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Shadows on set

Six Sterling students work with Columbia College film crew


Paul Zollinger is 17 and a senior at Sterling High School.

“TAKE 1”

It’s Friday, and he, along with five other students, is shadowing a film crew just outside of town.


Yesterday, the crew let Zollinger run slate. Today, he’s doing the same.


The crew is composed of film students from Columbia College in Chicago who are in town to shoot scenes for a graduate thesis film called “Third Timothy,” headed by director Julian Walker, 24, and producer Jordan Duke, 27.


And the first scene of the day begins in a bathroom on the first floor of a yellow farmhouse on the north edge of Sterling.

“Third Timothy” follows two foster brothers as they con their way through the deep South after escaping from an abusive foster home. Influenced by preachers whom they see taking up collection, promising people miracles but then keeping the money for themselves, the boys begin peddling fake holy water to those same kinds of desperate people. Then they come upon a woman who doesn’t fall for the scam.

Director Walker first went to producer Duke with the script 2 years ago, and they’ve been working to make it come together ever since.

“Being raised in the church and being raised where religion has a big influence on my life and in the culture that I grew up in, I wanted to tell a story about that and about how some people use their power in negative ways,” Walker says. “I just wanted to do something that makes people think more about the things they do, since kids are really impressionable.”

“When you have kids in very adult circumstances, that always makes for a powerful story,” Duke says.

Both men grew up in the South, Walker in Arkansas and Duke in Ohio, so the storyline hits really close to home for them.

And the Southern setting was obviously an important aspect of the film, which is why they came to Sterling. After scouting out various locations, they settled on three farms in the Sauk Valley. Today they’re in a beautiful yellow farmhouse that abuts a cornfield on Hickory Hills Road. The home belongs to Lisa Perino and actually is for sale – they found it through her real estate agent, and she agreed to let them to use it for the film.

Next, the crew got in touch with Christy Zepezauer, executive director at Woodlawn Arts Academy. She hooked up the filmmakers with the Sterling High School students.

“I always look at what opportunities we can offer to the community that don’t come up every day,” Zepezauer says. “I’m excited. There’s nothing like hands-on learning.”

The next step was contacting Stuart Roddy, a lead instructor for Sterling High’s Tech Zone, which offers an array of classes that cater to the media arts.

“If you have students who are truly wanting to pursue film, getting to watch it in action is the next step,” Zepezauer says. “Stuart was absolutely thrilled. He said, you know, ‘Absolutely, this would be a great experience for them.’”

Roddy offered the opportunity to six students, and all said yes.

“They were all in,” he says. “They definitely wanted to find out what happens and how it happens. There’s a lot of curiosity there.”

The students were able to shadow for 2 days – Thursday and again on Friday. At the end of the experience, they will write reports about what they learned and how it affects their plans for the future.

But for now, they’re just getting to take part in the fun. And they’re loving it.

On Thursday, Sarah Gottemoller, 16, got to act as script supervisor – keeping track of where the cast is in the script during filming, and marking down the number of takes. Today, Duke, the producer, tapped her friend Ali Martinez, 17, instead, and Gottemoller is a little jealous.

Gottemoller is one of only two juniors on set. The rest are seniors.

“But that doesn’t mean I don’t love it more than they do,” she counters.

The other students working on the film are Tyler Clark, 17, Josh Richter, 17, and Stephen Blum, 16.

On Thursday, Clark and Richter got to help dig holes to create a faux graveyard beneath a large tree in the backyard.

At noon Friday, they haven’t yet done much, but the day is still young.

“No holes to dig, I guess,” Clark says.

The project is not the first short film that Walker has directed. He guesses that he’s done seven or eight others since his undergraduate career, but this will be his crowning achievement thus far.

After the short is completed, his production company, Kinfolk Collective, and Duke’s, The Initiative, plan to turn the project into a feature-length film.

But before that, they have to finish this, and their November deadline is approaching.

Once completed, the film will be submitted to various festivals – they’re thinking Toronto, Cannes, South by Southwest, and others – before its public release.

Back outside of the first-floor bathroom, Paul Zollinger holds his clapboard, eagerly awaiting the call to begin the scene.

“People always say nothing happens in Sterling,” he says. “Well, they shot a movie here, and I was part of it.”

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