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My Brush with the Academy Awards

Many years ago, I was working as a food stamp caseworker in a dilapidated former dime store in Dallas.  The ceiling had been ripped apart, dangling exposed piping all over the place.  Some of these pipes leaked and left suspicious and disturbing puddles around the room, including one about four feet from my desk.  It drained through the rat-chewed linoleum, but not nearly fast enough.  This was not an environment conducive to creativity or to much of anything else, though it probably did suggest to some of our clients that life off welfare could only be an improvement.

Meanwhile, a friend in the directing program at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles had the idea for a film with a very simple plot: a teenage boy goes to pick up his date and meets her parents. A dual soundtrack would allow the audience to hear both what the characters are saying and what they're thinking. (Woody Allen did the same thing a bit later in Annie Hall. He is just so derivative.) 

My friend had started to write the script for Doubletalk, but then discovered that putting words on paper wasn't quite as easy as it looked.  He sent me what he had and I finished the script during lunch hours.  Those dripping pipes left me without much appetite anyway.


Time passed. A year or two later, I was visiting a cousin in Denver on my way to Los Angeles.  My cousin's girlfriend's college friend was also staying there, on her way home to LA after working on an independent feature film production.

Five minutes after I met her, I learned that not only did she know my friend, but that she had actually worked on the production of the script I had written.  When I reached LA, I saw the film for the first time.  The script wasn't precisely as I'd written it, but it was remarkable to hear my words coming out of the mouths of actors.


A few months later, the Academy Award nominations were announced, and Doubletalk was nominated for Best Short Subject.  I would love to report on my experience at the Academy Awards, but the sorry reality is that I wasn't invited. The producer got two tickets and he took the cinematographer.

At the time, I was living in West Hollywood in a whimsical castle Charlie Chaplin had built to stash his teenage girlfriends. My window opened onto the courtyard.  When I looked out that window, the only things I could see were a wishing well, a castle turret or two and  a smidgen of blue sky (depending on air quality, which was abysmal at the time).

My entertainment center was a thirteen-inch black-and-white TV with aluminum foil on the antenna.

I intended to watch the Oscars at the producer's house in his absence, an image that's far grander than the reality. But I was alone and I couldn't figure out how to operate the cable box, so I couldn't turn the TV on. This was all pre-VCR, so if I didn't see it as it was broadcast, I wouldn't be able to see it at all.

So I went racing back across town to my room in the castle and got there just in time to see the Oscar go to another movie in a fuzzy, black-and-white haze. Short Subjects is a category that normally gets short shrift at the Oscars, but for some reason that year they showed clips from all the nominees. Which means that those umpty-million folks who watch the Academy Awards all saw a snippet of my work. Except the people who recognized this as a good time to use the bathroom.

Doubletalk is that rarity among short films, a financial success. I even got the occasional royalty check for the first few years, and the producer once told me that it had been seen by more people than any independently produced film in history.  I wasn't about to argue. This was shortly after it became part of a National Endowment for the Arts program that matched short films to features for theatrical release. Doubletalk opened in 600 theaters from coast to coast one Friday. Pretty cool!

In fact, as I think about it now, the characters and situation of Doubletalk are very similar to That 70s Show, and once-dated clothing styles are back in fashion. Maybe it's time to stage a comeback.


All content © 2005-11 by Taffy Cannon.