Ladies and Gentleman, I present to you for the first time anywhere on the internet my 1990 debut short film "Bronx Cheers" which I wrote and directed and which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action short in 1991. The film has been out of circulation for many years due to music clearance issues--or so the American Film Institute, the owners of the film, claim.

"Bronx Cheers" runs half an hour and is a precocious and largely successful attempt to tell a Runyonesque New York fairy-tale set in the 1940's. I watched this for the first time in many years a few months ago and was quite amazed at the excellent period detail we were able to achieve on our very limited budget. The script works, the performances range from good to mediocre and the only major problem I have with the film is the direction, which is somewhat ham-handed and unimaginative. So sue me. I was twenty-five years old and still learning my craft.

Ironically, this is the only one of my films that was shot in LA--and it's set entirely in the Bronx, New York. The locations were a mix of period interiors found in Hollywood and Downtown LA, a couple of dark night streets which were non-descript enough to pass as anonymous urban landscapes and a day and a night spent on the Paramount Studios lot, where they generously allowed us to shoot on their famous New York Street (pictured left).

We shot the film over fifteen days which makes it my longest, most relaxed shoot--my other films have been two hour scripts shot between 25 and thirty days. So if you do the math, this was the equivalent of having a sixty day shoot for a feature--which is by no means unusual--but not a schedule I've yet been fortunate enough to get.

But if the shoot was a breeze, the editing was a storm. My editor and friend Jay Woelfel (also a fine filmmaker), my producer Matthew Gross (now a successful TV producer as well as the producer of the terrific Julie Taymor film "Across The Universe") and I were locked in a basement room in the main building of the AFI for a couple of months, happily assembling what we were pretty sure was a good film, only to be told upon showing it to our advisor that it was a piece of crap. The advisor was veteran director (and an old family friend of mine) Eddie Dmytryk (see recent post about his house of all things) and he was not a man who minced words. His opening remark after watching our cut of the film was: "Do you want me to lie to you or should I tell you that you have cancer?" It went downhill from there.

And unfortunately he was right. The film was forty-five minutes, bloated and slow, filled with every little nuance, pause, eye-brow lift, bad joke and thoughtful, soulful glance. It needed to be what we'd set out to make: a warm, moving, funny human comedy that sped along like a 1940's movie. Now the work really began. We were stuck in the basement for at least another six months, painfully trimming, taking stuff out, putting it back, taking it out again, arguing and finally re-shooting for a day--adding shots that ultimately helped and which taught me the value of a director not "cutting in the camera"-i.e. only shooting the pieces of film you think you need. Had my coverage been more extensive, the extra day probably wouldn't have been necessary (although I think we did add one short scene that clarified a plot point). In any event I have generously over-shot all of my subsequent films and am proud to say that on my latest film "Rob The Mob" we shipped three hours of dailies a day. Ultimately the process was worth the trouble. I only wish Eddie had been a tad more gentle in his critique. I wound up not speaking to him for almost ten years as a result of that meeting.

Once we'd trimmed it down, dressed it up with some music, mixed,  corrected the color and gotten the shiny, glistening print out of the lab, we screened it for the school. We got a very nice response, received our MFA's and that, I supposed, was that. What the hell else can you do with a short? My producer submitted it for Academy Award consideration--which I thought absurd at the time--and we all moved on. What a surprise, a year later, when I was awakened by a phone call (I forget  now by whom) telling me that I'd just been nominated for an Academy Award.

I won't go into detail about our night at the Oscars except to say that attending the Academy Awards is neither a pleasant nor necessary experience. From the moment you get out of the limo, you're on an acid-trip--people pushing cameras in your face (yes, even shumcky film students get the treatment), posing, gadding idiotically about, smiling, waving, hugging...the neediness of it all is simply overwhelming. Once seated, the show is interminable--especially if you're a nominee and waiting for your category to be called. A carefully kept secret about the whole ceremony is that as each category is checked off,  the losers--angry and disappointed at not having won--get up and repair to the bar. The Academy has "stand-ins" ready to jump into the empty seats so the auditorium won't look deserted. By the time the big climax of the night has come--best picture, actor, actress, director etc.--the seats are more than half-filled by stand-ins and the one-time hopefuls are getting piss-drunk, gloomily awaiting the after-awards banquet. What a grim party that is!

We didn't win. A short film which later turned out to be a frame for frame copy of a foreign short film (not made by the same filmmaker) won. I truly didn't care. I just wanted to get home. In any event, winning the Oscar is beside the point. The words "Oscar-nominated filmmaker" continue to get attached to the front of my name to this day. All because of Eddie Dmytryk's nasty words, Jay's, Matt's and my determination to finish the film properly, and Matt's ridiculous notion to send it to the Academy.

Enjoy. And if you don't, feel free to splatter your screen with a nice big bronx cheer.

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