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Professors filming dark comedy in Mundelein

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Updated: September 29, 2013 2:17AM

Two bookish philosophy professors mingled with a former Bond girl on the holy grounds of a north suburban seminary.

No, it’s not the start of a joke. Instead, it’s the start of a movie slated for release next year.

The professors are the seemingly-unlikely duo behind a dark comedy shooting key scenes at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein until August.

“Killing Poe” is the first feature-length film for Arlington Heights native Nathan Jacobs and Chris Firestone, who previously teamed up for a short starring Lana Wood, best known to Bond fans as Plenty O’Toole in “Diamonds are Forever.”

Wood returns for “Killing Poe,” this time playing the dean of a college where a group of students take a class on Edgar Allan Poe and hatch a plan against a sinister professor.

An amateurish prank this is not — though the tight-lipped filmmakers won’t reveal the outcome. They do offer one hint, however: the students will soon be digging holes in a Mundelein forest.

“There’s a sense of truth or justice (that) wins out in Poe,” says Winnetka producer James Tillman. “The bad guy never gets away with it. Even if people don’t discover that he’s done it, he himself knows and pays the penalty for it.”

Each student in the group seems to represent a different clique. The popular blonde. The goth. The geek. But they have more complex motivations.

“They sort of became individuals in their own right,” said Firestone, who wrote the script with Jacobs. “As a professor, I see that in my students. They all bring a different sort of Achilles’s heel to their character that they need to find resolution for, but they’ve hidden it until they’re forced by the circumstances to face it. And that’s when it gets interesting.”

Jacobs began toying with Poe after listening to a radio broadcast on the writer.

“It was so cinematic that I immediately started story boarding how I would shoot it,” the graduate of John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights said.

Filmmakers have long been fascinated with Poe’s works, but Jacobs and Firestone said they pay tribute to him — and his sense of paranoia — in more subtle ways. Like the brief appearance of a stuffed black cat.

Why Mundelein? University officials say they rarely approve requests for filming.

“We think it’s just a perfect location for a university film,” said Firestone, gesturing to the beautiful campus.

The two began working together while teaching a film class at Trinity International University in Deerfield, where they’ve also shot several scenes. (Firestone still teaches there, but Jacobs is now a professor of religion and philosophy at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark.)

In 2010, they made a short film, “Last Wish,” and a documentary about its making, “Chasing Sundance.”

“The idea was best-case scenario, we end up with a successful short project that proves that we can deliver a quality project and a documentary about it,” Jacobs said.

Firestone said they achieved that.

“That experience I think led us to believe that we could do something on a much larger scale,” he said.

Jacobs studied fine arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. But it wasn’t until graduate school in Michigan that he began diving into the film community.

“What I was rather surprised about was they didn’t really care what my background was as long as I was a good artist,” Jacobs said.

On the set of “Killing Poe,” Jacobs is a soft-spoken director.

“I think he has a real grasp of the way people of this age think and behave,” said actor Sunkrish Bala, who plays one of the college students.

Other actors agreed, describing a John Hughes-inspired filmmaker who lets a young cast occasionally rework scenes.

“Our director is bringing such a great new voice to a new generation of that kind of film,” Julianna Guill said. “His voice, his interpretation of friends and trust and vulnerability.”

Firestone and Jacobs launched a Kickstarter campaign to get “Killing Poe” off the ground. Though it fell short of their fundraising goal, they said the effort got the word out and helped bring investors on board.

Next, the pair hopes to release “Killing Poe” independently in April 2014, with a premier in Chicago. They are also shooting for screenings in Los Angeles and a Poe museum in Baltimore.

In addition, the duo have more films lined up through their company, Emeritus Productions.

“The Chicago area can be proud of the fact that we’re doing feature films here again from the grassroots,” Firestone said.

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