Champaign close up: Filmmaker makes movie in CU area

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Photo courtesy of Robin Christian

Robin Christian directs, writes and produces for Dreamscape Cinema Inc based in Champaign. Christian has created videos and movies with his newest film “Below” releasing soon.

By Aidan Finn, Staff Writer

From the monopolization of studios by tech conglomerates and extensive cases of abuse and mismanagement of production staff, the modern film industry has been under tremendous scrutiny in recent years.

Even with the recent Chris Rock assault at the Academy Awards, the imagery of sun-soaked Hollywood remains a glamorous, dreamy landscape of opportunity in the arts.

In stark contrast to that, the cloudy-overcasted cornfields of Champaign stand different from the vibrant film industry. While there are many academic and student groups focused on film on campus, the greater Champaign city is not the environment one would expect movie productions to occur in. Nonetheless, one filmmaker has been making an extensive effort to make Hollywood in his backyard.

Robin Christian, a writer, director and producer at Dreamscape Cinema Inc operating out of Champaign, has created dozens of films for video and streaming services like Amazon Prime. His movies are usually filmed in Champaign-Urbana with local staff members and actors, and Christian has extensive experience in how the industry funnel works.

“It used to be that you had to be in (Los Angeles) or (New York City) to make a good movie,” Christian said. “Now talent in the cast and crew is spreading out so we are able to shoot anywhere. Central Illinois has all types of locations, so it could be a solid place to film. There is no crew infrastructure, however, so I have to hire from Chicago and other states.”

His upcoming release, “Below,” aims to provide a horror-thriller completely foreign to the fears of Champaign residents: sharks.

“‘Jaws’ made us scared to go in the oceans, so when I read about bull sharks preferring to live in rivers and reservoirs, I was intrigued,” Christian said. “I water skied on the Mississippi right where a bull shark was caught, and muddy water can be frightful if you think a maneater is swimming below you!”

Christian upcoming release “Below” is a horror-thriller film involving sharks. (Photo courtesy of IMDB)

“Below” follows a group of unsuspecting teens fighting for their lives when a hungry bull shark hunts them in a murky, very remote reservoir, according to the production’s IMDB page.

The film took several years to shoot and features a diverse cast of aspiring Midwest talent. Audra Mae Schildhouse, a Michigan actress and model, stars as one of the film’s female leads.

“I met so many talented and incredible people on this set,” Schildhouse said. “I’ll always treasure my time with everyone on this film. We spent all day on that dock, from sunup to sunset.”

The production featured various sets and stunts, being shot on a boat in remote water upstate and a floating dock in the middle of a reservoir.

Logan Borsari, an actor and storyboard artist for the film and Christian’s son, detailed how Champaign has treated the process of filmmaking.

“All of the films I’ve worked on have been in the Champaign area and it’s been great,” Borsari said. “There are a good number of people in the community that love to help however they can. It’s also great to film in a familiar area because I’m able to give suggestions with other members of the cast and crew. I grew up in Monticello, Illinois, just down the road.”

Similar support was shared by fellow “Below” actress Courtney Wax, taking a female lead in film after auditioning for the role right after she graduated from college.

“Being a part of a film production with ties to Champaign is very special,” Wax said. “I was born and raised in Champaign so I was thrilled to be a part of the movie and promote local filmmaking. It is exciting to see and partake in the creative and inspiring work Robin and Dreamscape are doing here.”

Despite the enthusiasm, Christian explained the struggles the studio has faced.

“Mostly the budget,” Christian explained. “There are no investors in this area so we scrape together every penny.”

Wax said the small nature of the city and remoteness wasn’t going to hold back its potential.

“There is a place in this industry for small towns like Champaign and I am grateful to be a part of showcasing local work and talent,” Wax said. “I hope ‘Below’ shows people that good and interesting stories can come from this town.”

 

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