LIHUE — Koloa resident Jesse Cudworth received what he hopes is the first of many green lights in his career.
His short film, “Kennel Tech,” made it through the first round of cuts for the upcoming season of “Project Greenlight,” an HBO television series produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck that looks at the challenges facing first-time directors.
“The greatest moment in my life,” the aspiring filmmaker and Kauai Community College student said
of the email notification that popped into his inbox Aug. 23.
“Dear Project Greenlighter,” it read. “Congratulations are in order! Your video submission for Project Greenlight has received high marks in the peer judging stage so you have now made it into the Top 200 Contestants.”
Cudworth said reading it left him in tears.
“This was the only moment in my life that I was so happy, so full of joy, that I actually cried,” he said.
The 21-year-old heads to the second level of the competition. The last man standing will get to direct a full-length feature film.
“Kennel Tech,” Cudworth’s 3-minute submission, takes viewers on a black comedic adventure behind the scenes at a local kennel, where tensions are high between two co-workers.
The piece was filmed at the Kauai Humane Society and opens with Evan, a kennel technician played by Cudworth, bleeding from his nose and face. It then flashes back to his first day on the job.
All is going just fine until he takes a sip of coffee and realizes his older, female coworker put salt in his mug. The following day, Evan gets back at his adversary, but the victory is short-lived.
As time goes on, the woman manages to make Evan’s life a living hell. On day 204, Evan snaps and a violent fight ensues between the two, ultimately leading to his murder by way of a dryer door.
“Kennel Tech” was one of just 200 short films selected from 20,000 entries from around the country. By those numbers, its maker is already in the top 1 percent.
Cudworth used to work in a veterinary clinic, where he said the idea clicked for a story about a young man coming into the job and butting heads with a long-time employee. Originally, the plan was for a 20-minute film with a completely different ending. To fit the “Project Greenlight” requirements, however, he trimmed it down to three.
“I was like, ‘I’m going for it,’” he said of the competition. “The change in pace was tough. I had to destroy a bunch of ideas.”
His hard work paid off.
In Round 2 of the competition, contestants were required to submit a 2-minute video biography. And, it has to be funny.
For Cudworth, who is well versed in humor, that was just fine.
“The point of comedy,” he said, “is to do everything extremely serious with funny undertones.”
Next week, the competition will be narrowed to 20 contestants. The final ten will be featured in the TV series, with one grand prize winner being named at the end.
In his video biography, Cudworth begins not by telling Project Greenlight who he is, but rather who he is not.
“I’m not an athlete,” he says. “I’m not a great student.”
Not a good dancer. Not a good date.
What he is, he says, is “a kid who loves to make movies.”
Cudworth got his first camera at age five and says he hasn’t put one down since.
“I’m on the island of Kauai, not Hollywood,” he tells his audience in the clip. “I have limited resources, no contacts. But what I do have is the passion, the talent and the drive to make movies.”
And the way Cudworth sees things — the audience loves to root for the little guy.
“I’m not saying I want to be a filmmaker. I am a filmmaker,” he says in the video. “It is built in me. It is in my DNA. I didn’t have a lot of people around me when I was growing up except my grandma, and she would take me to the movies all the time. The theater is my home.”
When asked about his favorite movie, Cudworth didn’t miss a beat — John Hughes’ “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”
All of Cudworth’s favorite filmmakers say the same thing — “Pick up a camera and make a movie.”
“And that is the best advice I have ever heard,” he says in his bio. “I have taken that to heart. It is not about the equipment. It is about the story and how it is told.”
Cudworth ends his video with these seriously spoken, but somewhat sarcastic words: “And I am the filmmaker you’re looking for!”
Unable to keep a straight face, he bursts into laughter.
There is no doubting Cudworth’s passion. He made “Kennel Tech” with a $200 budget. His bio video cost him absolutely nothing. He uses what he describes as a “crappy” camera from years gone by. Recently, he shot a music video using a cell phone.
So what would it mean to win the competition and be given a budget of around $1 million? Well, it would be “absurd,” he said.
“If I found out I won, I can’t even imagine.”
Win or lose, Cudworth’s goal is to convince other young filmmakers who don’t think they have a shot that they are dead wrong.
“You can do anything,” he said.
The 20 contestants to advance to Round 3 of “Project Greenlight” are expected to be announced on or around Sept. 11.
For more information about Jesse Cudworth and to view his videos, visit www.ifok.co. Additional information about Project Greenlight can be found at www.projectgreenlight.com.