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Carroll County lands indie film project

Reality TV shows also interested in area

ROCK FALLS – Northwest Illinois has landed an independent film project, and the Northwest Illinois Film Office has fielded inquiries from two television shows.

Chicago-based JJack Productions has chosen Carroll County as the location for its indie film, “Hunting God.” Most of the film will be shot at Grandpa’s Cabin, part of the Bill Delp Photo Studio on Zion Road, about 6 miles outside Savanna.

The Whiteside County Economic Development and Rock Falls Tourism offices are funding the film office, which is running on a shoestring budget of about $10,000 a year. Some other organizations recently have stepped up as financial sponsors.

Rock Falls Tourism Director Janell Loos has done most of the heavy lifting in setting up the office and coordinating the area’s efforts with the Illinois Film Office. Intern Katy Williams of Sterling, an economics student at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, continues to do outreach work to bring towns and organizations on board with the local film office.

Loos said the region’s film office streamlines the process for location hunters, which saves them time and money.

“The Illinois office will contact me and ask if we have something to fit the criteria for a project, and I give him a comprehensive package of everything from production guides to lists of nearby restaurants, hotels and businesses that might be needed for shoots,” Loos said.

Justin Jackola, founder of JJack Productions, will direct “Hunting God.” The young director said the story is his, but he hired screenwriter Ken Miyamoto, who has worked with Sony Pictures and Lionsgate, to help him write the script.

The story will be a unique mix of a man exploring faith after tragedy and elements from the suspense-horror genre, Jackola said.

“It’s about an atheist questioning his faith after losing his wife and unborn child to cancer,” Jackola said. “He goes to the cabin for a hunting trip with three childhood church buddies and is chased by an evil invisible force in the woods.”

Jackola said the film deals with tough spirituality questions he often has wrestled with – especially the difficult times that cause people to question their faith.

“One major question is why God allows bad things to happen, and the film also looks at how a person’s spiritual beliefs change when they think they are about to die,” Jackola said.

The casting wrapped up Dec. 19 and a callback session is scheduled for Jan. 2.

The cabin, built in 1837, was moved to the photo studio’s property in 1998, and Delp did most of the restoration work with the utmost historical integrity. The couple uses it for business purposes, but also rents it. They are excited about finding yet another purpose for their architectural masterpiece.

“We love this cabin, and we’re glad we can share it with people,” said Rhonda Lampe, Delp’s girlfriend and business partner. “We moved it onto the property because we wanted to incorporate it into the studio, and Bill did all of the work himself.”

Filming is supposed to take between 2 and 3 weeks. They are expecting about 25 people on location between cast and crew. The cabin owners don’t expect the shoot to be much of an inconvenience.

“We really don’t have to do much – just make sure they use it exclusively, make plenty of room for the crew to do their work, and give them a spot to relax,” Lampe said. “We’re just really excited about seeing the film.”

Jackola said 98 percent of the film is set in the woods, so the cabin was the biggest selling point. An Illinois native, the director wanted to make the film in his home state, which offers a 30 percent tax credit – one of the highest in the country.

JJack Productions was started 6 years ago, and after doing a lot of commercials to help pay the bills, the small enterprise is ready to make its mark in the film industry.

Two TV shows, which Loos couldn’t yet identify, are looking at the region, including a reality series that is interested in shooting in the Sterling-Rock Falls area. Word-of-mouth communication is important in the film industry, so officials hope the Carroll County film can open the door to more projects.

“We’re hoping that there will be a snowball effect from this film,” said Diane Bausman, executive director at Blackhawk Hills Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Blackhawk Hills is a nonprofit organization that promotes tourism in Whiteside, Lee, Ogle and Carroll counties. The region has had a few film projects over the years, but now the area is sending the industry a message that it is film-friendly, Bausman said.

“Now there is a concentrated effort to take advantage of the huge economic impact of the film industry,” Bausman said. “The region has a lot to offer, but everyone needs to get on board and work together.”

The film industry is now infusing nearly nearly a half-billion dollars into the state’s economy. When the 1989 release, “Field of Dreams,” was made in Dyersville, Iowa, Universal Studios spent more than $5 million in the tiny town of 4,000 people. Tourists would spend millions more in Dyersville, thanks to the film’s success.

Other organizations involved in promoting the region’s film office include the Blackhawk Hills Regional Council, the Small Business Development Center at Sauk Valley Community College, Morrison Area Development Corp. and Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Whiteside County Board did its part to make the filming process easier by approving a film ordinance at its Dec. 19 meeting.

“It helps us track film projects and makes it easier for them to do their thing,” Whiteside County Economic Development Director Gary Camarano said. “There aren’t any permitting or application fees, and it provides a framework for filming here.”

The Northwest Illinois Film Office will launch its website in the next couple of weeks, Loos said. The site will include thumbnails of prime film locations, downloadable permits, the Illinois Production Guide, and contact information for anyone or anything a production crew could need.

The regional film office has set up shot at the Rock Falls Tourism, but the website should become a virtual office.

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