Ilyssa Fradin is the President of SAG Chicago and was one of the most enthusiastic interview subjects you could get. She was excited to share thoughts on everything from the state of Chicago indie filmmaking to the local talent here. She’s spent over a decade in various positions seeing SAG Chicago through everything from labor disputes to royalty rights issues to the explosion of new technology that has changed the way we make and see movies. Is that a good change? I asked her that and a lot more in our interview.
Joshua Sinason: Can you describe your role as the SAG Chicago President?
Ilyssa Fradin: My role as SAG Chicago Branch President is to represent my members on a variety of issues. My goal is to outreach to members so they get information they need and their concerns met on a national level. It’s really about keeping everyone engaged and informed. I get emails and phone calls that have to do with labor issues, contracts, agents, and productions. My job is to get professional actors the right information quickly and give them a voice in the national union.
JS: What made you want to take on the role of SAG Chicago President?
IF: I served on the branch council for 10 years. I was VP for 6 of those years and sat in the national board room in LA as an alternate board member over the past few years. When our Chicago President stepped down I thought I had more to say and more to do for our branch, for our industry, and for the community of Chicago.
JS: As far as your SAG role goes what do you do on a regular basis? On any given week/month?
IF: I organize meetings, participate in teleconferences dealing with union issues, set up workshops, seminars, and attend panels and other industry events. And when all that is done I do my laundry.
IF: Last Year SAG Chicago organized a SAG Indie Filmmakers breakfast workshop and then sponsored the Midwest Independent Film Festival’s women’s Film Event. We brought in SAG Indie’s national director, Darrien Gipson, to lead the workshop and panel discussion at the festival. We just had another filmmaker’s breakfast and workshop at our union office and will continue to offer that. Money is going to a few festivals in Chicago to educate and expose filmmakers to low budget film agreements.
One other thing we do is go into the film schools and meet students, and explain how our student film agreements work. It’s great to give students an opportunity to work with professional actors with the assistance of Kathy Byrne, our director of TV/Theatrical contracts.
JS: How has social media changed the way you do things as a SAG leader?
IF: SAG Chicago outreach and communication is constantly growing thanks to social media. We have an E-Newsletter that anyone in the industry can sign up for. It’s called The Activator. We also have a resource center for our SAG/AFTRA/AEA members and that has a dedicated Facebook page and website, kmrcchicago.com. This helps promote the free events, seminars, and film castings we offer members. A filmmaker who is working under a low budget agreement can even use the KMRC to cast their film or do a reading of the script for free.
JS: How has social media changed things for indie filmmakers in Chicago?
IF: I can watch a clip or a short of anyone’s work. It’s really mind blowing because I like film on a big screen. That experience is really cool. It’s a communal, yet personal, experience but watching clip on a computer or a smart phone is kind of voyeuristic. I can’t go out afterwards and discuss it like a film in a theater.
It also challenges what we as a union of actors are trying to protect: our image and exposure. You may not think about it, but any actor who does a film and it’s put up on the web or in new media for unlimited use can risk over exposure and really hurt (or maybe help) their career. It’s more important than ever to know what you are filming and where it will be viewed. Knowing the intent and platform now is equally as important as the content of the work.
IF: The depth of talent, both behind and the camera and in front, and our crews are the best! The post houses do unbelievable audio and film editing. I’ve been to some studios that are fantastic and totally digitally equipped. We have great film schools and acting schools so our talent runs deep. I just wish we had more indie investors.
JS: What was a great indie film you’ve seen recently and why?
IF: Winter’s Bone-it was shot in our Branch. That is amazing for an indie film with no “name talent” to speak of.
JS: What is your view on the Chicago Filmmaking scene?
IF: Personally I think it’s a scene that could use more exposure and higher profile. We have such amazing creative people here. Yet I feel like it’s still an unnoticed community. For example, we have a huge ad community and so many of the copywriters are screenwriters, commercial directors are film directors or producers. I want those people to get noticed and produce more in Chicago. I’d like to see them become the scene here in Chicago just like how improv or music is a scene in Chicago.
JS: Are there any filmmakers or projects going on in the city that we should be looking out for?
IF: The team over at Beverly Ridge Pictures who did Chicago Overcoat are the next big things to watch. I hope they are like State Street Pictures, Bob Teitel and George Tillman, they make it a priority to film in Chicago. I’m also impressed by the Steppenwolf’s goal to create a truly Chicago film. They have the name and the profile that could help the rest of the Chicago film scene grow.
Note: Ilyssa wanted to make it clear that her opinions are her own and don’t reflect the policies or opinions of SAG Chicago but one thing is clear from talking with her. Her enthusiasm for her position shows that Chicago area actors are in good hands.