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Range Runners crew

Assistant director Timothy Ferrell, production designer Caitlin Maldonando, exectuive producer and director Philip Plowden and executive producer Devon Colwell visit Bork Falls near Goreville, where they plan to shoot scenes for their film 'Range Runners.'

CARBONDALE — "Range Runners," a female-led survival thriller, began production in Southern Illinois on Monday.

Produced by Fatal Funnel Films, directed by Philip S. Plowden, and written by Devon Colwell, the film tells the story of a woman in the woods who runs into trouble when she meets two men hiding from the authorities.

Plowden also served as an associate producer on "Dig Two Graves," which filmed here in 2013. "Range Runners" is his feature-length directorial debut.

They chose Southern Illinois for the majority of filming locations due to the region's forested, hilly landscapes.

"We scouted almost every state park and forest preserve within two hours of Chicago and kept coming up empty. Each had a unique look, but we needed that vertical feeling — we needed bluffs and hills to go along with the trails and woods," Plowden said in a news release.

"It's paramount to capture different moods within each of these varying locations; fear, excitement, isolation. The moment I came down to scout last September, I knew that the unique topography of this landscape would help elicit those emotions and ultimately play a vital role within the film," he said.

Filming began this past Thursday in the Chicago suburbs, then moved downstate for nearly three weeks of production in Carbondale, Giant City and Ferne Clyffe state parks, SIU Touch of Nature and Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tours.

Although the story was inspired by the Appalachian mountain range, producers say the presence of the Illinois Film Production tax credits helped tipped their decision to stay in-state.

"We're incredibly grateful of the support from the local community. Businesses and individuals alike have been so friendly and willing to help. The support goes a long way with independent film-making and makes this journey that much more exciting," said Christian Crocker, a co-producer.

Plowden visited the Shawnee Hills last fall with regional location scout Jon Musgrave, who worked with him on "Dig Two Graves." Hiking trails from Bald Knob to Garden of the Gods in one weekend, he narrowed it down to the area between Goreville and Carbondale.

A second trip in late April helped pinpoint scenes in the script to locations on the ground. A return trip called the technical scout in early May brought producers, department heads and the show's stunt coordinator in an effort to give everyone a first-hand view of where production will take place.

"I was truly stunned to learn that these incredible landscapes exist in my home state. I'm looking forward to seeing the natural beauty of Southern Illinois breathe life into our film," Crocker said.

In addition to using facilities at Touch of Nature, the production will be offering internships and crew opportunities to film students from the SIU College of Mass Communication and Media Arts.

The cast is led by Celeste M. Cooper who plays Mel, the lead character. She's appeared on stage, film and television with credits in "Chicago P.D.," "Chi-Raq" and "Sense8." She is also a member of the famed Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble in Chicago.

Chicago actors Sean Patrick Leonard and Michael B. Woods portray Mel's antagonists Wayland and Jared.

The films tells the story of a woman thru-hiking in isolated back country who runs into trouble when her pack is hijacked by two men hiding out in the woods, desperate and on the run. Now, stranded and left to fend for herself, she has a choice: Crawl back to her normal life in defeat, or push forward and take back what was stolen from her.

Crocker, Prodonovich and Christopher Ganze serve as producers for Range Runners.

Fatal Funnel Films is an Illinois-based independent production company. For more information, visit fatalfunnelfilms.com.

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