Filmmaker and Mystic native Nico Raineau makes it to the top 10 of ‘Project Greenlight’

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Mystic's Nico Raineau makes it to the top 10 of 'Project Greenlight'

Mystic native Nico Raineau was just a fresh-out-of-Emerson-College film grad when he met Ben Affleck - and was promptly hired as an assistant to the actor-director-writer as he shot his Boston-set 2010 film "The Town."

Emerson officials apparently were contacted by the filmmakers and chose several students to interview for the job. Raineau was the one who nabbed it. It proved to be a wonderful introduction to the business.

Raineau says, "Creatively, it was a real eye-opening experience that I'm really grateful for because it plucked me out of college and threw me into the real world and really gave me a hands-on experience."

And things have progressed since then. Raineau spent several years working in development in the movie industry, including at Robert Downey Jr.'s Team Downey production company.

But, at the start of 2014, Raineau decided to focus full-time on his career dream: directing.

Which brought him - in a roundabout but happily poetic way - back to Affleck's orbit. He hadn't seen Affleck since "The Town." That was until earlier this year, when Affleck got to break some good news: Raineau was among the top 10 filmmakers chosen for the HBO series "Project Greenlight." The show, which just happens to be co-produced by Affleck, gives a young director a chance to helm a feature film.

Raineau was coming back to visit his family in Mystic for the Fourth of July holiday when he learned that "Project Greenlight" - which originally aired from 2001 to 2005 - was being revived.

"I felt like the timing was perfect, and I couldn't not try," Raineau says.

All told, "Project Greenlight" received 5,000 submissions for the competition. That mammoth total was trimmed and trimmed as the filmmakers were judged on their original submissions and then biographical videos, pitch meetings and more.

Yes, Raineau made it to the top 10 - and what a way to learn he had reached those lofty heights. He and the other directors who had ascended to the top 20 each were standing by for a Skype video to hear the verdict on whether they were chosen for the next plateau. When Raineau's Skype call came in, he saw Affleck and fellow co-producer Matt Damon on the screen.

"Before I even know what's happening, Ben is yelling at me that I'm in the top 10 and that I had made it. Then he proceeded to bust my (chops) for three minutes ... just making fun of me for being a terrible assistant but a great director, basically, just teasing me," Raineau says with a laugh. "It was all good-natured. It was really gratifying to know that he had seen my work and they were choosing me for the top 10. That was huge."

Raineau, 27, says another big reason he submitted for "Greenlight" was so that, if he got far enough in the process, Affleck would see he was a capable director.

And it sounds as though that's exactly what happened.

"When the guy who just won the Oscar for best picture a few years ago for 'Argo' asks how you became such a polished filmmaker, it definitely throws you for a loop," Raineau says.

"Greenlight" is scheduled to air sometime in the spring of 2015, and although most of it will focus on winning filmmaker Jason Mann's efforts to direct a feature film, it's possible that Raineau could turn up as well, particularly in the first episode.

In addition to reaching the top 10, Raineau won the peer review round of the competition. That means that of all the 5,000 original short films submitted to "Project Greenlight," his peers rated his #1.

"I nearly fell over when I heard that," he says.

It all seems a neatly karmic situation. Raineau used to watch the original "Project Greenlight" when he was a student at Robert E. Fitch Senior High School in Groton. (He graduated in 2005.)

"I think the show came out when I was a freshman. I was kind of exploring filmmaking but thought I wanted to be an actor," he recalls. "While I was at Fitch, I decided I really wanted to direct ... As a young filmmaker, seeing a young director picked up out of obscurity and being given an opportunity like that (on 'Project Greenlight'), it was hugely inspirational."

Raineau has been intrigued by the arts since he was a kid, although he was drawn originally to acting.

"I've grown up being an entertainer and a general goofball," he says.

He worked with Flock Theatre in New London a lot and joined the Fitch drama club, becoming its president in his junior and seniors years.

Recognizing the limited opportunities to be cast in films around here, Raineau simply started writing and directing his own projects.

"The more I directed, the more I fell in love with it," he says. "What I was so passionate about as an actor was embodying a character and getting to understand why someone does what they do and how they interact with the people around them. I realized that if you step back even further, a director gets to do that - but with all the characters. Then it becomes not just about psychology but also sociology. It just opened up a whole new world, and I haven't looked back."

Raineau made the short film he submitted for "Project Greenlight" in three weeks, from concept to completion. "Magic Matty" is about a rough-around-the-edges 20-something magician who performs at children's birthdays. At one party, no one wants to play with the birthday boy, and the kid and the magician bond over feeling ostracized. The magician decides to turn things around, with a trick.

Raineau developed the idea based on simply who he knew - an actor friend who was a magician, a child actor with whom he'd worked before - and what he thought he could do in three weeks.

"Before going through this process, I felt I was always a long-winded storyteller," Raineau says. "Everything they needed was either three or two minutes, and they needed it on an extremely tight deadline, so it really taught me how to be entertaining and brief - to be an efficient storyteller."

While Raineau didn't end up the "Project Greenlight" winner, he found it all a wonderful experience.

"It was a really wild ride. ... It also just taught me a lot about myself as a filmmaker," he says.

The top 10 directors spent three days living together in a hotel and were filmed for the TV show - and, unlike on other "reality" series, it sounds as though they experienced a great sense of camaraderie. Raineau says they became good friends and developed an admiration for each other as artists and people. They're all still chatting, and Raineau wouldn't be surprised if collaborations developed.

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After working on "The Town" in Boston, where his job involved everything from aiding with research to being on set to help with, well, whatever needed help, Raineau moved to Los Angeles to continue working with that film's team through post-production.

Raineau then moved into creative development. He was first an intern with Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks, the producing partners who made "American Beauty" and "Milk."

When they split up their company, they helped Raineau get an interview at Team Downey. He worked as an assistant there for two years.

"I think what I loved about going to work every day was, honestly, to be in that team. They're cinephiles, and they're passionate about film. It was just fun going to work every day and talking about story," he says.

Raineau learned a great deal about how projects get started, and he was there when Team Downey was developing "The Judge," which was released earlier this year.

And now? Raineau is hard at work on his own projects.

He's writing a feature with his girlfriend and writing partner, Lauren Schacher. He's submitting "Magic Matty" and another short film he directed and co-wrote, "Mother's Day," to festivals. Through "Project Greenlight," he has a creative partnership with Adaptive Studios.

He's established his own production company, Amfran Entertainment, this year. He named it Amfran after the first company - a meat packing plant - that his father opened after moving from Paris to Plainfield (hence the name's mash-up of America and France).

Since Raineau has made a lot of short films, his ideal next step would be directing a feature.

But, Raineau notes, "I'm still a struggling artist. Where I'd like for ('Project Greenlight') to take me is, I want this to be my career. I'd like to start working as a director in the industry."

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