Writer/director Kerry Bellessa had a nagging voice inside his head.
Cast your wife as the lead, it said.
Amber Alert -- what the critics say"Amber Alert" writer/director Kerry Bellessa said critics have had a love-it-or-hate-it reaction to his first movie. While not screened for Chicago movie critics, here's a sampling of critics' comments that prove his point:
Ÿ "All things considered -- microbudget, unknown actors, no real special effects, the point of view of a single video camera -- 'Amber Alert' proves a resourceful little thriller." -- Los Angeles Times critic Gary Goldstein
Ÿ "You have to wonder if the whole thing feels a bit exploitive of the Amber Alert program." -- Mark Harris, about.com.
Ÿ "We've seen ghosts and Blair witches and demons and zombies in this growing 'found footage' genre. But 'Amber Alert' brings a little something new to the form -- the urgency of pursuit, risks with real-world consequences." -- McClatchy-Tribune News Service critic Roger Moore
Ÿ "There is, perhaps, a smart film to be made on the same frightening subject. This isn't it." -- Dustin Putman, of DustinPutnam.com
His wife, Sugar Grove native Summer Bellessa, already was coproducing his first movie, "Amber Alert." But he feared if he gave her a starring role, he'd be perceived as an amateur. So Kerry kept holding casting calls, searching for someone else.
And he kept coming back to Summer.
"It sounded bad. ... 'Hey, I'm making a movie and my wife's in it!' But I knew she'd be awesome. So I just finally went ahead and did it," he said. "She (ended up being) one of the best things about the movie."
Critics, indeed, have applauded Summer Bellessa's acting in "Amber Alert," a found-footage-style film that poses the question, if you were driving along and saw the car named in an Amber Alert, would you drive away after you called 911? Or, out of concern for the child, would you keep following the car until the police showed up?
The R-rated movie opened Nov. 2 in 12 cities nationwide, but Chicago wasn't among them. The film's distribution could eventually expand to local theaters, but as of now, it's available here only through on-demand movie services.
"We just went out to make a realistic film that would happen with real people, with a problem that could happen," said Summer Bellessa, 32, an alumna of Kaneland High School. "We wanted to come across very real and organic, and think, 'What would people do in this situation?' If you're a mom or a parent, it's especially chilling."
The film was shot in 2010 in Phoenix, where the Bellessas live with their two sons. They came up with the idea during one of their regular commutes to Los Angeles. They saw an Amber Alert on a digital sign over the freeway and got into a spirited "What would you do?" discussion that eventually led to the screenplay.
Even though the film was made on a "microbudget," Summer Bellessa said it's received strong video-on-demand response so far.
"We wanted it on the big screen where everyone can see it, but the production company is excited about our video-on-demand sales, which is an interesting change in the marketplace," she said.
So far, "Amber Alert" has drawn a love-it-or-hate-it response from critics, but Kerry Bellessa isn't upset about that.
"I like that we made a film that's kind of polarizing," he said.
"Amber Alert" might be Bellessa's first movie role, but she has been acting and modeling since she was a kid in Kane County. Born in Chicago Heights, Bellessa moved to Sugar Grove in eighth grade. Around that time, she started modeling and traveling the globe. She spent her teens and early 20s as a model for several worldwide and national brands, including Vidal Sassoon, Shiseido, AT&T and Target.
In 2007, Summer launched ELIZA, a fashion and lifestyle magazine with a more modest than sexy flair. Bellessa also does an online variety show, "The Girls With Glasses," with former "American Idol" finalist Brooke White.
With two boys under the age of 2 at home (a 20-month-old and another born Oct. 28), Summer Bellessa is taking a hiatus from moviemaking. However, Kerry Bellessa is working on new scripts, and they both expect more producing and acting in the future.
"It's been a dream come true for us to make this movie," Summer said. "And there's a lot on the horizon."
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always in search of people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would be great to feature, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.