It all began for Kurt Larson years ago in a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Jacobs High School in Algonquin.
The 1995 graduate’s performance drew laughs at the right moments, applause at the end.
“I was hooked right away,” he told himself. “This is my thing.”
Larson, whose mother, Claudia Presta, lives in Algonquin and father, Larry Larson, lives in Crystal Lake, knew he’d pursue acting.
And in many ways, in his head, he’d already started writing the movie he’d eventually make. His first independent film, “Son of Ghostman,” which he wrote, directed and acted in, was nominated this month for a Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for Best Independent Film. Decided by fans, the Rondo Awards recognize the best in classic horror films.
Oddly enough, though, at its core, “Son of Ghostman” is a romantic comedy – a romantic comedy based around classic horror.
It’s also an homage to makeup-clad Svengoolie, the host of horror movies on Saturday nights on Me-TV. Played since 1979 by Rich Koz in a fright wig, top hat, mustache and goatee, Svengoolie presents sketches, tells corny jokes, and spoofs various science fiction and horror, often low-budget, films.
“That’s my guy,” said Larson, now 36 and living in Los Angeles. “When I was a little kid, he just inspired me.”
Larson pursued his film despite being told it wouldn’t succeed.
“I wanted to make a movie kind of about what these guys do,” Larson said. “A lot of people think that’s a little strange, but I had to do it. It’s who I am.”
The film’s more than a tribute. Larson set out to make a film with heart and underlying meaning, inspired by filmmakers such as the late John Hughes (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Groundhog Day”) and Cameron Crowe (“Almost Famous,” “Jerry Maguire,” “Say Anything”).
“This is really about trying to find out what you are in life and being OK with that,” Larson said. “It’s really a love letter to anyone who’s ever done anything creative.”
It’s a theme he knows well, having spent his life “balancing the stories and dreams we have in our heads with the practicality of real-life responsibilities,” as he writes in his director’s statement.
After high school, Larson went on to college “to make mom and dad happy.” He studied radio and TV broadcasting at Bradley University in Peoria, earning a degree. Six months later, he drove to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting.
It took him about three years before an agent even spoke to him. But three months after that, he landed a role in Steven Spielberg’s 2004 film “The Terminal.” From there, it was 2005’s “Jarhead” and roles in TV series, including “ER,” “Jag” and “Harry’s Law.”
He’s still auditioning these days, but his love of directing is taking over. The world needs more John Hughes’ films, he said.
“I think those films bring together large demographics,” he said. “I think they matter.”
Despite the contrived plots in many of today’s romantic comedies, he said the meaning behind them – bringing a couple together – is important.
Along with writing “Son of Ghostman,” Larson created the film with a two-man crew, mostly filming in his home and at guerrilla locations. That means he and the film’s actors basically would show up at a location and film as inconspicuously as possible.
“It’s pretty ridiculous when you take your home and turn it into a horror host set, sleeping three hours a night,” he said. “That was a means to an end. It was, ‘We have to make this film.’”
He filmed in 2012 with “little money and little resources.” Childhood friend and Hoffman Estates native Kurt Gellersted (www.kurtgellersted.com) provided most of the film’s music. Larson spent about a year editing, released it last year and spent the past year promoting it. The Rondo Award nomination was an overwhelming surprise, he said.
“All of the other competitors in the field, they are more well-known than us,” he said. “We’re definitely the most obscure of the batch, so it’s a nice validation. We did this film with no money and no stars. We just wanted to do it.”
In the meantime, Larson’s working on another film he describes as a nostalgic piece about growing up in the Chicago suburbs. It’s about a kid who dreams of being a comic artist, he said.
He also started the weekly podcast, “Stay Cool, Geek” to talk about insecurities, his ego and “how those two worlds mingle while being surrounded by various geek lifestyle choices,” he said.
“Something like that,” he writes in the podcast’s description. “The search for his soul continues ...”