Q&A with “A Midwestern” director Jon Fraaza, producers Madison Berry and Shivani Chanillo

Sam Freedman, Writer

“A Midwestern,” the 2013 recipient of Studio 22’s highly sought-after $7,500 Bindley Grant, is the story of two Wisconsinite brothers en route to retrieve $500,000 from their uncle’s cabin. The younger must avoid a fearsome French-Canadian named Jean-Luc, who seems to expect the money as well. As “A Midwestern” approaches its second weekend of production, The Current spoke with writer-director Jon Fraaza and producers Madison Berry and Shivani Chanillo about their much-hyped film.

The Current: Jon, when you wrote “A Midwestern,” did you do so with the intention of submitting it for the Bindley?

Jon Fraaza: Well, I wrote “A Midwestern” with the intent of submitting it for some sort of grant and batted back and forth between the $1,000 grant and the Bindley. I figured that the scope of this project was large enough to warrant the (latter).

The Current: How was the first weekend of shooting? Any good stories?

JF: It was cold as hell, I can tell you that.

Madison Berry: I think it was 1 degree on the first day in Palmyra, Wis.

JF: Plus wind chill. So it was, like, negative 14. The coldest we probably were was when we took the camera, the tripod — both which are extremely heavy, sharp and cold — and then we took a couple of other crew members and an actor and marched out about 150 yards to a treeline beyond the farm and we filmed the scene where Jean-Luc is taking pop-shots at the brothers. Absolutely horrible in terms of cold, but it looks really good.

MB: Luckily that day we had a pop-up tent that had a heater inside of it, so they were able to go in there — but then at one point the wind got so bad that it lifted the whole tent up and onto a car.

The Current: What were the challenges of managing such a large crew?

Shivani Chanillo: Definitely providing food. That was a big deal.

MB: We normally call for food donations, so Evanston businesses and a bunch of Wisconsin businesses stepped up to give us food. But making sure we had enough (and) getting it to set was always a struggle.

The Current: How did you go about scouting and booking the locations you shot on?

JF: Our fantastic locations manager Madison Ginsberg put a lot of work into finding a barn, a diner and a house that would let us shoot both the exterior and the interior and that looked appropriate for the script … She found a fantastic diner that we’re shooting at next weekend, but she ultimately could not find a house or a barn. And so I talked to my parents, and they said that my dad’s lake house would do fantastic, and it actually was perfect. Then there was a barn that my cousins knew the owners of, and we asked them if we could shoot there … They didn’t charge us anything, so we saved a lot of money on that.

The Current: What tone are you aiming for with this movie?

JF: Hopefully it makes you laugh. It’s a comedy-thriller sort of movie.

The Current: “Fargo” style?

JF: Not quite as dark as “Fargo.” More like “A Fish Called Wanda” or “The Big Lebowski.”

The Current: Has the screenplay translated on set the way you expected it to?

JF: I would say absolutely. The actors are just perfect in conveying the characters that I wrote, and the cinematography from Declan Fox is fantastic. It’s looking good. We got four inches of snow the day before we showed up, so the exteriors look great. It’s really coming together quite nicely, and I couldn’t be prouder of it.

“A Midwestern” will be playing at the Studio 22 premiere in June. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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