‘Columbus’ independent film puts city’s landmarks in Hollywood spotlight

An independent movie with a Hollywood-hot lead actor aims to capture Columbus and especially its trademark architecture during three weeks of filming.

In fact, some of the city’s best known, architecturally acclaimed buildings form the backdrop and much of the framework of “Columbus,” which began shooting Sunday and will continue through Aug. 20.

“The architecture is almost like another character,” said Aaron Boyd, one of the Los Angeles-based producers for the low-budget film.

A Korean-born director who uses the name Kogonada wrote the screenplay about two young people one summer discovering their purpose and future — and finding themselves amid the Midwestern mecca of design.

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The story follows the character of the Korean-born Jin (played by Korean-born John Cho, currently starring as Sulu in “Star Trek Beyond”), 29, who recently left the University of Cambridge without a doctorate in literature and now is translating books for a publisher in Seoul.

He suddenly finds himself stuck in Columbus, where his architect father lies hospitalized in a coma after a visit here to study noted structures.

Jin waits and secretly hopes for his father to die. In contrast, Casey, 19 (played by Haley Lu Richardson of ABC Family’s “Ravenswood”), a blue-collar, worldly and bright young woman, wants to stay in Columbus with her mother, a recovering addict, instead of pursuing her own dreams. The two eventually spend summer’s final weeks together.

The cast also is populated with actors such as Michael Cera from the TV series “Arrested Development,” which originally aired on Fox.

The Nashville, Tennessee-based Kogonada, interested in Modernist architecture and cinema since college, first heard of Columbus a few years ago via a New York Times story about the town’s noted design. A later National Public Radio piece further fueled his interest and spurred a visit with his wife.

“I was so fascinated,” he said of the city. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that I want this to be the location of a film I wanted to write and do.”

He acknowledged a link between the promise-filled lead characters and the city’s architecture.

“In some ways, Columbus is the story of Modernism — its promise and fulfillment and all of those things,” Kogonada said.

Shooting, with a cast and crew of 28 people, not counting local extras, will include about 14 key local sites, including First Christian Church, The Republic and the Miller House and Garden, according to the film schedule. Producers said it’s too early to provide a post-production schedule or release date.

Ideally, they would like to shop for a national distributor for major-release theaters. They also would like to get the flick into independent theaters such as YES Cinema in Columbus, which also shows major-budget releases.

The producers mentioned that the talent-laden cast for such a small movie on a tight budget is fairly easy to explain in a highly commercial film industry.

“We’re either passionate about art and architecture ourselves,” Boyd said, “or we’re passionate about the director’s vision.”

He said that applies to Cho as well as anyone. Boyd himself has worked behind the scenes on major films such as “The Patriot.”

Giulia Caruso, another of the film’s producers, is involved partly because of her admiration of Kogonada’s work. It just so happens that her father is an architect in her native Italy. Before this, he knew of the Miller House, designed by noted Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, and several other significant structures locally.

“He just didn’t (in his mind) locate them all in exactly the same city,” Caruso said of her father.

Caruso, based in Los Angeles, now plans to bring her dad for a visit.

The Washington, D.C.-based American Institute of Architects has ranked Columbus sixth in the nation for architectural innovation and design. Matt Tinder, senior media relations manager for the institute, can see how the “Columbus” film could give young audiences an appreciation for the city’s architectural legacy that began with First Christian Church in 1942.

“I think a film certainly could do that,” Tinder said, adding that the institute recently launched a campaign encouraging filmmakers to team with architects for movie projects.

“I think this allows people to approach architecture in a slightly different way,” Tinder said. “Architecture isn’t just for museums or rich people’s mansions.”

Tinder added that architectural appearances in entertainment certainly can boost tourism.

“Anecdotal evidence shows that iconic buildings and spaces featured prominently in any film or TV show have seen some element of people flocking to those places (afterward),” Tinder said.

The Columbus Area Visitors Center staff saw that happen after a two-hour May 2011 broadcast of a CBS “Sunday Morning” episode that included host Charles Osgood in Columbus highlighting the architecture through much of the program. Lynn Lucas, former executive director of the center, said calls still were coming in related to the show more than two years later.

Richard McCoy, director of Landmark Columbus, which cares for the city’s artistic and architecturally significant structures, believes the upcoming “Columbus” film could even “remind folks especially in Indiana that there is a gem of an American city in Columbus, where a lot of us often still take that for granted.”

He said he would love to have his Exhibit Columbus biennial project highlight the film, or sponsor a showing.

Erin Hawkins, the visitors center’s director of marketing, predicts a substantial impact once the film is released. Before the crew ever arrived in town, she saw the director’s “look book” of some of the local scenes he wanted to shoot. The mock-up images look almost like art.

“I think people who already are fans of local architecture are going to go crazy,” Hawkins said. “Because this is a little bit of a love letter to Columbus, Indiana.”

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Local architectural sites to be included in the shoot for the film “Columbus”:

Bartholomew County Public Library

Irwin Conference Center

First Financial Bank

Columbus Mental Health Services

North Christian Church

Hamilton Ice Arena

Miller House and Garden

The Republic

First Christian Church

Fire Station No. 4

Mill Race Center

Cummins Technical Center

Columbus City Hall

First Baptist Church

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Three members of the cast of “Columbus” have been featured in earlier films or television programs.

John Cho:

— Co-star of “Star Trek,” 2009, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” 2013, and “Star Trek Beyond,” released this year, in role of Sulu.

— Co-star of “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle,” role of Harold Lee, 2004.

— Minor roles in the “American Pie” film series, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2012.

Haley Lu Richardson:

— Cast member of “Recovery Road” TV series, role of Ellie Dennis, 2016.

— Cast member of TV series “Ravenswood,” role of Tess Hamilton, 2013-2014.

Michael Cera

— Star of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” role of Scott Pilgrim, 2010.

— Co-star in “Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist,” role of Nick, 2008.

— Co-star of “Superbad,” role of Evan, 2007.

— Co-star of “Juno,” role of Paulie Bleeker, 2007.

— Cast member of “Arrested Development” TV series, role of George-Michael Bluth, 68 episodes, 2003-2013.