East grad returns to Sioux City to produce film
Joe Case adjusts a light between takes of his film "Ornaments" which was shot at the Paxton Tavern as part of graduate program at Columbia University. (Staff photo by Tim Hynds)

Joe Case is a fledgling writer, director and producer of films. One day he might be Woody Allen -- but without the New York angst.

The former Sioux City resident has returned to Sioux City to bring his screenplay to life as a movie. Case will spend four days in Siouxland shooting "Ornaments," a 12-minute movie which he created as part of his graduate work at Columbia University in New York.

"At the beginning of the year, each member of our class was to submit an 8-12 minute script and then we pooled them and wrote a proposal as to which movie we would like to direct," he explained. Classmate Kyle Wilamowski of Livonia, Mich., presented the strongest proposal.

Once the director choice was made, Case, the son of Timothy and Christine Case, contacted Russ Wooley of Lamb Productions and asked for assistance in holding auditions. He contacted Creighton University in Omaha and requested the same.

"That's one of the things I've discovered since starting this -- the incredible generosity of everyone," he marveled. "I ask and they say, 'Sure, how can we help?'."

Sixty actors auditioned for the three parts between the two cities. Case and Wilamowski cast three men in the principal roles. None are strangers to Siouxland theater or performing.

"Ornaments" follows the epiphany of Adam (Greg Gregerson), a well-known sportscaster who stops for gas in his hometown of Sioux City after a 15-year absence. Tim (Paul Guggenheimer), the station attendant, recognizes his long-lost friend and the pair reconnect with another friend, Ryan (John Beumler). The reunion is rocky at first, but a reconciliation is reached at the end. The title refers to their youthful prank of stealing lawn ornaments.

Once filming ends on Sunday, Wilamowski will take a month to edit the product. It will be critiqued and screened at Columbia. Then, Case will have the option to submit it to festivals, contests or distribution.

The 1998 East High grad, will begin his second year in the graduate program at Columbia where he played basketball as an undergraduate. The 6' 8" power forward even played a bit of professional basketball in France for a year before returning to school to pursue a career in the film industry.

Growing up in Sioux City, Case, 25, was never far from the theater. His dad is a professor of theater at the University of South Dakota. Family members have come off the bench, including Case's grandmother Gertrude Weiner, sisters Katherine and Emily, cousin Mark Stolen, and classmates from Columbia, to put the production together and keep expenses at a minimum.

"After playing basketball in France, I started to think about what I wanted to do," Case said. "Growing up, theater and movies and videos were just always there for us; it was part of our lives. It occurred to me that doing something with film could be a career option."

Case said he felt empowered even more when Alexander Payne, Omaha native and director of "Election" in 1999, "About Schmidt" in 2002 (both were shot in Omaha) and "Sideways" in 2004 visited the campus.

"When he learned I was from Sioux City and was going to have a film done there, he told me to do it," Case said. "He said, 'We need that Midwestern voice' in our films.' It was really inspiring."

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