| April 18, 2006

I caught a movie tonight called Realization. You should check it out. If you don’t get a chance to, then take note of the collective that made it. They’re called SplitPillow. Realization is their fifth feature. If what I saw tonight is any indication of where this bright and innovative collective is headed, you’ll thank me for the hot tip in the not too distant future.
We’ll get to Realization in a minute. First, let me give you a brief primer on SplitPillow and what they’re about. They’re a not-for-profit arts collective that works with emerging filmmakers in Chicago. They utilize an improv based collaborative filmmaking process inspired by the infamous surrealists’ game–the Exquisite Corpse.
If you’ve played Mad Libs, you’ve almost played Exquisite Corpse. It goes something like this: gather some friends around a table, take a sheet of paper, one person writes a line, folds it over so only part of that line is visible and then passes it to the next person. This goes on and on, until you have a poem. The game’s all about chance and accident while creating something together instead of alone.
SplitPillow takes the idea of Exquisite Corpse to a whole new level. They turn it into a means, along with a healthy dose of improv, to develop a feature idea. Then they write and shoot that idea collaboratively. Realization is in seven chapters. Each chapter is written by one of seven screenwriters. Each chapter is then shot by one filmmaker with autonomous control over casting, locations and productions design, among other elements. But the filmmakers and screenwriters must adhere to the general concepts of the story created by the previous duo. You might think it’d create a mess, but it doesn’t. It does exactly to a film what the Surrealists hoped Exquisite Corpse would do with writing. It challenges your expectations and perceptions on an intimate level. It opens everything up to chance and accident.
Realization, in a basic story sense, is about Murray, who lives in the shadow of his famous, deceased physicist father. Murray works at Fermilab, which is a research facility for work in high-energy physics, as a tour guide. Fermilab serves as one of the connective tissues in the collage of ideas that is Realization. Wendy, Murray’s half-sister works there, too. So does a girl he pines for, Casey. Dr. Badasswanii, who serves as his nemesis of sorts in some chapters, is the head of Fermilab. Casey’s mom, Dr. Josie Marran works there, too. From these seeds a small constellation of other characters and sub-plots weave through the greater story.
No actor appears twice. That means seven different actors play Murray, each handling the role in a single chapter. Granted, this is jarring–at first. But that’s exactly what Realization, SplitPillow and the use of the Exquisite Corpse is all about, challenging your perceptions, your pre-conceived notions, your learned expectations.
Now that may sound like an academic exercise on the surface. But it’s not. It’s a creative choice with exhilarating results at times. One of the biggest credits to SplitPillow, Realization and the artists involved (over 200 when you count to separate casts and crews) is that by the end, the characters and the themes employed all gel into an emotionally recognizable and distinguished whole. It’s quite the narrative high wire act.
There are moments of Realization that stumble. Some chapters don’t live up to the standards of others quite so well. Some are more daring and bold than others. That’s just the way such high level, blindfolded collaboration works. It’s a small bone to pick when the whole, and the spirit behind it, is so strong and effective, so I won’t dwell on it here. The successes in the story really outweigh the low points overall and I encourage you to open yourself up to the experience.
Like I said before, SplitPillow is on to something. Realization is a great look at their philosophy and model for low-budget, indie filmmaking. One that challenges the viewer’s perception, injects a beautiful collision of aesthetics into your average film story and leaves you engaged when the lights come back up. Not too many indie film company’s that claim to be grassroots and community or scene oriented really are; these guys are all about it–it’s right there in the film.
Realization is playing in Chicago at Facets Multi-Media on Wednesday, April 19 and then again at Chicago Filmmakers on Friday, May 12th, Friday, May 19th and Sunday, May 21. Check those theaters for showtimes.
If you’re not in Chicago on those days, check out for more on SplitPillow, their outreach media literacy programs, past work and future screenings. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

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