Interview: Director J. Spencer Greene’s Indy Film ‘Off-Loop’ Premieres in Chicago

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CHICAGO – The spirit of independent film is embodied in J. Spencer Greene’s “Off-Loop”, which will be having its Chicago premiere on Wednesday night, May 20, at the Portage Theater on the northwest side.

Off-Loop involves a group of college friends who have moved to Chicago to begin their careers as actors, directors and writers. When the malaise of real life sets in, it takes writer Dennis (Jonathan C. Legat), recently broken up from his college girlfriend Alice (Melanie Stanton), to “get the band back together” and begin to work on a new play.

Jonathan C. Legat as Dennis and Jason Economus as Barry in ‘Off-Loop’
Jonathan C. Legat as Dennis and Jason Economus as Barry in ‘Off-Loop’
Photo credit: CNGM Pictures talked with the director of Off-Loop, J. Spencer Greene, about the challenges of filming an independent feature, his own experiences as a young Chicago actor and converting a proposed TV show into what became the final film.

“Nick Izzo, the screenwriter, was one of my students. And I was a member of Famous Door Theater Company,” Greene said. “He would come to our shows and observe what we were going through as a group trying to put together great theater in Chicago. He thought it would make a good TV series – following young people just trying to start out as actors in Chicago.”

“We kind of put it aside, until many years later,” he added. “CNGM Pictures [producers of Off-Loop] had spun off into a separate not-for-profit, which gave us the means to launch the TV series.”

Jason Economus stars as Barry, a prolific director in college who can’t seem to get a show going in the big city. He agrees to take on his friend Dennis’ play, but still seems to lack the motivation to get the players together. Between his neighbor muse Mindy (Elodie Senetra) and his crush on Sheila (Jocelyn Levin), they just might convince him to begin the work.

“We auditioned for the cast in March of 2006, and started shooting in January of 2007, Greene related. “Since by then Nick had all nine episodes written, we’d jump around shooting the shows based on availability of the actors.”

He added: “As it happened, we just couldn’t sustain the cast and crew commitment for the entire series, after shooting about half the footage for the nine episodes. So we looked at the footage we had, and formulated a film based on the story.”

“We took what we could from the footage we shot, brought it back to Nick, and had him write a screenplay based on what we had. Then we shot the new stuff that would make it a new story.”

Part of the the subplot involves one of Barry’s friends, Joe (Jeremy Kruse), dealing as an actor with a megalomaniac director (Tom Pleviak) in a small Chicago storefront theater. Joe is also living with Carol (Stephanie Wyatt) as she tries to find a paid gig as a starving actor herself.

Director J. Spencer Greene of ‘Off-Loop’
Director J. Spencer Greene of ‘Off-Loop’
Photo credit: CNGM Pictures

“What is so much different in Chicago then L.A. or New York is the fact that there is so many more smaller theaters in Chicago, as opposed to the other two areas, Greene said. “Chicago is also a place you can go as a young actor, director or designer and ‘fail’ without it being detrimental to your overall career. You can try things in Chicago and hit or miss as an artist.”

In relating this back to the movie, Greene said, “You can learn as much being in a bad production with a bad director, as depicted in the film. The character Joe learns that a bad director will do a disservice to the script, because the director simply isn’t doing what should be done.”

When the gang gets back together to work on Dennis’ play, old and new dynamics start emerging as they take the next step towards shedding college and starting their careers.

“It was pretty much what I went through when I got out of college,” Greene recalled. “I did move to Chicago and got together with the friends and colleagues that eventually became Famous Door Theater. Like in the film, most of us were from the same college, Illinois State University. But if we also liked someone, we’d invite them to join the company and that’s how it evolves.”

Greene also talked about the nature of shooting an independent film, which involves lighting tricks and double duty.

“Off-Loop was shot with a minimal crew,” he said. “For example, I’d operate the boom mike while trying to direct. We had to be creative with lighting, because it was mostly just clip lights.”

“We also stuck close to Columbia College, where the police know that students shoot in the area all the time, so there wouldn’t be a permit problem.”

The basis always for these independent labors of love is the tenacity of cast and crew, and J. Spencer Greene acknowledges that this is how it happens.

“This type of situation rings true in every medium – film, stage plays, television – 90% of the success is based on casting. If you cast the right people and get the chemistry right, your work will be on its way to being done well.”

CNGM Pictures presents the Chicago premiere of ‘Off-Loop’, a film featuring Jason Economus, Jonathan C. Legat, Melenie Stanton, Jeremy Kruse, Stephanie Wyatt, Elodie Senetra, Jocelyn Levin, Tom Pleviak and Adam Rosowicz, directed by J. Spencer Greene. It will be shown May 20th, 8pm, at the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave in Chicago. Visit the website for ticket information. staff writer Patrick McDonald

Staff Writer

© 2009 Patrick McDonald,

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