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.
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.
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.
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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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 12:34 PM