The Colgate Scene ON-LINE

[IMAGE] by John D. Hubbard

Jeff Sharp '89 and his friends would sneak into the theater's prop room and, once outfitted, the undergraduates would spend all night making movies.

"That was kind of the beginning of it all," says Sharp, who has gone on to work with Oliver Stone, attend Columbia film school, help create the Hamptons International Film Festival and now produce plays and independent films in New York City.

"This is an extension of what I've always wanted -- to live in a world of make-believe and be lost in films and plays," says Sharp, whose work with Hart Sharp Entertainment is nonetheless very much a part of the real world of art and finance.

Another opening . . .
When Chicago originally opened on Broadway in the '70s it was a middling success despite bad timing. Bob Fosse, who created the show along with Fred Ebb and John Kander, suffered a heart attack and A Chorus Line was just starting its historic run on the Great White Way. Audiences preferred the sunnier scratch-an-actor-discover-a-child theme of that show to Fosse's cynical indictment of fame, the justice system and American mores in those post-Watergate, post-Vietnam, pre-OJ days.

Chicago was given new life last year when it was restaged for City Center's Encore Series. The success of director Walter Bobbie's stripped down version propelled the show back to Broadway, where it opened last November. With Ann Reinking, Bebe Neuwirth, James Naughton and Joel Grey, the revival has been a smash and Hart Sharp Entertainment, which co-produces Chicago along with Fran and Barry Weissler, is backing the hottest show on Broadway.

"There's a momentum that builds when you have a hit," says Sharp, who sees "an exciting synergy between what our clients are doing and what we're doing with film and theater."

In addition to backing various theatrical and film projects, Hart Sharp Entertainment also serves as talent managers for actors and directors. The organization functions as a mini-studio, in a way. In addition to its open office setting, Hart Sharp has 4500 square feet of production space. The company is located in an old factory (there's still a leather crating business one floor up) in New York's industrial district now known as NOHO.

[IMAGE] Photo credit: Dan Chavkin

Staying flexible
Producing requires a measure of flexibility. Just before the holidays, Sharp flies to Reno to ensure union squabbles there don't escalate into a shooting delay for Shadow Boxers, a documentary on women prizefighters. Shortly after the New Year there is a meeting with investors who need to be apprised of the current standing of several projects. Then up and coming young actress Lisa Gay Hamilton calls from the set of David E. Kelly's new television show The Practice with a question. Of course, there is always backing to develop for new projects and scripts to read as Sharp searches for "that thing that gets me going."

"Right after Colgate I moved out to L.A. wanting to go into film development but I wasn't quite sure how to do that," says Sharp. Despite the supposed liability of "no prior knowledge," he landed a job as a development assistant to Oliver Stone. Set to work right away in his "amazing first job," Sharp began reading scripts and working with writers on projects with budgets of less than $2 million.

"I had the chance to see how the business worked in L.A.," says Sharp, who was involved with Stone's The Doors and JFK and worked with the late author Randy Shilts and director Joel Schumacher on And the Band Played On.

It was more than enough to convince Sharp he wanted to produce films, but despite his exposure and experience he wasn't sure where to begin. Encouraged by Oliver Stone to try film school, Sharp took the advice back east to Columbia.

While he was enrolled, Sharp helped start the Hamptons International Film Festival. He had been traveling the festival circuit, learning how independent films are distributed, and eventually met John Hart at the Sundance Festival. Last summer Hart Sharp Entertainment was formed.

Rock and roll
"The New York independent film world is like rock and roll was in the '60s," says Sharp, who sees an exploding creative scene fueled by young talent on both sides of the camera.

"Independent" refers to how a film is financed, but it also speaks to the spirit of a genre that is much more than snobbish art house pictures.

"Low-budget projects are more about character and story than action and glamour," says Sharp. "And I don't think the money affects what you're doing creatively. In the end you're telling a story."

Puddle Cruiser, for instance, was produced on a shoestring by a troupe of Colgate alums -- Broken Lizard -- and it's making quite a splash. The comedy was a Hamptons festival winner and is an entrant at Sundance this year. Brothers McMullen, another independent film, was regarded by critics as one of the best films of 1996. It was also a big hit with investors.

"Film is the place to be right now," says Sharp, who sometimes wishes he had gone to business school when he dons a suit and tie to speak with investors, but even without an MBA his message is clear. "For the investor used to high risk there is more of an upside potential in independent films. The upside can be huge."

There is also the notion of support for the arts, a contribution that is of particular importance to some investors. Their funding allows emerging talent to pursue a level of "artistic integrity" that is sometimes stifled by multimillion-dollar budgets.

For Jeff Sharp it is a process of selling what he believes in with a passion. Whether it is representing an artist, uncovering a work of beauty and truth or making a deal, he feels enormously fortunate to be right where he is.

"I've always loved the theater and film, but I never knew you could do everything and it kind of feels as if I'm doing everything now."