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Phillip Frey tries his hand at film-making in New York...

READERSVOICE.COM: How did you get started in acting there and go on to other acting venues?

PHILLIP FREY: While at Los Angeles City College I performed in The Merchant of Venice. After one of the performances a man came to the dressing room and told me that if I ever go to New York I should audition for Joe Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival. The man wrote out a note to Joe Papp and told me to give it to him if I should ever want to audition. I saved the note. Then after being in New York for six months, I finally gave the note to Joe Papp’s secretary. Soon after that I got a call to audition. I have never known whom the note-writing man was, never able to thank him.

My New York acting career lasted only about three years. Though I loved being on stage, I got fed up with the auditioning process. I had become enamored by some of the European filmmakers, like Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Francois Truffaut, Luis Bunuel, and the short films by Roman Polanski. My acting desires dissipated as I turned to filmmaking.

RV: What were your short films about and where did you film them and how did you learn the technical side of film work?

PF: Since I wanted to be a filmmaker, I took a filmmaking class at the New School for Social Research. As good fortune would have it, the instructor become my mentor. His name was Arnold Eagle. He had been a Life magazine photographer and continued working as a documentary filmmaker. In his youth he worked with Robert J. Flaherty on Nanook of the North, considered to be the first documentary.

When Arnold made a documentary on the sculptor Isamu Noguchi, he took me along as an assistant. The first day at Noguchi’s studio I was seated on his sofa taking a break. I looked at the coffee table, which had been created by Noguchi, and then stared at a bronze statue on the table. It was a little over a foot tall and quite impressive. I complimented Noguchi on it and he said with a laugh, “No, not mine, it’s a Brancusi. He gave it to me a long time ago as a gift.” Wow! is what I think I responded with.

Arnold was much older than me, and we took on a kind of father-son relationship. His wife was just as wonderful and kind. His studio was in Midtown Manhattan, above the James Joyce Society, which was also a bookstore. He had taught me how to film in 16mm with a Bolex camera, how to light, how to edit, and how to do everything else it takes. Arnold gave me keys to his studio so I could edit on my own at night. Arnold died a couple of decades ago. I owe him much, and think of him often.

Now for the hard part: what were my films about? They had actors, but the films were somewhat kinetic. You would have to see them to understand what I mean. I hope I’m not sounding like I’m being evasive.

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– copyright Simon Sandal