Creator William Pierce, executive producer Rodger Jackson and co-directors Phil Lee, Darryl Manuel and Lawrence Wallace set Chicago as a battleground for two gangs in This Is Not Chiraq, a series pilot aimed at a more balanced representation of the complexity of human reality than Spike Lee’s controversial film Chi-Raq. Rolling out spoke to William Pierce about the show.
Your film tells a story about two families facing internal and external changes, challenges and conflict; why this story?
The violence in Chicago always focuses on one shooter and one victim. The truth is the entire family of both the shooter and the victim are affected. This series goes into the fear and anxiety the family and community deal with when this happens. We also address the struggles within the gang. One of our main characters, Marshawn, is a gang leader who leaves prison reformed and has a plan on how to change their direction from being a terror on the community, to a provider of hope for the community.
People will take away a different message from the film. Were you thinking of a particular theme or message when you were making the film?
You are correct. Everyone will take away something a little different. However, the only message we want to convey is that these are real people with hopes and dreams. Some have their dreams shattered by the violent loss of a loved one. Others struggle with having no hope at all. And with no hope, there is no true respect for life. Yours or someone else’s.
This has the potential for a pilot for television. Is that the direction you are planning?
Yes. We have filmed the pilot and three additional one-hour episodes.
Do you have distribution and when do you expect a release?
We were invited to Sundance to share the trailer (which has reached over 100K people in five days). That response was overwhelming. We walked away with an offer for international distribution that night. We are currently working on the details.
How do you get projects like this from idea to fruition?
A lot of planning, hard work and prayer. It takes a team. Any independent film maker knows how hard it is to get a movie up and running through production. A TV series is a completely different beast. Locations and scheduling were our biggest challenge because of the size of the cast.
Your project features lots of Chicago talent, in front of and behind the scenes. How did that come about and where did you find the other talent?
We are committed to supporting Chicago talent. It is very difficult to be in the business and stay in Chicago. If you are an actor and you are lucky enough to land a featured role on one of the shows filming here that will be the last role you have for about 3 years. If you are a student or recent grad it is equally difficult because regardless of what you major in you will be assigned as a PA [production assistant]. We wanted to create a series so we could not only employ local actors, but give hope and experience to young people in Chicago who really want to follow their dreams in Chicago. Our crew consisted of students and recent grads from Columbia College and Tribecca Flashpoint College. Our cast consisted of SAG and novice actors. We even pulled in some people from the communities in which we were filming.
The Black Harvest Film Festival presents This is Not Chiraq on Aug. 19 and 24 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.