Idea for HBO's 'Project Greenlight' came from Stevenson alum

 
 
Updated 10/12/2015 4:03 PM
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  • Alex Keledjian, who grew up in Buffalo Grove and Long Grove, is the creator of HBO's "Project Greenlight."

    Alex Keledjian, who grew up in Buffalo Grove and Long Grove, is the creator of HBO's "Project Greenlight." courtesy of Mitch Waxman

  • Ben Affleck and Matt Damon host HBO's "Project Greenlight," a show created by Stevenson High School alumnus Alex Keledjian.

    Ben Affleck and Matt Damon host HBO's "Project Greenlight," a show created by Stevenson High School alumnus Alex Keledjian. courtesy of HBO

  • Ben Affleck and Matt Damon talk about the filmmakers competing on HBO's "Project Greenlight," a show created by Stevenson High School alumnus Alex Keledjian.

    Ben Affleck and Matt Damon talk about the filmmakers competing on HBO's "Project Greenlight," a show created by Stevenson High School alumnus Alex Keledjian. courtesy of HBO

It started over lunch.

Stevenson High School alumnus Alex Keledjian met a Miramax television executive for sushi, to pitch him on an animated version of Kevin Smith's movie "Clerks."

"The way business lunches go (in Hollywood) is, you pitch your thing, and they say, 'We'll follow up,' and then you chitchat the rest of the time," Keledjian said.

During the chitchat, Keledjian spontaneously came up with an idea for a show: What if you gave a novice filmmaker a pile of money to make a movie, and then watch what happens as he or she deals with the craziness of actually creating one?

"(The Miramax executive) called me later to say, 'I told my boss about it, and he loves it, and you should come in tomorrow,'" said Keledjian, who grew up in Buffalo Grove and Long Grove.

Keledjian's idea eventually became the HBO series"Project Greenlight," hosted by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, on which Keledjian is credited as the creator. He's also a producer on the show, which airs at 9 p.m. Sundays.

"I want to make sure no one thinks I did it all myself, or it was my great idea that made everything happen. There were a lot of people involved ... and I got lucky enough to get a chance to work with them. It's a collaborative thing. You can't be a lone wolf or a maverick out here," Keledjian said.

He described Affleck and Damon as fun people to work with.

"They're both very smart," Keledjian said. "Ben is a little more gregarious and more funny, and makes funny voices and imitates people. Matt has always been outspoken, but when he says something, he's very astute and to the point."

Keledjian, 45, has spent the past two decades in Hollywood doing a wide range of writing, producing and consulting jobs, and he helps match up shows with "digital partners" on social media. Project Greenlight and Facebook, for example, are digital partners this season.

"You're not in this business 20 years without reinventing yourself every five years," he said, laughing. "They're all different jobs, but they're all really just me telling stories. Just different ways of telling them."

Besides "Project Greenlight," Keledjian's been working on a YouTube series, "@Summer Break," and an independent movie script he wrote about an online sports gambling operation. He found a real sports betting business in Los Angeles and spent time observing how the business makes millions of dollars every Sunday from clients betting on NFL games online.

"What excites me is that I'm back into writing," Keledjian said. "I always wanted to be a filmmaker anyway, and a writer, so I went back and did some writing and I sold some stuff."

Keledjian's film career started shortly after he graduated from Stevenson in 1988. He didn't get into any of the big film schools he wanted to go to, so he spent two years at the University of Arizona before getting accepted to New York University's film school. It was pre-9/11, "when you could still live in New York if you were a starving student," and he and his classmates would run around the city shooting movies on 16-millimeter film -- the last NYU class to do so. He said he took an amazing class, called Sight and Sound, in which you had to do all of the jobs of making a movie, including sound, light and directing.

"(My friends and I) were like, 'OK, we got this. Let's go make a movie.' But when we were trying to make it, it was incredibly hard to get the money, and to expose it to producers. ... I saw how absolutely chaotic it is on the set. Everyone's worst aspect of their personality comes out," he said, not realizing then that it would lay the groundwork for his "Project Greenlight" idea.

Fast forward 20 years, and Keledjian's working on a hit TV show about the filmmaking process.

"I've been very fortunate, very lucky, to meet a lot of amazing people. Greenlight opened a lot of doors, and I took all of them," he said. "I hope I can continue to have the ride I've been having. It's been great."

-- Jamie Sotonoff

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for interesting people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make a good feature, email them at dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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