Grin and film it: Hollywood smiles on Couric's son

He has a legacy of success behind him, but Jeff Wadlow, the younger son of the late Virginia State Senator Emily Couric and nephew of Today show host Katie Couric, is blazing a trail all his own.

The 26-year-old Dartmouth grad recently took top honors from the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival, beating out 400 hopefuls for the chance to make a million-dollar feature length film with guaranteed distribution from Universal Pictures.

L.A.-based Wadlow will screen his two winning shorts, Tower of Babble and Manual Labor, as well as the five-minute trailer for his upcoming feature film, Living the Lie "a modern day 'boy who cried wolf,'" says Wadlow– at the opening night of the Virginia Film Festival, Thursday, October 24.

Manual Labor is a zippy, eight-minute flick in which a woman goes into labor while her husband desperately tries to find their car a Chrysler, of course. Wadlow says while he was required to use a Chrysler vehicle in the film, it didn't "cramp" him artistically. "It's like any other guideline in filmmaking," he says.

Tower of Babble is based on the old tale of the monkey typing random letters until it creates Shakespeare's Hamlet in its entirety. In Babble, three stories unfold using the exact same dialogue to very different ends.

Wadlow says a required linguistics course at Dartmouth inspired the idea. "Language is finite," he explains. "There are no infinite variables. It's the humanity or emotion you invest in those words that makes it infinite."

Wadlow's acting ability is put to the test in the film: He plays a cad whose girlfriend discovers she's pregnant. Why did he cast himself as a not-so-nice guy?

"The key is to be brutally honest with yourself," Wadlow says. He auditioned other actors for the role, but in the end he and co-filmmakers Beau Bauman and Matt Stucken watched his own audition tape and decided he'd be best in the role.

So does he enjoy work better behind or in front of the camera? The two are intrinsically linked, he says: "I become a better actor through directing, and a better director through acting."

Pursuing a career in film wasn't a difficult choice in fact, it's one he made as kid. "I've known from the get-go that this is what I want to do," says Wadlow, who cites his late mother as his greatest supporter.

"My mom took me to the first Virginia Film Festival," he recalls. "She pulled me out of school to see Roger Ebert's scene-by-scene of Citizen Kane. I was in the seventh grade and hated school at the time."

Fifteen years later and exactly one year after his mother's death from pancreatic cancer he'll open the Festival with his own films.

"Life seems so random," he says, "but you see a pattern."

And the most important lesson his mom ever taught him? "Get it done; make it happen."

It seems Wadlow has taken that advice to heart.