Ian Szetho and Maleek Akeju were really good friends while studying business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. They bonded over basketball games that would many times turn into deep conversations about life.
So it was somewhat natural for Szetho to turn to basketball when deciding the theme of his next short film.
“I really wanted to make a film about this idea of two friends reconnecting through basketball in their hometown after going their different ways in life,” Szetho said.
The problem, though, was Szetho couldn’t star in the film himself. He needed someone who could hoop and act at the same time.
Akeju, who agreed to play one of the friends, tapped his real-life buddy Christopher Hall to play the other one.
Both Akeju and Hall graduated from Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park and are Broadview natives. With actors secured, the next problem was where to film.
“I told Maleek, you live in this wonderful town that has so much texture and character to it,” Szetho said, adding that he was already familiar with Broadview due to interning at Bosch, the auto equipment company once located in the village.
So Akeju offered the backyard of his family’s Broadview home. Szetho, 26, said the film was shot in about six hours one day in July.
The cast and production crew included the two actors, Szetho, Matt Hebron (the director of photography) and Anna Jedralski (production assistant).
“I was like, ‘What should we cater?’ And Maleek said, ‘You gotta get Uncle Remus,” said Szetho, before heaping lavish praise on the location at 1801 Roosevelt Road in Broadview.
“The few times I’ve visited Malik in Broadview he’s brought me to Uncle Remus,” Szetho said. “I’ve been to other locations in the city and they do not compare.”
Akeju, 26, said working on the short film, Szetho’s third, was his first time acting. It was also the first time for Hall, Akeju said.
“It was fun,” he said. “It was a lot of nostalgia. It brought back memories of playing pickup games in my backyard as a kid. I went to Roosevelt School in Broadview, so it gave me a lot of flashbacks.”
Szetho said the film was inspired by Spike Lee’s He Got Game, a 1998 film starring Denzel Washington and NBA star Ray Allen.
“I pulled a lot of inspiration from that film,” Szetho said. “The only issue is I don’t have a moving crane to shoot the action scenes. God bless Matt Hebron, who had the cam on his shoulder and was moving with [Akeju and Hall].”
Szetho said the two friends filmed the same movement “over and over,” and rehearsed them multiple times before even filming.
“Malik and Chris were wonderful actors who had the chops to do the actions,” Szetho said.
When asked if acting is in his future, Akeju chuckled.
“If people want me, I’ll try,” he said. “I have very low expectations, though.”
In the meantime, Akeju is in Boston studying for a master’s degree in public administration at the Harvard Kennedy School and a Master of Business Administration at MIT Sloan School of Management.
He said he eventually wants to work in economic development, with a particular focus on helping low-wage workers improve their economic mobility.
Szetho, who works in sales full-time, said he hopes to be able to make films for a living. He’s trying to get the short film, called “Trash Talk,” into several film festivals.
“It’s just about making time for my craft outside of work, getting better,” he said. “Matt and I say this a lot: ‘Filmmaking is like basketball. It’s about putting in our reps.’”