Ben Affleck calls: Scott Smith makes Project Greenlight’s final top three

What made waiting for the phone call from Project Greenlight so nerve wracking for director Scott Smith, who was waiting to hear whether he was still in the game, “was that I didn’t know whether it would be a good call or a disappointing call,” he said.

It was a very good call, as it turned out. Smith was told by Project Greenlight’s executive producers Ben Affleck and Chris Moore that he was one of the three finalists for PGL’s ultimate filmmaking prize: directing a $1 million movie and having that experience documented in a series over the Bravo cable network.

The phone rang in Smith’s home at 7:30 p.m. Moore talked first over a speaker phone, Smith recounted, introducing the people in the room that included director Wes Craven. “Moore asked me, ?how’re you doing?’ and I said, ?I’ll let you know in a second.’ Moore congratulated me and said I’d made the top three. I was shocked, didn’t know what to say except ?thank you.'”

Smith’s two competitors, who live in L.A., are an assistant editor and a cameraman/editor. If Smith wins the crucial round of interviews in L.A. starting July 8, he will be the second Chicago winner in PGL’s three-year old filmmaking competition. The winner will be announced July 13.

To whittle the top ten filmmakers, which included fellow Chicagoan Duane Edwards, down to three, the directors were assigned turning three pages of the dialog into a film no longer than five minutes in a horror genre, since the winning screenplay would be a horror/ thriller.

Instead of conventional movie horror, Smith opted to depict the horrors of everyday life. “I accentuated them and made them worse than they really seemed,” he said — a man in a dentist’s office, a Catholic schoolgirl in front of her classroom, and a guy who was caught by his girlfriend with another woman.

Even if he doesn’t get the million dollar movie, Smith, a former award-winning Leo Burnett art director who runs advertising boutique Bare, said he’s had a million dollars worth of satisfaction from the competition.

“I’m happy to be in the top three to meet people and make contacts for future films outside of commercials. It also legitimizes what I’m trying to do as a filmmaker and that’s cool,” he said.

You can see the original short that started Smith’s climb to the top on . Nicole Bernardi-Reis produced and Kurt Brandstetter was cameraman.

Reach Smith at 773/991-1394; Email