Five local filmmakers are among 250 to make Project Greenlight’s first cut

Chicago made its mark in the 2004 Project Greenlight with five aspiring local filmmakers who beat 1,700 entrants to advance to the next tier, a select group of 250, who made the cut. They were judged by the scenes they submitted from their own extant films.

The Chicago Five are: Producer/director Bryan Perraud; Duane Edwards, a tech service account director and producer of four award-winning shorts; self-employed architect Rus Blemker, who contributes storyboards to film projects he believes in; product designer Brian Craft and advertising art director Scott Smith.

Bryan Perraud is the only professional filmmaker among the five Chicago entrants. This is the second year he’s entered PGL and the second time he’s made it to the 250. Both he and business executive Duane Edwards submitted multiple scenes and each has two scenes among the 250.

Whoever wins this round will compete with a field of 50 who’ve been judged on the basis of their Filmmaker’s Video (FV) or bio in which they tell something about themselves. They are winnowed down to 20, who will then sweat out intense phone interviews to ascend to the Top Ten.

The lone lucky filmmaker from the Top Ten will be announced June 14. He will direct the winning PGL horror/thriller genre screenplay (determined by a separate contest) for a $1 million budget. His adventure will be documented in a Project Greenlight series to air over Bravo.

Can Bryan Perraud handle a big budget film? “Without question,” he said firmly and has the bones to back it up. As a producer/director for Natural Golf Systems, a full-service golf provider, he’s made more than 40 commercials, 15 informercials and 15 training films in the last three years. He is currently producing an eight-episode, prime-time reality show in six cities called “The Golf Makeover Challenge.” More than 15,000 golf enthusiasts responded to the call for entries.

His bio tape was “down and dirty,” Perraud admitted. His friend, freelance art director Alexis Stein, shot it on mini DVcam and Perraud cut it on his Avid Express.

His bio has an elevator sequence in which each floor stop represents a milestone age in his life, such as floor 13, when at age 13 he wormed his way into a scene in “Risky Business” being filmed in his Highland Park neighborhood, and floor 20, when he made his first movie.

Making the FV was “a bit of a challenge,” Perraud said, “since I typically work with big crews, and usually whatever I do is visually driven and my commercials have a lot of special effects. The challenge was to make it interesting without those big resources. I know it looks crappy, but it was compelling enough to get me in.”

Former L.A. and New York actor Duane Edwards holds a high powered account director’s job with Teksystems. Winning the top prize would launch his professional film career, he said. He views filmmaking as a business and art form. As such, he said, “I have the confidence of walking into a 28-day, $1 million shoot.”

For his all-important Filmmaker’s Video, that will viewed side-by-side his entry scenes, Edwards said, “I made it a day with me and what I do, and tried to make as though PGL had sent a crew to Chicago and was following me around.” Wanting to make it “a very upgrade piece,” he hired Mark Sofil to shoot in 24P, in letterbox.

Starting in 2000, and encouraged by his wife to follow his passion, Edwards has produced four films. Each has been a prize-winner, starting with IFP’s best of the fest in 2000. All have been shot on 35mm. He has put them on a DVD which he calls “Chicago Stories” a 3-minute trailer of the four films was one of his two entries.

Architect Rus Blemker will draw storyboards for film projects he likes.

For his bio, Rus Blemker said he went “a little overboard by choosing a hostage interrogation with a thread of terrorism and government suppression.” His friends at X-Ray Productions filmed and Brian Johnson edited.

A licensed self-employed architect, Blemker, has made three films. Having been involved in local theatre, he feels “filmmaking is a natural progression. “I have some talent as a writer and dabbled in the idea of combining my talents and becoming a director. I worked as a PA on shoots and got more involved in the film business.”

Blemker’s involvement with X-Ray was the result of his drawing storyboards for director Lance Catania’s feature, “Cup of Blood.”

If he ascends to the final round, Blemker looks forward to getting face time with producers and a shot to pitch his feature, a hostage drama. “On a more personal level,” he said, “this PGL thing is justification to my good friend Ken Nilsson who long ago either saw, or maybe smelled, something in me.”

Chicago Filmakers gave Brian Craft help in his bio as a B&W silent film.

Freelance product designer Brian Craft started making films four years ago. He described filmmaking as “being the best friend you’re in love with.” Although he’s written a few horror features and could have developed his bio along those lines, Craft opted to make a quirky romance.

Craft shot his story about a lonely guy in the big city as a black-and-white silent film. In his FV, “the guy is living vicariously as he watches the people him as he eats his lunch. He is struck by a woman he sees but the crowd gets in the way and she has disappeared. But he finds a note she’s left that says enigmatically, ?Tomorrow?'”

Craft produced his short through Chicago Filmmakers which provided equipment and raw stock. He handled the 16mm camera and directed a small crew and actors Jeff Ward and Robin Donner.

Scott Smith is among 250 elite filmmakers vying for a shot at the Project Greenlight prize.

Art director Scott Smith credits his advance to the 250 to the strength of his comedic short shot in 24P by Kurt Brandstetter, edited by Mike McGlynn of Mode and produced by Nicole Bernardi-Reis.

His FV focuses on him, which, being “a modest guy,” he said felt strange. “The idea was to tell what makes you tick and what ticks you off. Why are you a good candidate for this?”

In the short, Smith hints as to his whereabouts as he walks and talks about himself. The shot widens to reveal Smith is on Oak Street beach digging out huge letters in the sand that say “choose me.”

Smith left Leo Burnett last year and now runs a creative boutique called Bare and has begun directing commercials for his clients.

Here’s where you can reach the Chicago PGL Five: Brian Perraud, 312/335-1865; Duane Edwards, 312/ 474-5583; Rus Blemker, 312/957-1307; Brian Craft, 224/558-5011 and Scott Smith, 773/991-1394.

Special thanks to the CFO’s Kathy Byrne for her help in identifying the five local competitors.