Sun-Times Goes Hollywood

No matter what the film critics say, the folks at the Sun-Times should have no complaints when Hollywood Pictures’ Straight Talk opens this weekend. The film, shot last fall over a ten-week period in and around Chicago, stars Dolly Parton as a former dance-hall instructor from Arkansas who overnight becomes a famous radio call-in psychologist in the Windy City; her sudden celebrity status prompts a Sun-Times reporter, played by James Woods, to investigate.

Though the financially strapped Sun-Times won’t get rich off its role in Straight Talk, it will get plenty of onscreen visibility. Just how the paper wound up in the movie provides some insight into the way the film business handles product placement. According to Straight Talk location manager Pat Lydon, producers Robert Chartoff and Fred Berner and director Barnet Kellman believed it was important to use a real newspaper setting in the film. “They felt it would make the picture more believable,” says Lydon.

The filmmakers first approached the Tribune, but decided the feel of the newsroom there was wrong. They found the less pristine Sun-Times more to their liking, says Lydon; they also liked its proximity to a vacant space directly across the Chicago River that was transformed into a coffee shop used extensively in the film.

Then began the serious negotiations. Sun-Times vice president of promotions Chuck Champion and executive editor Mark Nadler, among others, read the script, and Nadler suggested some changes in parts that dealt with the newspaper. “Some of the stuff was out-of-date,” he says. “There were a lot of anachronisms.” The filmmakers decided they wanted access to the Sun-Times’s delivery trucks and some of its street boxes in addition to use of the building. Lydon says the site-rental fee eventually paid to the paper was in the “low five figures,” pocket change for a film that cost more than $20 million to make. Apparently the Sun-Times settled for what it hoped would be good visibility, though Lydon says the film’s producers offered no guarantees the paper’s name would appear even once in the final cut.

Filming in the Sun-Times building was mostly done on slow weekend nights to minimize disruption. But Nadler says staffers did come in one day and find that some of their personal belongings were misplaced and a filing cabmet had been damaged. The Straight Talk production company made amends, by sending over two new Macintosh computers.

Despite the Sun-Times’s high profile in the finished film, Lydon says a considerable amount of footage shot in the newsroom was left on the cutting room floor. “There was more that was shot on the background of the Sun-Times reporter,” Lydon says, “but it didn’t work for the story.” Earlier this week, Nadler couldn’t comment on how the film turned out because he hadn’t seen it yet.

New Art Examiner Goes Begging

The New Art Examiner, the respected 19-year-old Chicago-based monthly devoted to the visual arts, is fighting for its life. Buffeted by a severe slump in advertising and high overhead costs, the magazine is looking to raise approximately $60,000 from subscribers and friends to help it survive the tough times. So far it’s taken in about $9,000. “We got broadsided by a drop in advertising,” says managing editor Allison Gamble.

For most of the 80s–the art world’s glory days–the Examiner was running about 25 pages of paid advertising per issue, says Gamble. But lately the magazine has been lucky to get half that many pages, and some advertisers have been slow to pay their bills. A not-for-profit publication, the Examiner depends partly on foundation funding, but that too is drying up. The publication is in the process of thinning its ranks to try to put expenses in line with its severely reduced income.

The Examiner’s problems can be traced back several years, when it opened a number of offices in London, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, Dallas, and other cities; editors and writers in those offices submitted copy to the main office in Chicago. “We thought such an approach would provide greater interaction with the communities we were writing about,” says Gamble. “Our plan was to counter New York as a center of discourse on art.” The decentralized Examiner may have provided the alternative voice artists and art dealers wanted, but when the art world fell on hard times it quickly proved a ridiculously expensive proposition. “We’re in the process of pulling everything back to Chicago,” Gamble says.

The Examiner has about 4,500 subscribers, but needs to find more. Gamble says an immediate 20 percent increase in advertising would help, but where that will come from remains to be seen. While Gamble says she and the staff haven’t solved the magazine’s problems, unpaid interim publisher Howard-Yana Shapiro (who has no background in the publishing business) predicts the Examiner will survive. “We’re the last remaining alternative voice in the visual arts community,” says Shapiro, who notes that several other small, poorly funded visual arts publications ceased publishing in recent months.

Museum of Contemporary Art Goes East

Honchos from the Museum of Contemporary Art flew to New York last week to ensure that their new building, designed by Josef Paul Kleihues, receives maximum coverage. On March 23, some 80 media types convened at the ritzy Four Seasons Restaurant (designed by Mies van der Rohe) for a late-afternoon briefing by Kleihues, MCA director Kevin Consey, and board chairman Allen Turner. Earlier in the day Kleihues and Consey dined privately at the Four Seasons with New York Times architecture critic and cultural editor Paul Goldberger, who is writing a critique of the new design. “Goldberger and Kleihues had never met,” says an MCA spokeswoman, who would not reveal how much the museum spent on the press briefing. “We felt it was important to go to New York because so few publications now can afford to send reporters to cover an event here in Chicago.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul L. Meredith.