When Hoffman Estates native Bill Wohlken began his Hollywood career as a lowly production assistant, he would fetch Double Stuf Oreos for Rosanne Barr.
Or buy a bra for Salt-N-Pepa.
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'My favorite movie of all time'Former Hoffman Estates kid Bill Wohlken, vice president of post-production at Focus Features, admitted he can't remember the first movie he ever saw in a Northwest suburban theater, but he does remember "the biggest and most powerful movie experience" of his youth.
"I remember everything about that day," Wohlken said. "I remember going to the theater and seeing the line wrapped around the building! It was 'The Empire Strikes Back'! Still to this day, I have to say that it's my favorite movie of all time. It was one of the most unforgettable things in my life."
So, we said to Wohlken -- after noting he was born in 1974 -- that means you were 6 years old watching "The Empire Strikes Back" in Auditorium No. 1 at the Woodfield Theaters in Schaumburg. Right?
"Yes!" Wohlken shouted. "That's exactly right! How did you know that?"
We pay attention to details, we told him.
"I wanted to be a part of the moviemaking experience ever since," Wohlken said.
Or snag some Jack Daniels for Bill Maher.
"It was outrageous!" Wohlken recalled. "Super fun!"
Nowadays, the 39-year-old studio executive can have production assistants get him Oreos. Or whatever else he needs to fulfill his duties as the new vice president of postproduction at Focus Features.
So, what exactly does someone do in postproduction?
"My particular talent is knowing what needs to be done, and how long and much it will cost to get it done," Wohlken said.
"The budget of any movie can be broken down into above-the-line costs, below-the-line costs and postproduction costs.
"On a $10 million movie, about $3 million goes to above-the-line costs, but those are only four items: writing, producing, directing, casting.
"About $6 million goes to below-the-line costs: makeup, transportation, hair, insurance, properties, construction, everything else. About $1 million goes to postproduction."
And that is ...?
"Everything to get the content in the movie cameras to the editing rooms," he said. "Music, visual effects, color correction, sound effects, sound mixing, engineers and all the final deliverables such as creating prints, HD tapes and DCPs (digital cinema packages). My job is to know how much time all this will take and what it all will cost."
Bill Wohlken didn't spend his days at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Hoffman Estates dreaming of becoming a Hollywood postproduction manager, but he knew he wanted to make movies. He wanted it so bad that he thought about skipping college and going straight to Hollywood to work.
He compromised with his parents and earned a communications degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara, close to Tinseltown.
His first job was as a page (mainly an "audience wrangler," he explained) on the TV game show "Win Ben Stein's Money."
Then came his first PA (production assistant) job on the third revamp of the TV game show "Hollywood Squares," with Whoopi Goldberg in the center box.
"That was a real fun job," Wohlken said. "I made friends there I still have to this day. My job was to do anything anyone asked. Get coffee, whatever!"
His big postproduction break came on the set of "Stuart Little 2," when his job, scheduled for a few weeks, stretched into several months, and he got acquainted with Sony Pictures personnel. Columbia Pictures hired him as a postproduction supervisor.
Bill Wohlken was on his way.
So far, he insisted the upcoming "Ride Along" opening Jan. 17 was his best professional moviemaking experience where everything worked exactly as planned.
His most challenging?
"That's easy," he said. "We did a movie called 'Dark Country.' It was a perfect storm of bad decisions."
The 2009 movie was low-budget (below $3 million) with an actor (Thomas Jane) directing his first feature. Because 3-D technology was in the throes of a rebirth, the filmmakers wanted to shoot it in 3-D.
"Hey!" Wohlken said. "Most of the movie takes place in the outskirts of Las Vegas over one night. Why are you shooting a movie called 'Dark Country' in 3-D when it takes place in a flat desert during the middle of the night? And 80 percent of the movie takes place inside a car?"
It's that kind of common-sense approach to business that Wohlken, 39, credits to his Northwest suburban roots.
"Every time I meet people from Chicago, I know it," he said. "Or even people from the Midwest."
"There's no nonsense about them. There's an honesty. There's a sense of humor, a sense of humility. Maybe that's because I'm a Cubs fan and I know a lot of people who are Cubs fans."
"Yes, they just want to get it done. They have a workers' mentality. They're not ego-driven, like certain people from New York. New Yorkers will get the job done, but there's a real attitude to the workers that's not common at all with people from Chicago."
He still gets back to the area a couple of times a year.
"Whenever I meet anyone from Chicago," he said, "I always think, 'They're my people!'"
-- Dann Gire
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are looking for suburbanites now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make an interesting profile, email them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.