Woodstock man makes kids' film to honor son who died at 10

Mason Parrish was barely 10 when he asked his dad what turned out to be a really important question.

“When I grow up, can we make movies together?”

Chris Parrish, a Woodstock native, replied, “Of course.”

And he kept that promise — a lot sooner than either anticipated.

On Dec. 19, Parrish wrapped principal photography on a kids' adventure titled “Thrill Ride,” based on an idea from young Mason. Parrish directed, produced and co-wrote the production, shot at Chicago Studio City in Cicero.

“Thrill Ride” involves three kids who sneak into an old amusement park where former owner Al Capone reportedly stashed a pile of ill-gotten loot. The trio teams up with a sea witch to survive a night filled with bloodthirsty pirates, fire-breathing dragons and plenty of monsters.

In short, every 10-year-old boy's idea of a perfect movie, but one that Mason will never see. He died of a rare form of pediatric brain cancer in 2011 at the age of 10.

“Mason had a phenomenal gift for story and plot and conflict,” Parrish said. “He was a natural, like nothing I've ever seen before, one of the sweetest, most empathetic kids you could ever meet.”

He remembered when Mason suggested the movie's plot. “I was driving Mason to school about four years ago,” Parrish said. “We just saw 'Night at the Museum.' And Mason said, 'You know, Dad, I really liked that movie, but why did they make it about Ben Stiller? It should have been about his son. Plus, museums are boring. They should have set the movie in an amusement park!'

“I had to pull over and write that down,” Parrish said, “because that's a really good idea for a movie.”

Mason's mandate was to create movie productions with kid protagonists. That's something his dad understood.

“I was an '80s kid, a Spielberg child,” he said. “I loved 'The Goonies.' 'E.T.' remains one of my favorite films of all time. Remember 'Explorers'? Those mid-'80s kid action movies just aren't done anymore today. The thing that drove me nuts over the summer is that there was only one live-action kids movie — 'Earth to Echo,' not even a great film. Kids are a market that's ridiculously underserved. Mason's mandate was to make these movies. I am picking up that vision and running with it.”

Parrish grew up on a small Woodstock farm where, from the age of 10, he would shoot his own movies in a barn, a fittingly Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland portent of things to come.

He graduated from Woodstock Community High School and majored in film at Chicago's Columbia College. Upon graduation, Parrish headed for the glitter of Tinseltown where he spent the next 20 years working in movies and television.

He became a consultant on the popular series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” He wrote scripts for “The King of Queens” and sold a script to the Jim Henson company, a reality TV series based on the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

In 2010, he accepted an adjunct position at UCLA, teaching screenwriting. He fell in love with teaching.

After moving back to Woodstock with his family, Parrish landed a full-time position at DePaul University teaching screenwriting. (Maybe that explains why so many DePaul grads and students were on the set of “Thrill Ride.”)

“Yes, a lot of DePaul people are working on this film,” Parrish said. “The cinematographer, lots of interns. DePaul has also lent us equipment as well. This has made a huge, huge difference for us to make this movie.”

“Thrill Ride” will be finished by the end of 2015. Its release will be a bittersweet event for everyone involved.

“When Mace passed, his mom, Ilisa, and I wanted to come up with a way to honor his memory and also to help others,” Dad said.

So, they created a company called Mason's Movies to produce “Thrill Ride.”

Fifty percent of profits generated by “Thrill Ride” will be donated to the Mason Parrish Foundation to provide funds for research on a cancer called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, or DIPG. It will also provide handicapped-accessible vans to families with children dealing with catastrophic illnesses.

The remaining 50 percent of the profits will go into the budget for Parrish's next movie inspired by Mason, who left behind a dozen notebooks filled with stories, cartoons, comics and, of course, ideas for kid-centric adventure movies.

Chris Parrish met his wife Ilisa, from Skokie, during a class at Chicago's Second City. They have two other children, Max, 8 (watch for him in a small part in “Thrill Ride”), and Lainey, 6 months old.

And, come the end of this year, they will have something special to remember their brother by: a movie directed by their dad.

“Mason will always remain that child who cared more for others than he did for himself,” Dad said. “That really defined him. That, and his love for telling stories. I am so proud and blessed that I get to call him my son.”

— Dann Gire

• Send your suggestions for column subjects to dgire@ and

Mason Parrish had barely turned 10 when he asked his dad, "When I grow up, can we make movies together?" Chris Parrish, a Woodstock native and graduate of Woodstock Community High School, replied, "Of course." Three years later, Dad made good on his promise. Parrish directed a kids film titled "Thrill Ride," based on an idea and characters created by Mason. Courtesy of Chris Parrish
Woodstock native Chris Parrish sets up the next scene on the set of "Thrill Ride," a movie inspired by his son Mason. courtesy of Chris Parrish
Woodstock native Chris Parrish, right, sets up the next scene on the set of "Thrill Ride," a movie inspired by his son Mason. courtesy of Chris Parrish
Woodstock native Chris Parrish sets up the next scene on the set of "Thrill Ride," a movie inspired by his son Mason. courtesy of Chris Parrish

Filmmaker's suburban angels

Woodstock Community High School graduate Chris Parrish believes in angels. He saw them at work after his son Mason came down with a rare form of brain cancer.

“The Northwest suburbs really reached out to us,” Parrish said. “They provided a ridiculously expensive rental on a handicapped-accessible van so we could improve Mason's quality of life for the few months we were to have him.”

After Mason's death, Parrish and his wife Ilisa decided to produce a movie to honor him and help other families in similar situations by donating profits to charities. That's when North Barrington philanthropist Vince Foglia heard Parrish's pitch, then said two words: “I'm in.”

He would fully fund the Mason project. “Up until I met Vince Foglia, I thought people like him were fictitious. I really did,” Parrish said. “My mom used to ask me if I believed in angels. Well, Vince Foglia comes pretty close.”

Tax-deductible contributions to the Mason Parrish Foundation can be made at 720 S. Eastwood Drive, #103, Woodstock, IL 60098.

<span title="charref:8"></span> — Dann Gire

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