A Choice of Witnesses based on a story by Henry Slesar — Running Time: 12 minutes
I was up late a few months ago caring for an ill family member when an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” came on television. There was something very familiar about it, and not just in the “I’ve seen this episode before” sort of way. There was something more to it, so I went over to my Internet machine and punched in the episode I was watching and saw that it was written by Henry Slesar. I quickly discovered why it seemed so familiar. Back in my days as a film student in the early 1980’s at the University of Bridgeport (Connecticut), I had essentially created an episode of that TV series from a different Henry Sleasar story called “A Choice of Witnesses.”
Every year, in the fall semester, there was a course for the sophomores called Cinematography I. As a class, the students shoot a film from start to finish as a way of gaining hands-on experience in every area of production — budgeting, set building, art direction, camera operating, lighting, sound recording, etc. The university would foot the bill for this endeavor with the goal of a finished movie being the result. In order to shore up a better chance for success, a student from the junior class who had been through Cinematography I the fall before is chosen as director. I can’t really say I was the top student of my class, but I think Professor Wenner, the Chairman of the Cinema Department, felt I was the most likely to see the film to completion. This was quite the opportunity since I was getting the chance to direct a film largely on the school’s dime; I only needed to come up with money for post-production.
So, in June of 1983, I was charged with the task of finding the material to be adapted for the fall Cinematography I class. I spent the summer reading all sorts of short story anthologies, looking for something that could be adapted to our purposes — most importantly our limited production values. It had to be a story with only a few characters that could be told in about 10 minutes. I don’t remember where exactly I found “A Choice of Witnesses” by Henry Slesar, except that it was in an anthology of short stories, maybe from the Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Even though I kept reading other stuff after I found it, I knew it was the one as soon as I saw it. Wenner agreed.
I won’t go into the many details of the production of “A Choice of Witnesses,” and I suppose I could write an entire volume on the experience of film school in the 1980’s, but the nature of the learning experience that was the making of this film was test of patience for its director. I would even say it was a formative experience for me. In order for everyone in the class to have a chance at every crew position, the jobs would be rotated bi-daily. This was fine during pre-production where building a set everyone got a chance to paint a wall or hammer a nail, but during shooting, to change camera operators every day, twice a day was maddening. It’s remarkable that any of the footage came out properly focused and exposed — many sections of it had to be re-shot.
I’ve heard it said that the Internet is the historical record of our time. With more and more talk of “The Cloud” I think that’s true and only time will tell how much so. I wanted this little film to be part of this record, not because I think it’s any great work of art or entertainment, but for those who worked on it or were in proximity to it in some way. So I add this to vast ocean of video out there, for a reason I’m not completely clear about at this writing. But c’mon, I figure if people are watching those 50 year-0ld shows on the digital subchannels, someone might want to see this one.