Unsung LAUSD Workers Starring in Oscar Nominated “The Last Repair Shop” to Walk the Red Carpet With Directors

Co-directors Kris Bowers and Ben Proudfoot tell the story of LA Unified’s music repair shop that keeps thousands of instruments in shape for students.

LAUSD student Porché playing the violin in The Last Repair Shop (Breakwater Studio)

This article is part of a collaboration between The 74 and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

When the directors of the Oscar nominated short documentary “The Last Repair Shop” walk the red carpet next month, the four LAUSD workers who keep thousands of musical instruments in good repair will be right by their side. 

The four craftspeople who work in one of the nation’s last free instrument repair shops, are at the heart of the already celebrated documentary, out now via the Los Angeles Times YouTube Channel and Disney+. The film chronicles the lives and impact of the four unsung LAUSD heroes unlocking the possibility of music education in Los Angeles.

Now they’re about to get their Hollywood moment.

“Everyone was over the moon excited for this once in a lifetime experience,” film co-director Ben Proudfoot (Oscar winner for The Queen of Basketball) told LA School Report. “Everyone is abuzz figuring out what to wear! The plan as of now is for them to wear their aprons, at least for the photos on the red carpet so people know who they are!”

The film was also co-directed by LAUSD graduate Kris Bowers (Composer for The Color Purple, King Richard, and Bridgerton) — who realized while making the documentary that shop supervisor and piano tuner Steve Bagmanyan was the same man who repaired his broken piano in the 90s while he was an LAUSD student.

(Directors Kris Bowers (left) and Ben Proudfoot (right))

Los Angeles is one of the last school districts in the nation to offer free instrument repair, provided to students since 1959. Along with a staff of 12, the four LAUSD employees toil in the shop which operates out of a warehouse on Naomi Avenue in Los Angeles. 

Bagmanyan said he’s excited about his night at the Oscars, but his priority is LAUSD’s students and their musical instruments. 

“My Oscar everyday is the job I’m doing for our kids, for our students,” Bagmanyan told LA School Report. “When I see a happy teacher, or get a thank you reply on an email, or a thank you card from students, that is our Oscar.”  

As for what he’s wearing on his big Hollywood night, Bagmanyan said he’ll pull out the tux he wore two years ago to his daughter’s wedding. 

The Last Repair Shop profiles Bagmanyan, string instrument expert Dana Atkinson, brass specialist Paty Morena and woodwind keeper Duane Michaels. The four talk deeply and emotionally, providing moving details about their lives and how they came to their jobs. The film also features several LAUSD students who detail how music has enriched their lives.

(Repair Person Duane Michaels fixing broken instrument)

Since the premiere of the documentary, the quartet has been elevated to community stardom. Besides walking the Oscars red carpet, the group was honored in January at L.A. city hall. 

“There is an extraordinary rush of catharsis when after working on public school tubas and trombones and trumpets for 20 years, suddenly you’re standing in the council chambers of .LA. City Hall, and the president of the city council is thanking you for your service and telling you how many lives you have touched,” Proudfoot told LA School Report. 
Delicately assessing instruments in need of fixing sent from district schools, employees at the music repair shop magically bring back to life and maintain an estimated 80,000 instruments, which according to Bagmanyan has grown to about 140,000 more recently.

Repair person Dana Atkinson assessing a broken stringed instrument (Breakwater Studio)

Lathering rusted tubas in sonic baths and using intricate tools to tune atonal violins, no instrument is left unplayable.

An instrument getting fixed at LAUSD’s music repair shop (Breakwater Studio)

“The city council president .. compared L.A. of the 21st century to Vienna of the 18th century. It is the epicenter for music,” Proudfoot said. “And he really centered these repair people as heroes of our city, and heroes of the global community of musicians.” 

“This is not just a musical instrument repair shop,” Bagmanyan says in the documentary. “When an instrument breaks, there’s a student without an instrument. No. Not in our city.”

Proudfoot said LAUSD’s music program plays a critical role in creating a pipeline of opportunity. 

“It’s part of what makes Los Angeles the creative capital of the world, our ability to have the world’s best musicians at hand, and many of them start in the LAUSD system.” Proudfoot said. “You can’t have people who can play the newest Star Wars score in a quick moment, if you don’t have good music programs.”  

Students featured in The Last Repair Shop exude enthusiasm about their profound relationship with music, professing “the violin is my best friend” or “when I’m feeling tense or I’m feeling sad or angry, the saxophone calms me down.”

“I was also just so moved by how articulate they are about the necessity of music in processing the journey of their lives,” Bowers said. 

The generational love for music programming concludes the film, with a reunion of LAUSD graduates  playing a final piece on the Warner Bros. Eastwood Scoring Stage.

Final scene of The Last Repair Shop, with LAUSD students and graduates playing “The Alumni” (Breakwater Studio)

“You had people who had played on the Jaws score in 1975 who went to LAUSD and you had (LAUSD student) Porshay, who is nine years old and just in the first couple years of learning how to play violin,” said Proudfoot. “So I don’t know if that has ever happened before, if a group like that has been assembled. The sort of avengers of LAUSD music.”

LAUSD student “Porché ” featured in “The Last Repair Shop”, playing alongside LAUSD alumni/student (Breakwater Studio)

LAUSD is currently working to expand music programming, taking advantage of the traction gained from the documentary. LAUSD arts administrator Titus Campos said the documentary has opened the door for partnerships and support for more arts initiatives. 

“We want to continue to be able to…  enhance the team at the last repair shop,” said Campos. “So we’re exploring that possibility with Ben and Kris.. to expand our technicians who fix the instruments, and thereby be able to increase our turnaround time in fixing instruments.” 

Bowers said he was proud to have highlighted the work of the repair shop, and is excited to share the Oscars red carpet with the craftspeople.   

“Our intention with making this film was to lift and shine a light on these remarkable individuals whose work has touched and impacted thousands of lives, but has gone mostly unseen,” said Bowers. “So sharing this moment with Steve, Paty, Duane and Dana where they’ll be seen and celebrated in such a massive way will be .. the height of achieving what we set out to accomplish with this film.”

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