Janesville filmmaker crafts supernatural short
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Filmmaker James Ackerman at work on "Willis Tower." Photo courtesy of James Ackerman.
JANESVILLE--James Ackerman is leading a journey where “illusion and reality are one.”
Ackerman, a Janesville filmmaker, recently produced a short feature titled “Willis Tower,” what he calls a supernatural drama.
He adapted the film from a story by Lisa Lilly titled “The Tower Formerly Known as Sears.”
Ackerman recently submitted the film to the Beloit International Film Festival, which will be held Feb. 14-17, and to the Wisconsin Film Festival, which will be held in April.
He’s now waiting to hear if his film will be selected.
Organizers of the BIFF are in the process of making the final selections for the festival, which will be announced by Dec. 15.
Rod Beaudoin, executive director for the Beloit International Film Festival, said they have received films from 30 countries this year.
“I’m the only one who watches all the films, and I’ve looked at close to 500 films this year,” Beaudoin said.
Beaudoin said more films have been submitted during the past few years, which has increased the committee’s standards for which films will be selected.
Greg Gerard of the BIFF said the committee also tries to select movies from different genres.
“We want to make sure there’s a variety of genres and styles of film under the indie umbrella,” Gerard said.
Ackerman, whose day job is working in a gas station and convenience store, said his movie has received a positive response from viewers, and if his film is accepted for the festivals, he plans to sell DVDs of the movie during the events.
“I’m optimistic that it might be accepted. I don’t plan on it winning anything, because there’s a ton of filmmakers out there who are making really good films,” Ackerman said.
The plot revolves around the chairman of a law firm who goes to the former Sears Tower in Chicago to propose budget cuts for his firm.
His business partners are not too thrilled about his proposals, and during the meeting, a storm is brewing outside, and the building is being evacuated.
The chairman refuses to leave at first, but after receiving a phone call from his wife he decides to join the others by trying to evacuate the building. However, on his way out, he begins experiencing hallucinations and hearing voices.
“What he’s experiencing may be real, and some of it may be illusion,” Ackerman said, “and I think they cross into one another.”
Ackerman said he posted a casting notice online earlier in the year to recruit actors for the film. He took three days in August for filming, which took place at various locations in Janesville, including the Forward Janesville office, Old Towne Mall, the city parking lot garage stairwell and Mount Olivet Cemetery.
“I really enjoyed the shooting process. It was fast-paced, because there were a lot of shots I had to get,” Ackerman said.
Ackerman said the most difficult part of working on the film was the editing, which took several weeks.
“I actually continued to edit up until the point when I submitted it,” Ackerman said. “I would burn a CD, then I would watch it, then I would go back and edit pieces here and there.”
Ackerman became interested in filmmaking in 2007 after he purchased his first camera. He then began writing screenplays and short stories.
“I was always interested in the bonus features on the DVDs about the making of the movie,” Ackerman said. “I was always interested in how movies are made and the process of making films. That really grabbed my attention through my whole adult life.”
In 2011, Ackerman helped a friend develop a short film for her master’s thesis on psychology. The friend received an A on the project, and the film took third place in a film festival at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Ackerman also has some acting experience. He performed in several plays while attending Triton College in River Grove, Ill.
He also has appeared as an extra in several motion pictures, including “A League of Their Own” and “Red Heat,” as well as the “Untouchables” television series.
In the future, Ackerman plans to direct a short spy thriller film.