Film Production Book Funny Excerpts

My film production book, Circumstances Beyond My Control, has a lot of stories about my adventures as producer and first assistant director. Here are two of the many funny ones from the book.

1976 Studio Manager at Ansel Productions in NYC

Jerry Ansel was directing a TV commercial for Northern Tissue (toilet paper). Their selling point was that there were two layers bonded together, one strong, one soft. Ergo: “Northern Tissue was Stroft”. I’m not making this up.

The key shot showed the two layers “bonding”. The way we did it was to shoot the roll of toilet paper slowly unrolling while a prop man below it steadily pulled the two layers apart. The film would then be reversed in editing so that the layers appeared to bond as the paper rolled up. This seems easier than it was and it took three or four hours.

At one point after an hour or so the prop man spontaneously began to laugh. Someone asked what was funny and he said, “I’m just thinking about what I’ll tell my daughter when she asks what I did all day.”

1978 (or ’79) The Big Surprise

Christmas season arrived and Elizabeth and I were talking with some friends one evening about how much we all missed singing carols. Since most of us rarely went to church we decided to have a caroling party. We made it clear to all we invited that this was not a regular Christmas party but a gathering with the express purpose of singing carols. When I invited Ira Brenner he said, “But I’m a Jew.” I replied, “Hey, man, the dude whose birthday we’re celebrating was also a Jew.” Ira responded, “Okay then, I’ll be there.” It was a highly ecumenical gathering.

As had been the case with the bicentennial sailboat parade on the Hudson, we had invited twenty-five people or so but as it turned out it everyone we invited brought a few friends. The party was a huge success and we repeated it every Christmas for several years. There were always a few world-class pianists in attendance so vigorous and brilliant accompaniment was never a problem.

On our piano’s music stand was the score of the Handel oratorio, “Messiah”. As you may recall from Chapter 3 (“Three Stages), in my singer incarnation I had often been the tenor soloist for this magnificent work. I had not sung seriously for seven or eight years but the opening aria, “Comfort Ye My People” is a fairly easy piece. In a moment between group carolings Mara Waldman opened the score and began to play. I drifted over to the piano and when she finished the opening “Sinfony” and started the intro to “Comfort Ye“. I took a deep breath and began to sing.

Mara looked up at me in surprise and after the first phrase of the aria the assembled group became dead quiet. The vast majority of those present knew me as producer and assistant director. Some had an inkling that I used to be a professional singer but had never heard me let loose. Fortunately the aria is short and has no big high notes so I got through it in respectable form. When I finished there was a moment of shocked silence and then, as they say, the crowd went crazy.

I preened.

Lots more funny tales are to be enjoyed when you click here and get my film production book, Circumstances Beyond My Control.

PS: There’s no recording of that performance but if you’re curious about my singing here’s a video from 1975.