As we were discussing the impact that John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands had on the independent film industry in our last post, we would like to share our own experiences in the film industry. The Theatre Guild has produced 5 films over the years:
- The Pawnbroker
- Judgment at Nuremberg
- Born To Win
- A Child Is Waiting
Additionally, our dear partner Marilyn Clark Langner had roles in several of Cassavetes’ films—Shadows and Husbands—and even one of our own independent productions, Slaves, which we produced in 1969, starring Dionne Warwick (in her debut role), Ossie Davis, and Stephen Boyd. It told the story of two slaves in South Carolina.
It was definitely a family affair, as our two small daughters were also in the film.
HOW WE MADE OUR INDEPENDENT FILM SLAVES:
It was 1969, and we were encouraged and emboldened by John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands independent movie adventures. We read this wonderful movie script by Herbert Biberman, John O. Killens, and Alida Sherman; it was about life for slaves before the Civil War. We knew that no studio would want to make such an informative and serious film about this subject matter. But we felt compelled to make it, so we went around asking for support ($750,000) from our kind supporters and received a $500,000 investment a film distribution company in New York.
On a winter day in 1969 we bought a limousine from upstate New York and brought it down to New York City. Several weeks later, we hired our production workers (3 or 4) and they drove the limo to Shreveport, LA. There we had contracted a lovely gentleman who owned a 1860s style plantation and farm, who permitted us to shoot the film on his land.
We had hired Dionne Warwick, who played Cassy (the leading actress), in her debut role and Ossie Davis played Luke, the male lead. We engaged Stephen Boyd to play the slave owner and our dear Marilyn played his wife. Herbert Biberman was the director.
We all met in Shreveport, LA and there we had a rehearsal hall to prepare the actors for their roles in the film. All of this was very exciting. We had a number of casting calls for local women to play in the film. We were very worried that the residents of Shreveport would be, perhaps, angry and unwilling to participate in a movie showing the life of slaves. Happily, everyone wanted to be in the movie–we think that was more important than its political view–so we had a full cast of our film and stage actors supplemented by Shreveport residents.
We shot the film in 8 weeks and sent the films we shot to Hollywood to be developed, printed, and edited. Our director, of course, supervised the editing. We found an independent distributor, which was not easy because the major film companies were not available for this project. The film was released in 1972. It won awards in Europe. Marilyn and I traveled to the Paris and Berlin film festivals.
We are very proud of this movie and are working hard to have it re-released soon—and we owe our thanks and gratitude to Gena and John for helping pave the way!
We think this is exciting: our film Slaves is available to be watched on either Amazon Prime or Netflix (just click on the orange link)!