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December 2, 2008

Precocious Blitstein chirps awhile about value of following your own path

Chicago native Jonathan Blitstein is coming back to the City of Broad Shoulders to show his award-winning independent film Let Them Chirp Awhile, and he couldn’t be happier. Just 23 years old and a recent graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts when he made his movie, 26-year-old Blitstein is one of the youngest filmmakers ever to write, produce, direct, and edit his own 35mm independent feature film. “I always dreamed about making something and bringing it back home. That’s everybody’s dream, to do something and bring it home,” Blitstein said.

So when his film won Best Feature at the East Lansing Film Festival, it was just icing on the cake. “I couldn’t even believe I was at that film festival. I kept on thinking they were going to come up to me and say, ‘This movie sucks. This is like a school project.’” Now, Blitstein’s taking his movie to New York, Los Angeles, and a theater near you.

Let Them Chirp Awhile is a coming-of-age story about twentysomethings trying to make it in New York City. Forced at times to choose between their friends and their careers, the characters in this movie grapple with issues of self-reliance, competition, and loyalty. According to Blitstein, this movie is “really about relationships and what we owe to our friends.” He hopes that his audience will come away from his movies with a new perspective on how to strike a balance between their own dreams and their relationships with others.

“One of the big problems of peoples’ lives is that people paralyze themselves, always checking up on somebody else to see what everybody else is doing,” Blitstein said. “The people that do well in life are the people that aren’t so focused on that. What I want to do is convince people to believe in their own ideas and the courage of their own convictions and to stop worrying about what everybody else is chirping about. I know so many people with the entrepreneurial spirit, and I want to really inspire those people.”

Blitstein has certainly followed his own advice. A graduate of Highland Park High School in the Chicago suburbs, Blitstein said that, as a child, he was told that the only ways to make a living were by being a doctor or a lawyer, but from the beginning he had a sense that he wanted to do something different. He fell in love with film and experimented with it whenever he could. Both insecure and independent as a child, Blistein said he felt like an outsider. “In school, anytime there was a chance to make a video project, I would do it. I was that kid with big ideas that always got frustrated. I was an outgoing child in a place that was sort of repressed.”

Although his parents told him they would be supportive of him regardless of what he did, they encouraged him to pursue easier-to-attain goals. Blitstein was undaunted. No shining star in college, Blitstein said he doubted that any of his fellow students at Tisch expected him to go very far. “If you asked them then if I would be a person to make a feature film, I would have been the last person they would have expected to do it,” he said.

With very little funding and less name recognition, Blitstein had to overcome many obstacles. The aspiring auteur relied on the financial support of his family and friends, both to support himself and to make his movie. In order to get actors to be in his film, he began cold-calling talent agencies, at first with little success. But once he figured out that the people picking up the phone were enthusiastic young people like himself, he felt more comfortable, and he was able to convince them to read his script.

After actors read Blitstein’s script and liked it, they agreed to meet with him. Blitstein was particularly shocked when actor Zach Galligan (who played Billy Peltzer in Gremlins) agreed to a meeting. Blitstein remembered watching the movie Gremlins as a child and said it was strange for him to meet the lead actor of the movie he loved. Blitstein confessed, “I had to have two whiskeys to talk to him.”

Even though making his own movie was hard, Blitstein believes it was worth it. “I’ve always been inspired by the people that went out and did things themselves,” he said. “I was really bitten by the bug that to have integrity and be your own boss was really important.”

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