Production History: The Curse of the Tempest Jewel (2014)

After breaking off from GiGi's Playhouse Chicago, we thought we'd produce a "fun side project" during the fall of 2014. The result surpassed any of our expectations...this is THE CURSE OF THE TEMPEST JEWEL!

 What is The Curse of the Tempest Jewel about?

THE CURSE OF THE TEMPEST JEWEL stars an ensemble cast of 17 teenage actors who all happen to have Down syndrome - a genetic condition creating an extra copy of all or part of their 21st chromosome. Actors collaborated with a crew of 3 professional filmmakers and 6 teaching artists on an original screenplay by writer/director/producer Lawrence Kern, who crafted the script to match each actor’s individual personality and strengths.

The plot follows the cast as they embark on a quest for the legendary Tempest Jewel, which was lost at sea in the wreck of a pirate ship 200 years earlier. A wealthy client commissions two local detectives to track down the treasure with nothing but a cryptic riddle for guidance. As they interview people around Chicago, each new character daydreams about what he/she would do with the fortune. As they race to crack the riddle and find the jewel, each must ultimately decide which is more important: Fortune or Friendship?


How did you come up with the daydreams?

Many of the scripted daydreams are based on the real-life wishes of the actors. In 2013, the ensemble devised their own play called “Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On…” in which the cast wrote and starred in scenes detailing what they would do if they had magic for one day. Andrew wanted to save the world and then go on vacation in Michigan (he also made up the character name Gordy Burmer). Rachel wanted to talk to animals. Hannah wanted to be on Broadway. Alena wanted to become Beyonce. When writing the screenplay, Lawrence used these scenes as inspiration.


Where did you film?

The film shot at 9 locations all around the city of Chicago:

·      The Menomonee Club Drucker Center

·       Lincoln Park Conservatory

·      The Historic Maxwell St. Police Station

·       The Field Museum

·       The Newberry Library

·       The Monadnock Building/TrueQuest Communications

·       The Bourgeois Pig Café

·       The Back Room

·       Cinespace Chicago Film Studios


Did the actors memorize their lines?

Although some of the cast worked independently to learn their lines, it was not mandatory. The filmmaking process was set up so that everyone would feel confident and proud without the pressure and stress of memorizing lines or the stiffness of reading from cue cards. Just like in our stage productions, on-set, each actor paired with a teaching artist who stayed off-camera (sometimes hiding under set pieces or behind props) to drop-in lines. This method allowed actors to focus on their scene partners, to move and speak more naturally, and, most importantly, to have fun. In the editing room, the teaching artists' voices were removed, so only the actors can be heard in the final cut.


What were shoots like?

A typical shoot lasted about 3 hours from start to finish. Crew and teaching artists would arrive first to set up equipment, costumes, and go over plans for the day (30mins). As the actors arrived, they would get into wardrobe and do a short group warm-up (30mins). The cast would then do a quick rehearsal to review what the scene was about and go over some basic blocking (10min). Then it was time to start filming! We would start with master shots first (multiple characters onscreen at once) to give all the actors a chance to work together and play off of each other, and then would work with each actor one at a time to get close-ups of just them and their lines as well as some reaction shots. Want to know more? We kept a photo journals and a daily production log on our Facebook page you can also click here to download it as a PDF


What’s the deal with Sue?

Off-camera, the ensemble worked in small groups with licensed Art Therapist Sara Miller to construct the film’s largest prop – a life-seized replica of SUE the T-Rex's head, which is pivotal in the final scene. Over the course of 6 classes, the cast created teeth, primed, and painted the giant sculpture. The final piece measured 5ft long x 3ft wide x 3ft tall and was constructed from foam blocks, aluminum foil, masking tape, Gesso, and papier-mâché.


How long did production take?

Making The Curse of the Tempest Jewel took about 7 months from start to finish. Pre-production started in June 2015 with location scouting, costuming, and scheduling. Because all of the cast members were in school during weekdays, filming was limited to nights and weekends, so stretched over the course of 12 days from September 19th – November 21, 2014. Editing was a lengthy process, including 2 days of ADR at Periscope Post and Audio in early December. Cast, crew, and sponsors were treated to a work-in-progress screening at The Landmark Century Center Cinema on December 14th, and the final cut was completed February 1, 2015.


How was the film funded?

Funding for the film came entirely through donations to the producers’ Hatchfund campaign. Contributions came from 133 individual donors from 19 states and 3 countries; Pledges ranged from $10 to $3000 totaling over $25,000. Several local organizations also generously offered in-kind donations of equipment, costumes and props, and the engineers at Periscope Post & Audio donated their time and talents to provide post-production audio services. This movie is all about friendship and the power of community, and that was just as true off-screen as it was on-screen!


What is the running time of the movie?

47 minutes (including credits).


What did you do with the finished film?

Aside from becoming a family favorite for our entire cast and crew, the finished project was met with a lot of acclaim. We were featured in Apostrophe Magazine, and on "Your Chicago" on the CBS2 Chicago News. The Curse of the Tempest Jewel received an Award of Merit for Disability Issues from The Accolade Global Film Competition, and was also an official selection for the 2015 Chicago OnScreen Schowcase with screenings in several local parks during the summer. Our actors have hosted screenings at their schools, churches, and community centers, and we also did a movie night at Misericordia all with the mission of showing what individuals with Down syndrome can do when they are given equal access to creative opportunities!

We can't say "thank you" enough to everyone who made The Curse of the Tempest Jewel possible! This movie was an incredible learning experience for our entire team, and we're excited to apply what we learned when filming starts MONDAY for our next big movie, The Spy Who Knew Me! Check our next blog to see what we have in store for our next jump onto the big screen!