There was a nice response to my post a while back that asked “What Would You Have Done?” as a quiz, so I thought I’d publish another.
Back in the sixties I was a hungry, independent film-maker struggling to make a living. I got odd jobs here, odd jobs there, that kind of thing.
But one day I landed a big one. I was hired to make a tourism promotion film for a cruise-ship company. What an assignment!
I was sent on several cruises throughout the beautiful Caribbean on one of their ships – to plan, come up with ideas, write a script. Surprisingly, the client loved the completed movie.
They went so far as to schedule a “premiere”; they contacted the magnificent New York Plaza Hotel, known for a century for its grandeur and elegance, and reserved one of the large main rooms.
They invited everyone having anything to do with travel and tourism promotion to the premiere, and to enjoy a lavish spread of free food and drinks. This threatened to cost them, as you might guess, a small fortune.
I felt that small-timer Berowne had suddenly hit the big time. There would be an audience there of hundreds of folks working in the travel field – all of them potential clients, who would presumably come rushing over to me after having seen the film and saying “We want you to make one for us too!”
The problem was projection.
The movie was in 16mm. Your average 16mm projector was fine for a dozen or so people, but for hundreds in an auditorium-size venue it would never do. Blown way up on a large screen the 16mm film would appear faded, with dull colors and fuzzy definition. It would appear, in other words, amateurish.
I met with my cruise-ship client and informed him that for such an audience we must have a special projector, an arc projector. This would send a blast of light on to a large screen that would be every bit as good in quality as a Hollywood movie in a motion-picture house.
Trouble was, it was expensive. You had to hire a specialist who would come and actually construct a sort of projection booth that would contain both him and the arc projector.
My contact on the client’s staff had been a chap named Ben, who had supported me all the way and had turned out to be a good friend. But he said it would cost too much so they’d use their 16mm projector. I emphasized that this was an unfortunate decision: the poor picture quality would be bad for the impact of their message.
Nope. An arc projector was just too expcnsive.
Well, the day of the “premiere” came and went. I sat through some of the movie at the Plaza but I began to feel physically ill and had to leave – the movie on the screen was woeful, dim and dark and amateurish-looking.
The next day the director of the cruise-ship company called me on the phone. He was so furious he could hardly talk; their premiere had been a disaster. He had called around later and had been told that they should have had an arc projector, but, he shouted, “You never told us!”
We have come to the “What would you have done?” moment.
First off, I felt that I had to send out a message, loud and clear, to anyone who might listen – including the director on the phone - that the guy who made the film had fought hard against the el cheapo type of projection that had been used.
But then I thought of Ben. All I had to do to get myself off the hook was to describe my conversations with my friend Ben of his staff. However, I realized that if he knew Ben was responsible for the miserable presentation - and he was - he’d be fired.
At the moment, I was pretty well dead as a film-maker; it might take a year or so to recover. Surely something had to be done.
But on the other hand, I hated to toss Ben under the bus. He was a friend who had worked hard to get me hired for the film in the first place. A tough decision.
What would you have done?
(The answers will be posted as received.)