When we decided to use Henry Slesar’s “A Choice of Witnesses” for the Fall Cinematography I class, I wrote to him for his permission to make a student film with no commercial intentions. The instructor of the class and the Chairman of the Cinema Department, Gerry Wenner, told me that it wasn’t really necessary anyway since it was a non-commercial endeavor. I got a reply from Slesar but it was well after principle photography was completed. He had no problem with a “non-commercial” endeavor, but I must have mentioned something about it playing on the public access channel that originated from the university so he cautioned me about that.
Amazingly a copy of that letter survived. You can see it here: SlesarLetter122683 (Slesar Letter – Decemeber, 26th, 1983).
I don’t blame him for the slow response to my letter. If you have a look at his IMDB listing you can see that he was pretty busy at that time. There were some further correspondences where I tried to follow up with him about seeing the other version of the story produced in Germany that he mentions in the letter, it’s just that it took me some time to get my version completed. There were re-shoots and all sorts of various setbacks to getting the film done, not to mention raising the money for things like film processing, sound mixing and music scoring.
By the way, here’s as good as place as any to give recognition to Lee Walkup and Fred Rossomando for doing a great job with the music for the film. For me it’s one of the best aspects of the film — that and the original story.
I never got the chance to meet or talk to Henry Slesar. The couple more correspondences we had after the one above were far and few between. I think he was very busy and I was focused on how I was going to make a living. At that time I didn’t think of myself as a writer; my time at film school at the University of Bridgeport had geared me toward being a production manager or eventually a producer. Then shortly there after I found myself out in Los Angeles while Slesar was still on the East Coast in New York so I never pursued it any further. It was later I became more interested in being a writer. I regret not doing more to get in contact with with Slesar; I feel I missed a vast learning experience. He died in 2002 at the age of 77.
It would be fun to run across that original short story I adapted for this short film. I’ve looked all over Amazon, etc, but the best I can tell, it must have been in some sort of collection culled from “Alfred Hitchcock Magazine.” If someone can find it, please use the Comments or Contact pages.
For those of you who really like this story, there is a CBS Radio Mystery Theater version from 1974 of “A Choice of Witnesses.” At the opening, the host E. G. Marhall, announces that Slesar wrote the work specifically for them. It’s quite a bit different, not only because it’s an hour long, but because many of the details are further embellished. The story I found was tight and economical. That’s why I chose it. I don’t know which came first. I can only surmise they had Slesar expand his original story to fit their one-hour radio format. You can Google for the CBS Radio version or you can listen to the one on my server via an mp3 here: CBS Radio Mystery Theater version of “A Choice of Witnesses“