Fulton Market Films brings story-driven approach to film production

Local action

08/22/2012 10:00 PM

Contributing Reporter

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John Fromstein, Scott Smith and Terry Jun of Fulton Market Films shoot a commercial for FreeWebsite.com in June.
Courtesy Elizabeth Morris Photography

It all started with a screenplay.

Fulton Market Films founders John Fromstein and Scott Smith worked in advertising for most of their lives. But sometime in 2008, Smith had an idea for a film about an editor of a dying newspaper trying to publish a political expose. After co-writing the screenplay with writer Eric Anderson, he approached Fromstein to make his vision a reality.

Four years later, the West Loop based Fulton Market Films has built up a successful portfolio of commercials and short films that have gathered accolades and awards. Now, Fulton Market Films is setting out to grow and expand as a company. It’s spinning off the advertising projects in a separate division, and the founders are actively seeking financing to film Ink, the screenplay that got the production company started in the first place. If everything goes well, it will be the first of Fulton Market Films’ many feature films.

Both Fromstein and Smith have always been interesting in filmmaking. While working in advertising, they had many opportunities to see commercials get filmed, and the possibility of the medium intrigued them. When Smith approached Fromstein with his screenplay, they decided to give filmmaking a try.

“Ink is based off a book I read about the newspaper industry,” recalled Smith. “And it just naturally evolved over time. It got a lot more interesting because what’s happening in media now. The media landscape is changing, the newspapers are dying.

The screenplay dealt with the city editor of a Chicago daily newspaper similar to Chicago Sun-Times. Just when the newspaper is about to fold, the editor stumbles onto a corruption scandal.

Fromstein and Smith formed Fulton Market Films to develop Ink, but they knew it wasn’t going to be their first project. Feature-length movies require budgets, which required outside financing, and no investor would take a chance on a studio that hasn’t produced anything. So the studio made short films and commercials to build up a portfolio.

The founders’ connections in the advertising industry helped Fulton Market Films secure contracts. It was enough to get them started and helped to increase exposure. However, the current economic climate introduced problems they didn’t anticipate.

“Business has been more challenging than expected,” explained Fromstein. “People are cutting back on spending. Clients want commercials to be done for less. We have to find ways to cut corners without affecting quality.”

Still, the commercials produced enough money to help finance short films. Fulton Market Films also branched into documentary films with Being Bucky, a documentary about seven people who play Bucky Badger, the official mascot of University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Their work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Being Bucky won the 2009 Wisconsin Film Festival Audience Choice award for Best Documentary. Their short films won awards at 2011 Midwest Indie Film Festival, 2011 Just For Laughs festival and the 2011 Chicago Short Cuts Festival.

Through it all, Fulton Market Films remained a West Loop company. According to Fromstein, being located in this neighborhood has many advantages.

“We are close to companies that do business with our clients,” he explained, “as well as camera suppliers and talent agencies.”

Fulton Market Films doesn’t have a studio of its own, but Fromstein said that Chicago offers plenty of good shooting locations.

Smith handles the creative side of production, while Fromstein handles the technical side. Both have full-time assistant producers to help in their respective areas. The rest of the work force comes from the city’s large pool of freelancers.

Fromstein was quite happy with the people he’s worked with.

With the ever-shifting media landscape and the economy still struggling to recover, the future of Fulton Market Films still faces many hurdles. But Smith believes that the company has many factors that work in its favor.

“From a commercial and brand name standpoint, we have a lot of advertising experience that helps us work with brands and advertisers,” he said. “We know what to expect. From creative standpoint, it’s all about storytelling. Storytelling it’s always a key, whether it’s a story about product or a story in on itself.”

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