Glenview man ready for his closeup as writer, director and producer
John P. Tomasek is living the dream.
Summoning courage not all of us have, the Glenview man acted on a desire to do something he'd thought about a long time: To go into television and motion pictures.
"Sometimes you have to carve your own path and do what you can, and hope for the best," he said.
About a decade ago Tomasek moved to Glenview from Rogers Park with his wife, Elaine, and daughter, Ariana. At the same time he took a flier on a career as a self-made writer, director and producer, to the amusement of family and friends who thought he was nuts.
Surprising the naysayers when he actually created commercials, short films and a documentary, he's since left his job as vice president of operations for a data consulting firm and shifted full-time into his production company, Distant Star Pictures.
Tomasek finished shooting his latest effort on Sept. 19, a horror film called "Hell's Half Acre" with scenes filmed in Glenview but mainly at the old Joliet Prison.
"So far, so good," Tomasek said. "I'm starting to look through the footage, and it looks amazing. It's surpassed all my expectations."
This career change didn't pop out of the blue.
A writer throughout his life and interested in the film industry in general, Tomasek performed in plays at Mather High School on Chicago's North Side.
He wasn't interested enough initially to pursue it full-time. Anyway, he "got sidetracked by life," he said.
After the move to Glenview, however, "I just sort of switched gears," he said.
"I didn't want to regret not having at least tried to live my dream."
He wrote his first screen play and began collaborating with other filmmakers to learn everything from set design to production on the fly. Ten years later Tomasek finds himself with several current projects in various states of completion and several other scripts written for film and television projects.
He's currently pitching studios on a World War II-based horror movie, "The Castle." Filmed at Stronghold Castle in Oregon, Illinois, Tomasek said it's like "'The Shining' meets 'House on Haunted Hill.'"
More than a year ago he conceived of "Hell's Half Acre," about a pair of cynical urban explorers investigating the abandoned "Rockland Heights" prison.
"They don't believe in ghosts and, by the end of the night, they sure do believe in it and they believe in a lot more than they thought," said Tomasek, now heading into three months of post-production work before he releases a trailer and meets with film distributors.
Some scenes were rehearsed in Flick Park in Glenview, others at the Tomaseks' house about a block away.
He filmed at Glenview's Blended Health & Smoothie Bar in addition to the Lake County jail in Crown Point, Indiana, and the old prison in Joliet, where Elwood picked up Jake at the beginning of "The Blues Brothers."
"I want to do as much as possible in Glenview," John Tomasek said.
His daughter, a freshman at Glenbrook South High School, has had small roles in several of his projects, including his most recent.
Ariana has had no problems with the director.
"He's very easy to work with, and he gives very good advice," she said.
Having been in the drama club at Springman Middle School before high school, she's taking a television and film production class and looks to act professionally.
"So far my experience has been really good. I really hope to work on my acting and grow and experience more," Ariana said.
"She was very professional about it and sort of separated, 'this is not my dad, this is my director now.' She took direction very well and is looking forward to being in other movies. She wants bigger parts, of course," John Tomasek said.
Like her father, Ariana might as well go for what she wants.
"You just have to try," John said. "It doesn't matter how old you are or how young you are, you just have to do it."