Gendelman: Lake Effect
By JOAN ELOVITZ KAZAN
Milwaukee, we often take the beauty and splendor of Lake Michigan for
granted. Now our own Great Lake plays a prominent role in an upcoming
movie. Bayside resident Jeff Gendelman wrote and produced "The
Surface," an indie film in which Lake Michigan is virtually a
main character. The premise of "The Surface" is two
strangers, (played by Hollywood actors Sean Astin and Chris Mulkey)
each at the end of his rope, meeting in the middle of the
unpredictable waters of Lake Michigan. "‘The Surface’ will
help educate the world about Lake Michigan and how Milwaukee is a
dynamic hub for freshwater research and technology," Gendelman
a screenplay and developing a movie is a long and often frustrating
process; Gendelman credits his eclectic background for his ability to
persevere through 18-plus years of script revisions, development
meetings and securing financing. "My mother pointed me in the
direction of martial arts and entertainment as a young child," he
says. Now a partner and popular instructor at J.K. Lee Martial Arts
Academy, Gendelman knows what it takes to succeed. "To be able to
do a screenplay, it has to be developed and nurtured, and you need to
trip and fall and pick yourself back up. There’s a wonderful Korean
saying in martial arts: ‘Fall down seven times, get up eight.’"
All that resilience paid off: "The Surface" wrapped shooting
in August. Gendelman flies to Los Angeles on a regular basis to
oversee the film’s editing process. Release is projected for this
takes enormous pride in keeping his commitment to shooting the film
locally. "Through the years as I was interesting Los Angeles
people in the project and they knew it took place in Milwaukee, they’d
say, ‘No, it’s too cold.’ I became an (Wisconsin) ambassador for
years. They don’t know the gem that’s here. I won out!"
Gendelman adds that at the end of the shoot, director Gil Cates Jr.
said, "Thank you, Jeff. Milwaukee was completely the right
goal is to screen "The Surface" at a few notable film
festivals, including Sundance, Tribeca and Cannes. But no matter what
ultimate place "The Surface" holds in film history,
Gendelman has loved the filmmaking process. "It’s all
wonderfully difficult and complicated … otherwise everybody would be
doing it," Gendelman says.
Tillman Jr.: Making Good
By MARTIN HINTZ
movie director George Tillman Jr. pauses in a street-side chat with a
news crew outside the Von Trier bar, the Oriental Theatre marquee
prominent from across the street. A gray truck rounds the corner,
radio blaring, the rap causing a brief halt in the interview. Tillman
smiles even when the camera stops and the techies step back as the
loud vehicle cruises past and angles down the street.
broadly and says, "Like ‘Notorious,’" a reference to his
award-winning bioepic on The Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie
Smalls/Christopher Wallace. The noted rapper was gunned down in 1997
in a bloody West Coast-East Coast war between rival musicians and
their fans. Tillman’s movie was produced in 2009 and had just been
shown at the Landmark Downer Theatre a few blocks away as part of the
Milwaukee Film Festival.
Milwaukee native was in town primarily to talk about his latest hit, a
Sundance audience sensation, "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and
Pete." The poignant tale centers on the struggles of two
youngsters in Brooklyn when their mothers are arrested on drug charges
and they are left to fend for themselves. First lady Michelle Obama
considers "Mister and Pete" one of her favorite recent
films. Speaking to an audience of teachers and youth and education
counselors after the film’s screening at the White House this
January, she said: "This movie isn’t just about the challenges
that kids like Mister and Pete are facing, and that’s really why
this movie is so powerful to me, because it’s also about their
courage, their grit, their resilience."
The film would
play that night to an overflow crowd at the Oriental, following a
jammed invite-only Hotel Foster reception attracting Milwaukee’s
cultural and civic glitterati. Tillman shared the hometown adulation
with his high school sweetheart/actress wife, Marcia, another local
making good in films, and their 10-year-old son, Chase, a
self-admitted math and history buff.
On his return
for the MFF as the featured "tribute director," Tillman also
participated in a panel discussion on representing race in films. He
shared that slot with "Defeat" screenwriter Michael
Starrbury, another former Brew Citian who lives in the Twin Cities.
Tillman is proud
of his Milwaukee roots, growing up on 42nd Street and Capitol Drive.
At John Marshall High School, he focused on journalism and
broadcasting and credits numerous Milwaukee Public Schools teachers
for putting him on his career path. "I wanted to be a filmmaker.
I was too skinny for football," he says with that smile again.
Tillman graduated from Columbia College Chicago, where he met producer
friend Bob Teitel, his longtime partner in their California-based
State Street Films.
He remains close
with his family in Milwaukee, including parents George Sr. and
Bernice, whom he also regularly credits for his success. In fact,
Tillman’s extended clan was inspiration for "Soul Food," a
1997 hit focusing on the lives of an ordinary black family. The film’s
universal premise resonated and proved that such movies could be
commercial successes. His other acclaimed work, such as the
"Barbershop" trilogy and "Men of Honor" starring
Robert De Niro, have ensured Tillman’s choice spot on list of
notable contemporary filmmakers. "I want to make good
stories," he says.
It’s been a
long time since Tillman downed Heath candy bars at the Oriental,
Northtown and other local theaters as a kid. Yet you can’t take
Milwaukee out of this guy, who now lives and works in that ethereal
world of Hollywood and travels to locales such as London and
Copenhagen for his work. Obviously, it’s not time yet for a Tillman
wrap. So now, for him, his life remains in a continuous
Balistrieri: One-man show
By MARTIN HINTZ
Balistrieri is a great juggler, in the creative sense. He wrote,
directed, co-produced and starred in the feature film "On the
Verge." The comedy is "an original chronicle of one man’s
unique quest to find love and the perfect public toilet,"
Balistrieri says. The story line "provides a candid, unfiltered
look at how three friends navigate their relationships with the
opposite sex," he says.
"It was a
lot to do, but I loved all of it. It seemed normal to me to be doing
all of that. I wrote the script, and so as the director, I knew every
line of every character, I knew how every scene was going to be cut
with something that we might not be shooting for a few weeks. Having
that sort of comprehensive involvement for me was necessary. I wasn’t
about to hand it off so I could get more sleep," Balistrieri
He began to
write the script 10 years prior to the movie’s eventual production,
then shelved the project after 60 pages when his funding collapsed. An
expedition to Los Angeles followed, a marriage and a move back to
Milwaukee to start a family happened in the interim. All the while,
Balistrieri promised himself it would happen, it just needed to be the
right time. "The story never left my head. I’m a bit cursed
that way. Once I have an idea, it stays there," he says.
Balistrieri eventually spent his own money on "Verge,"
keeping to a budget of $3,000 in addition to dropping several more
thousand in marketing. He shot the film at numerous easily
recognizable sites around Milwaukee, such as Palomino, Comet Cafe and
paid off when "Verge" snared finalist nods for Best Feature,
Best Screenplay and Best Soundtrack at the prestigious Beloit Film
Festival, up against submissions from around the globe.
script writing is the most challenging and the most important part of
making a film. He agrees that the editing is a long and slow process
and that "the most fun is easily being on set and shooting the
to a first-time filmmaker would be to never expect anyone to have the
same amount of passion for your project as yourself. Try to do as much
as possible," he says. "Learn as much as you can about every
aspect of the process so you can delegate as little as possible."
Patrick Lowery: Texas Influence
By MARTIN HINTZ
Wisconsinite David Patrick Lowery, who is now living in Dallas, says
he hasn’t completely been absorbed by the Lone Star State. "For
the record, I can’t ride a horse, and I’ve been vegan for more
than 10 years, which goes against at least a few of the cliches about
the state," he says.
But at one time
Lowery did sport a magnificent Lone Star mustachio, giving him a
grizzled cowhand look. Texas has definitely affected Lowery’s vision
as a storyteller and also his attitude as a person. "I think it’s
made me a little rougher around the edges, hopefully in a good way.
And the rebellious attitude that is intrinsic to the state has
provided a good atmosphere in which to make stubbornly independent
films about stubbornly independent people," he says, although he
seldom bases his movies there.
His new film,
however, is set in Texas. "Ain’t Them Bodies Saints"
features an escaped convict who sets out across the Texas hill country
to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met. The raw
feature stars Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck and Ben Foster.
cinematic list dates as far back as 2000, beginning with his drama
"Lullaby," as well as stints as director, cinematographer,
producer and even actor.
Lowery lived in
Waukesha until he was 8 years old. His dad grew up in Milwaukee, his
mom in Texas. The family moved when his father landed a job at the
University of Dallas but regularly returned to visit relatives. The
peripatetic filmmaker showed his short film "Pioneer" at the
2011 Milwaukee Film Festival and co-edited the MFF 2013 competition
film "Upstream Color." ("Bodies" also was shown at
the 2013 festival.)
Lowery says he
enjoys the whole process of filmmaking, with each movie having its own
pains and pleasures. "Writing is probably the hardest, in some
ways, but at the same time it’s the easiest because you’re on your
own. Editing is the best part, because it combines the solitary
aspects of writing with the joy of alchemy," he says.
But shooting is
like a marathon, as is promoting the film. "When those films are
my own, it’s ultimately all part of one cohesive whole, each step
blends into the next," he adds. When editing someone else’s
film, Lowery feels it’s a great opportunity to subject himself to
someone else’s intentions. "It’s a little bit like vacation
in that way," he says.
uses social media to promote his films, an important aspect of his
marketing thrust. "I am a very shy person, so it allows me to be
friendly and personable without having to crawl outside of my shell.
In all honesty, though, I like being able to put a face to what I do.
I always have," he says.