September 28, 2010
by Richard Propes

The Book and the Rose
Grade: A-
3.5 Stars

"Tell me who you love, and I will tell you who you are."

Based on a short story by Max Lucado, Jeff Bemiss's The Book and the Rose is an unapologetically romantic short film wrapped around the wondrously infinite possibilities of love and timeless romance. John Barnes (Chris Kennedy) acquires an old book filled with beautifully handwritten notes and, in an action befitting a 40's era romance, he begins a correspondence with the book's previous owner. This correspondence, he would learn, promises to be far more than simply an exchange of letters.

Winner of 27 awards and an official selection at 56 film festivals since it first appeared a full 10 years ago, The Book and the Rose was an Academy Award semi-finalist for Best Short Film in 2003 and is resurfacing now that its creative team is hard at work on their first full-length feature, A Long Tomorrow.

What's so special about a nearly 10 year old film? The Book and the Rose was filmed in Indiana, specifically at Camp Atterbury with some shots completed at downtown's Union Station. In a similar vein to a Nicholas Sparks script such as The Notebook, The Book and the Rose is an unforgettably romantic film held together by the classic romanticism of lead Chris Kennedy, whose dashing good looks bring to mind Mad Men's Jon Hamm. Anyone familiar with the writings of Max Lucado will likely have an idea of what to expect from The Book and the Rose, where the timeless workings of fate unfold quietly and patiently and with exacting detail.

Set in 1942, The Book and the Rose is painstakingly faithful to the look of the period with the likely exception of certain costuming details evident among the male supporting players. The leads, however, would be right at home in a 1940's melodrama....the kind of film you hate to admit brings a tear to your eye.

The tag line for The Book and the Rose is "He read between the lines... And found the love of his life." Indeed, part of the wonder of both Lucado's original story and Bemiss's film is that the film is for the majority of its 29-minute run time a non-verbal, instead focusing on the audience's need to read between the lines of John's actions, his narrative words and the scenes that unfold onscreen. Rather than your classic "boy meets girl/boy and girl fall in love" scenario, The Book and the Rose unfolds as this wondrous dance of building faith in one another, developing trust and, in the end, the heart will lead you where you need to be.

In addition to Kennedy's marvelous central performance, Carey Lessard is luminous as the guarded yet intentional Sarah Parker and Patrick Tuttle Shines as John's best buddy, Seth. Kudos, as well, to Gregg Conser for his atmospheric original score while Inga Kleinrichert's art direction layers the film with remarkable color given the film's rather modest budget.

While the film's three main characters are L.A.-based SAG actors, Bemiss fills the supporting cast with Indy and Chicago area actors and viewers with a careful eye will likely recognize a few of the film's locales.

As a special treat, and I mean special treat, The Independent Critic and the wonderful folks at Chartercrest Films are pleased to offer a free copy of The Book and the Rose on DVD to a reader of The Independent Critic. Simply send an e-mail to Richard to enter. A winner will be drawn randomly from all entries on Sunday, October 3rd!


Cross Your Fingers for Oscar Bid

February 10, 2003
by Doug Moe

WAUNAKEE NATIVE Chris Kennedy sent a note home the other day encouraging all friends and friends of friends to "cross fingers and/or twist arms (should you know any judges on the panel) on the film's behalf."

Kennedy was talking about a short (29 minutes) movie in which he stars, "The Book and the Rose." It played the Wisconsin Film Festival last April and has become one of the most-honored short films on the festival circuit in the past year. Now "Book" is one of 10 finalists for the Academy Award for Best Short Film -a list that will be cut to five when the Oscar nominations are announced Tuesday morning. That's what all the finger-crossing is about.

Kennedy, who played football at UW-Madison (he graduated in 1994) before heading for California and an acting career, has had guest-starring roles in network shows like "Friends" and brings a Midwestern work ethic to the Hollywood glitz. He writes, acts, does commercials - whatever it takes to keep working in the business. Shakespeare, after all, swept the stage. "The Book and the Rose" offered a starring role in the adaptation of a popular short story. Kennedy plays a soldier smitten with some notes written in the margin of a book. He locates the book's previous owner and initiates a correspondence.

When I reached Kennedy Sunday in Los Angeles, he said he got word of the top 10 Academy listing of "Book" the week after he guest starred in an upcoming episode of "AUSA" - a new NBC comedy about an office of federal prosecutors. "Those were two nice shots of adrenaline," he said, adding that the topper would be if "Book" should get an actual nomination Tuesday. "The best thing about it is that so many more people would then see the movie," he said.

Filmmaker Jeffrey Bemiss talks about
"The Book and the Rose," which has
been short-listed for an Academy
Award nomination and screens at
the Director’s View Film Festival
this month.

by Amy Souza
February 1, 2003

Having screened at numerous festivals and garnered several awards, "The Book and the Rose" Jeffrey Bemiss' directorial debut has been short-listed for an Academy Award nomination in the Best Live Action Short category. The 29-minute film based on the book by Max Lucado tells the story of a young man in 1942 who becomes intrigued with a woman named Sarah when he begins reading her scribbled notes in the margins of Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina." Eventually, he tracks her to a Philadelphia address and begins a months-long correspondence that brings them together. Bemiss shares some thoughts about the film, and filmmaking in general, with

AS: What’s your background? I saw on your bio that you attended USC...when was that, and what do you feel you got out of the program?
Bemiss: I'm 33, born and raised in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. I went to USC film school as an undergraduate, 1988-1992. My wife, who is a mathematician, did her graduate work at UCLA, then got a job teaching at Trinity College in Hartford. She is now at Western New England College in Springfield. I stayed in LA for several years, producing and assistant directing in independent film. Eventually, the bi-coastal thing got to be a drag, and I finally moved to New England a couple of years ago to be with my wife. We currently live in Springfield, MA. As far as the film program at USC goes, I would say it introduced me to the world of filmmaking. It's a good place to learn the technical side of the craft. I think the best thing I got out of it was meeting a lot of talented would-be filmmakers. In fact, some of them worked on "The Book and the Rose."
AS: You also attended the Sanford Meisner Academy; can you tell me a little about that?
Bemiss: It’s your typical hole-in-the-wall LA acting school. It's run by a master teacher named Martin Barter, who worked and studied with Sandy for 14 years. Sandy Meisner was one of the great acting teachers to emerge from New York's original Group Theatre, purveyors of what has become known as "the Method" in acting. I did the full two-year program there because I wanted to learn how to work with actors, something USC doesn't really teach you. What I got out of it was a whole approach to directing.
AS: Can you tell me why you chose film as your storytelling medium?
Bemiss: I was eight when "Star Wars" came out. I wanted to make films ever since. It's a cliché now, but I really did rescue my dad's Bell and Howell Super 8 camera from the family garage sale. At USC, I discovered that "Star Wars" and the early movies of Spielberg are what sent a lot of us to film school.
AS: What draws you to a particular story? Do you write scripts, as well?
Bemiss: I know that when screenwriters ask producers what kind of scripts they are looking for, they go into conniptions when the reply is, "good ones." But all I can say is that I like stories with good drama, interesting characters, and some kind of humanity. Beyond that, it's hard to say. It has to be a good fit with where my head is at the time. For instance, when I heard the story that "The Book and the Rose" is based on, I was on the verge of proposing to my high school sweetheart (who is now my wife), and the depth of love in the story appealed to me. It's very subjective. I do write scripts, but it's not my passion. My standard joke is that I'm the best writer I can afford.
AS: What do you like about directing?
Bemiss: The satisfaction of building something. Like an architect might feel. The script is the blue print, and the pleasure comes from seeing it made real.
AS: How did "The Book and The Rose" come about?
Bemiss: The challenge was to convince the author of the underlying short story, Max Lucado, and his people to let me make a short film out of it. It was an incremental process. I had to write the script to get them to say "maybe," then outline the production to get them to say we could do it. The final part was that Max had to see the finished film to grant his name. Somehow we put it all in a one-page agreement. Max seemed to understand that short films are basically calling cards for the filmmakers, so he was very kind to us. In the end, he gave me the rights for free.
AS: Can you tell me about the process of taking written fiction and preparing it for the screen?
Bemiss: Max's story is only a few paragraphs long -- mainly the final scene of the film, plus a few lines of set-up. It needed some expanding to make the twist ending work better. Also, it's a love story where one of the lovers can't be shown until the end of the film. It was a challenge to make that character's presence felt throughout, even though she's on screen for only two minutes out of 30.
AS: Is the author of the short story the Rev. Max Lucado who runs the UpWords Ministry?
Bemiss: Yes. I usually don't volunteer that part, because I've seen people roll their eyes, thinking it must be some kind of religious film. In fact, I'd never heard of Max Lucado until I heard this short story. I went to the bookstore to find it, and there was practically a whole wall of his stuff. He's very prolific. It's been good for the film in that I've never met anyone who knew his name that didn't love his work.
AS: How did you find the short story, and what attracted you to it?
Bemiss: I wanted to direct my first film, and was looking for material. I didn't care if it was a short or a feature. I'm not a regular churchgoer, but I was invited to church by my now wife and in-laws, and the minister related this story as part of the sermon. The twist at the end got me. It made me wonder whether I would have passed Sarah's test. I thought it would be great to make an audience feel that.
AS: Where was the film shot?
Bemiss: We shot it 85 percent in Indiana, the remainder in Los Angeles. We chose Indiana for a couple of reasons. At least half a dozen of the cast and crew hail from Indiana. Also, the film called for a vintage train station. Indianapolis has a beautiful, perfectly restored union station, which is not easy to find.
AS: How was it filming in Indiana? Was it easy to get the required permits, etc? How did it compare to filming in Los Angeles?
Bemiss: Overall, it was great. Indianapolis had some of our key locations, such as the train station, and permits and location fees were less of a problem than they would have been in LA. In fact, we shot at a working military base, Camp Atterbury, south of Indianapolis. It's an older base and has some vintage barracks buildings. One of the sergeants you see drilling the soldiers in the film is actually the colonel of the base. We asked him on the spot to play that part, and he was a one-take wonder. It was that sort of enthusiasm that made shooting in Indiana enjoyable. As far as the drawbacks, it required extensive planning. If we suddenly needed a special piece of equipment that wasn't on our truck, too bad.
AS: Did you edit the film, as well?
Bemiss: No, it was edited by a very talented editor named John Axelrad. John has worked in the editorial department of a long list of major films, and is currently editing the CBS show, "Hack." We met as students at USC.
AS: Can you tell me a little bit about the challenges of recreating 1942? Did you have to do a lot of research, and if so, who helped you with that?
Bemiss: I don't know if I'd attempt another period film on a low budget, because it's one more limitation. There are the fun parts, like shooting vintage automobiles and trains, but there are also the tedious parts, like hours of Internet research to find the exact date the "Victory" postage-stamp was implemented. For budget reasons, I did much of that research myself, while trying to the keep the project moving forward in the larger sense. As a result, some of that research was done poorly. For the military sequences, we solicited WWII re-enactors, who were wonderful because they knew everything about the period.
AS: Is it hard being on the east coast now, since it sounds like many of your filmmaking friends are in California? Do you think living in Massachusetts will affect your career in any way?
Bemiss: It has meant some extra traveling, although I think location has a different effect when you're in the middle of a project, than when you're between projects. The short film was in post-production when I moved to New England, and for a while I had trouble finding certain equipment and services to finish it. But there were also some fortunate coincidences. John Axelrad was in Boston at the time, assistant-editing the Martin Lawrence film, "What's the Worst That Can Happen," and cutting "The Book and the Rose" after hours. Whenever he had scenes to show me, I'd drive up and sit down with him. Also, believe it or not, a negative cutter lives up the street from me -- Northeast Negative Matchers. A couple of times when my print has come back jumbled from a festival, they have straightened it out. But now that the short is finished, my day-to-day routine involves marketing it, writing the next thing, and, eventually, raising money. Most of that can be done anywhere. It's also worth mentioning that I am teaching film production at Western New England College. There's no way I would have that opportunity in Los Angeles.
AS: Which part of the production process do you like best, or can you even choose?
Bemiss: That's a tough one. Shooting is definitely the thrilling part, but it's chaos. Post-production is quieter, and there's time to think. In the case of this film, we had an arduous shoot, so post-production was soothing. Plus, when you're working with guys as talented as John on the picture editing, and our composer, Gregg Conser, on the musical score, post-production is a blast.
AS: How do you choose which film festivals to attend?
Bemiss: I have this complex method of going wherever we're invited. It's like the old Will Rogers line, "Don't invite us if you don't want us."
AS: Are there particular festivals that you like better than others, and why? (Are the audiences more receptive in certain parts of the country? Are some festivals better organized than others?)
Bemiss: Indie filmmakers could go on for days about this. The answer is yes, yes and yes! I definitely know my favorites, as well as the lame ones. Sometimes the disorganization gets to be funny. I was at a festival I will not name, where they ran out of spare film reels. The projectionist proposed to show reel one of our two-reel film, then bring the house lights up for an audience Q&A, while he threaded up the second half of our film. He wanted to show our short film in two parts, like a miniseries. Overall though, the festival circuit has been tremendous fun. My personal criteria for a good festival are: quality of films shown, audience and filmmaker attendance, screening facilities, and overall organization. There are other factors, like whether they organize formal Q&A sessions between filmmakers and audiences.
AS: I understand "The Book and The Rose" has been short-listed for an Academy Award nomination. How did you find that out?
Bemiss: I got a call from the Academy. They needed a second print of the film.
AS: What did you feel when you heard the news?
Bemiss: I was standing in line at the post office, and my cell phone rang. It was the Academy's short film liaison. He told me my day was about to get a lot better, and then informed me the film has a 50-50 shot of going to the Oscars. I wanted to turn to the person standing next to me in line and say, "That was the f*****g Academy on the phone!"
AS: How do you feel now?
Bemiss: Very lucky. And I'm telling everyone, because I figure it may not get any better than this. It's going to be a long three weeks until the final announcement.
AS: As a kid did you used to practice your Oscar acceptance speech? (I know more than a few people who aren't even involved in filmmaking who have an Oscar speech prepared because, they say, you never know!)
Bemiss: This is boring, but I never had a fantasy Oscar speech. Maybe I'm too serious about filmmaking, or have a pessimistic streak, but I never quite let myself go there. I mean, I'm an indie filmmaker. We don't get nominated for things like that.
AS: Do you have a next project picked out? Are you working on it already?
Bemiss: I don't have the next project settled yet, but I am working on a couple of screenplays. I'd love to adapt something again. Read any good books with available screen rights lately?


"The Book and The Rose" will be screened at the Director’s View Film Festival in Stamford, CT, on Sunday, February 16, 2003. For more information about the film, visit Chartercrest Films ( Amy Souza is a writer and media producer living in Burlington, Vermont. © 1997-2001

An Independent Journal of the Arts

Danny Linton
Winter 2002/2003

The 2002 IndieMemphis film festival found itself long on quality shorts, as the abbreviated festival entries were frequently as--if not more--compelling than the feature length offerings. Chief among them was Jeffrey Bemiss‚ "The Book and the Rose," festival prizewinner for Best Narrative Short and arguably the event's most completely satisfying entry of any length.

Polished and literate, "The Book and the Rose" translates Max Lucado's short story, "The People with the Roses," in fine form. Set in 1942, the film chronicles a series of correspondences between military enlisted man John Barnes (Chris Kennedy) and a mysterious woman whose copy of Anna Karenina has fallen into his hands. Intrigued by the intimacy of her marginal scrawls, the potentially war-bound Barnes attempts to meet their originator, who reluctantly agrees, and promises to be holding a rose when he comes to find her in a Philadelphia train station. Director Bemiss uses this premise to establish a tone worthy of comparison to the similarly smitten works of feature directors like Anthony Minghella or Martha Coolidge. This type of material could easily stray into the arena of Harlequin romance novels, but instead it nimbly walks its narrative tightrope.

Danny Linton, film reviewer for The Daily Helmsman at The University of Memphis from 1993-1998, teaches film at the U of M.

LA International Short Film Festival
by Ron Stringer
October 10, 2002

Of the 400-plus dramatic and documentary short films showing in 73 separate programs over six days in this, the "largest festival of short films in the world," fewer than a dozen were made available for review. So much for the overview. It’s worth noting, however, that at least two of the festival’s offerings (or six, if you count the opening night’s roster of Harold Lloyd comedies, and the special screening of Jan Harlan’s feature-length Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures) are not to be miss ed. Stefan Knerrich, Michael Ray and Amy Rubin’s Facing Arthur is a poignant, 39-minute record of an unlikely friendship that developed, over the course of 18 months in a New York City apartment, between a wary, 101-year-old Polish-Jewish artist and Holocaust survivor, and an idealistic young cellist sent abroad by the German government to---in lieu of fulfilling his military service---act as a nurse-companion to the old man. Guillaume Malandrin’s Story Telling recounts the metafiction of how a chance encounter straight out of some lost Krzysztof Kieslowski script---between a fatally self-absorbed writer and the traumatized victim of his carelessness half a century back---creates the possibility of reconciliation for at least one of the actors in that far-off tragedy.

Also worth a look: Kal Weber’s The Birthday, about payback for an act of wartime treachery; Ben Giraldi’s The Routine, a story about a star-crossed family of three in Tribeca; and Jeff Bemiss’ The Book and the Rose, based on an O’Henryesque short story by Max Lucado.

(ArcLight Hollywood & Los Angeles Film School, 6363 Sunset Blvd.; Tues.-Sun., Oct. 15-20. 323-851-9100,


Palm Springs 8th Annual International Festival of Short Films
August 8, 2002

"The Book and The Rose," using a technique that famed Writer/Director Billy Wilder perfected, "Narration by the leading character," this sharply photographed short film moves an audience with a nice cinematic heart. The performances convey simple impressions of a time gone by. This is a sharp film of quality work."

Good Guests and Bad the Woods Hole Film Fest
by Gerald Peary
August 8, 2002

Ireland's David Elio Malocco discovered the Woods Hole Film Festival on the Web, a small American fest championing independent works, so he mailed a tape of his feature, Virgin Cowboys. Any chance for the North American premiere? He'd come with his film, even if the fest couldn't pay his way across the Atlantic. It was the ideal offer for Woods Hole, in its 11th shoestring, all-volunteer year, especially since Virgin Cowboys proved an adept, genre-savvy heist film. Malocco arrived at the Cape for the July 30 screening, at which the audience got off on the motley cast of burly scoundrels. He stayed all week, attending seminars and other filmmakers' screenings and making himself available. A perfect film-festival guest.

On the other hand...

The middle-aged crowd lining up for Made-Up, Woods Hole's closing-night film on August 3, was kept waiting in a hallway for more than half an hour because the film's director, Tony Shalhoub, and producer, Lynne Adams, felt that there was too much blue on the screen when their DV film was projected. Thus began a long night of out-in-the-open grumbling that this showing of the Jamaica Plain–shot feature was being ruined by the unprofessional Woods Hole crew. I witnessed Lynne Adams chewing someone out because the picture was too dark. At the end, the Made-Up people bolted for their Martha's Vineyard ferry without thanking anyone from the fest.

The audience, of course, didn't give a darn about the brouhaha. It was jubilant to have a couple of film personalities in attendance, Shalhoub and his wife, Brooke Adams, the movie's lead; and it was with the story all the way, guffawing at the corniest jokes and reveling at the obvious plot twists. I can understand film artists wanting their movie shown in the best technical circumstances, but Made-Up isn't exactly The Rules of the Game. It's an opened-up version of Lynne Adams's middlebrow stage play about a 40ish woman whose daughter wants to be a cosmetologist instead of going to college and wants to practice her makeover art on her graying mom. There's a reason that Made-Up hasn't found a distributor: it's community-theater square.

Fortunately, the Woods Hole Fest had other made-in-Massachusetts indies on its well-chosen 2002 program:

"The Book and the Rose." A 29-minute narrative by Springfield's Jeff Bemiss, set in 1942 and with dazzling production values, about the epistolary romance of a draftee and the mystery woman he has discovered through her notes in a used copy of Anna Karenina. Hollywood should come scrambling.

The Gift of the Game. A warm, vastly entertaining, boys-of-summer documentary by Boston's Bill Haney. Florida writer Randy Wayne White and some middle-aged guys, including screwball former major leaguers Bill Lee and Jon Warden, travel to Cuba to uncover the remnants of Ernest Hemingway's 1940 ballclub and to bring bats, baseballs, and equipment to Cuban kids. The political message: "Castro sucks, the Cuban people are our amigos." Lots of funky baseball, plus Bill "Spaceman" Lee's riff on metaphor in The Old Man and the Sea.

A Centered Universe. Former Bostonian Kaylyn Thornal's gripping probe into the long life of the Dennis-based sculptor Harry Holl, now 80, who at key moments in his life rejected wives and daughters so that he could be free to work. "I want people to leave this movie not knowing if they like Harry or hate him," Thornal told me, and it's this refusal to sentimentalize her charismatic subject that gives this nonfiction work its muscle.

Imagining Robert. Northampton's Lawrence Hott made this stirring, troubling documentary about New York novelist Jay Neugeboren and his brother Robert, who has spent 38 years in mental institutions. At the time of the filming, Robert had at last been moved to a halfway house, where he is alternately endearing and hilarious, a Groucho with a beret and cigar, and an angry, belligerent mess. A must for the Boston Jewish Film Festival.

Water for the Moon. A dreamy, enchanting animation by Jamaica Plain's Jenny McCracken about a woman who discovers a man in her closet. Very Eastern European puppetry, in classic black-and-white.

THE HARVARD FILM ARCHIVE'S summer "Actors A-Z" series finishes up this Saturday, August 10, with Torment (1944), the familiar tale of a repressive teacher at a private boys' high school. You also get to watch Swedish filmmaker Alf Sjöberg's Fritz Langian expressionism duke it out with young Ingmar Bergman's earnest, preachy screenplay. The "Z" is actress Mai Zetterling, who's admirable as a battered, self-loathing floozy.

Gerald Peary can be reached at

Short Film Reviews
by Kerry Lambert
August 8, 2002

The Book and The Rose, directed by Jeff Bemiss is based on the short story, "The People With the Roses" by Max Lucado. It is a classic romance set in 1942 about a young man who acquires an old book and begins correspondence with its previous owner. The film has high production value with exquisite cinematography by Thomas Hargis. The wardrobe design, however, is sadly inconsistent. Big moments are marked by predictable but perfect period piece uniforms while the main character's everyday pants look like Dockers. 1942? The lead performance of John Barnes by Chris Kennedy is notable; he combines excitement and uncertainty with flawless detail. Supporting actor Patrick Tuttle could have reeled in a bit, he played Seth Davis as if on stage rather than on film. Director Jeff Bemiss keeps his vision consistent - all the elements work in perfect harmony - and he adeptly infuses tenderness to the story. It's an impressive debut. This is one director who certainly has a promising future ahead.

Book and the Rose: Romance exceptionally well told
August 10, 2002
Journal Arts Writer

If you had only one chance to visit this year's Rhode Island International Film Festival, you couldn't do any better than buying a ticket to tomorrow's screening of The Book and the Rose.

New England filmmaker Jeff Bemiss' film is one of the most accomplished, and certainly the most romantic, movies at the event.

Based on a short story by Max Lucado, in 30 minutes The Book and the Rose wraps you in its story of the possibilities of love and the hand fate plays in romantic encounters.

Set in the 1942 in the early days of World War II, it has a richly detailed period look. Handsome, square-jawed Chris Kennedy plays John Barnes, a dreamer living in West Virginia, who becomes intrigued with a mystery woman named Sarah when he begins reading her scribbled notes in the margins of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Eventually, he tracks her to a Philadelphia address and begins a months-long correspondence that brings them closer and closer.

But just as he's about to arrange a meeting with her in Philadelphia, he's drafted into the Army. Months later, he's ordered to ship out to England, but first he sets a date to meet Sarah at a Philadelphia railway station en route to his troop transport.

Bemiss sets this up beautifully, playing up the tenuous emotions of eager, but uncertain, romance. Kennedy makes a dashing-looking hero, but also uncovers John's emotional fragility. We like him and worry that his heart may be broken or that he may never find Sarah.

The film has a sort of Twilight Zone quality, too, in that it begins very near the end, when John thinks he has spotted Sarah in the railway station, then backtracks 16 months to show us the set-up as it brings us back to where it started and then beyond.

The Book and the Rose is an exceptionally romantic film that's exceptionally well told.

The Book and the Rose will be shown at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Columbus Theater, 270 Broadway, Providence.

The 2002 Stony Brook Film Festival Announces Award Winners

CLOSING NIGHT AWARDS CEREMONY left to right: Alan Inkles, Director of the 2002 Stony Brook Film Festival with many of this year's winners: Jeff Bemiss, writer/director, "The Book and the Rose" - Ralph Maccio, writer/director, "Love Thy Brother" - Anna Marie Crovetti, executive producer, "Almost Salinas" - Terry Allen Green, writer/director, "Almost Salinas" - Adrienne Wehr, producer, "The Bread, My Sweet" - Max Myers, writer/director, "Don't Let Go" - Melissa Martin, writer/director, "The Bread, My Sweet" - Awards presenter, Michael Atkinson, Film Critic, The Village Voice

Audience Choice - Best Short (Tie):

"Love Thy Brother"
Written and Directed by Ralph Maccio

"The Book and the Rose"
Written and Directed by Jeff Bemiss

UW Grad Tackles Hollywood
January 16, 2002
by Rob Thomas

The Capital Times Underneath the big Hollywood sign that greets visitors to Tinseltown, there should be a motto inscribed: "Good work if you can get it."

Actor Chris Kennedy, born in Waunakee and a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, knows all about that. This week, for example, he has a guest-starring role on FX's "Son of the Beach," where he has a good, funny part, his own dressing room and the chance to hobnob with bikini-clad starlets and actors like "The Man Show's" Adam Carolla and "Politically Incorrect" host Bill Maher.

"It's a really funny episode," Kennedy says. "They're doing a spoof of 'Temptation Island,' and I'm playing a guy that one of the female lifeguards is 'seduced' by. It's a cool part. I play an Air Force captain, and I'm all manly, and then at the end I put a twist on her."

But after shooting wraps on that special hour long episode (which should air in late February), he heads back to the hard work that goes on behind the scenes for a young actor in Los Angeles - auditioning, making contacts, and working on small projects in the hopes that the right people will see him at the right time.

While Kennedy hasn't made it "big" yet in Hollywood after over four years, he has reached the point where he can make his living solely from acting. His resume includes guest starring roles on shows such as "Friends" and "Party of Five," leading roles in short films (some of which he's written and produced), and numerous commercials.

While that may seem like a small amount of success compared to the likes of George Clooney or Tom Cruise, the truth is that there's a long, long line of actors and actresses behind Kennedy who would love to be in his shoes.

"Think about a show like 'Friends,' " Kennedy says. "They have an opportunity for two or three actors every show to come on. One of those actors is probably going to have one line, like 'Here's your drink, Monica.' And you've got 50,000 people who want that role."

Actually, Kennedy said plenty more than "Here's your drink, Monica" when he appeared on the "Friends" episode titled "The One With Joey's Fridge" in 2000. He played one of several suitors that Rachel's friends were trying to fix her up with.

Business last year wasn't great for actors in general, but Kennedy is looking forward to the next few weeks, when auditions for TV pilots begin. In the past, Kennedy has come near his goal of getting a role on a pilot that gets picked up by a network for a full series, and hopes to make it this year.

Kennedy was interested in acting when he attended Waunakee High School, but he was a broadcast journalism major and football player when he went to UW-Madison. Upon graduating in 1994, he immediately knew he wanted to pursue acting, and moved to Chicago.
In Chicago, Kennedy began studying at the Piven Theatre in Evanston, whose artistic directors, Byrne and Joyce Piven, are legends in the Chicago acting community. Kennedy says Byrne Piven helped steer him along the right path, and roles in commercials, a film and a television pilot followed.

But sensing that Chicago was limited in the kind of film and television opportunities that he wanted, Kennedy bought a Honda Civic, filled it with his belongings and drove to Los Angeles.

"It's pretty difficult for people from the Midwest or anywhere that's not New York or Los Angeles," he says. "Anyone who's not connected, anyone whose dad or uncle isn't best friends with the vice president of Universal Studios. When you've got to come out here with nothing, you've got to get in front of people, you've got to find ways to get noticed, find ways for people to see your work."

Kennedy says that's often the toughest lesson for hopeful actors who come to Los Angeles -- the sheer amount of shoe leather they need to burn to get noticed in a town full of other hopeful actors.

"That's where people fall by the wayside is that they don't realize how much work they've got to put into it," he says. "It's not enough to just want to be on TV. You've really got to put the legwork into getting yourself seen. You've really just got to take a leap of faith and try to get your work out there."

For Kennedy, that has meant acting in small plays in the Los Angeles area for free, in the hopes that he'll be noticed by a casting agent or producer in the audience.

It's meant working on short films like "The Book and the Rose," a romantic drama with an O. Henry style twist, that show his ability to be a leading man. While he was home for the holidays in Madison, Kennedy was able to arrange a special screening of "The Book and the Rose" at the Westgate Art Cinemas for friends and family.

And it's meant writing and producing his own short films, including parodies of "Good Will Hunting" and "Memento," in hopes of getting seen.

"The more I work now, the more exposure I get, and the more opportunities I get," he says. "You've just got to stay persistent."

While Hollywood can be a frustrating town for those looking to break into the movie business, Kennedy says he likes the fact that there are no rules, that anybody with enough talent, drive and luck has a shot.

"Whether or not you have experience, you have an opportunity," he says. "It's not like a hierarchy in a traditional business, like if you're going to work at IBM, where you put in three or four years before you get moved up to the next position.

"You could be out here for 30 years and never get a job. Or you can come out here for two months, somehow hit it big and get in front of the right people, and all of a sudden you're on a show. It's the Wild West." Chris Kennedy, a Waunakee-born actor who now lives in Los Angeles, stars in the short film, "The Book and the Rose," a romantic drama with an O.Henry-style twist. The film has been submitted for consideration for this year's Wisconsin Film Festival.

Copyright ©2001, Madison Newspapers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Springfield Union-News

Celluloid Celebration
Northampton Film Festival Includes Work of Area Residents

by Ronni Gordon
Sunday, October 21, 2001

Jeff Bemiss says he took a risk when he made his short film, "The Book and the Rose."

"It doesn't have any killings or any violence. It's about the higher sort of nobler emotions," he said. "The film industry likes to have sensational material to distribute...We're appealing to the romantic drama audience."

The 29-minute film written and directed by the Springfield resident is among some 70 movies scheduled to be shown at the Northampton Film Festival, running Oct. 28, through Nov. 4 at the Academy of Music and on other screens, most of them at Smith College.

The festival, now in its seventh year, features a wide range of offerings, including shorts, romantic comedies, murder mysteries, animated pieces, dramas and documentaries, according to cofounder and co-director Dee DeGeiso. Filmmakers from as around the United States and Canada will be on hand for question and answer sessions after the shows.

This is the best mix we've ever had," DeGeiso said. "We were looking for diversity and I think we have it."

Bemiss' movie, which festival jurors have honored with the "Best of the Fest Short Film Award," is set in 1942. A man acquires a used book filled with intriguing handwritten notes. He tracks down, and begins a correspondence with, the woman who wrote the notes, despite the fact that he's never seen her. The ending has a surprise twist that drew Bemiss to the short story on which the film is based, Max Lucado's "The People With the Roses."

The 32-year-old Bemiss recently moved from Los Angeles to Springfield after his wife got a teaching job at Western New England College.

He said he made the film as a "calling card" to spark interest in the longer features he would like to develop. It was shown at Trinity College, but this is its festival premiere.

He first heard the short story at church in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind., when the minister used it in a sermon. "When I heard it I thought it would make a terrific short film," he said. "It's hard not to put yourself in the place of the protagonist, who is sort of tested at the end of the film," he said.

Bemiss said the story has become popular via the Internet, and a lot of people feel it sends a message that external beauty shouldn't matter. But, he said, "To me it explores the pursuit of beauty."

According to DeGeiso, "It's the kind of film people will enjoy right now. It talks about what beauty really is and what love really is. It has a wonderful message. It's a sweet film."

It is one of a handful of festival offerings with Western Massachusetts connections.

"Keep on Walking," winner of the award for best documentary, was co-directed by Great Barrington resident Freke Vuijst. It's a portrait of a young African-American Jew who is both an up-and coming gospel singer and a Hebrew teacher.

Behind the Screens: Hollywood Goes Hypercommercial," was produced by Northampton's Media Education Foundation and co directed by Matt Soar, an assistant professor of video at Hampshire College in Amherst.

Then there are three short films: "Three Miracles" was directed by a Hadley native, Steven Latham now living in California. The movie, part of a series about people over 100, focuses on the adventures of Rose Freedman (1898-2001), the last survivor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. A computer-animated short, "Puppet," was made by Amherst resident Raf Anzovin, and "Following," about a woman who feels she's being followed, was directed by Wendy Woodson, who teaches dance at Amherst College.

The shorts are balanced by longer films such as the feature directing debut of actress Christine Lahti, "My First Mister," scheduled to be shown as the Friday Night Feature on Nov. 2. It's an intergenerational drama about the life-changing friendship between an alienated teen-ager (Leelee Sobieski) and a middle-aged clothing store manager (Albert Brooks) resigned to being lonely.

Documentaries cover such topics as the battle over the killing of American bison ("The Buffalo War"), the death penalty debate ("Thanatos Rx: The Death Penalty Debate in America") and the efforts of author and spiritual teacher Ram Dass to cope with a massive stroke ("Fierce Grace").

The film festival will also present "L'Chaim! Jewish Film Series" and the "Out and About" gay/lesbian film series. DeGeiso said these films were made for a general audience and many have won awards from festivals around the world. Showings for the Jewish Film Series are at the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Showcase Cinemas in West Springfield and the Jewish Community Center in Springfield as well as at the film festival's other screens in Northampton.

DeGeiso said that last year, between 3,500 and 4,000 movie-goers attended the festival, which featured 62 films. She said the festival received more than 400 entries for this year's expanded event.

Special festival events include a return of the Alloy Orchestra which composes original music to classic silent films. They will present their most recent composition, an accompaniment to Harold Lloyd's comedy, "Speedy," on Nov. 3.
The festival's first Chocolate Blow-Out, the official welcome for participating filmmakers, is scheduled for 10:30 p.m. Nov. 2. Open to the public by full festival pass or $6, it will feature a variety of chocolate treats at the Academy of Music. Also open to the public, by festival pass or for $10, is the traditional Artists' Reception, to be held again this year at R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton after the Alloy Orchestra performance on Nov 3.

The festival will close at 7.45 p.m. Nov. 4 with a "Mary Poppins" sing-along at the Academy of Music. Song sheets will be distributed to members of the audience watching the Disney classic which stars Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. "We wanted to close with an upbeat audience-participation event," DeGeiso said. 

Fort Wayne, Indiana

Local Movies Move Ahead, Albeit Slowly

By Steve Penhollow
Sunday, September 3, 2000

Here's an update on films that were shot in and around Fort Wayne over the summer: 

Jeff Bemiss' short film "The People with the Roses" is also in post production. 

It is being edited by John Axelrad, who is simultaneously working as assistant editor on "What's the Worst that Could Happen," a feature film starring Danny Devito and Martin Lawrence. 

"Roses," based on a Max Lucado short story, was shot at numerous Summit City locations in June, including Hyde Brothers bookstore. 

The Sundance deadline looms large for Bemiss as well, but he says he probably won't bow to the pressure. 

"I kind of made a decision to not rush this thing. Forcing it out as fast as I can would not be pleasant. Sundance is a high profile fest, but it's not the only big fish out there. If we have a decent rough cut by the end of September, we'll send it out. If not, I'm not going to sweat it." 

Snider High School grad Bemiss has relocated his film company, Chartercrest, to Connecticut. While "Roses" is being edited in Boston, Bemiss will be editing someone else's film in Los Angeles. 

"With this other short, they're trying to make the Sundance deadline. They haven't even shot it yet. So I'll be living in L.A., editing like a madman, while I sort of let my film go. Pretty interesting." 

Bemiss says he exceeded the original $35,000 budget on "Roses" by about $10,000. Repercussions should be milder than they might otherwise be: Bemiss says he funded the film using "the Sprint Plan." 

"Family and friends," he explains, laughing. 

Bemiss' hopes for "Roses" match those of other short-form filmmakers: At best, some deep-pocketed person will want him to expand it into a feature. At the very least, "Roses" will be a calling card and conduit to other work.

Ft. Wayne, Indiana

Moviemaker on a Roll in Indiana:
Fort Wayne Native Jeff Bemiss is

Directing a Romantic Drama Set in the '40s

By Kevin Kilbane
Thursday, June 8, 2000

A few whiffs of catnip calmed the anxious cat. 

"Roll camera," director Jeff Bemiss called from his seat on the floor of the West Wayne Street apartment jammed with lighting gear, a 35mm movie camera and production crew members. 

A handful of old letters tumbled down onto the cat, startling it just as called for in the script. Actor Chris Kennedy of Los Angeles then stepped into view to pick up the envelopes.

"Let's try one more," Bemiss said after watching the action unfold on a small video monitor. 

The Fort Wayne native, friends and volunteers have spent the week here shooting Bemiss' romantic drama, "The Book and the Rose." Hours of setup, filming and tear-down later will be edited into a short film that he and the crew hope will catch the eye of Hollywood executives. 

We are trying to show the industry we can make a movie, and I mean a movie with a capital 'M,' "Bemiss said. We want to use it as a calling card." 

Set in the early 1940s, "The Book and the Rose" tells the story of a man who picks up a book in a used-book store and becomes intrigued by the personal notes written in it by the previous owner. 

He eventually tracks her down, they correspond and he falls in love. On the eve of his shipping out for World War II military duty, they agree to meet at New York's Grand Central Station. 

Bemiss said the screenplay idea came from a story in a book by Christian author Max Lucado. 

I really identified with its theme," said Bemiss, 31, who now makes a living in Los Angeles as a computer consultant. It is kind of a simple parable. And it has got this twist ending." 

After writing a script, Bemiss tapped his savings, family and friends to finance the film's $30,000 budget. 

He and friend Tom Hargis, also a Fort Wayne native, chose to shoot the movie here so they could work with local friends and avoid the costs and hassles of filming in the L.A. area. The pair first filmed here in 1994 when they shot "Endless Bread," a short film about the trials of 20-something life. 

The current project reunites them with local cinematographer Tony Hettinger, who worked on "Endless Bread." Hettinger, who handled the camera for local filming of Neil LaBute's award-winning "In the Company of Men," liked Bemiss' story. 

It is a period piece, and you don't get to do that very often," Hettinger said. Everyone is dressed up, and you try to hide all of the (modern) cars." 

Bemiss cast a few local actors and extras in small parts. Several area people also volunteered to work on the production crew. 

Filming locations have included a house in the 1900 block of Lawndale Drive, St. Jude Catholic School on Pemberton Drive, and the apartment above Dust and Rust Antiques on West Wayne Street. 

They filmed Wednesday at Hyde Brothers Booksellers on Wells Street and along the St. Joseph River at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. 

Today, filming moved to the Back 40 Junction restaurant in Decatur and to a car scene in Marion. They wind up this weekend at Union Station in Indianapolis and at Camp Atterbury about an hour south of Indianapolis. 

Bemiss will spend the next few months editing the footage. Then he and crew will start knocking on Hollywood doors, hoping for their big break. 

Want to be in a movie? Filming for "The Book and the Rose" is wrapped up in Fort Wayne, but director Jeff Bemiss is looking for extras for filming in Indianapolis. Filming will start at 10 a.m. Saturday at Union Station in downtown Indianapolis. 

Because the film is set in the early 1940s, men should wear khaki pants and white button-front shirts. Women should wear simple, straight dresses. People with vintage clothing from that era can wear it. 

[PHOTO] Director of photography for the film "The Book and the Rose," Tom Hargis looks over the camera to ensure everything is operational before filming another scene. The romantic drama is set in the early 1940s, when the country was entering World War II. Photo by Aaron Suozzi of The NewsSentinel

Fort Wayne, Indiana

Snider Grad Returns to Shoot Film
By Steve Penhollow

Sunday, February 6, 2000

Snider High School graduate Jeff Bemiss plans to return to the Summit City in June to shoot an ambitious yet pithy project: a 30-minute adaptation of Christian author Max Lucado's short story "The People with the Roses." 

It's a period piece--set in the early '40s--about a man who purchases a used book filled with penciled-in notes. While fighting in World War II, he tracks down--and strikes up a romantic correspondence with--the maker of those marks, despite the fact he's never seen her. 

Bemiss, who has resided and worked in Los Angeles since he graduated from the University of Southern California film school in 1992, says he first heard the tale read aloud at Fort Wayne's Plymouth Congregational Church a few years back. 

"As soon as I heard it, I thought, 'Oh my God, what a great little story.' What grabbed me was the unexpected moment of revelation at the end; it's got an O. Henry type of twist." 

Bemiss, 30, asked that the twist not be revealed here. 

The story has been well-disseminated via e-mail, a fact that disturbed Bemiss at first. 

"Everyone and their aunt was sending it to me. I thought, 'Oh, no. I wanted this to be my secret.' But then it sort of reinforced for me how much people really do identify with it." 

Bemiss already has scouted several Hoosier locations: He plans to shoot an early scene at Hyde Bros. Bookstore, 1428 N. Wells St., and the climax at Union Station in Indianapolis. 

Bemiss says he has lined up two producers for the project. He expects the budget will be $20,000 to $30,000. 

"That will be stretched pretty thin on a period piece," he says. 

Thanks to Web sites like, and the most recent Sundance festival, short films (movies running an hour or less) are now a hot and downloadable--if not very profitable--commodity. 

Bemiss doesn't have high commercial hopes for his film. The reasons short films get made are artistic and anticipatory: Short work augments resumes and gives potential employers a snapshot of a director's style. Bemiss says it's primarily a labor of love.