After weeks of research, East Moriches native Christian Nilsson still can’t definitively say what establishment holds the title of oldest bar in New York City—he will lay out the information and let viewers decide for themselves.
But the filmmaker still enjoyed trying to figure it out. In the fall of 2015, Mr. Nilsson created a roughly 10-minute video for The Huffington Post exploring all of the options for the coveted title. Though he came up short in declaring a winner in that contest, the video has taken on a life of its own and Saturday night was awarded a 2017 New York Emmy Award for Historical/Cultural: Program Feature/Segment.
“What is crazy about this is I spent maybe about a month total between research, shooting it and editing it, and it was released in September 2015—so to then learn it was nominated almost a year and a half later was really crazy,” Mr. Nilsson said in a phone interview earlier this month. “At The Huffington Post, it never even made a ripple.
“No one that I worked with, not even my bosses, really knew that I had released this thing,” he continued. “It wasn’t really a big deal for them, so to then get an Emmy nomination was kind nice to get that big of a recognition.”
While this is the first nomination and win for the 29-year-old, Mr. Nilsson is far from a newbie behind the camera. He first took up the craft in the fifth grade at East Moriches Elementary School, continuing to make amateur films and videos for any school project he was allowed throughout his four years at Westhampton Beach High School, where he graduated in 2006.
After deciding that filmmaking was his passion, Mr. Nilsson attended the film program at Five Towns College, graduating with a degree in TV and film production in 2010. He returned home to the East End briefly before opting to take a chance.
With a quick lie to his family, who all thought he had a full-time job offer in Los Angeles—in reality he had a one-day gig on the set of a film shoot—he moved to the West Coast. Eventually, he landed a job working as a video producer for The Huffington Post, which transferred him to its New York office a few years later.
“After graduating college, I went back home and quickly saw people I went to school with were older than me and still there, and that is fine because people have their own paths for happiness and success that they measure in different ways,” he said. “But that is not what I wanted my life to look like. I wanted to make movies. I wanted to be a director.”
The piece he won for on Saturday is titled “Fight to Be The Oldest Bar in NYC” and beat out seven other short films for the title. For the story, he compared the merits of three New York City staples: Neir’s Tavern in Queens, and McSorley’s Old Ale House and Fraunces Tavern, both in Manhattan. While all three have a claim, they all also have a hitch, making it unclear who comes out as top dog.
“I always thought that it was strange how there are so many bars claiming this title,” he said. “So I put a decent amount of research into finding which claim had the most weight. I looked at tax records, spoke to historians, the current owners of the three main bars that I thought had the strongest claim.”
Though he never says it in the video, Mr. Nilsson puts his money on McSorley’s. He explained that, unlike the other two, McSorley’s has proof it has been open under the same name, and in the same spot, since pouring its first pint in 1856.
After The Huffington Post, Mr. Nilsson went on to work briefly at Esquire as a video producer and now produces videos at BuzzFeed while looking at opportunities to produce his own feature films. And the Emmy is just the most recent in a string of successes for Mr. Nilsson.
Recently, he won the People’s Choice Award for the Moët Moment Film Festival for his short, 1-minute film “Excelsior.” The dialogue-less film takes a look at New York values through an average interaction between two street musicians and a jogger.
“It is very short,” he said. “But in watching it I think you get a sense of what I love about New York and what makes it great.”
Now, Mr. Nilsson has no intentions of slowing down. He has recently written a new feature film called “Westhampton,” and is hoping to shoot his movie on location in the next few months.
The movie, he said, looks into the life of a fictional filmmaker who returns home after making a tragic mistake in his youth that changed the lives of those around him. The artist makes a film to try and make amends, but the movie itself reveals how different what actually happened was.
“Right now it is a script but I am hoping to use the inertia of this Emmy nomination and that short film win to grab the attention of some people and get this made,” he said. “Though not making the film is not an option for me, this is a movie that will get made because every part of me is invested in it.”
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