Chicago Sci-Fi Pilot ‘Wizdom’ Wraps, Powers Ahead to Post [Exclusive BTS Photos]

The exciting new sci-fi pilot Wizdom has wrapped production at Cinecity Studios in Chicago and is now in post and picking up steam. SCREEN has exclusive behind-the-scenes photos, and a way for you to help this project power through to completion.

Wizdom was written by Chicago filmmakers Ashton Swinford (Red Flag, Basic Witches) and Zack Sievers (Golden Voices, Desafío Candente). This Chicago-powered sci-fi thriller was created by Sievers, Swinford, and directed by Chicago-LA filmmaker Layne Marie Williams (Zen Room, The Christmas Pitch).

As for the cast, Swinford leads in the role of “Eos” and is joined by Chicago theatre, film, and television stalwart, Elizabeth Laidlaw, whose credits include the CBS limited series The Red Line, Chicago P.D., and Boss. Simone Brazzini and Khloe Janel complete the cast.

Enter the World of Wizdom

Behind the scenes of Wizdom. Photo: Abbi Chase.

In a future where daylight is scarce, Wizdom follows Eos and Vayle, two professional thieves who live on the outskirts of a neon-lit colony ordered and dominated by the biotech corporation Wizdom. Wizdom mandates that the colony’s inhabitants, Neons, must dose themselves with state-engineered “W-Strips,” powerful painkillers which anaesthetise and addict users, echoing the recent controversial trend of overprescribing opioids in American prescription drug culture.

Using bionic upgrades and other posthuman biotechnologies, Eos and Vayle steal psychoactive compounds from a Wizdom Jewelry Store in order to cook up a drug that is rumoured to enhance extrasensory powers and show users visions of the future.

Delving into Production Design

Ashton Swinford leads the cast of Wizdom. Photo by Abbi Chase.

One of the greatest challenges of the project is creating that immersive and futuristic world of the pilot, and that task was squarely on the sholulders of Production Designer Jami Primmer (Contagion, Chicago Fire). “The Production Design for the world of WIZDOM meant creating a future world of corrupt power and environmental decay along with the best sci-fi visuals of altered states and heroic technologies. The JEWELRY STORE is where all the finest gems, crystals and rare stones were kept under high security. To showcase Eos and her extrasensory abilities we needed real devices to create visual layers for VFX to work with in Post-Production.”

In scenes reminiscent of the cook montages in Breaking Bad, Wizdom envisions a turbulent yet wondrous dream of DIY drug culture 150 years into the future, where Eos and Vayle cook the stolen substance into their own homemade doses. “Vayle’s LABORATORY is their realm for the chemistry of psychoactive compounds – where nature and high-tech merge” said Primmer. “I wanted their self-made environment to express a sense of home and exclusion, showcasing the brilliance of these two interdependent characters was key.”

Take a look at these exclusive behind-the-scenes photos from photographer Abbi Chase the filming of Wizdom

“The version of the W-strips that would be made in Vayle’s lab had a candy-like texture,” said Prop Master Lucinda Mandel. “It was more of a DIY version made by this teen genius scientist. Layne Marie wanted the lab scene to be organised chaos. I tried to emulate the process of top chefs making these condensed precise desserts on big sprinkled platters. The end product would have a precious & one-of-a-kind imaginative quality.

Projectionist Mylee Blake added, “I’m a huge fan of practical effects whenever possible. When I spoke with Layne Marie, Zack, and Ashton about their vision, they happily agreed. Following the post-apocalyptic-neon-future-vaporwave aesthetic set out by the team, I wanted to create things that accentuated the sets themselves. Creating textures with a little life on a blank wall, blasting huge logos in real time using MadMapper, and my favorite, an 8 monitor hacker station with real-time graphics. It’s rare these days to get to be on a set where we could do so many things, effectwise, in camera. It really makes a difference in creating a lush world and suspending the audience’s disbelief.”

Directing the Chaos of This Futuristic World

Behind the scenes photo by Abbi Chase.

During trip scenes that echo Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, Director Layne Marie Williams taps into the shape-shifting, fractal perceptions of drug users by crafting hallucinogenic visuals with GAFFER Jon Benson and DP Dan Frantz  (Super Host, Mach III, That Smile). Wizdom takes lighting on an ultraviolet rollercoaster fueled by glowing and strobing effects, reminiscent of Nicholas Winding Refn and Alex Garland’s Annihilation

Looking Ahead to the Future for the Series

Sci-fi pilot Wizdom filmed at Chicago’s CineCity Studios. Photo by Abbi Chase.

Ashton Swinford shared with SCREEN, “Working with the powerhouse team was a dream come true. Everyone brought their A game and brought something special to the project and we couldn’t be more thrilled with how it turned out. Thank you to our crew and Chicago community for coming together to bring this project to life.” 

So what is next for this promising pilot? Wizdom heads into post-production with a cut expected by the end of April, and then will head into VFX. The team is still raising funding for VFX. For more information and to donate to the project, visit ProjectWizdom.com.

Enjoy these exclusive behind-the-scenes photos from photographer Abbi Chase from the filming of Wizdom

Executive Producers Led By Former Cinespace CEO

One of the most impactful champions of the Chicago production community over the last decade has also joined forces with the Wizdom team. Alex Pissios, former President and CEO of Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, has come on board as one of the project’s Executive Producers. Pissios and his family built Cinespace into one of the largest film studios in the United States. Cinespace has served as the home of highly successful series Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, and Empire, to name a few, generating tens of thousands of jobs for Illinois professionals along the way. SCREEN reported back in November the Pissios family sold Cinespace for a whopping $1 billion, click here for full details.

Alongside Pissios, Wizdom‘s ensemble of Executive Producers includes Stanley Wozniak, Ruth Kaufman, production company Next Missiun, Chicago Media Angels, and the aforementioned Swinford and Williams.

Leading the production team are Producers Grace Hahn (Princess Cyd, Once Upon a River) and Aimy Tien (Go to the Body), as well as editor Ana Christian (The Chi, Work In Progress), Colorist C. Ryan Stemple of Quicksilver Color, and 1st AD Stuart Elmore (For the Love of Monsters, The Christmas Pitch).

To make a financial contribution to the post production efforts of Wizdom, you can click right here.

Check back here at SCREEN for updates on this new pilot and more in the weeks ahead. You can also click right here to subscribe to our weekly email newsletter.

Photo Credits: All BTS Still Photography by Abbi Chase.

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