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Thursday, April 28, 2016 12:12 am

Conner’s new Springfield film

Red carpet premier at the Hoogland Saturday

Jensen Atwood and Omar Gooding in Before “I Do.”

 

Before “I Do,” the latest feature from Springfield filmmaker Kimberly Conner, was a long time in the making. The first draft of the script for the film, which has its premier at the Hoogland Center for the Arts on Saturday, April 30, was written back in 1998. “We did probably about a dozen drafts,” says Conner. Sixteen years later, in July 2014, the film went into production. The script was eventually a finalist in a Creative Screenwriting magazine competition, according to Conner, finishing in the top 100 out of more than 1,500 entries. Principal photography was completed in Springfield over the course of 12 days, with the exception of the opening scene which was filmed in Dawson.

The film tells the story of a Midwestern firefighter named Caleb Abrams, portrayed by Jensen Atwood, who finds himself on a path to discover his true calling. “It’s about pursuing your true passion versus what society deems as practical,” Conner says. Caleb, staring down his 40th birthday, is caught between pursuing a career as a painter and maintaining his job as a firefighter. He also has some hard lessons to learn about love after being ditched at the altar by his bride-to-be .

Filmmaker Kimberly Conner
Before “I Do” enjoyed a bigger budget than Conner’s previous feature, Jump In, which premiered at the Hoogland in 2013. Greater financial freedom allowed the production to hire bigger names for its cast, including Omar Gooding (brother of Academy Award-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr.), Andrea Kelly, best known from the cast of “VH-1 Hollywood Exes,” Chicago actor Lamar Barnes (“Chicago P.D,” “Chicago Fire”) and Thea Camara, recently seen in Spike Lee’s latest feature, Chiraq. Springfield actress Danielle Ward, who has been in all three of Conner’s films, also has a prominent role.

Conner says that filming in Springfield has been a great experience, made easier by a climate of community support for the project, most importantly from the Springfield Fire Department, which allowed the production to film at both the fire station on Koke Mill and the one on Stevenson. Additional scenes were shot on location at the Springfield Art Association and Union Baptist Church. Conner also received assistance from the Central Illinois Film Commission, which provided production assistants.

The Jump In premier at the Hoogland in 2013 attracted an audience of 400 people and Saturday’s screening is nearly sold out. It promises to be a gala event including photo opportuniuties with cast and crew on the red carpet prior to the screening as well as an after-party. “Everyone who comes is going to have a great time and see a great film,” says Conner.

Scott Faingold can be reached at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com

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