The Life and Times of Charlie Putz

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Putz PosterThe Little Movie That Could 
$40,000 and a pocketful of miracles make the impossible happen for The Life & Times of Charlie Putz

New York, N.Y. - In this era of multi-million dollar movie budgets, a film that costs anything less than $2,000,000 is a rarity. A film with a budget of 40 thousand is practically unheard of, save for a few 16mm shorts and student projects. But The Life and Times of Charlie Putz is no ordinary film. It's a miracle movie.

The Life and Times of Charlie Putz is a gentle and humorous tale of a man with the unfortunate last name of Putz. Charlie's life hangs by a thread. He gets by on his meager salary, living his low-rent lifestyle until the thread finally breaks. Charlie loses his job and becomes homeless. He pulls himself up by his bootstraps, and with the help of caring friends, makes a comeback. "It's a film that makes you feel," said a test screening viewer.

Shot beautifully in 35mm, with a professional crew, original musical score, and comparatively high production values, Charlie Putz is part light comedy, part heart-rending drama, and part Hollywood musical; an unlikely combination that would not have been made under the studio system. A handful of determined professionals banded together to make the film that would otherwise never be produced. But there was much more than talent, determination, blood, sweat and tears behind it; there were more than a few miracles.

"There were so many incredible things that happened during the making of this movie, " says Writer-Director Robert Rothbard. "It goes way beyond lucky breaks. We had miracles on our side."

Robert tells a story of a scene he had written that takes place during a snow storm. It's night and the lightly falling snow suddenly stops. The clouds part and the full moon shines through with a ray of hope for the protagonist. Putz breaks into song with a Christmas carol. Easy to write into a script...almost impossible to shoot.

"I figured we would either do without it or buy a stock shot somehow," Robert explains. "Then one night as we were almost finished shooting, I felt something on my nose and looked up. Out of a clear sky it started snowing! I asked my D.P. (Dave Deneen) how much film we had and he said there was 50 feet (about 30 seconds worth). We set up the shot, the snow ended on cue, and the clouds parted to reveal the moon. It was exactly as I had envisioned it two years earlier."

Being that there was effectively no budget to work with, much of the film depended on improvisation; not just in the acting but on the production side as well. "I was always asking Jim, my prop man, to do the impossible. I would send him out scrounging for some piece of furniture or set decoration and he always seemed to find it," Rothbard continues. "One time, we were shooting in an abandoned warehouse. The scene called for a student-teacher dialogue. I had a sudden inspiration to use a school desk, the kind you had in third grade. I sent the prop master on this impossible scavenger hunt and he showed up five minutes later. He was white as a ghost and he was holding a school desk over his head. How he found it, out there in the middle of nowhere, I don't know."

The series of miracles gave the crew the notion that this little film was guided by providence or the hand of God. "Perhaps that's why they were willing to work so hard for little or no money," says Rothbard. "If you don't have investors, Divine intervention will do just fine."

Miracles not withstanding, the film has had some very favorable reactions. Actor-Director Dennis Hopper saw Charlie Putz at a screening and commented, "Man, you've got b***s the size of an elephant. One minute you've got me laughing, the next I'm weeping like a little baby." Actor Bob Hoskins commented that although many of the cast had never acted before, "You got those people to act...It's a movie about people." Actress Fiona Shaw called Charlie Putz "a work of genius." Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jerome Lawrence (Inherit The Wind) called it a "fantastic film."

Most of the people who have seen the film in private screenings and festivals, comment about a scene in which Charlie orders a cup of coffee in a greasy spoon on Christmas Eve. One by one, the patrons at the counter offer him handouts. The scene is packed with so much emotion it almost seems to possess a spiritual energy. New York Newsday's Jon Anderson called it a guaranteed tear jerker. Irv Slifkin said it's a sleeper hit! And that Michael T. Wright reminds us of Roberto Begnini!

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