After years of rotting in Joliet, Les, a wrongfully imprisoned street legend known as "The Ghoul," is released into a mad search through Chicago's back alleys for the man who slaughtered his mother and robbed him of his soul.
Aided by enigmatic benefactors, he must delve beneath the city into a modern labyrinth of gutters whose tendrils have grown deep while he was gone.
What unfolds is a desperate tale of brute force tragedy set in the supernatural underworld of Chicago, where heroes are reduced to horror-shows, villains dream of their own demise, and good and evil prove to be antiquated concepts.
IFP Chicago Board of Directors member John Otterbacher interviews Director Dorian Weinzimmer:
Otterbacher: I believe this is your first major directing role (correct me if I’m wrong!), what were some highs and lows of this experience?
Weinzimmer: Yes, Chicago Rot represents my first foray into directing feature films, which I believe qualifies as major. As much as I would like to tell you that my film school efforts and early corporate video work as a fledgling film school graduate constitute some criminally unrecognized treasure trove of cinematic brilliance, my ability to stretch the truth does have its limitations. Those early short films and gigs were all extraordinarily valuable experiences for me as a growing filmmaker learning his craft and carving out his voice, but I am somewhat unconvinced that they would be as profound to others, as it was the mistakes, the missed opportunities, and the compromises present in the final pieces that were the most edifying for me. So I will say that one of the greatest highs of the entire Rot experience was the opportunity to synthesize all of those mistakes made and lessons learned during the formative years into a new baseline for myself and my core team. Isolating areas for improvement in your work is an excellent skill that every filmmaker should hone, but having such a broad palette with which to put those insights into practice through both the writing and directing processes was revelatory. Normally growth occurs so gradually that you almost do not even realize it has happened until after the fact, however, this was an occasion where I could actually feel maturation happening in powerful moments where I was forced to transcend what seemed, only moments prior, to be impossible. The only other option was to admit to myself and my crew that I lacked the capacity to realize my life's dream. Put in a position of choosing between those two options, it is truly astonishing what can be accomplished. At the very least, you will know exactly who you are in moments like those. Maybe more so than ever before.
The lows... well, there are a lot of those too. And that's fine - it is an emotionally intense undertaking after all - but what you really need to be equipped to handle is the speed and unpredictability of the shift from high to low, and become extremely well versed in ways to shift it back in the other direction just as quickly. The thing about "living your life's dream" is that you are holding everything to an idyllic standard, but perfection is about the most tenuous thing in the world, and once any one part falters, the whole of it loses that quality. So as soon as any sign of compromise, frustration, or low morale rear their heads, it is precisely like stepping off the edge of a cliff, and you can bet your ass that every self-doubt, cause for self-loathing, and general shortcoming you have ever identified in yourself is going to come rushing up towards you while you fumble around for the rip cord. Experience will sharpen your reflexes and afford you the capability to quickly grab the ledge and pull yourself back up well before you hit free fall, but when you're starting out and you hit those lows (and you will, unfortunately), remember what Werner Herzog said - "Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief."
As far as more anecdotal examples of highs and lows, I fear that those stories would need to be contextualized with information about our film that I would rather not spoil... There are a lot of surprises in store for the audience that we have worked extremely hard to preserve over the past several years. I can say this though - the most potent images that are trapped in your head, and which likely represent the anchor points of your reasons for making this particular film, when made manifest before your eyes, are truly the most magical moments one can experience in life. There are several days from the production of Rot that I would earmark as strong contenders for "best day of my life." So far.
Otterbacher: Without giving too much away, what can a fan of independent film expect to experience?
A brute force tragedy steeped in Lynchian surreality, boiled in the blood of a thousand exploitation films, simmered in an essence of hardscrabble city-symphony taken straight from Abel Ferrara's recipe book, and ultimately served up on an artfully designed platter that any Bergman or Tarkovsky fan would find delectable.
But in more straightforward terms, I would say expect to see a highly ambitious, proudly independent, uncompromisingly love-it-or-hate-it thriller/horror/surreal/sci-fi clusterfuck that we're damn proud to call our own. If that description stirs you in any way, I dare say Chicago Rot is exactly the movie you never knew you were dying to see, and no matter what, I can guarantee that you will leave with a strong opinion about it. Saying any more than that would be spoiling the fun.
Otterbacher: I love that you did this with so many of your fellow alumni from Tribeca Flashpoint College. How did this come together and what was it like working with the same people you went to school with?
Weinzimmer: In all honesty, it was pure and simple obstinacy that ultimately brought us together. None of us wanted to leave Chicago, so we all stubbornly stuck around after graduation, toiling in our own individual spheres. While the main group of us that made Rot - Brant McCrea, Jeremy Vranich, Ryan Berena, Sam Fell, Roberto Navia, and myself - all knew each other, worked together, and were friends while at TFC, we also each had our own crews that we generally gravitated towards. After all of us watched the other members of our respective teams move to the coasts or give up entirely while we remained resolute in our commitment to planting our stakes in Chicago, that shared desire is what brought us all back into each other's company. We were the first class to ever attend TFC, so we really had no one else to turn to but each other, and that turned out to be exactly what we all needed. And indeed, that collective love for Chicago became the basis for our first film together.
Working with this group has been one of the most remarkable and creatively fulfilling experiences of my life, and I think our past at film school has contributed to that in significant ways. Partially because it was an opportunity to expand upon relationships and collaborations that had already developed over the course of two years (rather than having to start from square one with a new group of collaborators). We all had an understanding of each other's aesthetic, so when Brant approached me in May 2010 about the potential of getting a feature film off the ground, we were thrilled to discover that the people who were still around were exactly the people we wanted to work with on Rot.
It should also be said that due to our time together at film school, we have all seen each other at our worst, in a way. You go to film school to make mistakes and learn, but all of us have seen each other's previous works, been in the room when one of our professors tore us to shreds, and we have all had to admit that we were wrong, or that our idea was flawed in some way, in front of each other. So there's no ego when we deal with each other, just what is working, what isn't working, and a constant push to make each other better at our craft. Our individual loyalties prioritize the film and the story being told, not anyone's ego, so we call everyone out on everyone's bullshit, and never allow a friend to use a crutch when the rest of us are working. That unity of purpose has been our greatest asset since the beginning, and without the time we had spent at TFC getting to know each other, we may have had to spend another year developing that rapport. Or, more likely, never discovered it at all.
Otterbacher: As you’ve been working on Chicago Rot for a number of years, are there any lessons you could pass on to other filmmakers making their first feature?
Weinzimmer: In all honesty, the thing I find myself feeling the need to repeat to anyone who asks this question is this - options are good, but knowing what you want is better. Always. I know it sounds obvious, and it should be, but the obvious things are often the first things that get overlooked on the quest for greatness, which is hopefully the kind of exalted standard you are holding your first film to. And like a good proverb, I have only uncovered greater and greater depths to its wisdom as time has passed.
What this really speaks to is having the confidence to trust in your vision when the universe decides to put that conviction to the test. It is easy to let the pressures of the clock and/or daunting technical considerations intimidate you into shooting for coverage, especially when things start going wrong, but in those moments it is of the utmost importance that you do the most counter-intuitive thing possible -
Take a minute. Collect your thoughts. Place your standards, your voice, and your purpose right out in front of you, and when they all come back into clear focus, stick to them. That confidence is more valuable than coverage, and spending 3 hours getting the right shot is going to mean a hell of a lot more in the long run than the immediate but short-lived feeling of progress provided by spending the same amount of time getting a lot of insipid shots in the can that, over time, prove to be insufficient building blocks for your story and end up in your film as indelible reminders of the standards you failed to uphold. And if the thought of that doesn't piss you off, just send your crew home right now and save everyone the inevitable disappointment they're going to feel in regards to sacrifices they made in good faith to you. Make your movie, not a movie.
That said, if your confidence and creativity falter, be honest with yourself about it and start shooting coverage like mad.
Otterbacher: Is there a dress code or appropriate attire for a Chicago Rot screening?
Weinzimmer: As much as I would like to suggest that people fabricate their attire from mud, spit, and juice bottles like we did for a large portion of our cast, I think the fine folks at the Music Box might not appreciate the reupholstering costs that this particular act of solidarity would generate.
So in lieu of that, I will say that our film is a celebration of the bizarre, the unorthodox, and those who simply cannot help but be exactly who and what they truly are - warts and all. Our crowd and our screening should reflect that in every way possible, so the only dress code I would care to enforce is the one dictated by your own personal tastes and identity. Whether you show up wearing a full tuxedo or just taxidermy over your genitals, we will be happy to hold the door for you no matter what your sartorial preference happens to be!