Chicago filmmaker Stephen Cone to start shooting film in Lake Forest

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Stephen Cone

Filmmaker Stephen Cone. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune / July 12, 2011)

Chicago filmmaker Stephen Cone begins filming his latest indie “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party” this month. The movie takes place over the course of a 17-year-old’s birthday party — a suburban pool party, no less — and tackles all those great coming-of-age signposts.
This is fertile territory for Cone, whose previous films “The Wise Kids” (2011) and “Black Box” (2013) are wryly observant, quietly funny portraits of young adulthood, social anxieties and weird, deeply-felt confusion — both sexual and religious.

To a degree, “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party” is a departure. “This is the first time that I’ve focused on the parents and children equally,” Cone said. “I’m bringing the whole family to the forefront more than I did with the other two films. So yes, there’s coming-of-age-stuff happening and yes it’s a teenager’s birthday party (the title character is a preacher’s kid). But it’s also about the parents, in a similar way ‘The Ice Storm’ covered all the members of the family.

“As for why I keep making coming-of-age ensemble movies? I have no idea! I think I’m just really interested in the formative years and what makes us who we are and why we have the hang-ups we have. And I think it comes from our families and our adolescence.”
Pat Healy (“Cheap Thrills”) and longtime Chicago theater actor Elizabeth Laidlaw play the parents. When we spoke earlier this week, Cone was still deciding between two locations for the 18-day shoot. “It’s almost guaranteed to be Lake Forest, but we still have an option in Highland Park.” (They finally decided on the Lake Forest home.)

Finding the right kind of house has been a challenge. Roughly half of the movie will be shot indoors, the other half outside by the pool. “I grew up in the South and lots of middle class people had in-ground pools,” Cone told me. “But what seems to be the case in the Midwest is that it’s a sign of upper middle class. So we’ve actually had trouble finding an in-ground pool, period.

“We’re really having to consider the emotional qualities of whichever house we choose. Like, is this place not nice enough? Or is it too nice? And what does that mean emotionally?”
The film begins shooting Monday.

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