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July 27, 2003 New York Region

Today Malverne, Tomorrow Cannes?


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KEITH Black is a math teacher at Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn, but with any luck his current career will soon be a distant memory. It's not that Mr. Black dislikes teaching, which he says is both financially stable and personally fulfilling. Rather, it's that the job interferes with his burning desire to, as he puts it, "be the next Woody Allen."

Mr. Black, who has a sharp nose and a round, pleasant face, has spent the last half-dozen years attending acting seminars, pounding out scripts, cold-calling producers and generally transforming himself into a spotlight-ready character, all the while dutifully performing perhaps his most difficult role so far: explaining complex integers to unenthusiastic teenagers.

His latest endeavor, "Get the Script to Woody Allen," a movie he financed and helped write and in which he stars, was selected for the Long Island International Film Expo, where it was shown July 17. Made at a cost of $4,000, the 17-minute short was one of 60 films shown, whittled down from 130 entries and chosen, according to the festival director, Debra Markowitz, because "it was charming."

The film is based on a real incident in which Mr. Black tracked down his idol to a Manhattan jazz club and slipped him the script of "I Will Survive," a film that chronicles Mr. Black's troubles with women. The famed director took the script, smiled meekly and trotted off. That was three years ago. Mr. Allen has yet to call.

Nevertheless, the brief encounter only deepened Mr. Black's affection for the director. "I know it sounds crazy," said Mr. Black, who is 34 but speaks with the exuberance of a teenager, "but I feel like I have a connection with him."

There are similarities, to be sure. Both are Jewish and bespectacled. Both grew up in Brooklyn, Mr. Allen in Flatbush and Mr. Black in Old Mill Basin, where he still lives in a large brick apartment building with his mother. Mr. Allen's penchant for dating his leading ladies has also rubbed off, in theory at least; Mr. Black confesses to having developed a crush on his co-star, a 23-year-old actress named Georgette Malone.

There is one area, however, where Mr. Allen, despite his Oscars, may be no match for his admirer. "I'm way more neurotic than he is," Mr. Black insisted. As proof, he rattled off a list of his numerous phobias, which include an aversion to being naked around other men, a fear that his scripts will be stolen and catatonia when it comes to making decisions. Often, Mr. Black enlists a committee to weigh in on even the smallest matters.

According to Steve Marshall, who co-wrote and directed "Get the Script," such waffling is a nightmare during the moviemaking process. "Keith drove me crazy when we were editing," Mr. Marshall said. "He'd come to me and say: 'My mother says the movie is too slow. My aunt says there should be a touch-tone when I dial the phone.' I said, 'Keith, trust me!' "

A veteran stand-up comedian, Mr. Marshall is something of a mentor to Mr. Black, as is Dr. Albert Ellis, the renowned 89-year-old psychotherapist. "Before Dr. Ellis I had been to eight different therapists," Mr. Black said over dinner the night before the screening, "and they all told me I couldn't be helped. Dr. Ellis is teaching me to not take everything so seriously."

Still, on the eve of his film festival debut, Mr. Black couldn't help but be nervous. His mother, Linda, and older brother, Clifford, would be in attendance, along with Mr. Black's fellow teachers. A limousine had been rented. Mr. Black had phoned several fashion designers and asked them to lend him and Miss Malone top-of-the-line outfits for the evening (one accepted).

Mr. Black traces his need for recognition to his upbringing. His parents divorced when he was 5 and his mother worked several jobs to support her sons. He suffered from low self-esteem and had trouble getting dates. After years as an accountant and then a teacher, he discovered acting. "Us show biz people need attention," he explained.

Professionally, at least, he requires little guidance in the self-promotion department. Those who know him insist that he is a fearless pitcher. "I'll call up producers and say, 'Is he in?' Mr. Black said. "The receptionist will say, 'Who are you?' Never mind who I am, is he in? They usually put me through. They like my chutzpah."

This brazen approach has led to all manner of fleeting show business encounters. Mr. Black has faxed off scripts to William Morris agents and Dreamworks honchos; he has bent the ears of the actors Robert Guillaume and Linda Lavin. Once, while eating at the Tiffany Restaurant in Greenwich Village, he spotted Abe Vigoda and a quick introduction led to an hourlong tip session from the sleepy-eyed actor (Mr. Vigoda's advice: "Just say the lines").

The following evening, about 30 people clustered in front of the Malverne Cinema 4 on the main drag of Malverne, in Nassau County. It was the final night of the festival, now in its sixth year, and Mr. Black's movie was scheduled to be shown last, after a suspense film called "Murder Rhapsody.'' Most attendees had some connection with the scheduled films.

Just after 9:15, a black stretch limousine pulled up to the theater and out stepped Mr. Black, Mr. Marshall and Miss Malone. Mr. Black wore dark jeans, a white shirt and an acre-wide smile, and Miss Malone was outfitted in a sleek, toe-length pink and black dress with an ornate floral pattern. By all appearances it was a million-dollar entrance. In fact, it cost Mr. Black about 60 bucks, the price of a two-block limo ride (the clothing, by the designer Roberto Cavalli, was courtesy of chutzpah).

FOR several minutes, Mr. Black posed for the camera (his mother's), obliged autograph seekers (his friends), and created almost the kind of commotion Woody himself might generate by stopping in for a burger at the Malverne Diner. A blond man in glasses watching the scene stared bewildered.

On screen, Mr. Black seemed adept at playing a loosely fictionalized version of himself. (The film eventually won the award for best short.)

The only hitch was the lingering bad memories of his first on-screen kiss. Mr. Black was so nervous, filming had to be extended an extra day. "He wanted to break the kiss into three stages," Miss Malone said, "the last stage being open mouths. I said, 'No three stages.' "

Afterward, everyone headed to the party at Connolly's Station, a nearby bar. Mr. Black was in high spirits. Despite his fears to the contrary, the night had gone well and the audience had laughed in all the right spots. But now his mind was on the future. He says he is looking forward to pitching the project to the powers-that-be in Hollywood, among them the man he bumped into recently in Manhattan.

"No matter what I'm doing, I have trouble with women," Mr. Black said.

"I saw Harvey Weinstein outside of a Learning Annex seminar," Mr. Black recalled. "I said, 'Harvey, you want to make a ton of money off me? I'm the next Woody Allen.' He said, 'Have your agent call me.' He's going to get a call. I'm not scared of him. What's the worst that can happen, I live a happy life as a math teacher?"

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