George Ellzey Jr. was always a lover of stories.

He was raised in Chicago by a single mother. They didn’t have a lot of money. Whenever his mother wanted to treat her children to a night out, she’d go to Pizza Hut and then rent a film from Blockbuster.

“I just remember those nights being so magical,” George remembers, “having pizza and breadsticks and watching a movie that just recently came out. Movies were a big part of our family.”

Now, as he reflects upon his filmmaking career, he recognizes that a lot of his joy with movies stemmed from those childhood memories.

“I really fell in love with how movies allow you to escape,” he realizes.


From left to write: George Ellzey Jr (Director), TJ Harris (Producer) | Harry Bearrows


“I got my Bachelor of Arts in acting. I came to the city, got the agent, the whole shebang,” George recounts. “Then, I got tired of the same auditions all the time.”

Instead of waiting for a role that wasn’t prejudiced with stereotypes about Black men, George decided to capitalize on his own resources. After rallying some friends, they made short films together. 

Eventually, he decided that he was ready to direct. So, he applied to and attended DePaul University for graduate school as a filmmaker. Through his experience, he’s gone on to grow a strong network of like-minded creatives. Yet, even though he’s had positive experiences with film school, the timing wasn’t ideal.

“I started in 2019. Then, bam, 2020. Pandemic,” says George. “It was a tough time… but I learned a lot about my creative process during those times of isolation, cause it really forced me to go back to my roots of creating with what I have.”

Without the production resources that DePaul typically offered, George began understanding what stories he could tell with his own two hands. That’s when he started working with an iPhone and his friend’s camera.

“That was a huge lesson I took from the pandemic,” he thinks. “Sometimes, as an artist, you will not have resources… but you still have stories to tell. So don't limit yourself based on these external things. Trust your internal genius, your internal creativity, and make it [that project].”


From left to right: Zeke Walker Raige (1st AD), Gary Walker II (DP), George Ellzey Jr (Director) | Harry Bearrows


“I have always been a preacher and a proponent of creating within limitations,” George relates. 

George found himself making a list of everything that he could use for a film: not only props and locations that he could use for a film, but also his areas of influence in terms of the people he knows. Although he made that list, he was still waiting for a story idea to come. That’s when life happened.

“My dad actually had a stroke and I picked him up from the hospital,” he reminisces. “We sat in the parking lot and we listened to jazz music and that's it. There wasn't any talking… I remember sitting in that car and thinking ‘my dad and I are communicating without talking right now’.” 

After that experience with his dad, George knew that that moment was what he wanted to capture. In fact, he was so inspired that he ended up writing ten drafts of the story just so he could get it right.

“And when it was time to produce it, it came together because I knew I had the locations I wanted to shoot in,” notes George.


From left to right: George Ellzey Jr (Director), Gary Walker II (DP), Sean Blake (Senior), and Patrick Agada (Emmanuel) | Harry Bearrows


Cottage Grove follows a young man and his estranged father reconnecting one night in Bronzeville, on the southside of Chicago. The young man, portrayed by Patrick Agada, struggles to find common ground with his father, played by Sean Blake, who recently suffered from a stroke. 

“They [the leads] were casted through O'Connor and I'm beyond grateful for David [O’Connor], Virginia [Anello], and Jessica [Lyons],” George shares. “I couldn't have made this film without them.”

George had worked an internship with O’Connor Casting Company before the pandemic. So, he was well-acquainted with the organization. When he sent the script over to them, however, the casting directors understood that it'd be a difficult task, even joking with George about considering telling a different story with more easily castable actors. 

Nonetheless, with the team’s expertise, Cottage Grove soon found the right people.

“Before going into auditions, I like to create a safe space for actors to let down their walls,” says George. “So, I asked both Sean and Patrick what they thought of the story. After that, they performed.”

Both actors were the first two talents that George had seen in auditions on Zoom. Much to the chagrin of the casting directors, George told the team that the two men were the perfect fit. He almost knew it instinctively. Although he'd go on to audition many talented actors, those first two actors really stuck with him.

“There was a magic that both of them had - a vulnerability,” George explains, “but also a harshness, like a chip on the shoulder, which I think both the characters needed for the film.”

George would go on to release the chemistry test between the two online in one of their first ever readings together.


From left to right: Patrick Agada (Emmanuel) and Sean Blake (Senior)  | Harry Bearrows


When Cottage Grove is released, George hopes the story would be relatable for Black men. On social media, the film has already started engaging with local nonprofits that cater to Black men, in an effort to start discussions about mental health, masculinity, and fatherhood. 

On a larger scale, George hopes that the story hits home for anyone dealing with parent-child relationships.

“On the first day of shooting, one of our PA’s on set had [just] joined,” George recounts. “I sat with her, talked to her about the story for a little bit, and it was a great conversation.”

The next day, one of the producers Kat Blade-Owens told George that the PA had gone home to her mom after production, told her about the film, and they talked about their relationship. Eventually, the PA’s mother even apologized to her for unresolved relationships in their own issues. 

“It doesn't take much for me to cry,” George admits, “and I just started bawling because this is exactly what I want to happen. I want to facilitate healthy conversations for any of my films - for people to talk.”


Headshot of Director George Ellzey Jr. | George Ellzey Jr. 

GEORGE ELLZEY JR. is a Chicago director and producer. He is driven to explore the oft-ignored narratives of minorities, specifically unpacking black masculinity, intercommunity prejudice, black trauma in society, and above all, romanticizing the black and brown experience. Currently pursuing his MFA in Directing for Film & Television at DePaul University, George received his BA from Bowdoin College majoring in English & Theater with a Dance minor. His passion for the arts led him into performing in the Chicago theater scene. Combined with all these experiences, George crafts simple stories with complex layers.
Cottage Grove was a Finalist for the 2022 Community Builders Grant. For more information on this year's Community Builders Grant, check out our grant page! Submissions open on March 1st, 2023.