brownstones and stoops and cafes. I sat at Mustache Bar for eight hours and wrote. And then I went out into the world. I tapped every connection I could think of. I met with Tim Evans of the Northlight Theater and Steppenwolf Films and pitched him my feature. He liked it. Tim had overseen one of my exes in an internship at Northlight many years ago. I had met him once and he’d introduced me to the Chicago Underground Film Festival. Though all he said was "I like it," it gave me the necessary ego boost I needed to sit happily on the bus down from Skokie.

Next, I grabbed a friend from my improv days and performed as a duo at a "Ladies of Comedy" open mic night. Each interaction left me confident. Maybe, someday, I could be happy here.

The last meeting before I left for home was with a friend of a friend of my ex’s, Rose Mary Prodonovich. She had been working on Boss for the past season and I’d wanted to meet and talk about the Chicago production world.

We met at Cinespace. She had printed my resume. “Let me introduce you to Jason,” she said. Jason Dusenske, first assistant-director on the indie feature “Warren.” He had a faint mustache and goatee and a baseball cap. He flipped it backwards and took me into an adjacent room, maybe a wardrobe storage area, though I don’t remember. He chewed gum. With a red pen he circled and underlined my resume, asking me pointedly about each experience and each benefit.

“What’s this,” he’d say. “This interests me the most, this music video you second-AD-ed.” I told him the most important thing a PA can do is handle lock-ups, distribute waters, echo roll and always have sides.

“Always,” I intoned.

“That’s good,” he nodded. “Not a lot of people pay attention to that sort of detail.”  It’s mostly just hustle, I explained. That, to me, was a good PA. Hustle.

"What are you doing in a week and a half?" he asked. I explained, I'm not from Chicago. I live in LA.

"Oh, where do you live?" he asked. He wasn't sure why he was looking at my resume anymore.

"I don't, actually," I hesitated. "I've been between leases since late July." He posited correctly that "between leases" is homelessness. I had been housesitting and couch-surfing; all my belongings were stacked in a Toyota Corolla at Will Trowbridge's house in Echo Park.

"I'd like to come back and work for you," I said. Are you sure, he seemed to say with a glance and a raised eyebrow. Are you sure?

That's how I came to visit Chicago. After that, I was in San Francisco to meet with Olympia Dukakis regarding a short we were working on together; then New York for a tech scout; then back to Los Angeles. However, by the time I made it to LAX I realized I wasn't going to stay much longer. Not only was my work pulling me toward this strangely European city, I was moving, myself.

My friend Will was driving back across country to edit a doc that had already made it into Sundance. He was looking for a caravan-buddy. We left the next day with homemade freezer bags of trail mix and bushels of bananas. Both of us sported neon tank tops and flips, symptoms of the California heat. In two days we were sitting in Handlebar in Wicker Park.

A new life had begun.

I plan on charting this path, from set-to-set, opportunity-to-opportunity. I have been fascinated by the drama behind the setup for most of my life. Only recently, though, have I seen how wildly interesting it can be.

In the coming weeks I will be 1) in post-production on the short I produced and directed called "Irene & Marie", 2) on-set of an indie short tentatively titled "Google Me Love", 3) on the set of the reality show Sandwich King and 4) profiling both obscure and high-profile members of the production community here in Chicago.

Enjoy. I know I will.

10-4, or whatever.

Filed under: Film

Tags: Film Production, Los Angeles

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