By Allison Brophy Champion
Published: September 22, 2008
Culpeper native Perrin Chiles beat out James Gandolfini to win an Emmy for Outstanding Nonfiction Special.
“I had to go up against Tony Soprano so that was little daunting,” Chiles said in a phone interview Monday morning from L.A., where he lives.
“It’s been completely surreal,” added Chiles, who grew up on Blue Ridge Avenue. “I am still pinching myself.”
But really, the 32-year-old first time producer nabbed television’s top award last week for his work on “Autism: The Musical,” which premiered on HBO earlier this year.
“We still need to find a place for the Emmy,” Chiles said, laughing. “It is currently sitting on my Ping-Pong table.”
Gandolfini’s “Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq,” which also aired on HBO, competed in the same category.
And in fact, “Autism” garnered a second Emmy for Outstanding Picture Editing along with three other nominations for cinematography, editing and nonfiction programming.
“It’s very humbling,” said Chiles. “I felt like one of the young guys in the room — just to have my first film have the success that it has had.”
When he got news of the big win, Chiles was already celebrating something pretty important: his honeymoon in Hawaii with new wife, Caroline.
“We literally had to take the redeye in order to make it back in time for the Emmys,” he said. “I told her, ‘Sweetie, I don’t know what to do for our first anniversary that could ever top this.’ It’s been an amazing ride.”
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences presented the Emmy to Chiles and six other “Autism” producers Sept. 13 at the Creative Arts Primetime Emmys at the NOKIA Theater in L.A. — one week before Sunday’s Primetime Emmy Awards.
Coverage of the Creative Arts Emmys — though “not as sexy as primetime television,” Chiles said — aired Saturday on E!
“It was fantastic,” he said. “We got to see a bunch of stars,” including Tom Hanks and, yes, Tony Soprano.
Chiles wore a tuxedo — the same one he’s worn numerous times to numerous friends’ recent weddings — and had no idea of its brand name.
“Who are you wearing?” held little meaning for him in typically brand-crazy Hollywood.
More than anything, the former Culpeper resident was proud of the impact “Autism: The Musical” has had on people’s lives.
“This film started out as a labor of love and it turned into a powerful vehicle for a lot of people,” Chiles said. “If people want to reward us for that, that’s great, but this award is really for the families, children, scientists, researchers and therapists out there struggling with autism and persevering.”
The main goal of the movie, he said, was to put a human face to autism, a developmental disorder affecting one in every 150 children in America.
“We wanted it to be an emotional vehicle that connects viewers to the experience of having a child with autism,” Chiles said.
His father Dr. Morton Chiles, a longtime physician at Culpeper Family Practice, felt that connection when the movie premiered Nov. 2 at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville.
“We love the movie,” he said Monday. “It’s a movie that you almost have to see several times because it pulls at you emotionally from so many directions.
“One minute you are laughing, the next minute you’re wiping tears from your face.”
“Autism: The Musical” is richly humorous and relatable, using home video, face-to-face interviews and the best of some 200 hours of film footage. It follows five autistic children from California through six months of play practice, culminating with a final, extraordinary show.
Dr. Chiles said the film certainly met its goal of raising awareness about autism. “We are very proud,” he added.
Perrin Chiles, actually, got his start in show business at Culpeper Junior High (before it was Culpeper Middle School) with a singing part in the school’s production of “Annie Get Your Gun.”
However, his father didn’t remember much creativity from his son beyond that.
“His creative tendencies at that age were not of a productive nature,” said Dr. Chiles with a chuckle. “My take on it is that this was a very special film, a very special project and a lot of people put their heart and soul into it. Our son was blessed to be a part of it.”
Being part of it required a drastic change of direction.
A graduate of Woodberry Forest in Madison County, Chiles earned a degree in economics from the University of Virginia in 1999 before taking off for California’s Silicone Valley and career in venture capital banking.
One thing led to another though and Chiles soon shifted focus to follow his calling. He left banking behind to produce documentaries in hopes of making a difference.
Three years ago, Chiles set out to make a film about autism after a chance meeting with Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Chiles got close with the family, including Stills’ son, Henry, who has autism.
They soon discovered Elaine Hall and her Miracle Project: an after-school theater program on the West Coast for kids with autism. They then partnered with director Tricia Regan to make the 93-minute film that got lots of attention on last year’s film festival circuit.
“Autism” made the shortlist for an Academy Award for best documentary of 2007 before nabbing the Emmys last week.
“Everything is icing on the cake at this point,” said Chiles.
So what’s next for “Autism: The Musical”? The last stage is using it to create legislation in support of finding a cure, he said.
“If we don’t address this problem now and don’t adequately prepare for this generation of children becoming adults, we’re going to see another financial crisis emerging,” Chiles said.
Allison Brophy Champion can be reached at 825-0771 ext. 101 or firstname.lastname@example.org