Palm Beach High School graduate Arthur L. Bernstein, who is now 39, always knew he wanted to make movies.
And now he has.
His feature-length film, “Walt Before Mickey,” is based on Timothy S. Susanin’s 2010 book, “Walt before Mickey: Disney’s Early Years, 1919-1928.” It is now in theatres.
Bernstein spoke to the early morning classes at Boynton Beach High School’s Theatre Academy students.
“My passion is to make movies,” he told the bleachers full of students in the black box theatre.
“With this film, I want to show the human side of Walt Disney.”
The story focuses on Walt Disney’s life before the creation of Mickey Mouse, beginning at age 17 to just before the release of “Steamboat Willie,” when Mickey Mouse was introduced to the world and brought international acclaim to Disney.
After graduating from the University of Miami with a bachelor’s degree in theatre, film and marketing in 2000, Bernstein made his way to Los Angeles and worked at Sony Studios with another actor with South Florida ties, Adam Sandler.
Disillusioned with Los Angeles, Bernstein returned home and worked in the insurance business for 11 years before finding his way back to film.
He was attracted to Disney’s rags-to-riches story of overcoming many personal obstacles in his life.
“This is a story that’s never been told,” Bernstein said. “Disney was bankrupt and homeless.”
“His father beat him,” he said. “But he never gave up. He was the first person to make a live action animation film and to give jobs to women in the early 1920s.”
He encouraged the students to follow their dreams, saying, “If he and I could do it, so can you. Disney started from rock bottom.”
Tiana Thaddies, 15, a sophomore and artist, hopes to be a graphic designer for video games. “I am interested in Disney’s earlier life when he wanted to draw, because that’s something I’d like to do,” she said.
Juniors Anastasia Bernas, 16, and Rosalyn Block, 16, were among the students eager to get contact information from Bernstein and follow up with him.
Bernstein encouraged Bernas, an aspiring writer, “to keep doing what you’re doing.”
“I’m glad he told me to keep writing,” she said.
Block, who will be in the academy’s upcoming production of “A Chorus Line,” said she admires Disney’s tenacity. “It’s interesting how Disney persevered, despite obstacles in his way.”
The film took more than three years to produce. Bernstein shot the low-budget film in DeLand and Sanford in 25 days for $500,000.
School Principal Fred Barch asked Bernstein about his biggest obstacle.
Bernstein joked: “Getting in the front gate.”
“When I was in high school, I wanted to make movies and be a superstar,” he said. “Seeing what Walt went through inspired me.”
What advice did he have for students who want to act or make movies?
“Get a good headshot and film your own three-minute monologue of something interesting,” he said. “This can be your calling card.”
The film stars Thomas Ian Nichols as Walt Disney, Jon Heder (best known for his role as Napoleon Dynamite) as Roy Disney and Jodie Sweetin as Charlotte Disney.
Bernstein is the movie’s co-writer and producer and appears in the movie as Frank L. Newman.
His other films include “The Incredible Bulk,” “Master Mind” and “Lemon Twist.”
His next project is “The Luckiest Man,” based on the book by David A. Adler, about baseball great Lou Gehrig.
For more information, visit waltbeforemickey.com