Moviegoers will have an intriguing pick this Labor Day weekend: An independent movie by a Palm Beach Gardens-based producer.
“Walt Before Mickey,” a biopic on Walt Disney, hits theaters from Palm Beach Gardens to Lake Worth to Delray Beach. The film, which opened last month at Downtown Disney, focuses on Disney’s business failures before his mischievous cartoon mouse launched a global entertainment empire and one of the world’s most recognizable and popular corporate brands.
Arthur L. Bernstein, who co-wrote and produced the movie, grew up in West Palm Beach, graduated from the University of Miami in 2000, and now lives in Palm Beach Gardens. He says the opening of the film in Palm Beach County theaters is a particular point of pride that has been punctuated by every text and email he has received from family members and friends.
“To do well here means everything in the world to me,” said Bernstein. “But it’s more than just about this film. We want people to see it. We want it to generate more incentives [for film production in Florida] so that students from our universities can stay here and do well here.”
Bernstein says he is encouraged by the success at Downtown Disney, where he said the movie drew 16,000 per people per screen. The number one movie there was “Straight Outta Compton,” which he said drew 20,000 people per screen.
“And that’s considering that, from a marketing and advertising budget, we had nothing,” he said. “I think we have a good shot at staying in theaters for a while.”
To bolster attendance at the film, Bernstein is making appearances starting today at noon at Movies of Delray Beach, then at 6 p.m. in Downtown at the Gardens in Palm Beach Gardens. He will introduce the film and answers questions after.
“Walt Before Mickey,” which cost $568,000, stars some familiar faces: Thomas Ian Nicholas (“American Pie”), Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite”) and Jodie Sweetin (“Full House”). Bernstein said he employed 500 people from the state, including plenty of locals from Palm Beach County.
Bernstein said in a prior interview with the Palm Beach Post that he chose the topic because the pre-Mickey years in Disney’s life intrigued him.
“He’s a legend, but this part of the story needed to be told,” said Bernstein, who co-wrote and produced the movie. “I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been done already.”
He also said his goal is to keep filming movies in Florida.
“We could’ve shot this movie anywhere,” he said. “Puerto Rico. Atlanta. We could’ve gone to South Africa and taken a credit. But we’re from here. We wanted to bring it home.”
Florida offers incentives to boost film production; there’s a list at filminflorida.com. But Bernstein said Florida could still do more to bolster a homegrown film industry, such as a tax credit for young, aspiring filmmakers. He said the infrastructure, including sound stages like G-Star Studios, is here.