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Posted: June 01, 2014

State of the state: A&E

Pitch perfect

Stewart Schley

Arnie Grossman waited decades for his breakthrough Hollywood moment. It took him all of 35 seconds to get it.

That’s how much time Grossman gave himself last November for a carefully rehearsed pitch, describing a movie concept to the agent representing actor Bruce Dern, whose career resurgence was sparked by his Oscar-nominated role as the cantankerous Woody Grant in the 2013 film “Nebraska.”

For the 77-year old Grossman, a novelist and political advertising specialist, it was one more pitch in a lifetime pitches, another cold-call message left on somebody else’s voice mail.

Ten minutes later the phone rang.

Dern’s agent was on the line. He liked the idea – a story about a crusty old man, an odd, homemade boat and a 10-year-old boy. He liked it enough to ask for an emailed copy of the screenplay that night. He liked the screenplay enough to pass it along to Dern’s business partner. And Bruce Dern – that Bruce Dern – liked it enough to greenlight it for production during a narrow window of availability this spring. The cherry on top? Grossman gets to direct his own movie. He’s been flying back to Los Angeles every week or so since to cast actors, scout locations and enlist a crew to start building the peculiar vessel that gives the movie its name: “The Boat Builder.”

Sipping coffee on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Stella’s Coffee Haus in south Denver, Grossman recounted the story.

“A thousand doors slammed,” he said. “And then one opened.”

Grossman isn’t a newbie to Hollywood altogether. He lived in L.A. from 1992 to 1998, writing or directing for series including “The Love Boat” and “Real Stories of the Highway Patrol.” He co-wrote two published novels with former Colorado governor Richard Lamm. A fourth novel, a political satire titled “Love in the Time of Loons,” was published in 2011. Meanwhile, most of Grossman’s income came from producing advertising campaigns for Colorado political candidates, starting with a series of TV spots in 1972 introducing Denver democrat and former U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder.

Grossman, a University of Denver graduate, hopes to parlay his work with Dern into a bigger role for Colorado in feature filmmaking. He wants to see his Denver-based company, Reunion Films LLC, produce another five films after “The Boat Builder,” focusing on stories “that appeal to the heart and to the intellect.”

The lesson from Grossman’s unexpected collaboration with Dern? “Don’t ever give up,” he says. “I took a chance at one more rejection. If I can do it at my age, anybody can.”

Stewart Schley writes about sports, media and technology from Denver. Read this and Schley’s past columns on the Web at cobizmag.com and email him at stewart@stewartschley.com

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Readers Respond

Great article! The subject had lots of interest to a Denver reader, and the way the story was told--to steal a line from the story--put the cherry on top. I loved it! By Warwick Downing on 2014 05 06
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