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Talk with Jim Luning

September 27, 2010 | By | Add a Comment

Jim Luning is by no means a newcomer to Chicago’s photography scene. With 19 years of experience taking still photos, he thought he would try his hand in something new- directing. He set out in his new career path with one goal in mind, and that was to make his films look like his still photography. With only a year and half of filmmaking under his belt, Luning is the first to admit that photography and directing are two different worlds.

“It [filmmaking] is a different way to use your brain,” he said. “It’s about exploring and finding another way to create.”

Luning just premiered his first feature-length film, “Route 66: Ten Years Later,” Sept. 9, 2010 at the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee. The film is based off of the book “Route 66,” which was written by Tim Steil and featured photography done by Luning. For the book, Steil and Luning headed out on a cross-country journey down Route 66, capturing the businesses and culture surrounding the famous stretch of road. So when the 10 year anniversary of the book hit, they decided to do it again- except this time, Luning would film the road trip instead of photograph it.

Luning said that the biggest surprise in making this film came with the final product.

“There ended up being an autobiographical element to the film,” he said. “We were changed people who had gone in different directions. In post-production I had to re-work it over and over again to make a story when I wasn’t sure what I set out to get.”

The hardest part about making this film for Luning was the time allotment he gave himself for shooting.

“I did everything myself- my hands were all over the controls,” he said. “In hindsight, at times I got too close to it. Clouded by OCD, looking at the same images over and over, I lost sight of the big picture.”

This is why his advice to those looking to cross-over mediums is to learn the new trade as well as they learned the first. For example, Luning admitted that when he began directing, being a seasoned photographer he thought he would have no problem framing a shot. But once that shot moves and then light and audio are added, it’s a whole other story.

“It’s not like you just grab the hammer and go,” he said. “I learned by trial and error, and error and error…I made every mistake. But I think that you need to learn the craft, otherwise it brings the bar down for everything. ‘Good enough’ is the worst thing to hear- this is a craft, and people have lost sight of the craft aspect.”

Jim Luning, Route 66 Part 6

Another way Luning learned to perfect his film was just getting it out there for people to watch.

“Halfway through the editing process I had a rough cut screening at a bar. 70 people showed up, who had a lot of feedback,” he said. “I was struggling where to go with it, and I needed input. That was a great learning experience, getting feedback from the general public is key as you try to grow. The final product was stronger and more concise than what I showed at the screening.”

Luning hasn’t abandoned his trade as a photographer, and he truly believes that people can make a living under one craft, as he is proof of it; however he does acknowledge the fact that clients nowadays are expecting more and that is something that may need to be catered to.

Route 66 – Ten Years Later – Part 2 from Jim Luning on Vimeo.

Being such a newcomer to the Chicago filmmaking scene, Luning is still trying to figure it out. He has found that making new connections with old clients and contacts has really helped in getting his name as a filmmaker out there. His connections with the Portage Theater played a big role in spreading the word about “Route 66: Ten Years Later.”

“They were awesome. They gave me their email list that contained names and numbers of anyone that even thinks about film in Chicago, the entire creative community,” he said.

An additional way Luning advertised for his film was by sending links and clips from his own site to different blogs. Because “Route 66: Ten Years Later” has such a niche audience, he would share those clips with other topic-centric blogs.

Luning also spoke of a withoutabox.com, a website that helps independent filmmakers submit and promote their films to a wide audience. Subscribers can use Withoutabox’s services to upload, stream, market and enter films into festivals.

Luning has succeeded in becoming a cross-over artist; but as he stated it did not happen overnight. He worked hard, paid his dues and is still open to learn all he can about being a filmmaker.

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