How Highland Park native went from 'movie-crazy kid' to 'Menashe' producer
While studying movies at Highland Park High School, Alex Lipschultz realized his taste in cinema already veered more toward the eccentric and less toward the mainstream.
"I was seeing a lot of Hollywood movies then," Lipschultz remembered, "and they were quite silly."
One day, he discovered the reviews of Roger Ebert, dean of Chicago's film critics.
"He wrote this wonderful column called 'The Great Movies' where he would review older films considered to be masterpieces," Lipschultz said. "I would read his articles, then seek out these movies. By the time I got to film school, it kinda ramped up from there."
Lipschultz has been ramping up ever since.
His new movie, "Menashe," a drama shot on location in Brooklyn's Hasidic community in Borough Park, plays this week at five Chicago and Northwest suburban theaters.
The story is based on the experiences of Hasidic Jew Menashe Lustig, a widower grocery clerk fighting for custody of his son in a tradition-bound culture requiring a mom to be in every home.
Lipschultz produced the indie project and worked on the screenplay, the first time he's written one.
Weirdly enough, Lipschultz learned all about directing, writing and acting for movies as a film student at Boston University (where he met future "Menashe" director Joshua Z. Weinstein), but he never considered a career as a producer. It's quite a different job from directing.
"I like to say that the director is like the captain who charts where the ship starts and where it goes," he said.
"As a producer, your job is to hire the crew to build the ship and operate it, then keep it from hitting the rocks."
Lipschultz, 33, more or less lives in New York but spends most of his time in other places. Last month alone, he flew to eight countries.
He said he returns at least one month a year to visit his parents, Stephen and Leslie Lipschultz, who still live in the house where he grew up.
"I was a child of the '80s on the North Shore, which, at the time, felt like the epicenter of the cinematic world because there were so many great comedies being made in that area," he said.
He cited movies by John Hughes, Chris Columbus and Harold Ramis.
While in Highland Park, the future filmmaker made a remarkably astute observation that forged his career.
"I grew up in a place where my neighbors included doctors, lawyers, accountants, entrepreneurs and stockbrokers who had a lot of money," he said.
"But they did not seem all that happy. I realized at a very young age that accruing millions of dollars was not something that was really important to me. With the years I have on this planet, it felt more important to do something I felt passionate about."
That would be the movies.
Lipschultz described himself as "just a movie-crazy kid" who would hit mall theaters with friends for a movie or two on the weekends.
He thought about going into computer science but realized he didn't want to spend his life in a cubicle.
"Movies seemed like something worth taking a shot at. I knew it was going to be an enormously uphill battle, and frankly, it's still an enormously uphill battle."
He tried working within the Hollywood studio system by being hired to work on productions for Warner Bros., Universal and Sony Pictures. He was fired from several productions (read more about this in the sidebar), including Seth Rogen's justly maligned reboot of "The Green Hornet."
So, he quit the studio gig and entered the indie film world as a producer.
"I came to the conclusion that I'm better off being the boss than working for people who don't really value the contributions of people working for them," Lipschultz said.
Nonetheless, the Highland Park native recognizes that even a lower-level studio job would make him more money than what an indie film producer makes.
"But it comes back to realizing that money and quality of life are not necessarily connected," he said.
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for suburbanites in showbiz who would make good stories. If you know of someone, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
'Life is too short to be expendable'Highland Park High School graduate Alex Lipschultz tried to work within the Hollywood studio system, but eventually dropped out to become an indie producer of such films as "Menashe" after becoming fed-up with Tinsel Town's corporate culture.
"You learn early in your career that people get fired for extraordinarily trivial things," he said. "Or even things they didn't do. Once I had a boss who made a mistake and he threw me under the bus for it. When you are a very tiny cog in an enormous machine, you are totally expendable.
"After years of trying and failing to become part of that machine, I came to the conclusion that life is too short to be expendable."