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George Tillman Jr. continues Chicago filmmaking love affair with latest ‘Ride’

LOS ANGELES – He doesn’t need a romantic writer like Nicholas Sparks to spell it out for him. The guy has it bad. For a city.

Director George Tillman Jr. admits that he’s in love with Chicago — and he can’t fight the feeling. He started crushing on the city when he was a young guy attending Columbia College, and later shot “Soul Food” and “Barbershop” on location in the Windy City.

“Chicago is so awesome. You can point the camera in any direction and you get a great shot,” Tillman says.

To that end, he’s currently filming a pilot here called “Love Is a Four-Letter Word,” a modern twist on a “thirtysomething” type of show. He might even shoot some of his Miles Davis biopic here.

But first things first.

He has also cheated on Chicago. His mistress: North Carolina.

That’s where Tillman directed “The Longest Ride,” the latest Nicholas Sparks film adaptation, opening April 10. In the film, the lives of a young couple (Scott Eastwood and Britt Robertson) interact with an older couple (Alan Alda as the older man, Jack Huston and Oona Chaplin as the less-aged version) in a story of love, loss and post-I-got-you living with each other.

“Doing this movie was all about dodging the clichés of romantic movies,” Tillman admits. “I refused to do a scene where the guy is crying in the rain. I didn’t want to have the big moment when someone says, ‘I love you.’ The idea was we never really say ‘I love you’ in the movie, but you can actually feel it.

“The love scenes don’t have the kiss and then the dissolves. We do have a beach scene done in real time instead of it lasting 12 seconds and ending with two beautiful people pushing each other into the foamy waves.

“Those are movie moments instead of real people,” he says.

Tillman banked a lot of his film on his leads, especially Eastwood, who is quickly becoming a sex symbol.

“I didn’t know a lot about his work when I cast him,” Tillman admits. “The nice surprise is that he’s a great actor, plus this film made it natural for him to take his shirt off a lot. Even Jack Huston on the set said, ‘If I had a body like that I’d take my shirt off more!’”

No one minds Eastwood sans the layers.

“We had a recent screening and walking in this 45-year-old lady said to me, ‘Does Scott take his shirt off? I really need to know.’” She wasn’t curious for long because in early test screenings, his lack of wardrobe has produced loud screams,” Tillman says.

Still, the director also wanted to present a realistic message about love with the film.

“It’s not about the walking into the sunset. This film says that love is work and compromise. At the end, these two people still have some obstacles to work through.

“That felt organic and real to me.”

The 46-year-old native of Milwaukee cut his filmmaking teeth in Chicago at Columbia College.

“I grew up in love with movies like ‘Cooley High’ and ‘Taxi Driver,’” he said. “I went to Columbia College because I felt this was a school where you can become a filmmaker now. They give you a camera the first three weeks of school. You don’t have to wait three years.

“At Columbia, I was constantly meeting actors and musicians who encouraged me. Plus, in those days, Chicago filmmaking was so underground for the most part, which added some allure. At least it was underground until Christopher Nolan discovered Chicago.”

In 1994, Tillman wrote and directed his first feature, “Scenes for the Soul,” shot in Chicago and using locals. It cost $150,000 and was purchased by Savoy Pictures for $1 million. Tillman’s next move was a movie based on his life called “Soul Food” starring Vanessa Williams, Nia Long and Mekhi Phifer, which was also shot in Chicago. It cost $7 million and grossed over $43 million domestically. Along with George Jackson, Tillman founded State Street Pictures. His filmography also includes “Men of Honor,” “Notorious” and producing the “Barbershop” franchise.

For “Love is a Four-Letter Word,” “We’re shooting all over Highland Park, the South Loop and South Shore Country Club,” says Tillman, of the TV series that boasts “all new faces.”

“It’s about love, marriage and relationships,” he says. “And it’s about how to continue in a marriage.”

There is also the matter of long-awaited Miles Davis biopic called “Miles: Prince of Darkness.” “The script is done. We’re just getting through some legal issues,” Tillman says.

Can he shoot a Miles Davis movie in Chicago?

“Well, it takes place in St. Louis and New York in the ’50s. As for shooting in Chicago, that’s a good question. We’ll see. Last week, I was driving around Chicago and I saw some really good locations.

“Don’t tempt me, Chicago, don’t tempt me!” he cries.

Big Picture News, Inc.