“It doesn’t have to be realistic. However authentic.”
It’s a belief Chicago film industry veteran Carrie Holt de Lama learned from spending countless hours wandering around with a location scout, a filmmaker, or on her own. His job: To find a building, an intersection, a viewpoint, or an empty lot that fits what a scenario requires. Preferably something that hasn’t been taken a million times.
Aren’t these words “realistic” and “authentic” synonymous? In a way. But when you make a movie or shoot an episode of a TV series, authenticity often becomes more about subjective accuracy than objective accuracy. The right locale, the perfect background for a given scripted scene, often makes no sense geographically (favorite locale example: Where are we? opening credits “The Bob Newhart Show”).
There are degrees of realism. Hulu’s big success “Bear” operates in its own concentrated field poetic the realism is dreamy but frustrating, especially when there are multiple deadlines in the kitchen. This is not “documentary style” (a meaningless, generic descriptor). Instead, it draws from series creator Christopher Storer’s memories of growing up on Orleans Street, where he first discovered Mr. Beef.
De Lama is the unit production manager for “The Bear”; Much of that means coordinating with location managers to find the right house in the right neighborhood for, say, Jamie Lee Curtis (Season 2, Episode 6) to break out on Thanksgiving. .
De Lama is also executive producing the new Chicago set and producing “We Grown Now,” which will open the Chicago International Film Festival on Oct. 11. The movie is very good It is set in 1992 in the Cabrini-Green housing projects, among other parts of Chicago. There is a question: How to revive a physical place and presence that has been erased from Chicago history for a generation? Our interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: Carrie, tell me how “We Grown Now” created the idea for the 1992 Cabrini-Green.
A.: This was a serious location issue (laughs). Here’s this beautiful screenplay by Minhal Baig, set in a part of Chicago that no longer exists. Location manager Maria Roxas – we worked a lot together – she, I, and Minhal drove around Chicago looking for locations. On and off for three years. For the Cabrini-Green high-rises, we found Chicago Housing Authority senior housing at the Ogden-Ashland-Madison intersection. We used low-rise buildings that still exist (like recently) “candy man” remake) and was filmed downtown, at Union Station and the Art Institute. The Art Institute turned us down three times before we got a “yes” answer.
For the apartment interiors, we built the apartment in the old indoor football stadium on 35th Street, just west of Western. We couldn’t afford Cinespace (where he shot the interiors of “Bear”) or any traditional soundstage. That’s a lot of money for a “tier one” low-budget film under $7 million. That’s a lot of money.
Finding the right locations is also about finding the general neighborhood that will work with you. Shooting has a direct impact on the surrounding neighborhood, including traffic, parking, and everything else. It’s not an easy job for the people living there. I remember working on “Death Wish” (the Bruce Willis remake), which we shot in a convenience store in Pilsen. The rental cost was $12,000. Then director Eli Roth changed his mind on something, we had to turn back, and the second day the price went up to $18,000. Adding. But the public must benefit.
Q: Before we mention an example or two from “The Bear,” can you walk us through your production timeline and how the strike affected it?
A: We shot the first two seasons from mid-February to early April. It’s literally the fastest show I’ve ever worked on. Publication date: June 23. We need 10 weeks for the writers’ room, so with any luck, we’ll be opening just in time (for Season 3 next year). On the other hand, Chris (Storer) and Joanna (Calo) could not come up with a draft. Usually summer is a time for showrunners to think about how they want the show to progress. We should be good but it’s a challenge. And we’ll see what happens with the (Screen Actors Guild) contract negotiations.
Q: Let’s look at a literal home example of location discovery. “Pisces” episode of Season 2; Can you tell us about your process for finding the house you used?
A.: Funny story. There’s a guy I know in Evanston, Doug. Doug Holt, my brother (laughs). He and his wife have a home with a certain flow that I think would work. A circular feel to the layout. We were scouting with Chris and Joanna and Chris walked in and said: “This is the right house.” We turned the dining room into a living room so it would be directly across from the living room. My brother had a giant library and the art department said “nope, too many books to take down and put back in.” So they built a fake wall in front of the books. We made a dining room on the back porch. Then we shot the rest of the dining room scenes on the Cinespace sound stage because we had to crash the car into the wall.
It’s sometimes difficult to put these together. And sometimes it’s a matter of taking what’s there and what you don’t want there. With “We’re Grown Up Now” we did a drone shot of the city skyline and then had to digitally remove all the buildings built since 1992.
Q: Next year, we plan to see the opening of Fields Studios in Diversey and Pulaski on the Northwest Side. Nine soundstages (Cinespace has 36, almost always full). Do you think this might encourage filmmakers and location scouts to see what’s happening in a part of Chicago that hasn’t been filmed to death yet?
A.: I’m sure your instincts are correct. I liked what I saw above and the space is truly gorgeous.
Q: In closing, I want to thank you for not including even one second of Bean’s appearance in “Bear.”
A: We avoided this. Chris Storer loves the Chicago he knew when he was younger. Millennium Park wasn’t around then. Besides, it doesn’t do us any good. “Bear” doesn’t need good shots of Bean. This is not our aim.
Question: Although different, neither “Bear” nor “Now We’re Grown Up” are intended to be a quasi-documentary survey of the city. Everything in filmmaking is selective, and no two filmmaking approaches are the same.
A.: Right. What I’m looking for is the right kind of originality for the creators’ vision. It’s not necessarily realistic. But it’s original.
I grew up in Wheaton and moved to Chicago as soon as I could. My dad would pull out the map and teach me the grid so we could really learn about the city. I love Chicago. Every neighborhood tells a different story. I’m lucky to work on projects that understand this.
Carrie Holt de Lama “Chicago Stories; Global Impact,” the opening keynote of the Chicago International Film Festival Industry Days, moderated by CIFF programmer Anthony Kaufman, on Oct. 12 at 4 p.m., AMC NewCity14, 1500 N. Clybourn Ave.; chicagofilmfestival.com
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.