Chasing Hollywood

Appears in the June 2024 issue.

By Jeff Banowetz

Two North Central College alums debuted their short film at the Beverly Hills Film Festival

A scene from ‘Chasing June’
A scene from Chasing June

The path to making a film, even a short film, isn’t easy. But North Central College graduates Nathan and Shelby Slager produced an original film from their own script—and earned a spot at the 24th annual Beverly Hills Film Festival last month. “It was a thrill to get the recognition,” Nathan says. “To have the world premiere at the iconic [TCL] Chinese Theatre, where you can see those handprints and footprints. You think about all the films that debuted there. It’s a place that everyone knows.”

The experience culminated with one of the event’s top awards—Shelby was named Best Actress at the festival for her work in the film.

The married couple, who met in college and are both from the western suburbs, created the 15-minute film Chasing June, which uses elements of magical realism to explore the themes of grief and returning home. The story originated with Nathan’s own experience with tragedy. “I lost my brother when I was young,” he says. “I wanted to write something that channeled that grief and dealt with how you process it.”

Shelby, who stars in and codirected the film, became his writing partner in the early stages. “The story developed from being just that story about repressed grief into something that also involves cancer and tying in some personal experience we had with some immediate family members,” says Shelby, who studied theater at North Central (class of 2019) and has been acting and directing in the Chicago area since. “I got to know people in this community, so when we wanted to create a film, we had some ideas for getting started. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but at least we knew the questions to ask and had people who could help us.”

Shelby and Nathan Slager
Shelby and Nathan Slager

Nathan majored in English (class of 2018) and expected to take a more academic route, but decided that career wasn’t for him. “I bounced around after graduation, and Shelby was the one who pushed me in the direction of screenwriting,” he says. “She said, ‘Write a script, and I can act in it. Just write it.’ She said this, literally, for years. I was like, no, no, no. And then 2022 came, and I thought, you know, I should give this a try. The collaboration organically grew until we were complete cowriters and drawn into actually making the film ourselves.”

They used a crowdsourcing website to raise $10,000, mostly from family and friends, and started filming, using Shelby’s parents’ home in Elgin as a primary location, as well as her high school in Burlington.

Codirected by Shelby and Alana Areyzaga, a recent Columbia Chicago College grad, the short film is designed as a proof of concept for studios, which could help secure funding to create a full-length feature. “We are in the developmental stage right now,” Nathan says. “We have much of the feature script done, and we have our pitch deck ready for getting people interested in figuring out how to get larger-scale funding for that.”

The Slagers recently moved to Los Angeles to work on the project, and their short has been submitted to other festivals for the upcoming year. “Normally, it’s about a year of festivals, as they’re staggered throughout the year,” Nathan explains. “We’re continuing to submit for festivals, and there are Midwestern and Chicago ones included. So hopefully, we can get one of those festivals so people in Chicago can see the finished product.”

Regardless of what happens with the film, the two are incredibly proud of their achievement. “Too many people in this industry wait for permission to do the thing,” Shelby says.

“They say, ‘If I just wait long enough, this person will recognize me, or this person will see me.’ But at the end of the day, you just have to figure it out and do it. Even if it doesn’t get anywhere professionally, you’re going to have that finished product and be telling your story. And that’s the most important thing.”


Photo: Decent Drei Photography (Slagers)