Swell’s Joe Otting hits feature paydirt with Splendid Pictures

Joe Otting turned his Project Greenlight bid into a Splendid Pictures production deal.

Joe Otting lost Project Greenlight and gained his shot at feature directing.

Swell’s director/editor Swell was one of four finalists to direct the second Project Greenlight movie. He didn’t win, but he figures what he did get is even better.

The connections Otting made through Project Greenlight have led to a production deal for Otting’s first feature film.

Otting is attached to direct the psychological thriller “Prisoner” for Splendid Pictures, the Bel Air company behind the recent “Narc” and “Poolhall Junkies.”

The “Prisoner” script, by Robert Lynn, was a finalist in Greenlight’s screenplay competition, which unlike the first round was separate from the directors’ contest.

“Prisoner” is the story of a film director taken hostage as he’s scouting the titular prison as a shooting location.

“They asked us what movie [the directing finalists] wanted to make, out of the top ten scripts,” Otting said. “‘Prisoner’ was always my number one choice.”

Splendid creative executive Molly Mayock, another of the ten script finalists, put together the deal for Otting and Lynn at Splendid.

“It works out better that I didn’t get chosen,” Otting said. “ We’re still going to get the movie made, and we’re not going to be under the scrutiny of HBO cameras. Really, Project Greenlight is about that show. The show did much better than the movie, “Stolen Summer,” the first Greenlight winner last year.”

“Prisoner” is on the Splendid production slate, with both budget and schedule contingent on pending cast attachments, Otting said. The film will shoot in the same 19th century Nashville prison where DreamWorks’ “The Last Castle” was made.

Greenlight brought Otting and the other finalists to the Sundance Film Festival in January, where he made the contacts that are bringing him to the next level. For one, he signed with L.A. manager Allen Fischer, formerly of Creative Artists.

“Being out at Park City, making new friends with the other contestants, and talking to top Hollywood talent about the piece I did and about future projects, was an amazing experience,” Otting said.

“We’ll see when June rolls around how it comes across on camera,” Otting said. “Maybe my outlook on it will change dramatically.” Contestants’ Sundance visit is featured in “Project Greenlight” episodes slated to air on HBO June 22 and 29, Otting said.

As “Prisoner” moves through development, Otting is maneuvering to attach Chicagoans.

“I’ve put it out that I want Pete Biagi to shoot it,” Otting said. Biagi, DP on “Stolen Summer,” shot Otting’s entry for this year’s contest, as well as Otting’s’ 2001 short “Vows,” winner of Loews/ Entertainment Weekly Short Film Big Screen Contest which has screened as a short before movie trailers in theaters across the country.

“I’d love to keep the ‘Prisoner’ edit here at Swell,” Otting continued. “I’m sure we’d do audio on the West Coast.”

Otting is developing a cable pilot with four Chicago writers; details are presently under wraps. For Swell, he recently edited McDonald’s and Illinois Tourism spots.

Reach Otting at Swell, 312/464-8000.–Ed M. Koziarski, edk@homesickblues.com