Kris Bowers (Molly O’Keeffe photo)

There’s something comforting about knowing there are very good people working in Hollywood. I am a harsh critic of entertainment practices (as I should be) because they are packed to the brim with “isms” (racism, sexism, ageism, colorism) that block progress in all areas of this business.

So when Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers’ Oscar®-nominated short documentary, “The Last Repair Shop,” distributed by Searchlight Pictures and L.A. Times Studios, shared that their adrenaline-fueled passion helped launch a fund to properly fund an LA music repair shop, my heart skipped a beat.

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Here are the facts: The Los Angeles Unified School District Education Foundation will launch “The Last Repair Shop Fund,” a $15 million capital campaign to invest in the future of its previously unsung Musical Instrument Repair Shop, including a student apprenticeship program that will build the next generation of instrument technicians.

The downtown workshop, founded in 1959, is the subject of Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers’ Oscar®-nominated short documentary, “The Last Repair Shop,” distributed by Searchlight Pictures and L.A. Times Studios, which profiles four of the twelve technicians who work every day to maintain over 130,000 musical instruments provided by the district to public school students. Los Angeles is the last major city in America to provide free and freely repaired instruments to its students.

“Los Angeles Unified’s investment in music has produced some of the greatest luminaries in music for decades,” Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho said. “This shop is one of the cornerstones of what makes Los Angeles the creative capital of the world. Ben and Kris’ film has created extraordinary excitement and support, and the time has come to call on forward-thinking leaders in this city to ensure that no child in Los Angeles who wants to play an instrument will ever be denied that opportunity.”

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation was an early supporter of the capital campaign. “The Last Repair Shop” introduces us to the work and care of craftspeople equipping students with the instruments that allow them to explore their musical curiosities and talents,” said Gerun Riley, president of The Broad Foundation. “We applaud LAUSD’s commitment to sustaining the repair shop, and we hope others will be inspired to help ensure LA’s students have access to high-quality instruments, music facilities, and apprenticeships for generations to come.”

Ben Proudfoot (Molly O’Keeffe photo)

“Ben and I can’t think of a better impact for our film to make,” said ‘The Last Repair Shop’ co-director Kris Bowers. “I came up learning piano on an LAUSD upright. I know firsthand what having access to a working instrument can mean for a young kid who yearns to express themselves through music. And we are so excited that the LAUSD Education Foundation and The Broad Foundation have been inspired by our film to launch this worthy campaign that will change the lives of young Angelenos for generations to come.”

The announcement was made during a public event on February 20 at Hollywood High School featuring a screening of The Last Repair Shop and a special musical performance by an all-city marching band.

Co-director Kris Bowers, along with Searchlight Pictures, made the first gift of the campaign by giving a restored 1913 Steinway & Sons K-52 upright piano to Third Street Elementary School, where Kris Bowers attended as a young man.

Steve Bagmanyan, the shop’s supervisor and one of the technicians featured in the film, was, coincidentally, the person who tuned the pianos at Bower’s elementary and middle schools. He said of the campaign’s launch, “We get to the shop and start working before the sun rises. We do our work quietly and proudly. And so the light that ‘The Last Repair Shop’ has brought into our shop and lives has been both unexpected and deeply moving.” He continued, “The creation of this capital campaign is a godsend because it will enshrine this shop forever, and ensure that students who love music in Los Angeles will always have an instrument in their hand. And that’s what it’s all about.”

The campaign will support investments in the Repair Shop’s infrastructure and support staff, ensuring that skilled craftsmen are equipped to support the District’s music program for years to come. It will also support the development of music and arts pipelines across schools – so that students can access a continuity of music and arts programs in the neighborhood schools.

The film, which has already garnered several major accolades including an Oscar® nod and the Critics Choice Documentary Award for best short, is available to view for free on L.A. Times’ YouTube channel, along with Disney+ and Hulu. The results of the Oscars® will be announced at the Dolby Theater on March 10.

Public donations to The Last Repair Shop Fund can be made at

My colleague, Art Shrian, and I caught up with Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers’ Oscar®-nominated short documentary “The Last Repair Shop” to discuss the journey to get this project made and the impact.


Ben and Chris, congratulations on the success of this wonderful doc. I have been screaming from the rooftop long before the Oscar nomination, folks thought I was on the [The Last Repair Shop] payroll which I am not.


LAS: Clearly this is close to your hearts but for you Kris, perhaps a little closer?

KB: [Music] … has had a massive impact on my life and I didn’t even realize it. I grew up here in LA, I went to [a] LAUSD schools and I relied on those [musical] instruments and I have played the piano since I was four, and obviously, as a pianist, you have no choice but to play the school instrument.

LAS: That’s an interesting point because for some people the cost and space of a piano make it impossible.

KB: So those [school] music spaces became a second home for me. In elementary school, I spent most of my time in the auditorium and built up a lot of self-confidence as a pianist at that early age.

LAS: [Ben] a question for you. As a filmmaker [documentarian] how do you choose which participants to feature?

BP: Have you ever seen those videos of people with the divining rod, walking around, looking for water? That was me. I walk into the [music repair shop] and at first, it’s visually overwhelming. You got horns hanging from the ceiling, you’re hearing strings snapping and people testing tubas and flutes.

LAS: I can see and hear this as you speak, choosing the right elements is a challenge.

BP: This is a place of your dreams and you start sniffing around looking … because a movie is an emotional machine. Who are our people and what is their story?

LAS: I was thinking how you both settled on just four stories, I can imagine that you had so many to choose from. An embarrassment of riches, story-wise speaking.

BP: I’ll tell you a story, which is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had filmmaking, and that is going into that shop, when I followed my divining rods back into where the people were working, I found that nobody wanted to look me in the eye and no one was interested in making the movie.

LAS: Why, my new best friend, why?

BP: (Laughing) It was because there had been a news story that had come out 10 years ago that there was a backlog at the shop. They were understaffed and it kind of made them look bad that they weren’t working fast enough for something. But they were just understaffed and things had come a long way in the time since. But they were reticent to let anybody outside in to tell their story. They had that negative experience. And so Steve, who you meet in the film, who’s the shop supervisor, he said, look, I can’t force anybody to be in the movie, but I can give you an audience on the next break. You can take five minutes and say whatever you want to everybody.

LAS: Five minutes Ben, that’s essentially the quintessential Hollywood pitch time allotment.

(06:55): BP: (Laughing) So everybody comes around in a semicircle and I give my pitch of why. [Their faces basically said] Why are we doing this? So I explained what kind of person I am, the what stories I’m interested in, try to get this across. And it was not going well. And so at the end, I did my sort of big ‘Jerry Jerry Maguire’ moment like — ‘who’s with me?’ and four people sort of slowly raise their hands and it was Dana, Dwayne, Patty, and Steve. And I said, okay, you four.

LAS: Naw, Ben. That’s hard to believe.

BP: (Laughing) No word of a lie. I have 20 witnesses.

LAS: So divinely led.

BP&KB: Exactly. Divinely led.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.