Monday, March 8, 2010

How I got close to the Academy Awards

I don't know if I'm getting older and the Academy awards getting less interesting, or it's just not as good as it used to be. I liked Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, and don't give a damn about Miley Cyrus and those other kid actors who look all the same.  I think Miley might be the anti-Christ.

But I was once a heartbeat away from getting a nomination.

Yes, for the Academy Awards. The Oscars.

Back in 1975, when I moved to Vancouver to  join Phil Borsos in a film company we called Rocky Mountain Films,  a name we derived from the time we spent at the Banff School of Fine Arts in the heart of the Rockies.

It was a tiny company, Phil and me and two theater chairs and a table in a small corner office on Hornby Street in Vancouver. We hardly ever got work and had side jobs, Phil at the film lab and me at a local TV station, working evenings. We even had both names on one card as that's all we could afford.

Phil had always wanted to make a film on a cooperage, which is/was a barrel factory and we somehow put together a crew and camera and film. I would shoot it and Phil directed. We got some assistance from the National Film Board who was skeptical of our abilities and limited their participation to providing 16mm film.

Halfway through, we brought in Tim Sales to help us film, as I was working 18 hr days with the TV job at the same time. And the Film Board looked at our footage and decided it wasn't up to their standards. 

This would come back to haunt them.

We finished the film, called it COOPERAGE and began showing it around. I got a job in Saskatchewan and we communicated constantly. We entered every festival we could and even the Canadian Genie awards, similar to the Academy Awards.

Then Phil and I made a 35mm print and took it to Hollywood.

A film, to qualify for Academy consideration has to play 1 week at an L.A. theater. We persuaded the Laemmle chain to let us play it at one of their theaters, the Los Feliz after we screened it for them.

Then we would drive to the theater every evening and the projectionist would put it on after the last feature show ran, usually around 11pm. Then we waited and took back the print. We repeated this every day. Technically it was being shown in an LA theater even though most if not all the audience had already left the theater.

Then we got a call from Phil's girlfriend that Cooperage had won best short in the Genies in Canada. It beat every National Film Board short film, and nobody ever beats NFB shorts in Canada.

We wondered if they still felt that our little film was "up to their standards". In fact the local newspapers called the NFB for their reaction.

After that the film took off and eventually made nearly $29,000, and this was back in 1976. We won several awards and finally made it to the Academy Award selection. But we didn't win and we weren't in the final 5.

But we were finalists for the top 5 and I guess that's not bad for two unknown guys from Canada who made a curious little short film about a barrel factory.


  1. By trade I was a cooper, lost out to redundancy
    Like my house that fell to progress, my trade's a memory.
    from The Rare Old Times by Pete St. John.

  2. By trade I was a cooper, lost out to redundancy
    Like my house that fell to progress, my trade's a memory.
    from The Rare Old Times by Pete St. John.