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Chicago filmmaker has dreams of HBO

July 25, 2013|By Riley Blevins @Riley_Blevins | RedEye

Dennis Joseph isn’t the guy he appears to be.

The West Rogers Park native works a 9-to-5 job for a marketing company. Five o’clock stubble crowds his smile. His shirt is starched, pressed and clean.

He’s your average Joe.

But you wouldn’t know it this sticky afternoon. His other side surfaces.

Joseph is an aspiring director.

The 29-year-old is putting the final touches on his first piece, a web series-turned-TV pilot titled “Oh, Henry.” He hopes to have the all-volunteer, shoe-string-budget production completed by the first week of August and upload it to YouTube and Vimeo.

Just mention the project and Joseph’s gaze goes from playful to stern in an instant.

He rambles about his film to the point of obsession. He thuds a closed fist against a coffee shop table to emphasis his determination.

He’s not playing games. He’s been saving his money to fund the project since 2008. And he’s not cutting any corners.

In a word, he’s a perfectionist.

“Dennis is 100 percent in. Period,” said associate producer and Humboldt Park resident Mike Hyzy. “I’m still here because he’s going in the right direction. I see that. I know that. I want to go with him.”

“Oh, Henry” is a comedy with soft, dramatic undertones. Or as Joseph likes to put it, “the comedy hooks you. The drama keeps you.”

The show focuses on main character Henry Waters (played by a Second City Training Center house team member Josh Lanzet). Henry is a slacker. Complacent at best. He bounces from odd job to odd job, living on his friend’s couch.

Some frown upon Henry’s loose lifestyle. But he is perfectly content. The twist comes when Henry wins $1 million off a lottery a ticket intended for his best friend, James.

“Henry is the everyman,” said Lanzet, a 26-year-old Gold Coast resident. “Everyone can be watching him and say, ‘I’ve been there.’ ”

Once the pilot is finished, Joseph will pitch it to investors, producers and networks.

“The pilot speaks for itself,” Joseph said. “If you can’t see passion and resourcefulness in this, then I don’t know what else I can say. The goal is to be aired on HBO or AMC or something. This has that kind of potential.”

Joseph’s dream is lofty. But he addresses it with a matter-of-fact bluntness.

He sees no reason why the show won’t succeed. He has faith in a group he calls “the dream team.”

Joseph is referring to his cast and crew of more than 35 volunteers, found mostly via web postings and old-fashioned flyers. The crew is entirely Chicago-rooted and consists of much talent from Second City and iO. It took him nearly six months to assemble the crew.

“This is the most passionate group of people I’ve ever been around,” Joseph said.

If you question the crew’s ability to produce a quality show on a shoe-string budget, Joseph will simply set his iPhone down in front of you and play a rough cut of the show.

With a dead expression, he’ll ask, “Does that look low quality to you?”

His favorite clip to show is a protest scene where he was able to close down LaSalle Street, corral more than 200 extras, get police officer actors and a CBS Chicago reporter to fake report on the scene.

“You see,” Joseph begins, “It’s about people. I truly believe that.”

Sitting to his left is Hyzy. He’s quick to offer an example.

“We have great chemistry. Money only gets you so far,” the 28-year-old added. “Money can’t do it all.”

Hyzy pauses.

“Look at baseball. Look at the Dodgers,” he continued. “They have a team salary of like $250 million for the all the ‘best’ players. But their chemistry sucks. They don’t work well together. They’re a horrible team.”

Joseph nods in agreeance, lifting his hand to his forehead to reposition his hat. It’s an Oakland A’s cap. The baseball team notorious for getting astonishing results with low-budget and often overlooked players.

Ever seen “Moneyball?”

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