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In ‘Tagged,’ Local Filmmakers Showcase Chicago Street Art Through The Lens Of A Murder Mystery

Filmed at dozens of locations across the city, the movie is the latest feature from Chicago-based Kernel Productions, which launched in 2020.

A still from Tagged, a new film about Chicago street art written by local filmmaker Grant Troyer
Kernel Productions/Provided
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BUCKTOWN — A feature film made by a Chicago production company spotlights dozens of murals and pieces of street art all over the city, which act as a backdrop for a murder mystery whodunit.

“Tagged” is the latest project from writer and executive producer Grant Troyer, a relatively new filmmaker who started Bucktown-based Kernel Productions in 2020.

Troyer was inspired to make the film during the social justice protests in summer 2020 after he watched a street artist paint a mural on pieces of plywood on his block in Logan Square.

“He’d come back and just keep perfecting and perfecting it, and I was like, ‘This guy is putting so much pride and effort into something that is as temporary as it gets,'” Troyer said. “I was like, ‘I need to write a story about a graffiti artist.'”

But Troyer knew next to nothing about street art and its rich history in Chicago. He did extensive research to develop a script, then worked with local artists to “authenticate” the story and details.

But while Troyer had a premise and a main character named Lex, he was initially stumped for how the plot would develop.

“I was like, ‘What’s gonna happen to this guy? What’s going to go on?’ And my wife and I were kind of just crowdsourcing it, just the two of us at dinner one night, and she’s like, ‘Have him get mixed up in a murder investigation,'” Troyer said.

The film went into production last summer, filming at 38 locations to showcase dozens of murals from Pullman and Pilsen to Wicker Park and Logan Square.

“A lot of these have cultural significance, Chicago significance and a lot of them even national. And I was like, ‘I have to integrate this somehow into it,'” Troyer said.

Credit: Kernel Productions/Provided
A still from “Tagged,” a new feature film showcasing Chicago’s rich history of murals and street art

“Tagged” is the second feature film Troyer has written. For years, he would write as a hobby while working full-time job at a shipping company, where he still works. During the pandemic, he was finally inspired to take it to the next level.

That’s when Troyer wrote and produced “Sheltered,” his first feature film, which came out last year.

“When COVID hit, I wrote a contained sort of shelter-in-place script that I decided to just make on an ultra, ultra low budget and that kind of got the juices flowing on it. This was late 2020. And we made it and we were very proud of it. It was incredibly low budget. And I was like, ‘I gotta do this again.’ So entered ‘Tagged,'” Troyer said.

Troyer isn’t slowing down. His next project is already going into production this week.

Called “Twain, Cancelled,” it’s about a time-traveling Mark Twain who ends up in present-day Chicago, where he starts performing as a stand-up comedian.

Like “Tagged,” the movie will be filmed at locations across Chicago. Using a local crew and resources is a huge part of Troyer’s mission as a filmmaker.

“We’re a hyperlocal company. We don’t want to bring in producers and money from Los Angeles or New York for that matter. So we’re doing everything around here,” he said.

“Tagged” will be available to stream June 27 on Amazon, followed by Google Play, Tubi and iTunes later this summer.

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