Art KirschEditor’s Note: A number of people have told me that I do a pretty good job of interviewing other people so I should interview myself as well. Here goes.

The entertainment industry is the second career for this Brooklyn, NY native after a quarter century in sales and management in the computer graphics industry. For the past decade Art has produced special events, shorts, commercials, documentaries, and is deeply involved in local arts issues.

As a young boy, he was home schooled for a few years when he was unable to walk from ages 7-9. After his recovery he studied engineering at City College of New York (Harlem campus) and eventually earned a degree in Accounting & Finance from Pace University (downtown Manhattan.) After a stab at law school, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, attaining the rank of sergeant. Art started his business career doing computer programming and then selling accounting systems in Manhattan for five years before beginning 25 years in the computer graphics industry, principally selling and managing sales forces before moving into corporate management. He eventually began building and fixing businesses with assignments that took him to Florida, Georgia, San Francisco, England, and Australia.

Art pioneered the use of computer graphics for business applications in the banking industry for such giants as Citibank, Chase, and Banker’s Trust. Eventually he moved to California where he served as VP of Sales and Marketing for the film recorder division of Bell + Howell, established a North American dealer network for computer imaging company Colorbus, and founded the US subsidiary of a British company, Image Technologies. Several years later he joined Star Imaging (formerly InfoGraphics) in Atlanta, as its president.

Along the way, Art served in several unpaid positions including public office, having been elected to the Merrick School board in Merrick, NY for three terms. He capped his nine years in office serving two years as board president before moving to California. At various times he served on the boards of various local and national industry organizations including ACM/SIGGRAPH and the National Computer Graphics Association. In California he serves on the boards of several entertainment industry related organizations.  He currently lives in Orange County with his wife (46 years and counting), has three children and three grandchildren

SOCAL: You were well over 50 . . . what possessed you to start a new career as a producer?
Art: In the 1990s I was mostly involved in fixing divisions of companies and building the infrastructure of startups. I was really good at building or rebuilding morale and doing the dozens of things needed to get a company up and going, from handling all of the initial state and federal compliance items, setting up an accounting system, being the initial CFO & COO, finding office space, hiring employees, setting up payroll and benefits plans, and the like. While I lived in Orange County, CA, I spent much of that decade commuting to assignments in Atlanta, Australia, Florida, and San Francisco. Then the Internet bubble burst.

I decided that since I lived in one of the most beautiful places in the world it might be nice to stay at home, enjoy the environment, and figure out what to do next. While I had a lot of specific knowledge (finance, computer graphics, public service) essentially my skills are that I am good at getting people to work together and dealing effectively with a crisis. With a son who was “in the business”, I understood that no matter how well planned, entertainment productions often have crises that need to be addressed so that everyone can stay on schedule and budget. I figured I might be good at that.

SOCAL: How did you learn how to be a producer?
Art: One of the first things I did was enroll in Film 101 at Saddleback College to learn what everyone on a set does and why they are important. I was almost three times the age of most of the students but matched them in energy and enthusiasm. Our teacher, head of the film program, was Charlie Myers. He challenged us from day one to go out and shoot something, anything. Early on, much of it was awful, but he told us to keep at it, analyze what we had done, make improvements and that we would “learn filmmaking.” By the end of the term, we were doing some pretty acceptable stuff. For my part, I learned the importance of the skills of the crew and equipment and made some friends that are still part of my network today.

SOCAL: Tell us about some of your early projects.
Art: Along with some partners, we arranged to bring all the child stars, director Bob Clark, and some others together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of the holiday classic A Christmas Story. I also conceived and produced four episodes of a TV pilot, In The Credits, interviewing the behind the scenes folks who are responsible for making the magic of entertainment happen.

I was also involved in putting together several events including the Orange County premiere of El Crimen Perfecto and a remastered version of Jason and the Argonauts that included a book signing by Ray Harryhausen, the stop motion animation pioneer. Both events included a Q&A with a principal of the film.

My first production of a narrative film was the short Remembrance.  I was able to put together a cast and crew of 75, secure four locations, a variety of military vehicles (including a WWII landing craft) and weaponry to make this half hour short.  Essentially it is about a Marine veteran who served in the Pacific and had a failed personal life.  Really a story about PTSD.  We did the whole thing for about $5,000 with the look and feel of about ten times that amount.  Check out the Remembrance Trailer and behind the scenes.

SOCAL: Before moving to California, you served nine years as an elected school board member. What was that all about?
Art: It was simply to back up my kids’ education; to get involved. During my tenure, I’m most proud of helping ‘handicapped’ kids get into the standard classroom, known as ‘least restrictive environment.’ Today we see kids in wheelchairs and with other disabilities in all of our schools, even depicted in such series as Glee. Previously, they were bused to central schools for the ‘handicapped’ and hidden away. I was one of those kids for awhile when I was learning how to walk again.

SOCAL: What were the most significant events of your life besides your family?
Art: There are many but, I would have to say being unable to walk for two years and thus confined to home (ages 7-9), earning a varsity letter in football in high school, and my service in the Marines are at the top of the list. Close seconds include my service on the Merrick, NY school board and service on the many non-profit organizations I've been involved with.

SOCAL:  You publish SOCALshowbiz. What is that?
Art:  Originally called OCShowbiz, it was my way of reaching out to others in the industry in Orange County when I first became a producer. Most people in the business here were known only to a small circle of associates. I knew there were plenty of accomplished, fascinating people here and I wanted to meet them. When I did, I wanted others to know about them. Eventually my professional world expanded beyond Orange County so I changed the name to SOCALshowbiz. I guess it is part of my non-profit, public service DNA – I do this just for fun and will continue to do so although I hope to figure out how to monetize it some day.

SOCAL: You worked on a project to convert a portion of the former Tustin Marine Corps helicopter base into a “Teaching Studio.”  Where does that stand?
Art:  When the Marine Corps installations at El Toro (jets) and Tustin (helicopters) were closed, they invited applications for re-use. I thought it would be a neat thing to have a major backlot and studio system to support the growing productions in Orange County and provide a local place for students to intern and hone their skills (there are excellent film and TV programs at Saddleback, Orange Coast College, Santa Ana College, Cal State Fullerton and Chapman so we have a large pool of local talent entering the business). The Tustin base is centrally located and could conveniently serve all residents, including the large Latino and Asian populations that have enormous potential for foreign language productions.

The outcome of this attempt, the short story, is that politics got in the way and after two and a half years of work on the project without income, I needed to start earning a living again. The site is still largely undeveloped and will probably turn into more shopping centers and office buildings. I made several really good friends along the way, one of whom, Jack O’Halloran, is working on an even grander project with the city of Long Beach.

SOCAL: Talk about your involvement in local organizations.
Art: I have always derived great pleasure in working with organizations that help bring like-minded people together and provide guidance to those up and coming. Thus, I serve on the boards of Media Communications Association International, MCAI LA/OC chapter, the International board of MCAI, Orange County Multi-Media Association, OCScreenwriters, served on he Media Alliance of Orange County from 2007-2013, and am a guest member of the OC Dept of Education Music and Arts Administrators committee.

SOCAL: What’s the best advice you had growing up?
Art: Don’t be judgmental. I learned it by observing my parents who were just about the least judgmental people I ever knew. This has allowed me to find and appreciate the best in just about everyone I’ve met and worked with.

SOCAL: What advice would you give to someone who wants to make entertainment their profession?
Art: Show up on time, be ready to work, help anyone with anything as long as you are taking care of your primary job. Never give up if it is your passion. If you can’t give it 100%, find something else to do with your life so you and everyone around you can be happy.

SOCAL: What’s on your immediate horizon?
Art: I'm looking for funding for part two of The Brick People, an award winning documentary about the company town of Simons, CA that I produced along with my son Mike and two other partners. I'm also exploring business opportunities for Kirsch Productions with my partner Mike, a freelance director/creative writer (you can see some of his work at CinematekCreative.  We make commercials, documentaries, and are looking forward to making a feature length film (I have a property - we just need the funding). I’m working with a friend, Paul Allen on several projects to fund and build companies with a variety of products including one that employs the latest speech recognition and artificial intelligence technology. It the right opportunity comes around I might even accept an assignment to help a company in crisis. Another goal is to make feature films for the next 20 years, to become a producer in the style of Roger Corman, that will allow me to make a living and encourage and develop young and emerging talent.


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Sunday, June 16, 2024