Bronx ‘COVID Ditty’ Show Wins International Film Festival Awards
By SARAH HUFFMAN
At the height of the statewide shutdown in 2020, brought on by the need to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus, actor, director and writer Steve Greenstein, like many others, was subjected to long periods of boredom.
The lack of work in New York’s normally thriving entertainment industry prompted him to start wandering around the Kingsbridge neighborhood in the Bronx, where he took time to observe how the pandemic was affecting his community.
His thoughts on it prompted Greenstein to start writing the webcast series, “COVID Ditty,” fulfilling the actor’s dual need to stay creative during a time of uncertainty, while also channeling the historic nature of the moment. through its narration.
âI look for the nooks and crannies of life, and that’s why I love to write about what’s outside my door,â he said. “If you can find art in there, if you can make sense of it, then you’ve got something.” I knew when I was doing this, and seeing what was happening outside my door was the impetus to write the episodes.
The story centers on Phil, played by Greenstein, and his son Charlie, played by Andrew Terranova, as they navigate life during the pandemic. Although the series is fictional, the characters deal with relevant and real-life topics such as the role of essential workers, the impact of closing local businesses, and racism directed against the Asian community.
Greenstein describes the series as historical fiction because of the way it captures real-life situations in a fictional setting. It was shot at local businesses in the Bronx and the New York area. Greenstein said he always looks for interesting stories first and then finds a local setting in which to tell them.
For example, episode three featured a story about discrimination against the owner of a Chinese restaurant, prompting Greenstein to find such a restaurant to film in. All of the business owners whose locations were used during production were compensated by Greenstein and thanked in the closing credits of the relevant episode.
âIt was a really important thing for our small productions, giving back to the neighborhood,â Greenstein said. âJust like a big Hollywood production comes to a neighborhood, they pay,â he added.
Greenstein is a Bronxite who spent much of his early years at Kingsbridge with his grandparents, even after moving further into the state at a later stage of his childhood.
Before the pandemic struck, Greenstein had been an active actor, landing roles in various productions, including television shows and plays. Prior to âCOVID Ditty,â he recently appeared in Pose (2019), Iron Fist (2017) and The Detour (2017). He said he had experience as a character editor and that with the character work he gained during his acting career, it helped him develop the characters of “COVID Ditty”.
His professional background has also helped him navigate director and producer jobs. âI really like the directing,â he said. âI like the whole process, because I realize that I am not just an actor. I am an actor, director, producer. I think if you want something to be done, you just have to do it.
It was also important to Greenstein that the “COVID Ditty” production be approved by the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) and that the production be protected by the union. After being approved by SAG, the series began production in the summer of 2020, and he said everyone involved was paid union wages.
When it came to keeping everyone safe, Jennifer Plotzke, the show’s executive producer, said the Screen Actors Guild gave everyone COVID tests 48 hours before showing up on set, and reports were shared with headquarters in Los Angeles.
“It was difficult at first, especially because we were working in the summer of 2020, before the vaccinations, when we were still at the height of the pandemic,” Plotzke said. âBut in the end, we got the hang of it. Luckily we were working with a small cast and crew and mostly filming outside or in companies that weren’t open at the time, which made it easier for us to distance ourselves on set and got us going. given space to work safely. It was great to get back to work then, âshe added.
Greenstein found his cast and crew by calling people he knew in the industry and searching online. Monica Delgado, who plays a nurse on the show, said Greenstein found her through the Hispanic Latin Actors Organization (HOLA) and asked her to audition for her role.
Delgado said the show was a great way to show the reality of New Yorkers during the pandemic. âI also think that, you know, 20 years from now it will be like a little historical series to watch, because it has stayed very true to our reality,â she said.
Delgado’s character, Maria, being a core worker, is seen working on the frontlines of the pandemic. In episode five of the series, Maria tells Phil how exhausting it is to get through the pandemic and how she has taken on a lot more responsibility in her job since the start of the crisis.
âFor me, this is my favorite episode, just because of what she’s going through and the way she talks about it,â Delgado said. “I still think, if only some people who are still so against science would watch this episode and listen to it, but who knows if her words would make them change their minds? ” she said.
âCovid Dittyâ has been recognized by local and international film festivals over the past year. Greenstein said he decided to enroll in a film class at New York University (NYU), and his teacher urged students in the class to submit their projects to various film festivals. Greenstein took the professor’s advice and his series has since been nominated and even won awards at film festivals.
Among others, the series was recognized in the competition for best short film, won a talent of the year award at the Amsterdam International Film Festival, won a bronze award at the Independent Shorts Awards in Los Angeles, a received an Honorable Mention at the New York Movie Awards, and won Best Web / TV Series at the Florence Film Awards.
Delgado describes “Covid Ditty” as “the little engine that could,” explaining how remarkable it is that the series has received the kind of recognition it has.
“It’s amazing, and I feel like it’s worth it and so, I keep telling people that, you know, it’s only eight minutes per episode!” Give it a chance; I think you’ll like it! So hopefully we will continue for a bit, especially since the pandemic is not going anywhere yet, and see if we can continue to reach out to other people, âshe said.
Plotzke agreed that it was great for the show to be recognized. âSteve and all of the cast and crew put a lot of love into this, and they deserve the praise,â Plotzke said. âThe series really highlights local life during the pandemic and is a great love letter to the Bronx. I’m glad so many people see it, âshe added.
Plotzke said she believes the series could continue as long as the pandemic lasts, and even beyond. âThere will always be stories to be told in the Bronx, and these characters will always face interesting challenges and have a good time, whether there is a pandemic or not,â she said.
While Greenstein’s current goal is to be taken over by a streaming service, he said, ultimately he hopes the series will bring people together by showcasing their shared experiences.
The series is available to watch on YouTube and Greenstein is always making new episodes. There will be an evening screening of the final episode on October 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the An BÃ©al Bocht CafÃ©, located at 445 West 238th Street in Fieldston.
âCOVID Dittyâ will also attend the New York Movie Awards in a live screening open to the public on Sunday, September 26 at the Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street in the East Village in Manhattan. Doors open at 8 p.m., screening from 8:30 p.m. For tickets, go to www.figid.nyc/events/nyma.
As for the future of the web-series, Greenstein said he could see himself doing more episodes, especially if he receives financial support for the series. Right now, he’s digging into his savings to produce the series, but he’s hoping someone will give his team the financial backing they need to keep it going.
“I just hope they are (the viewers) touched by the human experience of the ordinary people who have been through this, not the politicians, not the spokesperson we see on the evening news, the talking heads, the CNN commentators, âhe said. “As an artist, as a writer, I think I gave a glimpse of ordinary people who go to work every day, trying to improve it for themselves and their children, to get by another day in the job. Bronx.”
* SÃle Moloney contributed to this story.