Chicago Filmmaker Interview: Stories Are A Girl’s Best Friend

Chicago film artist Stephanie Rabiola Photos by Alexandra Mazzoccoli. If you ever walked into Excalibur & Vision Nightclub, once a hot stop in Chicago’s nightlife, now shut down, on any weekend, you would have found Stephanie Rabiola tending bar. Rabiola was the first female to win the Metromix / RedEye Best Bartender reader poll back in 2005. As honored as she was by the experience, it was only the beginning of this local filmmaker’s journey. Born in Oak Park to a small Italian family, the youngest of two children, Rabiola experienced the magic of movies as a young girl. She says it was around the age of two or three when she first saw “Marilyn,” as in Monroe, in the motion picture Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), the movie that would bring Monroe iconic status for singing “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.” Rabiola says she was “inspired” by the “genuine kindness” found in Monroe’s screen persona. Because of her appreciation for screen icons like Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, Rabiola initially set out to become an actress. Her earliest roles were in school plays such as Grease and Working by Studs Terkel. Later, after auditioning for various movies and commercials, she landed a role as an extra in the 1994 Harrison Ford - Tommy Lee Jones action movie The Fugitive, based on the 1960s television show. Rabiola was casted as the daughter of the infamous “one-armed man” character. Unfortunately her performance never made it in the final cut but photo stills of her can be seen when Ford searches the home of the “one-armed man.” While acting in The Fugitive, Rabiola fell in love with being on a movie set. “An entire world opens up” she says as she saw the film crew working. Now her interest would turn to behind the camera. “I wanted to be part of the creation of it all,” she observes. Rabiola preparing her next project Rabiola had some unpleasant memories of the audition process in general and recalls her first audition as “heartbreaking.” “My first audition was so scary,” she remembers “being in a room full of adults. I remember all the casting agents being really mean. Moving all the kids around like cattle.” Not wanting to go through the experience again and with a new interest in film, Rabiola decided “I’m just going to cast myself. I’m just going to create something and put myself to work.” After earning her associate’s degree at the College of Lake County, where she majored in her other childhood passion, singing, Rabiola attended Columbia College of Chicago to study film. Although she speaks highly of the school, she says her experience there was “non-traditional” compared to other students since she supported herself by working full-time as a bartender, which meant she wasn’t always available for weekend film shoots with her classmates. It was outside the classroom where Rabiola says she learned the most about film. Being a bartender, she comments, helped her make connections with other artists in the city, who would stop by at Excalibur. During this time she worked on independent film sets and says the most important lesson she learned was “organization is key.” She also began to realize the role of money in film, “making a really good film takes money,” she says. Following her graduation from Columbia, Rabiola started working as a production manager on indie films such as A Green Story (2012), which starred Shannon Elizabeth, Billy Zane and Malcolm McDowell, and One Small Hitch (2013). These experiences lead Rabiola to discover her true interest: “My most favorite thing to do is interview regular people.” Stephanie and Tom Jikomes working on "One Night, Two Legends" Photographer: Alexandra Mazzoccoli Rabiola and Tom Jikomes working on "One Night, Two Legends." This desire to tell the stories of "regular people" has lead Rabiola to become involved with the Hidden Tears Project, an organization that brings awareness to the issue of sex trafficking. Rabiola says the issue is more predominant in America then most people may realize. The organization has recently completed a short film entitled Daddy, directed by Monica Raymund, an actress best known for her role on the television show "Chicago Fire". Rabiola, who is given a producing credit on the project, says her involvement has lead her to the belief that "people should serve their community." Rabiola first became aware of the Hidden Tears Project due to her work with A.L. Media, a political media firm, that has does advocacy work as well. At A.L. Media, Rabiola is able to do what she loves by having the opportunity to interview various people. Since most of the clients the firm deals with are politicians, it has also further fueled Rabiola's commitment to work on projects that serve others. As a female in a predominantly male industry, Rabiola also serves on the board of the Women in Film organization, as part of their Chicago chapter. They have been around for more than 30 years with 6,800 members with the goal of empowering women in the industry. Rabiola says 2% of film executives are women. The organization hosts several fundraising events and also helps promote artists. One project that Rabiola holds the closest to her heart or as she says, "this story is the love of my life," it is a documentary entitled "One Day, Two Legends" inspired by an actual meeting that took place in 1965 between the Beatles and Elvis Presley, when the Beatles were on tour in America. Both sides did not want any press around and so information on what exactly happened between these artists is scarce. The project was the brain-child of Rabiola's partner, Tom Jikomes, a local artist. Jikomes learned of the story from Presley's road manager, Joe Esposito, who was in the room at the time of the meeting. Fascinated by the story, Rabiola and Jikomes flew to Las Vegas to interview Esposito. The project has turned into a six-year labor of love that has now become something bigger than either Rabiola or Jikomes would have expected. They are even considering producing a stage play on the event, in a style similar to Million Dollar Quartet. The two currently produce tribute concerts with Elvis and Beatles impersonators or "tribute artists" as they prefer to be called. The project has lead Rabiola to interview Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Barry Gibbs of the Bee Gees. But Rabiola and Jikomes, who are a couple offset, don't forget their ultimate goal, which is to start their own agency in the hopes of serving their community and helping others through their films. A tribute concert will be tonight, June 22, at the In Paris Restaurant Banquet Hall Lounge, 3315 Milwauke Ave. in Northbrook. The event begins at 5:30pm. Tickets are $20 and may be bought at the door. Click here for more information.
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Alex Udvary