New York Filmmaker Takes a Family Approach, Lands World Premiere at the New York International Shortsfest

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"Harry Grows Up," a funny and delightful new short film by Mark Nickelsburg, is one of the more unlikely success stories in filmmaking this year. This father and his toddler son set out to painstakingly make a short film by themselves, one shot at a time, and in the process inspired major Hollywood and New York talent to join in. The film premieres at the New York International Shortsfest on May 30th.

Mark Nickelsburg with his son, filming "Harry Grows Up."

To premiere as both a filmmaker and a father at this festival in this theater is indescribable, and highly unlikely considering how we started this project.

Prominent New York filmmaker Mark Nickelsburg introduces new short film with his toddler son and lands a coveted premiere at the New York International Shortsfest. After a the success of his award-winning short, Expiration, Mark Nickelsburg could have made any film he desired. But he didn't want lose time with his first child, Lucas, then eighteen months old. His solution was to make a film starring his son as time allowed with one camera and no crew. What followed was an unlikely and personal journey of determination resulting in major Hollywood talent joining in and an invitation to premiere at the inaugural New York International Shortsfest.

The film, "Harry Grows Up," is a heartwarming and funny story about a toddler who lives alone in Manhattan and deals with the departure of a beloved babysitter. A gift to Nickelsburg's son, the film began humbly. Working alone with no schedule, Nickelsburg could be flexible to work and bond with his new child. "Filmmakers usually split time between work and family and I got to have both. We were always careful to keep this as a fun activity for him and us. If we didn't get a shot before he lost interest, no problem, we'd pack up and do it another day." For some scenes, Nickelsburg and son went back to a location as many as nine times to get a shot. "It was a great lesson in patience that taught me more about being a good parent than being a good director." To make the film even more personal, they shot in their own neighborhood, New York's East Village, Nickelsburg's home for almost 15 years.

Nickelsburg saw the initial footage and realized the film had potential to be unique and relatable. "We filmed my wife with Lucas and then I painted her out to appear that he was walking alone. Without an adult he looked utterly small and vulnerable. It hit me emotionally as an uncanny visual representation of how loneliness in a city like New York can be so surreal." He immediately rewrote the script as a romantic comedy for adults, starring babies.

In changing the script, Nickelsburg sought help from Cindy Chupack, former Executive Producer and writer of Sex in the City and Co-Executive producer and writer of Modern Family. Nickelsburg and Chupack had become friends when they screened films on opening night at the Palm Springs International Shortfest. Chupack was enthusiastic, "I was attracted to Mark’s fresh, funny take on first love from a toddler’s point of view juxtaposed against his poetic, haunting vision of an empty New York City. As a new mom and a former Sex and the City writer, this film spoke to me on every level." Later, Music Composer Jeremy Turner became so enamored with the film that to perform the score, he called string quartet Brooklyn Rider (An NPR best album of the year 2011) and Anthony McGill, the clarinetist who performed at President Obama's inauguration. After seeing an early rough cut, actor Josh Hamilton (Alive, J.Edgar, The Bourne Identity) was inspired to provide the narration for Harry's inner voice. What began as homemade film had snowballed into a project that major talent wanted to be a part of.

"Harry Grows Up" will premiere as an official selection of the New York International Shortsfest on May 30th. It's only fitting that the film's journey comes full circle as the screening will take place in the East Village at the Landmark Sunshine Theater. "I just about fell out of my chair when they chose the Sunshine." said Nickelsburg. "It's not just one of the best theaters in Manhattan, it's unique to our neighborhood. To premiere as filmmaker and father at this festival in this theater with friends and family is indescribable, and completely unexpected considering how we started. But it's still, most importantly, a gift for my son to last long after the screenings are over.” That "Harry Grows Up" became a gift of this magnitude is what's truly remarkable.

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