Consumer Grade Film, a group of local Midwestern filmmakers, are not only dedicated to making low-budget projects, but are also very interested in making films that tackle social issues in our current society. One of the members, Andrew Laudone, is looking to make his directorial debut. Making a feature length film is a very collaborative process; it takes the hard work and dedication of a number of people in order to realize one person’s vision. Knowing this, Laudone and Consumer Grade Film are looking for help with their latest project.
Laudone’s project is a self-written script called In Circles which takes place in the Midwest and is focused on many issues pertinent to the area and its population. He told me that the plot “follows three teenagers who sell stolen prescription drugs in a poor river town that’s being threatened by a drilling operation.” Those, and plenty of other socioeconomic issues are just the beginning of what the director and I talked about during a recent conversation. While more details are available on the Indiegogo page, the rest of our discussion follows.
SP: Without spoilers, can you talk a little more about the issues that are at the center of this film and why you decided to confront those issues ?
Andrew Laudone: The decline of rural Midwest towns is at the heart of this project. Factories are closing down, people are leaving because they don’t want to work for less than a living wage – all par for the course after the Recession. The problem of the dwindling middle class has affected all of the U.S., but we see it changing rural America differently. With a lower standard of living, things like drug use and crime have come to rural America at rates reminiscent of big cities. This is just part of the issue. Because of the poverty levels, alcoholism/drug use, and parents working longer hours, there are kids who are thrown into early adulthood because they don’t have anyone else caring for them. They don’t know how to properly handle themselves, and they stumble around until they find what they need. This is who our film focuses on: river town teens, Carmen, Stephen, and Virgil, who are selling drugs to pay for an operation for Carmen. In our film, these problems are worsened by a natural gas drilling company. Fracking is problematic in several ways – the film takes place in a river town and fracking pollutes water sources – but this company represents an abject mindset of big business and its ability to impose on helpless people at all costs in order to make a profit. To the drilling operation in our film, that means potentially destroying this small town. And where will the people of this small town go if their livelihoods are degraded even further? Moving away isn’t always an option.
SP: Why is it important to you and Consumer Grade Film to tell this story? What do you wish to impart to your audience and why is that message a vital one?
Laudone: This story is important to everyone at Consumer Grade Film because it involves problems we were exposed to growing up in our rural Illinois towns. Southern and Central Illinois are incredibly interesting, but often overlooked places. I want audiences to know that we’re down here at the other end of the state and we’re struggling too. This is a film about us at Consumer Grade. We grew up in those situations; we’ve seen how the lack of opportunity leads to desperation.
SP: I’ve read that you say this is a film “about the Midwest, for the Midwest.” What is the significance of setting this film in the Midwest and why is that important?
Laudone: We want our first feature film to be about what we know – where we come from, what life was like there. We want to talk about home. Where we come from isn’t always the best place; it doesn’t always make us happy. But talking about its problems is a sure way to move towards making it better.
SP: Where will the production of this film take place? Could Champaign-Urbana be a possible source of locations to film?
Laudone: We have locations already reserved in a few towns across Central and Southern Illinois, but we still need a lot of interior and exterior locations. We’re looking for modest/low income housing and businesses to lend us their space. While people donating their property and time are greatly appreciated, we really want to pay everyone involved as much as possible. A big part of our planned budget is reserved for locations. Anyone can check out our website www.consumergradefilm.com for details on that. We’d most likely love to rent your living room for a couple of days.
SP: There are a number of issues that the film covers that are very serious as well as topical. In what way will this film paint the Midwest? When dealing with these tough issues, does the film have a pro-Midwest attitude?
Laudone: While some unsavory characters will be encountered throughout the film, no one is ever exploited or reduced to stereotypes. This is about poor people who are scared for their livelihoods. Through bits of my life and from the people who are closest to me, I started weaving ideas together that could encompass all those problems. It was difficult to hit all those notes and do justice to every theme, without, of course, writing something that would have audiences pitying the people we’re talking about. That’s not what we want. The end result is a story about teenagers, with the rest of their tumultuous world in their peripherals affecting their decisions. In Circles is an unflinching slice of real life in poor America.
SP: How can people in the Champaign-Urbana area become involved in this project? Are there already people from Champaign-Urbana involved?
Laudone: Consumer Grade Film is a do-it-yourself filmmaking group, so it’s essential that we film as cheaply and effectively as possible. That being said, it is still very important to us to pay our workers and pay them well. Even though this film is being made outside of the Hollywood system, we still want to pay industry wages, but we need funding to do that. We have a lot of our own equipment which means donations will go to paying our Midwest-based cast and crew. If you are interested in acting or working on a set, please contact us at email@example.com.
There’s a saying that goes “it takes an entire civilization to make a toaster.” Well, it takes a community to make a film. We want everyone to be a part of this project.
It’s clear from my interview with Andrew that this is a group of serious filmmakers who want to tell a story that brings awareness to the sort of problems they and other members of the Midwest have encountered. If you would like more information about Consumer Grade Film and their project, head over to their website. If you wish to support the film, head over to their Indiegogo page.