Film comes to Sundance with Midwestern tale
Brian Jun made his film, "Steel City," from hometown memories and a blue-collar perspective. Originally from Alton, Ill., Jun said he found inspiration for the film in his childhood memories.
"I grew up in a very working class community and worked a lot of blue-collar jobs growing up," he said. "I just became interested in that lifestyle."
So, after spending a few years trying to sell a script made to succeed in Hollywood, Jun decided to write another project, this time on his own terms. The result was "Steel City," which he wrote and directed and will screen in the American Dramatic Competition at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
"I really just wanted to make this movie from the depths of my soul," Jun said.
The result, he said, is a very human story that addresses the nuances and complexities of relationships in the lives of a group of working-class men.
The film tells the story of two sons and a father haunted by their mistakes and stifled by their surroundings. The father, Carl Lee, played by John Heard, has been incarcerated for killing a woman in a car crash, while his elder boy, Ben, played by Clayne Crawford, is a bullying, unfaithful father.
Meanwhile, the main character of the film, PJ, played by Thomas Guiry, can’t hold a job and simply drifts through life. Living in a small Midwestern steel town, the men have to battle years of transgressions to forge lives with any chance for happiness.
Jun said the story evolved organically.
"I just really created their characters and started writing," he said.
The story, he said, evolved out of what he thought their reactions would be and the stories he had heard from family members who worked in law enforcement. He said he chose to make the characters a father and two sons because of the complexities in those relationships.
"I’ve always been interested in intergenerational relationships, relationships like father-son and uncle-nephew As a writer, I just tried to find a way to raise the stakes."
Which is why he included Carl’s incarceration as a central point in the story. Shot with a straightforward, un-stylized view, Jun said he believes the film sets itself apart from most other modern cinema.
"I think this is a bold movie," he said. "I think it’s original."
He commended Guiry’s work in the film.
"Tommy Guiry, he just blew me away," Jun said. "He was the lead of the film and he had to carry it."
Jun said that while he expected many of the film’s career actors to excel and was happy when they did, he was proudest of his younger actors, including Crawford and America Ferrara. They, he said, "stepped up" with their performances.
Meanwhile, Jun stepped up as well. While "Steel City" is his first feature-length film, he said he never felt overwhelmed.
He, his cast and his crew shot the movie in 20 days in Alton on a budget of less than $1 million. But Jun noted that while his budget constrained his efforts, that’s the case with almost all films no matter how much money they can spend so he worked with what he had.
"The trick is to figure out how to spend the money most effectively," he said.
So he kept the production small and worked as efficiently as possible, never stopping too long to contemplate a certain shot.
"Eighty-percent of directing is making decisions," he said. "And sometimes you make good decisions, and sometimes you make bad decisions, but you’ve got to keep moving."
He said that with the film, he focused on preparation, making sure to take advantage of his first big chance.
"I think independent films are made in the preparation," he said. "It takes a lot more time than it does when you have the money at your hands."
The effort is worthwhile, he added, because a director has to stick around to see the project through.
"You have to be in it for the long haul," he said, "so you have to try and make the best decisions possible."
Jun’s decisions, so far, will at least get him to Sundance for the Dramatic Competition. A 2001 graduate of Webster University’s film school in St. Louis, along with his director of cinematography, Ryan Samul, Jun said that he and Samul were often some of the youngest people on the crew, and they appreciate the opportunity to make the film.
"It’s really good for both of us," he said.
At the film festival, he said he’d try to balance his promotional work for the film with some time to take in the festival. All that’s left is to let the audience see the story.
"Steel City" will premier on Jan. 20 at 5:30 p.m. at the Racquet Club Theatre in Park City. For a full list of screening times and more information about the film, visit http://www.sundance.org.
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