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Noteworthy Graduate: Jeff Waxman, movie producer

New York Teacher

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Jeff Waxman
Jeff Waxman was a kid in a candy store — his dad’s candy store/luncheonette in Flushing, Queens — where he grew up in the 1970s. “I ran the register so I became good at math. A can of soda, a pack of cigarettes, an egg cream and a pretzel: $2.85. I could add it in two seconds,” he says. Today, Waxman’s “candy store” is Hollywood, or anywhere there’s a movie set. A well-rounded education in city public schools and “the size of the schools” prepared him to be a filmmaking jack-of-all-trades. “It was very helpful to be exposed to a lot of different people and stories and experiences,” says the producer. “If someone wants to make a movie, they’ll give me the script and I’ll figure out how to make it. I’ll do the schedule, the budget, the hiring. I’ll manage the production, and keep it on time and on schedule.” Pulling together “the nuts and bolts” has been his focus on movies including “The Fighter,” which won two Oscars in 2010; “Mirror Mirror,” starring Julia Roberts; “John Wick,” Chapters 2 and 3; and “Vice,” the 2018 film about Dick Cheney. Now he’s getting into the creative side, finding content and then funding. “I’ve only begun,” Waxman says. “In the next 10 years, my goal is to make some great movies, tell some great stories.” There’s even a musical about the candy store in the works. “I don’t know if it’s going to be Broadway,” he says, “but we’re working on it.”

I had the best childhood in the world.

Until 3rd grade, I went to PS 220 in Forest Hills, Queens. We moved in the middle of the year in the middle of the day. When I left, my teacher, Mrs. Bender, had the class write me letters at my new school. They wrote a few times. It was really nice.

My mother walked me into a class at PS 169 in Bayside, where I was lucky to have George Borsuk in 4th and 5th grades. He was so creative; he made everything fun and interesting. If we were learning math, he made it into a baseball game. If you answered a question correctly, it was a single, a double or a triple depending on the difficulty of the question. We played another game where he would write a number on the board: 55, 362, 815. You’d have to say it the right way to get a “hit.”

I’ve been trying to track him down and I couldn’t find him. A few months ago, when “Vice” came out, I spoke at a screening and Mr. Borsuk was there. It was amazing.

Every year at PS 169, we put on original plays you would learn from, like a tour through the United States or a tour through American history. I played Uncle Sam, the tour guide. I drove a tricycle into the auditorium wearing a red, white and blue helmet.

I was producing a film in 2009 when I got a phone call that my principal from PS 169 had died. I told the other producer and learned he also went there. It was great having that connection so many years later.

I went to IS 25 in the late ’70s. My gym teacher, Howard Warhaftig, was a personality in the school. If you had any questions or needed advice, he would help you; he was a sounding board. I had a great music teacher, Mrs. Guzzo, who taught me to play violin, and I played in the orchestra. She gave me extra help when I needed it and I learned to appreciate music. All these things that eventually go into telling a story and making a film are good to appreciate at a young age.

I went to Bayside HS, Class of 1982, with about 1,300 students. Being around so many people and dealing with a lot of situations helped me later. I had public speaking classes where I learned to talk in front of people and to pitch ideas. There was a TV studio program that let you take out the equipment. My English teacher, Mrs. Damen, got us interested in things I was never interested in before, like Shakespeare, and we analyzed plays and learned how a story is told.

I did two internships through Bayside. Senior year I interned at a video studio. It opened my eyes to things you could do. I also interned at a production company, working on “Today in Music History,” which were 30-second TV commercials. These internships were important: I was able to translate things I learned to the film business.

While in high school, I also went to Albany in the Senator for a Day program. I got to hang out with my congressman and was on the Senate floor when they voted on Westway, the proposed replacement for the West Side Highway in Manhattan. It was another great life experience, another chance to see what’s out there and what people do.

In filmmaking, you learn mostly from doing. These experiences all help build confidence. You’re nervous at first. Then you talk to people, learn how they got where they are and navigate your way.

Related Topics: Noteworthy Grads
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