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University of Chicago filmmakers to premiere first film at Slamdance Film Festival next week

Jan. 11, 2007

Just six months after wrapping post-production on their first full-length feature film, Crime Fiction, eight University of Chicago filmmakers are packing their bags and heading to Utah for the annual Slamdance Film Festival, where Crime Fiction will make its worldwide debut on January 19.

“It’s truly mind-blowing,” said Graham Ballou (A.B.’06), the film’s producer. “We say to ourselves every single day that we can’t believe this is happening to us.”

Crime Fiction was written by current Comparative Literature Ph.D. student Jonathan Ullyot and is described as a “perverted crime drama” by the filmmakers. After writing the script, Ullyot, who also stars as the film’s main character, approached friends and fellow filmmakers, who all jumped at the chance to make the film together.

In addition to Ballou, Benjamin Kolak (A.B.’06), Marc DeMoss (A.B.’03) and Jonathan Cowperthwait (A.B.’07) served as associate producers on the film. Will Slocombe (A.B.’06) was the director and Kirsten Johnson (A.B.’06) was the cinematographer. Current Ph.D. student in the Department of Music David Bashwiner was the composer of the film’s original score, performed by the University of Chicago Orchestra.

It is the first feature film made by the eight self-professed film lovers, who have since founded their own production company, Crime Fiction Pictures, named for their first full-length film.

The plot of Crime Fiction centers on James Cooper, a young literary failure, who is forced to relocate to Chicago from New York City after his first novel flops.

“After an argument with his out-of-state girlfriend ends in murder, James’s luck takes a turn. Her buries her body in a cornfield, writes a best-selling novel that documents his crime and becomes an instant literary celebrity,” Slocombe said.

Through networking and diligence, the writer, director and producers managed to raise about $60,000 for production and were able to hire professional actors, including many accredited members of the Screen Actor’s Guild. Actors starring in Crime Fiction include Amy Sloan, who starred in The Aviator, Dan Bakkedahl from “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and Yasen Peyankoy, a Steppenwolf Theater Ensemble member.

Of the $60,000 raised, about $15,000 was donated by the University, specifically Fire Escape Films, the Arts Planning Council, the College and the Committee on Media and Cinema Studies.

Much of the remaining funding came from what the filmmakers affectionately call “I love you money,” from family and friends — and one significant $12,000 investment from a Chicago alumnus.

“That was our biggest investment and our smallest was $300 — but every cent really, really mattered,” Slocombe said.

“We made this movie in 18 days during the summer of 2005 — and I think our shortest day was 16 hours long,” Ballou added.

Slocombe noted, “It really was the best and most challenging time of our lives,” adding that in retrospect, being on set was the most rewarding and exciting part of the filmmaking process.

“The traveling, connecting with new people and new places, the rhythm of it all, the stress and the challenges — it was so intense and so amazing,” Slocombe said.

Kolak added that while he may have gotten in over his head a bit during production, he wouldn’t trade in a minute of it.

“I learned so much; it was a remarkable time,” he said.

For DeMoss, the making of Crime Fiction served as a second chance for a new and different University of Chicago experience.

“When I was a student, this wasn’t my life,” he said. “Although I’ve always liked film and TV, but I wasn’t involved in Fire Escape Films then; this wasn’t my world. It has been the most incredible second go-around.”

The filmmakers are anything but shy when it comes to expressing gratitude to those who helped make Crime Fiction go from dream to reality.

“The University was great in supporting us without looking over our shoulders,” Slocombe said, adding that more unexpected support came along as well, including from a local junkyard, which provided the props for a car crash scene.

“We couldn’t have done any of this on our own,” Kolak said. “So many people contributed to this success.”

Following Slamdance, the filmmakers have no plans to show down. They are already beginning to raise funds for another another Ullyot-written screenplay called Tennis With Jesus (tagline: “Jesus serves”), in addition to reaching out to other film festivals in the coming months and organizing on-campus screenings of Crime Fiction.

“This has been my dream,” Slocombe said. “And now I’m sitting here watching as my dream is suddenly coming true.”

Additional information about Crime Fiction and Crime Fiction Pictures is available at

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Last modified at 11:09 AM CST on Monday, July 23, 2007

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