August 14, 2008

St. Louis Serves As the Gateway for Indie Film With Missouri Ties


St. Louis might not be the most famous backdrop for Hollywood hits, but "My Dad," an independent film from the mind of a Washington University graduate and Los Angeles resident, isn't exactly "Hollywood."

Described as a "modern-day fairy tale," the film, which was shot this summer, is a dark comedy about a St. Louis man whose life revolves around listening to audiotapes left by his late father. The tapes offer instructions on "how to build his father a new body" so the two "can bond as father and son."

Director Lonny Zion said the idea sprang from the desire to create a film that tackles common issues; in this case, he aimed to take "the dramatic concept of family strife" and make a comedy out of it.

Zion says he crafted a script that was intentionally cheap and easy to self-produce. Now, four and a half years later, he's doing just that.

"My films are funny, but they're a little odd," he explains. "Sometimes it's difficult to get somebody - a money person - to take a chance on something, to trust that we can make it funny and entertaining."

Several years ago, Zion thought he found that person in the owner of a special effects company, but unfortunately, that funding fell through. Zion put the project on the back burner, but, driven by "a compulsive need to make odd, funny movies," he continued the search for funding.

As it turned out, the answer to his funding fiasco was found in his home - the Midwest. Zion's Washington University roommate Craig Stenson, a St. Louis businessman who owns a restaurant and real estate company, offered Zion food from his restaurant and access to his unoccupied buildings.

Lured by the lower production costs and fresh scenery, Zion decided to "go for broke" in St. Louis. Using several tools and connections, Zion and producer Ben Karson found local crew members, including Columbia freelance videographer Jordan Lundy. Lundy, who heard about the shoot through Craigslist, was attracted by the story itself.

"I had a good look through the script," he says. "It looked good, well-thought out. I'm more than happy to help out."

Karson, a Los Angeles resident for 14 years, says shooting in St. Louis with new crew members has been a refreshing change of pace. In the Midwest he says, the attitude is more "What can I do for you?" instead of "What are you going to do for me?"

"It's nice to come somewhere in the Midwest and find people like Jordan and" associate producer "Andy" Meyer "and the actors and other people who want to support independent filmmaking," Karson said. "It just goes to show you that this is a not an L.A. or New York phenomenon - there are people who are willing and able to produce independent film different from the big-budget films that are out there, which is really encouraging."

Zion and Karson left St. Louis on Sunday night with about 75 percent of the film shot. They plan to finish the film near the end of 2008 and premiere it in 2009; St. Louis will be one of the first cities to see the work.

"It's always nice to find another place where there's an arts community that's supportive of independent filmmaking," Karson said of the Gateway City. "It takes a long time to do these things sometimes. I heard a very prominent woman who is an executive at WB give a talk one time. She said, `Look, this is a business of attrition. If you don't quit you'll make it, and everyone else who quits didn't want to make it anyway.' That really holds true. You've got to have patience."

Chris Boeckmann is a freelance reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

Originally published by CHRIS BOECKMANN Special to the Tribune.

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