Emails to Michael M. Mercier
Below are some highlights from my
email exchanges with writer director Michael Mercier.
MEETING LOU LENART:
One of the highlights of my Reuter’s
assignment to cover the Gulf War was meeting and becoming fast friends with
Louis “Lou” Lenart, the Chuck Yeager and co-founder of the Israel Air Force,
and the man who saved Tel Aviv.
Lenart has been the IDF
coordinator for several motion pictures, including the first two “Iron Eagle”
films; the first of which he was also the associate producer. But Lou Lenart is perhaps best known as the
Check Yeager of the Israeli Air Force.
After serving as a Corsair pilot in the Pacific during WWII, Major
Lenart left the Marine Corps. and, in 1948, became a founder of the IAF, one of
the world’s most respected and successful air forces.
Lenart, and other pilots, went to
Czechoslovakia to learn to fly the Avia S-199 Mezec (Mule), a Czech-built version of the WWII Messerschmitt
ME-109. On 14 May 1948, Israel declared
independence and was immediately besieged by neighboring nations. The Mules
were quickly taken apart, airlifted to Israel, and then
reassembled. On 29 May, Lenart, and
three other pilots, each with less than two hours in the fighter, launched at
dusk to attack an Egyptian force of 10,000 troops supported by tanks and
artillery at Ashdod, only 16 miles south of Tel Aviv.
The Israeli’s untested aircraft, armed
only with 20-millimeter cannons and 70 kilogram bombs, made history when the
Egyptians, confused by the "secret air force," halted their
offensive, dug in, and later retreated.
One Mezec was lost in
the attack and another was damaged beyond repair. Although Lenart flew other missions, he used
his WWII experience and served on the southern front as an "air
After the war, Lou participated in an
operation to rescue Iraqi Jews and bring them to Israel. A man of many talents, he flew for EL AL,
Israel’s national airline, conducted aerial mapping missions over the jungles
of Central America. In the early 1980s,
Lenart was General Manager of the San Diego Clippers of the NBA. He
later returned to live in Israel where he was active as a lecturer. Lou died in 2015 at age 94.
MAKING THE “ONLY IN ATLANTIS” TV
My friendship with Sol Kerzner lasted
far beyond his giving me free run of the Victoria Falls Hotel, which he owned
and was boarded up during my coverage of the Zimbabwe War of Independence for
the Reuters News Service.
Out of the blue, I got a call from
Kerzner asking me to put a bid in to do the original “Only in Atlantis” TV
spots for his Paradise Island TV campaign.
Kerzner consulted with me on how he wanted the TV commercials to look. Upon my recommendation, Sol brought in
prolific producer / director Brett Ratner and director of photography Derius
Khondji to create and film the highly successful TV spots. I was the production manager, assistant
director, and Khondji’s camera operator (when he himself wasn’t behind the
lens. Many of these shots were filmed
from one of the resorts own helicopters.
I shot most of the aerials using a HD digital camera with the Tyler
Minogyro stabilization mount.
But the saturated TV campaign and
enormous buy wasn’t enough to save the Paradise Island Empire in such a drastic
worldwide market turndown. It was
simply a classic case of over expanding in a down market. Sol Kerzner was later forced out and, sadly,
no longer controls any of the world famous resorts he originally created and
THE EARLY, SAN FRANCISCO DAYS:
I moved to San Francisco in early 1958
and wrote comedy material for several night club comedians including Lenny
Bruce, Ronnie Schell, Jackie Gayle and Mort Sahl. I worked as a part-time missile-tracking
cinematographer for Lockheed, at nearby Sunnyvale, and as a contract
photographer for Playboy Magazine. The
Playboy assignment lasted on an assignment-by-assignment basis, until
2003. I was also working as a writer at large for Four Star
As a photographer I also worked for
John Reed and Evan Melbi – taking family and child portraits. And this is when I met Jonathan Moore – an
Englishman who would become a lifelong friend.
Reed was a successful motion picture set photographer who was the go-to
guy when it came to movie star type headshots.
In the San Francisco Bay Area he ran a company called Susan’s of
Hollywood (named after his daughter); specializing in child photography – a
really big business at the time. In
addition to managing the popular Marina Theater, Jonathan went to work, albeit
part-time, for John Reed and thus we met.
Today Evan L. Melby runs the 300,000
acre Melby Ranch, located in southern Colorado.
But back in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, Sacramento based Melby ran a
photo service that included the eleven western states and all types of
photography, including family portraits.
My daughter Melbi is named after Evan Melby.
The Lockheed missile tracking platform I
trained on was massive and it was a thrill every time I mounted the platform and
seated myself in the control seat, surrounded by two separate, 35mm motion
picture camera systems; each with 1,000 foot magazines, (approximately 10
minutes of film going through the aperture at various speeds but mostly at 90
feet per minute). Powered by its own
internal gas powered 40 amp generator, It was the two lenses that gave the
platform its massive look; one a 2400 mm and the other a wider 1200mm; but each
with 2X extenders. During the NASA
shuttle launches, the lenses got even larger.
My job was to control the tracking for
the big lens cameras. Like the ball
turret gunner on a WWII B-17 bomber, my feet controlled the left – right
movement and my hands on the joy stick controlled the up and down movements. On the joy stick was the trigger that started
and stopped the cameras. All I had to do
is keep the gun sight in front of me steadily on the target.
The entire system was designed to be
taken apart for transportation via railroad or 18-wheeler, and then
reassembled. It was often flown aboard a
cargo plane – and just as often towed behind a truck or pickup.
My leisure time during this period was
spent racing my Porsche Carrera.
As a member of the Sports Car Club of
America, I raced as an amateur on Saturdays while the professionals like Dan
Gurney and Sterling Moss raced on Sunday.
Although my racing strategy was to complete the race with as few dents
in my Porsche Carrera as possible, I did end up winning a few. Placing 1st in Las Vegas during May’s
Helldorado Week was probably my most satisfying; trumping my win the previous
week at Sacramento and even my Cotati (Northern California) win six weeks
In San Francisco’s North Beach,
Jonathan Moore and I began appearing as the warm-up comedians at the then
iconic Purple Onion, managed by Berry
Drew – a Barrymore. Early in 1960, my
agent, the flamboyant sent me to New York City to audition for the opening of
“The Fantasticks.” I didn’t land any of
the coveted roles but hit it off with the director (Word Baker) who hired me as
the understudy for Jerry Orbach, Kenneth Nelson and Richard Stauffer. The play opened May 3rd, 1960, at the
Sullivan Street Playhouse – to an enthusiastic response from both audience and
Word Baker recognized my talent for
mimicking others while lacking the ability of creating a character from scratch
and decided I was just what he needed as an understudy.
My day jobs during this New York
period were with the Mary Welles ad agency – Wells Rich Greene – and as a
part-time photographer and cinematographer for what would become Grumman
Aerospace, Bethpage, on Long Island. I
liked to work and fortunately work was readily available.
Simultaneously, I was still submitting
plots, subplots and plot points for numerous Four Star Television programming;
including plot points for The Rouges TV series (1964).
In January 1962 Dick Powell died and
Thom McDermott was brought in to run Four-Star.
McDermott knew me from my days with Wells Rich Green and, aware of my
writing ability, asked if I’d be interested in sitting in on story conferences
and helping think up plot points.
Although, at the time, I was more interesting in getting a college degree
in economics and business administration, I accepted – temporarily putting off
Sadly to say, McDermott was a poor
substitute for Dick Powell. Seeing the
handwriting on the wall and although I faithfully attended the writer’s
conferences and submitted a mother lode of suggestions, I wasted no time in
pursuing my college degree. More and
more shows were not being renewed. I
stayed with Four-Star on a part-time basis until its first sale in 1968, at
which time I was enrolled in USC’s famous film school and auditing a number of
first year law courses (including entertainment law) as well as some graduate
business and economics courses.
As an aside, my association with Four
Star Television began in my senior year of high school when, while working as a
projectionist at the local theaters, I wrote a one-hour television pilot
entitled The Saddle. My English and drama teacher, a retired
Hollywood actress of some note, read the script and sent it to Four-Star; which
purchased the rights.
I later learned that the script landed
on the desk of Tom McDermott who, in position as a Manhattan based ad agency
copyrighter, was one of Dick Powell’s right-hand men. McDermott’s secretary was about to send the
manuscript back, unread, with the usual notation that Four-Star only
entertained manuscripts submitted by reputable agencies. But McDermott had recognized the name of the
former actress who had submitted the script and out of respect decided to give
it a perusal. Impressed with what he
read, McDermott purchased the material and turned it over to producer Ben
Roberts. Roberts gave it to Sam Peckinpah who used
parts of the script as the basis for his TV series The Westerner (1960),
starring Brian Keith.
This gave me the opening for submitting
additional material – which I did. I
submitted scripts for several of Four-Star’s westerns, none of which were ever
produced. But McDermott loved my
plotting – using existing characters – and hired me to think up plots and plot
points for Four-Star’s numerous television programming.
Dennis F. Stevens
Attached is a map of Mauritius. Under separate cover, I will send you a photo
of Round Island, the crescent shaped 1.69 sq, kilometer island located 22.5 Km
north of Mauritius. A short distance
from Round Island is Ile aux Serpents, which rock island no longer has any
snakes. I will also send you a photo of
this Isle as well.
I originally decided to set the story
of Gunfire Reef in Mauritius when Sol
Kerzner invited me to visit the Isle in February of 1980 and spend the weekend
as his guest at the Tourssrok Sun Hotel (located on the eastern most part of
Kerzner of course, was the founder and
principal owner of the Sun Hotels (including Sun City) in and about South
Africa – and owned the Victoria Falls Hotel in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
Sol was the one who gave me permission
to stay in the Victoria Falls Hotel while covering the Zimbabwe War of
Independence in its final five months.
The hotel was closed and boarded up at the time, but I had a Volkswagen
bus with a 350 amp generator in the back; used for relaying my Betacam footage
to the “bird” for transmission to ABC in Johannesburg and then on to Reuters in
London. I had the huge, old type “C”
dish which I towed behind the Volkswagen and which took almost all of the 350
amps to transmit a clear video image to the “bird.”
When not uploading images to the
satellite, I used the generator to power up the hotel – the power of which had
previously been switched off. I tapped in
behind the mains, which gave me direct current.
At least I had lights, refrigeration and cooking ability. The freezers were also working – which was
important because Sol (at his expense) kept having food (including fresh
stakes) sent over from Livingston; just across the bridge, in Zambia. Most of the lights and equipment ran off DC
even though not always at the efficiency of AC.
I eventually asked for and received a DC/AC converter which made things
It’s kind of a thrill to have a whole,
world-class resort to yourself. Instead
of changing the sheets, you had the option of merely moving to another
room. I eventually settled on the
Livingston Suite and forced myself to figure out how to work the large
washer/dryers and actually changed the sheets and made the bed every
Although I never had a need to use it,
I packed a .45 Army Model 1911 automatic on my hip. On my belt, I also I carried six extra fully
loaded clips in a police style case.
Fortunately, I got along with both the rebels (who came across the
bridge from Zambia) and the (Selous Scouts) mercenaries fighting for the Ian
In December of ’79, Wilbur Smith paid
a visit. On his way to his birth place
of Broken Hill (Northern Rhodesia), now Kabwe, Zambia, he purposely made his
crossing into Zambia at the Victoria Falls Bridge. Having heard that there was a young American
covering both sides of the war while holed up in the Victoria Falls Hotel,
Wilbur’s interest was piqued. He had read
my Reuters article on the Selous Scouts that appeared in the London Daily Mail
and wanted to meet me.
Wilbur and I hit it off from the
start. He told me of his experiences
growing up on a 30,000 acre farm in Broken Hill, and how he became an
international bestselling author. I introduced
Wilbur to Selous Scouts leader Lt. Colonel Ron Reid Daly and the unit’s
physician, the beautiful; physical fit, 26 year-old Dr. Mary Kumalo – a
After spending three nights with me at
the Victoria Falls Hotel, Wilbur crossed the Zambezi River into Zambia.
During my deployment, I flew home
every 21 days for a week of R&R. The
length of the flight was a bitch but, fortunately, Reuters paid for me to fly
first class. Later, in February, Sol
Kerzner invited me to take my R&R on the Isle of Mauritius, as his
While on the Isle, I had occasion to
visit Round Island, a nature reserve since 1957. Later, in 1991, I inquired and was given
permission to film on Round Island – and that is why the island’ plays such a
big role in Gunfire Reef. …It’s
Although Sol Kerzner, who built
Atlantis on Paradise Island – in the Bahamas, no longer controls the many
worldwide resorts he built, he would still be my go to guy when dealing with
the Mauritius government. Sol currently
lives in Johannesburg.
Again, even though picturesque Mauritius
is the setting for many a film, there are no indigenous crews available – with
most being imported from India or South Africa.
Today, the official language is English, but most Mauritians also speak
The thing to keep in mind about
filming in Mauritius or South Africa is that the dollar goes a long, long
way. By U.S. and Canadian standards,
prices are dirt cheap. Besides, there’s
the cash rebate for filming in South Africa or using a South African crew. Remember, the new water tank that would
double for Gunfire Reef is located in Cape Town. Other than some (stock) establishing shots
of the London area, the British sequences can also be easily be filmed in
Johannesburg or Pretoria. Post
production can also be done in Cape Town, with high quality and great
There’s also the possibility of
obtaining some production funds from South Africa. M – Net, SABC and the country’s largest
theatrical exhibition chain should be contacted.
In 1992 the script was broken down and
a budget done by two separate entities – Igo Kantor and John Stodel; both
highly regarded professionals. Excluding
compensation for the led character, both budgets came within $480,000 of each
other. Sadly, today (sans any rebates)
that (well below $10 million) budget would likely have to be doubled; even
though said budget was based on using Eastman film stock whereas today’s budget
would naturally be based on going digital.
FILMING TV COMMERCIALS FOR THE
GREATEST WINERIES OF CALIFORNIA AND FRANCE:
I was recently asked, “Of all the
commercials, docudramas, business and specialty films you have directed, which
represents the most enjoyable experience.”
Two such shoots come to mind. One
such group of commercials included those spots I made for the Accor Group in
Italy. But hands down, the most
enjoyable experience was making the wine commercials in California and
“What made the experience so
enjoyable,” I was asked.
One ancillary benefit, of course, was
the world class, catered meals the wineries bestowed upon the crew; which
lunches and dinners included expensive wines that most of us could never have
afforded to purchase on our own.
In making these commercials, I must
emphasize that I was merely part of a team that included Duke Goldstone of the
Swift-Chaplin Advertising Agency, and Robert Lawrence Balzer, an Iconic food
and wine critic who served as my manager.
The first commercial, for the Beringer
Winery of Napa, California, was the hardest to get off the ground but once
those spots proved so successful, other potential winery clients flocked to
Balzer in an attempt to get me to write and film commercials for them. Each request was accompanied with three or
four cases of their wine, which was meant to inspire me into writing ad copy
that was special; something just for them.
Although relatively large, my wine
cellar couldn’t begin to hold all the wine cases that were arriving via
DHL. We assigned one of the guest
bedrooms for storage but it wasn’t long before that room also became overfilled
and the spillover stored in my home office.
…Something obviously had to be done.
We started having wine tastings once
every other week, but since we only had seating for 20, even though we tasted
25 to 30 wines at those tastings, it made little impact on the cases we had
stored; cases of: Roederer, Taittinger,
Laurent Perrier, Moet & Chandon, Clicquot, Mumm’s, Krug, Piper-Heidsieck (CHANPAGNE); Chas-sagne- Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet,
Aloxe-Corton, Clos de Vougeot, Romanee-Conti, Le Chateau Meursault, Chambertin
Clos de Bize, La Tache, Richebourg, Grands-Echezeaux, Savigny-les-Beaune,
Marquisat, (BURGUNDIES); Willm, Trim-bach, Dopff & Irion, Hugel, (ALSACE);
Prieurie-Lichine, Margaux, Petrus, Cheval Blanc, Pomerol, Ausone, L’Eglise
Monolith, Mouton-Rothscild, Lafite Rothscild, Haut-Brion, Bouscaut, Chateau de
Bellegrave, Ginestet, Giscours-Margeau, La Bergerie, Chateau Palmer-Cantenac-Margeaux,
Chateau Kirwan, (BORDEAUX); Sterling
Vine-yards, Korbel, Robert Mondavi, Kenwood, Spring Mountain, Clos Du Val, Clos
du Bois, Gallo, Souverain, Fetzer, Chappellet, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Simi,
Beaulieu Vineyards, Buena Vista, Kendall-Jackson, and Mirassou
Some cases, such as the Romanee-Conti,
Ausone and Cheval Blanc, were worth over $1,000 (perhaps three or four times
that now) and I thought about selling them.
But knowing that it wouldn’t be ethical, I gave up on the idea. I did, however, give a lot of bottles
The line, “NO WINE BEFORE ITS TIME,” was coined by Charles Chaplin, the
founder of the advertising agency, Swift-Chaplin, no relation to the comedic
actor and silent screen star.
Swift-Chaplin was the agency responsible for creating the animated Jolly
Green Giant, Speedy Alka Selzer, Hamms beer commercials, (featuring the Hammes
Bear), and the live action, sexy Muriel Cigar lady (who sounded like Mae West
when she said, “Why don’t you pick me up and smoke me sometime?”
Charles Chaplin had a stroke which
forced his retirement. After his stroke,
Duke Goldstone (a partner and the film editor) used to set aside one or two
afternoons a week to go to Chaplin’s home on the Valley side of the Hollywood
Hills to play Yahtzee. Chaplin’s stroke may have affected his speech
somewhat, but his brain was as sharp as ever.
Duke was bringing Charles up to date on the success of our Beringer
commercials when Chaplin, himself a wine connoisseur, brought up the recent
controversy over whether or not clarets should be blended for aging or for
immediate release. Duke went along with
the current thinking that clarets should be drinkable once released. On the other hand, being a traditionalist, Charlie
and I felt that they should be made big, with a recommended drinkable date at
least four to six years from release.
(The public’s taste has since proven Charlie and me wrong).
That’s when, despite his stroke,
Chaplin uttered the immortal words, “No Wine Before its Time.”
Duke knew that Charles Chaplin had
just given him a great copy tagline but didn’t know exactly how to use it. So he merely logged it in the back of his
Meanwhile, Martin Ray, the owner of
the Paul Mason Winery in Saratoga, California, since 1936 (now the Mountain
Winery) phoned Robert Lawrence Balzer telling the wine columnist and critic that
he was about to launch a big ad campaign and wanted to know if Balzer had any
suggestions on who he (Ray) might get to act as spokesman for the winery. Robert Lawrence advised him that he would
give it some thought and get back to him.
Then Robert asked Ray who he had in mind for writing and filming the
commercials. Martin Ray gave Robert
Lawrence the name of the winery’s advertising agency, in San Francisco. Balzer told Ray that he should look into
hiring the person who did the Beringer commercials. Ray asked who that might be. “His name is Dennis Stevens. If you want, I can put you in touch.”
Balzer phoned to relate the
conversation he had just had with Martin Ray.
I told Robert Lawrence that in my opinion there was only one person I
would hire as spokesman and that was Orson Welles. “Can you get him,” Balzer asked. I advised that while I was involved in the
Grammy nominated comedy album, “The Begetting of the President,” narrated by
Welles, I had actually never met the man.
(It would be a couple of years before I finally did). However, I gave Balzer the name of Welles’
manager, which name and phone number Robert Lawrence passed on to Martin
Impressed with the commercials I had
done for Beringer, Martin Ray followed Balzer’s advice and hired me to write
and direct his upcoming commercials.
During lunch at Musso & Franks, I
gave Duke Goldstone the good news. I
told Duke that the Paul Mason Winery had hired Orson Welles as their
spokesman. I advised Duke that I was busy
writing and storyboarding the commercials but was having trouble coming up with
a basic theme for what was then an old but undistinguished winery. I rattled off some tag lines that had come to
mind, but I just wasn’t happy. I could
tell that neither was Duke. Then Duke
laid it on me. “No wine before its
time,” he uttered.
My pulse rate increased significantly
as I repeated the line, adding my own input, “We will sell no wine before its
time.” I had to struggle to control my
excitement. Suddenly I was no longer
interested in lunch. I just wanted to
get home to my typewriter and begin rewriting the text for my Paul Mason
I ended up filming at the Paul Mason
Winery and editing the final commercials in San Francisco. But although I wrote the copy I did not get
to direct the Orson Welles wraparounds, which were filmed in Los Angeles. Orson agreed to do the commercials provided
that the wraparounds were all filmed at one time, by his own, handpicked crew.
I’m told that during the wraparound
shoots, Welles was half crocked, but not on wine, on Scotch. By “wraparound,” I mean the inserts into my
winery footage featuring Orson Welles dressed in his traditional black outfit
sitting in his ubiquitous chair and uttering my words and the line thought up
by Charles Chapman. Orson did ten
(different) wraparounds in two hours.
Six months later, he was brought back for an additional two hours of
Of course the Paul Mason commercials
were extremely popular and, due to their longevity, perhaps even more so than
the Beringer commercials. Needless to
say I was proud, but never forgot the contribution of Robert Balzer, Duke
Goldstone, and that great advertising genius, Charles Chaplin.
By now (December 1977) we could no
longer ignore the many requests for our services in creating television
commercials for the many French and California wineries that had sent us all
those cases of premium wines.
Robert Balzer assigned himself the
task of qualifying the wineries as to
which would actually benefit from a television ad campaign similar to that of
the Beringer Winery, and which would not.
As Balzer pointed out, a lot of wineries, such as Ausone, Cheval Blanc,
and Petrus were already selling all they could produce and thus the idea of
spending money on television commercials was merely a vanity decision, not an
economic one. Ironically, we did make
commercials for Petrus; but that was a vanity thing on their part, intended for
the Far East market, as were the commercials we made for Romanee-Conti, Clos de
Vougeot, Mouton and Lafite Rothschild.
The next task was to write ad copy
that would be individual to each winery.
This was a team effort between Duke Goldstone, Robert Balzer and
me. In the end, however, Robert Lawrence
ended up writing most of the copy. Bob
was simply amazing. But he tended to
overwrite, so all I had to do was edit down his copy. It was a team made in heaven.
All scripts were written so that the
onscreen spokesman was either the winery’s owner or public relations
spokesperson. This proved to be the
right decision as nobody let us down. Of
course, some VOICEOVER narration was added in post.
The next step was planning the
production schedule. How do you shoot
eight to ten unique television commercials for over thirty different clients,
at over thirty different locations, all within a period of five to six weeks;
which was the time period we calculated would allow us deliver four or more,
fully edited commercials for the amount of money that made sense to all the
In those days (1978), in mere crew and
equipment, it cost approximately $25-$30,000 per day to film a single class-A
television commercial. The media buy, of
course, could run into the millions. So
actually the $25 - $30,000 would be like passing gas in a whirlwind … an amount
so insignificant that who would care.
However, we made a deal with each individual French winery to produce
and deliver at least eight different 30-second sports and six 10-second sports
(the latter post edited from the original eight) for a flat fee of $14,000;
which amount was less than one-fifth what the Paris based production companies
would have charged. We could have done
it for less had we not had to pay off the French government (specifically the
Immigration Service) in order to obtain the necessary permits. We didn’t offer the bribes, the French
How were we able to make the spots so
inexpensively? Considering travel time,
the only way we could meet our projected budget was to break out the shooting
schedule so that we could film at least one winery per day. Since the wineries were scattered all over
France, I left it to Robert Lawrence to map out our itinerary. Once again, he came through with flying
Balzer would act as the production
coordinator, I was the director and camera operator. My girlfriend, Beverly Amphlet, a middle
school teacher from Pacific Palisades, would act as script supervisor. Duke Goldstone would stay in Los Angeles and
co-ordinate with the lab and screening of the 35mm dailies, which we shipped
almost daily. The only other American
was Richard Bell, who would act as director of photography, and actually be in
charge of lighting the scenes.
In Paris, we rented a bus and driver
to haul the crew, together with the lighting, camera and grip equipment. We also hired an electrical “best boy” and
“key grip, female soundperson, and two female assistants; the latter all in
their twenties. We rented a 400 amp
generator which we towed behind the bus.
I also hired a female
secretary-interrupter, Marianne Valton.
You ask why we ended up with females in this capacity. The answer lies in the times. They were better qualified, willing to work
for scale and willing to ignore the overly restrictive union requirements with
respect to lunch schedules, overtime and travel. As females, they just felt lucky to be
working. But it worked out to both our
benefits. All the crew, including the
female workers were treated to meals to die for; premium wines, and stayed in
the best hotels within the area. They
also had Rick Bell and me catering to their every need.
Robert Lawrence Balzer had laid out an
itinerary that began in Champagne, then moved east to Alsace, and finally down
to Burgundy. From Lyon, the crew would
fly to Bordeaux while the bus driver drove the bus and equipment over the
mountains to meet us in Bordeaux the next evening. Finishing up in Bordeaux, we would take the
high speed train to Paris while the bus driver once again played catch-up,
trailing along behind, with the equipment.
…At least that was the plan.
The evening of DAY ONE we had dinner
at the La Tour d’ Argent restaurant and stayed the night at the Hotel Meurice,
departing for Reims at 10:00 the next morning, a Monday. In Reims, we checked into the Novotel, an Accor
Group hotel for which group I would later make a number of television
On DAY THREE we met with Claude
Taittinger and begin filming at the Taittinger Cellars at approximately 11
a.m., wrapping out at 7 p.m. That night
we had dinner as the guest of Claude Taiitnger at his family home, Chateau de
Marquetterie (where he served his Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blanc), and
returned to the Novotel around 11 pm; which hotel we stayed during our entire
shoot in Champagne.
DAY FOUR found us at Champagne
Krug. Since Claude Taittinger’s wife was
a part owner of Krug, Claude and his daughter, Virginia, acted as our
hosts. We filmed from 10 a.m. until 6:00
p.m. Once again, Claude insisted we have
dinner as his guests. There was a moment
of unpleasantness when Beverly Amphlet let me know that she was displeased at
the attention I was paying to Virginia, and likewise.
DAY FIVE was spent at Champagne
Mumm. But this time the crew was
beginning to mesh as a well oiled team.
We were able to wrap out the Mumm’s shoot in a mere five hours.
At 9:30 on DAY SIX, we departed the
Novotel hotel for Tours sur Marne and the Laurent-Perrier winery. We were greeted by Vicomte Bernard de la
Giraudiere, who went out of his way to make the day one of the most pleasurable
of the whole shoot. We were introduced
to the new Laurent Perrier Champagne Natural, one of the driest but best
tasting champagnes I had ever tasted.
Bernard had a catered lunch brought in which was served with the Natural.
We wrapped at 7 p.m. and returned to Reims.
The next day, Saturday, was to be a
major shoot, likely to go into overtime.
Thus we departed Reims on DAY SEVEN at 6 a.m. and traveled to Epernay
and the Moet and Chandon winery. We were
greeted by Countess de Maigret.
For the Moet and Chandon people we
were actually making two sets of commercials.
One for the Dom Perignon label, which included filming in the Abbey at
Hautvillers, and the second set which included the Imperial and White Star
Taking only 40 minutes for lunch,
which was catered by Countess de Maigret, we managed to wrap out at 8:15
p.m. But the Countess had a special
surprise for us.
The Countess had arranged another
catered meal, this one with all the appropriate wines (including Dom Perignon)
at L’Orangerie, on the winery grounds and the set-ting for many high level
governmental meetings over the years. It
was after midnight when we staggered out of L’Orangerie and headed back to
Reims. The Countess felt sorry for our
bus driver, who wasn’t allowed to drink, and gave him a bottle of Dom Perignon
to enjoy once we were safely back at the hotel.
END OF PART ONE
FILMING TV COMMERCIALS FOR THE
GREATEST WINERIES OF CALIFORNIA AND FRANCE:
We’re filming TV commercials in France
and so far on schedule and on budget:
Sunday, DAY EIGHT, we spent en route
to Strasbourg, stopping for lunch at the Restaurant des Vannes, in
Liverdun. In Strasbourg we checked into
the Hotel Sofitel, also an Accor Group hotel.
That evening we had a fabulous Flammekeuche-Strasbourgeois dinner at Au
DAY NINE saw us heading out at 9 a.m.
following the northern part of the famous La Route du Vin. At 9:45 we arrived at Willm, Producteur-
Negociant, at Barr, and began filming.
This was an easy shoot and we wrapped out at 3:30 p.m. We boarded the bus and headed for Colmar,
where we checked into the Hotel Novotel.
That night we had dinner at the world famous restaurant owned by
Jean-Pierre Haeberlin and his brother Paul, the Inn at Illhaeusern.
On DAY TEN we departed at 9:30 a.m.
for Ribeauville where we spent the day filming at Maison Trimbach, which
included many shots of the town.
Brothers Hubert and Bernard Trimbach catered both our lunch and
DAY ELEVEN saw us departing the hotel
at 7 a.m. and following La Route de Vin (Central part) to Riquewihr, where we
spent the day filming commercials for two separate wineries, Chez Dopff &
Irion and Maison Hugel. Much of our
footage for both wineries featured Riquewihr itself, to me one of the most
beautiful spots on the planet Earth. We
wrapped out at 8 p.m. and having completed two commercials in one day, had
dinner aux Armes de France, chez Gaertner a’ Ammerschwihr.
On DAY TWELVE, we left Alsace for
Burgundy. We stopped for lunch at
Besancon, au Palais de la Biere, then pressed on to Chalon where we checked
into the Hotel Mercure, also an Accor Group hotel. That evening we had dinner at the world
famous Hotel de la Poste, where owner Marc Chevillot was so glad to see Robert
Lawrence Balzer that he picked up the tab for our entire meal, including the
after dinner brandy and cigars for the men in the crew. However, the women weren’t left out. While we were smoking our cigars, they enjoyed
some rare late harvest ice wines.
DAY THIRTEEN saw us filming at one of
the world’s most famous wineries, Clos de Vougeot. Because these commercials were intended for
the Japanese market, whereby the voiceover narration would be done in post production,
we wrapped out early, having dinner at La Grille de Chambertin.
DAY FOURTEEN turned out to be one of
my most memorable days of my life. On
this day, we filmed two sets of commercials, both for the Far East markets; one
set was for Romanee-Conti and the other set for Chambertin Clos de Bize.
I had first met Madame Lalou
Bize-Leroy (a 25% owner of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti) and her husband, Marcal
Bize, at a Wine Scene seminar one year earlier.
The three of us became friends, which led to my making these two sets of
As an aside, in 1983, Lalou was in
charge of marketing for Romanee-Conti when NHK (the Japanese public TV network)
approached her about doing a documentary on the world’s most prestigious
winery. The documentary was sponsored by
Takashimaya, Madame Lalou’s Japanese importer.
Lalou agreed to the project provided I
direct. The NHK producers, who were more
than a little intimidated by the eccentric wine-maker, were delighted to turn
the rains over to the “affable American.”
Everyone was happy and I later edited an English version which for a
time regularly ran on the Travel Channel.
A follow-up note: In 1980, Madame Lalou and Marcel formed their
own winery, LeRoy, which today is world class, and Romanee-Conti’s strongest
competitor. In 1990, the remaining
family, including an older sister (by 3 years), who also owns 25% of
Romanee-Conti (inherited by their father), in retaliation very publicly
relieved Lalou of her position as co-manager of what is habitually considered
France’s most magnificent wine and winery.
Marcel died of cancer on 26 August 2004.
DAY FIFTEEN, a Sunday, was a day
off. Officially everyone was on their
own in the morning, but most ended up touring the city of Beaune.
Rick Bell and I spent the morning
filming footage of the Hospice de Beaune.
Later that afternoon we all headed for Lyon, where we checked into the
Grand Hotel and had dinner at Paul Bocuse in Collonges au Mont d’Or.
DAY SIXTEEN saw is filming at
Marquisat, where host Marc Pasquier-Desvigones catered a magnificent dinner in
the historic chateau.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape was drunk as if water and it was after 11 p.m. when
we finally headed back to the Grand.
The next morning, DAY SEVENTEEN, we
flew to Bordeaux and took the hotel shuttle to what was to be our hotel for the
next several days, the Sofitel’s Aquitania.
The crew spent the day resting and checking out the surrounding
About 4 p.m., Robert Balzer and I were
picked up by a car sent by Baron Phillippe de Rothschild. We were transported to the town of Pauillac
and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. There we
had dinner with Baron Phillippe. It was
a multiple course dinner with what looked to me like some sort of steak for the
main course, but which turned out to be duck.
Each course was served with a
compatible wine. The aperitif was
Roederer “Cristal,” followed by a La Montrachet. The only Mouton wine served was a 1961
claret. The desert wine was a 1929
Chateau d’Yquem, which Baron Phillippe had been saving for Robert
Lawrence. Needless to say, Balzer was
blown away. I was just fortunate enough
to have been a part of this historic moment.
I can actually say that not only have I enjoyed one, but three glasses
of this incredible vintage.
Our bus driver arrived early that
evening, having spent the previous 19 and a-half hours driving the bus (and all
of our equipment) over the mountains, with only a brief rest stop at the
Novotel in Aurillac. Upon his arrival in
Bordeaux, my director of photography, Rick Bell, made sure that he was properly
checked in to the Bordeaux Sofitel Aquitania, had a good meal and a good
night’s sleep; ready to go first thing in the morning.
The next morning was DAY
EIGHTEEN. At 8:30 we departed the hotel
for Chateau Prieure-Lichine, Margaux. We
were greeted by owner Alexis Lichine himself.
Many of the crew couldn’t help notice the collection of iron fireplace
backs and hearths that were prominently displayed throughout the property.
Alexis was very cordial and seemed to
have no problem letting us film inside his residence, even though it was filled
with antiques. But most of the filming
took place in the cellar. Lichine
catered lunch in the cellar, which featured his own wines, and we managed to
wrap out at 5 p.m. We returned to the
hotel for a change of clothes and dinner at Restaurant la St. James, in
The restaurant held a particular
significance for Robert Lawrence Balzer, who was a mentor to its founder, Madam
Yannic Amat. Yannic and her husband –
chef, Jean-Marie, greeted our group with great enthusiasm and we had another of
those meals to die for. Yannic was
obviously happy to see her mentor and I’m not sure but I believe she picked up
the tab for the entire group. I never
did find a bill for that evening.
DAY NINETEEN saw us departing at 9
a.m. for St. Emilion. We arrived at
Chateau Petrus, in Pomerol, and were greeted by Christian Moueix. We started filming shortly after 10:30 a.m. At one p.m., we broke for lunch and
Christian Mouix took us to dine at the Hotel de Plaisance, where he picked up
the tab. We got back to the Aquitania
around 7 p.m. and had dinner at the hotel.
By this time, the crew was so used to
all of the fine catered meals we had enjoyed to date, that for the first time I
began hearing rumblings about having to eat at the Hotel Sofitel Aquitania, a
four out of five star hotel (which would be the equivalent of a Michelin Two
Star), even though they could order anything on the menu. Robert Balzer had spoiled them. But even more remarkable, we never had to pay
for a single meal that was catered by the wineries, nor was the cost deducted
from the production fee. As far as I was
concerned, we were making out like bandits.
DAY TWENTY, a Saturday, we left the
Hotel Aquitania at 7 a.m. and headed for Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. This was a complex shoot because the focus
was on the philanthropy of Mouton, rather than pushing its wines. For the first time, these commercials would
let the public into the Mouton museum.
We spent half the day filming in the museum and the other half in the
cellars and gardens.
Baron Phillippe catered our lunch,
which was held in one of the large tasting and banquet rooms, never open to the
We wrapped out at 6 p.m. and returned
to the Sofitel’s Aquitania. Once again,
we had dinner at the hotel, but after the wonderful lunch served by Baron
Phillippe, no one was complaining.
The following day, Sunday, was a day
off for the crew. However, on DAY
TWENTY-ONE, everyone voted to take the bus to the small, medieval city of Saint
Emilion to witness the 779th anniversary of the Jurade of St. Emillion. Balzer phoned his friend Christian Moueix to
see if we could get badges that would give us priority access to the city,
which on this particular day would be flooded with thousands who were there to
witness and participate in the birthday celebration of one of the oldest
institutions in the world of wine.
Christian Moueix agreed to help if we
would film that part of the celebration where the players (in their mediaeval
costumes) enter the vast underground cathedral, carved out of the hillside
rock. I nodded that I would personally
shoot the necessary footage; thus we wouldn’t have to worry about working the
remaining crew on a Sunday, which would result in paying them double time plus
giving them a substitute day off later in the week.
The badge, furnished by Christian
Moueix, allowed me to get into position high above the cathedral entrance just
as the participants were filing into the cave.
I shot a 400 foot magazine of 35mm film, at the rate of 90 feet per
minute, managing to capture on film (with the help of the 25 – 120mm lens) all
kinds of activity in the plaza below. I
then changed the “Arri’s” magazine and waited for the participants to emerge,
which they did approximately one hour later.
A month later, Christian Moueix wrote
Robert Lawrence Balzer that the footage I shot for him that day was the best Jurade of St. Emilion film footage ever taken. Shortly thereafter, DHL delivered another
three cases of Chateau Petrus to my Woking way house, which I promptly gave to
close friends; those who had assisted in making the French wine shoot come
together without major incident.
By way of background, the Jurade was
formed as the governing body of the mediaeval city of St. Emilion back in the
12th Century by the Charter of Falaise.
John Lackland, King of England (and brother of Richard the Lionheart)
who controlled the Aquitaine region of France, gave St. Emilion by this charter
the right to self-government on June 8, 1199.
Wine being a major concern of this monastic city, the Jurade controlled
the production and consumption of wine as it controlled everything else.
The Jurade gradually lost its power as
the Church and the Monasteries were stripped of their influence, and finally
died out altogether with the French Revolution.
It was not reinstated until 1948, but this time not to govern the whole
town, being now involved only in the wine trade.
Actually the Jurade is now principally
a promotional body for the winemakers rather than a controlling body – this is
done by the quasi-government INAOC (Institute National d’Appellation
Controllèe). As with the Confèrie des
Tastevins in Burgundy and the Commanderie de Bontempts of Bordeaux, the Jurade
is mainly concerned with supporting the image of St. Emilion’s wines throughout
DAY TWENTY-TWO, a Monday, found us at
Chateau Lafite Rothschild where we were greeted by Baron Eric de Rothschild
himself. This ended up being a busy day,
since we were not only filming on the grounds of this spectacular winery, but
in the main chateau, the cellars, and in the wine library.
The wine library consisted of numerous
Lafite clarets dating back to the late 1800s.
Eric catered our lunch, in the chateau’s tasting room (not open to the
public), and poured the current claret, which had not as yet been
During a beautifully catered and
fabulous lunch, Baron Eric asked me about how the shoot at Mouton went. As I sipped from a glass of Lafite’s
unreleased claret, I could not help but mention the fabulous wines that Baron
Phillippe had served.
A month after I had returned to my
Woking Way home, DHL delivered a case of Lafite Rothschild wines, which
consisted of three bottles of the 1955; three bottles of the 1959; three
bottles of the 1961; and three bottles of the 1975 vintage clarets. The note, signed by Baron Eric simply said
(translated from French): “I’ll put these vintages up against the best
Phillippe can come up with, without going into his wine library. The enclosed wines are still readily available
on the street, albeit for a price. Thanks
for the great commercials. We will begin
running them in Japan this fall.”
DAY TWENTY-THREE was spent filming at
Chateau Bellegrave, in Pauillac. Our
host for the shoot was Baron Yves de Boiredon, who catered lunch.
On DAY TWENTY-FOUR we returned to the
district of Margeaux and Chateau Giscours, where we were greeted by M. Pierre
Tari. We wrapped out at 6 p.m. and were
treated to a catered dinner, courtesy of Giscours.
Wednesday, DAY TWENTY-FIVE, saw us
leave the Hotel Aquitania at 6 a.m. for what was to be an ambitious
schedule. Once again we were going to
attempt to cover two wineries in one day; La Bergerie, Pauillac, and Chateau
These were fairly small wineries and
we made a deal to produce television commercials for both, for the price of
one. Our host at La Bergerie was
Philippe Gottin, who catered lunch. It
was 2:30 p.m. by the time we arrived at Chateau Palmer, and after 8 p.m. when
we wrapped. But our host at Palmer,
Peter Sichel, had a fabulous dinner waiting.
It was after 11 p.m. when we returned to the hotel, totally
DAY TWENTY-SIX saw us dragging
ourselves out of bed at 9 a.m. and after a light breakfast, leaving the Hotel
Aquitania at 10 a.m. Our destination was
one of my favorite wineries, Chateau Kirwan, in the district of Margaux. Still tired from the day before, we took our
time and broke for lunch at around 1 p.m.
Our host, M. Jean-Henri Schyler, catered a fun buffet luncheon on the
lawn. We got back to work around 1:45
p.m. and wrapped out at 5 p.m.
Friday, DAY TWENTY-SEVEN, found us at
another first growth winery, Château Haut-Brion, located in the district of
Graves. We were met by winemaster, Jean
Delmas, who was very helpful in getting us set up. As a result of this help, we wrapped out
early, at 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, DAY TWENTY-EIGHT, our final
day, found us at another Graves winery, located practically next door to
Haut-Brion. This was Chateau Bouscaut,
one of the few American owned French wineries.
Owners Charles Wohlstetter and Howard Sloan, the latter who lived in
Miami, were both there to greet us.
Another surprise was Jean Delmas, from Château Haut-Brion, who felt bad
that he had let us leave the day before without having properly fed us. He made up for it by catering our luncheon at
This turned out to be perhaps the best
catered luncheon of the entire shoot.
Howard Sloan passed out Havana cigars, which were smoked with a $200 a
bottle Hennessy Paradis Cognac (pronounced Pari-D in French). Today a bottle of Paradis sells for over $600
a bottle. The crew was crocked when we
finally went back to work at approximately 3 p.m. However, we managed to get through the rest
of the shoot and wrapped out at 5 p.m.
The game plan was to put the crew
hired in Paris on the Bordeaux – Paris Express.
Since union rules allowed them to travel on Sunday at regular pay
(working on Sunday was double time),
this would effectively get the crew off the payroll in twenty –nine days. The rest of us, Robert Lawrence Balzer,
Richard Bell, Beverly Amphlet, my secretary Marianne, and I would accompany the
bus driver in driving to Paris.
But when the crew heard that we did
not intend to drive directly to Paris, but to visit Hennesy, Muscadet and
Chenonceaux along the way, they all wanted to ride the bus to Paris. To a person, they all offered to pay their
own way; hotels, meals, everything except for gas for the bus. As far as I was concerned, so long as they
were off the payroll, and we were off the hook for their train tickets, it
sounded like a plan to me.
So, on DAY TWENTY-NINE, we checked out
of the Hotel Aquitania and headed up the coast; destination: La Rochelle.
Arriving at La Rochelle, we checked
into the Hotel La Rochelle, right on the sound.
The next day, Monday, we toured Cognac, Comite Hennessy, and the Paradis
Cellars, where none of the Cognac barrels skillfully blended into the “Pari-D”
is less than 75 years old; it used to be 100 years, but demand has increased
and supplies are increasingly limited.
Today you’ll pay upward of $7,500 for a true 100 year-old blend.
In America’s bootleg heyday, revenuers
could always tell where the alcohol was by the dark moss growing on the roof of
the cellars. You should have seen the
moss growing on the Paradis cellar.
Robert Lawrence arranged for a brandy
tasting at Hennesy. The surprise was
that out of respect to Balzer, Hennesy catered a meal following the
tasting. Once again, everyone was
crocked by the time they returned to the Hotel La Rochelle.
Tuesday, we departed for Nantes at
9:30 a.m. en route to a lunch Robert Lawrence had arranged for with the Marquis
Robert de Goulaine-Muscadet. After
lunch, we headed for Tours, where we checked into the Sofitel.
At 9 a.m. on Wednesday, we checked out
of the hotel and departed for Chenonceaux.
This is a must stop for anyone visiting the Loire Valley. The gardens, the château; it’s all a
spectacular and lasting impression. The
château itself is actually built across the Loire River and the tour consists
of visits to most of the rooms therein.
After visiting Chenonceaux, we stopped
for lunch at Restaurant Bon Laboureur, before heading for Paris. In Paris, we dropped off the crew, including
my secretary, Marianne. Robert Lawrence
Balzer, Richard Bell, Beverly Amphlet and I once again checked into the Hotel
Meurice. Feeling a satisfaction on how
well the shoot had gone, we indulged ourselves and requested suites. However, on such short notice, only two
suites were available. I offered to get
Richard Bell a suite at the Continental, across the street, but Rick only
wanted a regular room. So Beverly and I
took one of the suites and Robert Lawrence the other.
Our Air France first class flight to
Los Angeles was not scheduled until Saturday, which meant that we had two free
days in Paris. To change the departure
time or date could incur an extra cost, I protested, and although that
cost would have been minimal, I used the potential increase to rationalize
spending the next two days in Versailles.
Actually, on a first class ticket no cost increase would have been
imposed for either early or delayed departure, but I kept that little secret to
It was Robert Lawrence who first
suggested spending the extra time at Versailles. But Versailles was some distance from Paris
and we had turned in our bus and let go our driver. How to get to Versailles? …The answer, of course, was by train.
Thursday morning we checked out of the
Meurice and took a cab to the railroad station where we boarded the train for
Versailles. Once at the Versailles rail
station, Robert Lawrence phoned the Trianon Palace Hotel, where he had made
reservations, and asked for a hotel van to pick us up. Ten minutes later the van arrived and twenty
minutes later we were checking into the world class hotel resort &
That afternoon and all day on Friday
we toured the Versailles Palace, which northern border was located just across
the street from our hotel. The grounds
of the Palace and its various constructions were enormous and it took all the
time we had allowed ourselves to explore it thoroughly.
Early Saturday afternoon, we checked
out of the Trianon Place and, for a slight fee, were transported by one of the
hotel’s vans to the Charles de Gaulle airport where we caught Flight #003,
leaving at 5:30 p.m. for Los Angeles and arriving at Los Angeles International
at 7:30 p.m., the same day.
Flying first class of course has its
advantages. We all had the sleeper seats
that folded down into a full length “bed.” And we were all asked what we wanted to
drink, which drinks were complimentary.
I asked what kind of champagne they served. “Mumm’s Cordon Rouge and Clicquot,” I was
told. “What kind of Clicquot,” I
asked. The flight attendant said that
she would have to check. When she came
back, she said that they had full bottles of Gold label and splits of the White
label. I told her to put an ice bucket
next to my seat and keep a supply of properly chilled Gold label at my beck and
call all the way to Los Angeles. This
she did, but not without a facetious quip, “Yes, Mister Bond!”
All of the above happened in May and
June of 1978. By the fall of the same
year, Robert Lawrence Balzer and Duke Goldstone had mapped out a similar shoot
that would incorporate our making television commercials for a number of
California’s premium wineries: Sterling
Vineyards, Montelena, Korbel, Robert Mandavi, Kenwood, Spring Mountain, Clos du
Val, Clos du Bois, Souverain, Chappellet, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Simi,
Beaulieu, Buena Vista, Kendal-Jackson, Fetzer (featuring their box wine), and
Mirassou. We decided to use the same
approach as we used shooting the French commercials.
Again, some, like Montelena and Stags
Leap, were vanity commercials, intended only to warrant the stiff prices Jim
Barrett and Warren Winiarski
respectively, were charging for their wines.
Robert Lawrence helped me write
scripts for all of the commercials and Duke Goldstone set a schedule that would
allow us to shoot all the required commercials (8-thirty second and 6-ten
second spots for each winery), in only 13 days (including Sundays), plus travel
to and from Los Angeles.
Once again, Robert Lawrence Balzer was
the production coordinator. But this
time, Duke Goldstone came along as my script supervisor and 1st assistant /
production manager. Beverly Amphlet was
back teaching her middle school students and was thus not available for the
shoot. However, we again hired Richard
“Rick” Bell as director of photography.
For gaffers, grips, sound, assistant camera, and craft service, we used
the same crew we used when making business films for Westinghouse. I doubled as director and camera
Instead of hiring a bus and driver,
this time we rented two large Ford vans from Los Angeles based Galpin Ford
(15505 Roscoe Blvd., North Hills, California).
We loaded the equipment in the back and still had plenty of seating for
the crew. However as the crew took off
from Los Angeles early in the morning on a Saturday, DAY ONE, Robert Lawrence
Balzer, Duke Goldstone, and I cheated and caught an afternoon flight out of
Burbank. We arrived at SFO, rented a
car, and drove to our hotel in Santa Rosa.
The two vans made reasonably good time and arrived in Santa Rosa around
ten p.m. that evening, having stopped for lunch along the way.
The next day, Sunday (DAY TWO) found
us resting up and checking the equipment.
As with the France shoot, we rented two Arriflex 435 – 35mm cameras with
a compliment of matching prime lenses and a 25-120 zoom (with 2X extenders). But this time we were shooting on the newer, much
sharper Eastman 5247 film stock.
Monday morning, DAY THREE, saw us at
Korbel, where to our delight everything went as smoothly as the best of our
shoots in France.
Unlike in France, where we used the
winery owner(s) or designated publicity person as the on camera spokesperson,
or with Paul Mason where Orson Welles was that spokesperson, in the California
shoot we used voiceover professionals exclusively.
We had used voiceover for the Beringer
ads to great effect. This approach
decreased the shooting time substantially.
Even though after the first day we would be filming two wineries per
day, we were still looking forward to short days. After all Duke liked to have his first adult
beverage of the day, usually a Rob Roy,
around 4 p.m.
Duke wasn’t disappointed. We had very relaxed days often wrapping out
two wineries in as little as seven hours (3-hours per winery plus travel).
The venture was highly successful. The wineries were ecstatic. They received a set of ready to air
television commercials for approximately one-fifth the normal cost. We even took some of the outtakes from the
California portion of the shoot to make five half-hour video tapes featuring an
on camera Robert Lawrence Balzer tracing the history of the most popular
varietals. Duke Goldstone and I took no
profit from this added venture, passing on all revenue to Balzer.
Of note, my French secretary Marianne
Valton would later visit me, spending a week at my home in the Griffith Park
area of Los Angeles. She would later
marry an officer in the French army. She
was really a delight. And Michael, if
you recall, director of photography Rick Bell, who lived in Phoenix, would
return to Southern California to do a series of infomercials for you.
As an aside, on the California wine
shoot, as the craft service person, we used Jonathan Moore’s longtime friend
from London, Brian Lipman. Brian was an
amazing person; a charming layabout with a serious drinking problem that
eventually led to his untimely death, and who had a number of beautiful young
women willing to support him just for the experience of having him around and
bedding him. Brian rejected all offers
to move in with them simply because he didn’t want to be faithful to only one
woman. Instead, he stayed at my Woking
Way home, cooking and doing odd jobs in exchange for his board and room and
virtually an unlimited supply of fairly expensive brandy – his favorite adult
beverage. We all dearly loved