Chris Sheridan Would Like To Thank The Academy

So would Scottsdale Community College, where Sheridan made his Academy Award-winning student film

Rich Miller, awards administration director for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, says, "We have had winning entries from community colleges before, but it's very rare. Some states, you just don't get any films from." The finalists come from three regional competitions--California, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and Hawaii compose one region; New York State alone composes a second; and the other 40 states, including Arizona, compose the third. Walk This Way was the only winner this year from this space between the coasts.

"The talented people come from where they come from," continues Miller. "I hope it says a lot for our process, that the judges aren't just looking at where the films come from." Maybe, and maybe not. But it does say something for Walk This Way, since, as Miller notes, "Regions can send us three films, one, or none. We don't just want the best of the worst." It may say something for SCC, too.

Sheridan financed Walk This Way with money scraped together from a variety of sources. "My mom gave me some money; that's why I gave her executive-producer credit." ASU found a bit of departmental money for Sheridan, and his girlfriend, Anndee Rickey, kicked in a few bucks, as well. The rest of the film's slim budget--about $4,000, Sheridan estimates--came out of the welfare checks on which he lives.

"I'm not even finished paying it off, to tell the truth," he says with a sigh. "One of the guys at SCC, Ron Walker, let me put some of it on his Foto-Chem account."

Sheridan was disappointed in his attempts to raise money from the wheelchair community. "I tried wheelchair companies, I tried [former Miami Dolphin linebacker] Nick Buoniconti's Miami Project, and Christopher Reeve, and I even put a product placement for my wheelchair cushion in the films in hopes they'd give me some money. I got a stack of rejection letters. It kind of irked me for a while." The only firm that gave Sheridan any help was, amazingly, a record company: Warner-Chapel, who gave him a discount to license the Aerosmith song from which the film takes its title.

Shooting the film was almost as arduous as funding it. "Some directors use nonactors. I use nonfilmmakers," Sheridan says. "Most of the crew weren't film students, and hadn't done anything like this. It's tough filming yourself. I'd set up the shot, and then get someone else to actually run the camera. Anndee shot probably two thirds of the film. I had my upstairs neighbor shoot a scene, and one of my drinking buddies did another."

Equipment problems were another hurdle. "The night we shot the scene of me doing the comedy-club gig at the Star Theater, we had a light leak in the camera, and the film was ruined. It was evening, and the film stores were closed. So here I am about to go on, and the camera's not working, and I have to worry about being funny. Fortunately, these two friends of mine, Karl Hirsch and Dave Long, saved my ass. I called them at home, and they brought some stock they had down to the club. As soon as I saw them come in, I knew I could relax."

All those tribulations weren't for nothing. The academy wasn't wrong; Walk This Way is the feel-good movie of the year for the short-attention-span set. It packs a lot into its quick, 13-minute running time. The scene of Sheridan running over a smiley-face button on his way out of Monument Valley and blowing out his wheelchair tire is, in the director's words, "the real-time story--it takes about 12 minutes to change a tire." Deftly intercut with this core drama is a nonlinear collage consisting of the hard-won documentary footage of Sheridan performing "sit-down" comedy, or answering interview questions from behind the camera, or wheeling around Tempe, or hanging around his apartment with his cat Stash, to whom the film is dedicated.

The tone throughout is one of good-natured irony: We hear Sheridan holding forth in voice-over about the new sense of meaning and purpose that his condition has given to his life, while onscreen, we see him sorting laundry and cleaning the cat box. There isn't one frame that hints, even slightly, at self-pity.

After the closing credits, Sheridan's production logo appears. Sheridan's wheelchair-bound silhouette flies past a Spielbergesque moon a la Elliot in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The legend reads: Ramblin.

It's that freedom from the maudlin to which at least one of the film's industry admirers has responded. John Bailey, the distinguished cinematographer (Ordinary People, Swimming to Cambodia) and director (The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, China Moon), met Sheridan after the award ceremony, and invited him to visit the set of The Kiss, the film he's now shooting.

Bailey says of Sheridan's film, "It has a kind of startling, unexpected sense of delight and engagement, of life-affirming buoyancy. It wears its tragedy like a coat of many colors."

This may be a more elegant way of saying the same thing that Sheridan claims Holly Hunter, star of The Kiss, said after she watched Walk This Way. "She told me it was 'fun.' That was cool. I'd heard a lot of people say, 'Oh, it's inspiring, it's uplifting,' but fun is really sort of what I was going for. I mean, This Is Spinal Tap was one of my big influences--a funny documentary. I just loved that."

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