Some would say crossword puzzles are not the most compelling subject for the movies, which tend to be dominated by action thrillers about superheroes and pirates. That didn’t stop Patrick Creadon, Riverside native and Fenwick High School graduate, from creating Wordplay, a film that looks likely to claim a spot among the 20 most lucrative documentaries of all time.
Creadon managed to make the film not only engaging, but also suspenseful. During the first half, he discusses the ins and outs of crossword puzzles with such prominent crossword fans as comedian John Stewart and Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina. He also offers insight into the construction of the puzzles, interviewing New York Times Crossword Puzzle Editor Will Shortz and Constructor Merle Regal. The second half of the film is dedicated to the 28th annual National Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Creadon provides the background story of a few select contestants, and then follows them throughout the competition itself.
This past Friday night, following a screening at the Lake Theatre, Creadon spoke to the audience and encouraged them to ask questions about his film. He also talked about his early influences and his filmmaking methods. Many of his family members were in attendance.
Creadon’s wife and Barrington native Christina O’Malley produced the film. Both Creadon and O’Malley spoke to The Landmark in a phone interview on Monday.
Landmark: How did growing up in Chicago influence your career path as a filmmaker?
Patrick Creadon: I always loved documentary films and documentaries of all shapes and sizes. I watched a lot of WTTW [Channel 11]. I always liked movies, but I was really drawn to documentaries. I think Chicago is a fantastic non-fiction story town, be it Mike Royko or Studs Terkel. There’s something that’s really captivating about stories with real people. My first job out of college was for a television show called The ’90s, a documentary television show that was co-produced by WTTW. The reason I mention it is it’s very much like Mike Royko and Studs Terkel’s work. They were both incredibly talented writers who wrote about real people and The ’90s was very much a show in that same spirit. If I’d grown up in LA or New York, maybe I would have gone into narrative storytelling.
LMK: How did your time at Fenwick High School impact your life and career choice?
PC: When I was at Fenwick, I was editor-in-chief of the school paper for two years. I think there’s something exciting about telling a story and pulling it together. I was the editor there for two years, and I just loved it. I saw some of my teachers the other night in town. Whatever you can dream, you can do, and I really learned that when I was at Fenwick.
LMK: How did you manage to fundraise and produce Wordplay?
PC: Here we are in Los Angeles surrounded by the movie industry. But Christina, my best friend, my brother, and I provided the majority of the money all on our own. My best friend and my brother, Michael Creadon, are traders from the board of trade, and are very much outside of the “system.” My best friend put up a lot of the money. I met him at Fenwick. There are lots of connections on the West Side of Chicago with this movie. That night I was at the Lake Theatre [last Friday] was the second highest grossing night in the country for the film.
LMK: How do you feel about the reception that Wordplay received in Oak Park?
Christina O’Malley: It was a real homecoming for Michael. I was really happy with how the movie turned out. It’s a really fun movie for smart people, and there are a lot of smart people in that area.
LMK: How does it feel to “hit it big?”
CO: We’re thrilled. It’s exceeded our expectations. We hoped to make a film that we enjoyed and other puzzle-solvers would enjoy. It’s really exciting to see that it’s in some of the theaters where we went to as kids. It’s really hard to get that far, and we’ve had so much support. We’re really excited every day it’s out there.
LMK: How did you manage to make a film about crossword puzzles so engaging?
CO: I think people really like to be challenged. First and foremost, people like a good story, and many of the people who are featured in the film are interesting, fun, funny, and smart people. It’s fun to see a day in the life with them. It’s what people have really connected with in the movie. It’s not just for people who like crossword puzzles. We owe so much to our graphics and titling person, Brian Oaks, who really made that aspect of the film so engaging. You hear people filling in the grid [of the crossword puzzles during the film]-you can’t help yourself. He was able to take a topic that was fun and interesting and made it visual.
To watch a trailer of the movie and learn more about the filmmakers, go to the movie’s Web site (below). Note: Requires Adobe Flash Player 9.