Olympia: Grad student explores adulthood in new film


Photo courtesy of McKenzie Chinn

Chinn relied on her own personal experiences after graduation for inspiration.

Okay all you college students, feel like you’re ready for your “adult” life? What about five, six or seven years from now? What if you get into your thirties and you feel like you don’t have it all “figured out” yet?

DePaul graduate McKenzie Chinn was thinking about these questions as she wrote her feature-length film “Olympia.”

“Olympia” explores year thirty in the life of a woman named Olympia (played by Chinn). As she reaches that age milestone, she is caught in a maelstrom of changes. Her roommate leaves to a place out of Olympia’s price range, her boyfriend and best friend both get jobs they’ll have to move away for, her mother is in the hospital and, to top it off, Olympia’s career has yet to take off. She must now decide if she too can change or if she will get left behind.

“It felt like a lot of people in my generation spend most of their twenties just doing whatever and kind of figuring it out. But it felt so much to me, regardless of whether it’s true, that turning 30 felt like ‘Oh, I gotta have something to show for it,’” Chinn said.

Chinn said she and her friends felt the pressure to make huge life choices after graduating, but that hasn’t been the case. One of her major focuses while creating the film was questioning the definition of adulthood and how she thinks it has changed since her parents’ generation. She said her generation still does typical “adult” things in their twenties, like paying rent and having a job, but some of the big mile markers have changed.

These things include getting married, buying a house and having a “career that you do for like 40 years.” She said that old roadmap did not feel relevant to her, so she made it up as she went along. Chinn’s co-producer and the director of “Olympia,” Gregory Dixon, added he felt like part of the shift has come from the way in which the world and economy has changed.

“My parents had a house and kids by the age of 30, but they didn’t have thousands of dollars of student loans,” Dixon said.

Dixon went to college in upstate New York. After graduating, he worked in the area for about a year before realizing he wasn’t happy with where he was and needed a change of scenery. He started looking for a graduate school in the city, and he narrowed it down to New York and Chicago. DePaul’s film program was just in its infancy at the time, and Dixon said he liked that about the school because it gave him the flexibility to do what he wanted. For one of his classes in 2010, those pursuing their MFAs in directing got paired with the MFA acting students. Dixon ended up getting paired with Chinn for the project.

“I remember seeing that project we worked on and thinking it was so beautiful and engaging,” Chinn said. “I remember nothing in my brain that I wanted to work with Greg in the future. So he was the first person that came to mind when it looked like I was going to be able to produce this film.”

Like most films, once things got rolling they did not go quite according to plan.  Chinn and Dixon recalled one fall day in 2016 in particular: They had scheduled a downtown Chicago bar to shoot in for the day.  Their one out-of-town actor had flown in to shoot for two days. The scene took place at night, so the crew had blacked out the windows to keep out the sun. After a few hours of filming,  Chinn said they had some good footage in the can.

Suddenly, the owner of the bar walked in and asked them to unblock the windows because people were calling and asking if they were closed. While Dixon and Chinn originally thought the agreement was that they had the bar for the day, it also happened to be the same day the Chicago Cubs were about to begin what would become a historic playoff run, and the owner of the bar did not want to miss the crowds for the first game.

They ended up having to find another location, and they couldn’t use footage from the original bar.

“One of the greatest things that’s happened to Chicago in the last few years is the Cubs winning the world series,” Dixon said. “Turns out, not so great for our production.”

Dixon said they will be finishing the film before the end of May, and then it’s on to the festival circuit.

“I completed my coursework a long time ago, and then I actually worked for DePaul for six or seven years, and now I finally get to finish my thesis film,” Dixon said.