They said it couldn't be done. They warned me that the family's story is too big and convoluted to try to whittle it down into a half hour of television. Or they laughed at the thought that our family's history could be turned into something palatable for a mass audience.
But for years and years, tucking my children into bed at night, I had been spinning out bedtime stories of my ancestors, and the kids seemed to like them a lot -- anything to stay awake a little longer.
I first pitched the story idea at the Banff TV Festival in the Spring of '97. I thought it would make a great three-hour mini-series. The broadcast execs told me I was nuts. But...there was this Scattering of Seeds series where it might fit...
Next thing I knew, I was calling up relatives across North America. Most thought I was joking. Others had been anxiously expecting this moment of family fame for generations. I begged my sister and brother-in-law to let me film their son's Bar Mitzvah party -- the climactic scene of the documentary. "You won't embarrass us will you David?" was the response of my ever-trusting sister Marina, the judge. "Oh no. Why would I do that?"
My brother-in-law Shep - dentist by day, party animal by night - was more concerned that if I was filming, I wouldn't enjoy myself. Of course I would; filming is what I love to do. Though the outside chance that my camera crew might disrupt the festivities - maybe they'd trip up old Aunt Ruth - did cause some consternation and hair loss.
So it was all set. I knew that there were a lot of good family photos of my grandparents and their generation. I asked around to see if, by chance, there was any old movie film. Bingo! Rolls and rolls of perfectly-preserved 16mm film came flying at me, some dating back to the 1920's! It turns out I was not the first filmmaker in the family.
In the end, though I couldn't fit in all the interviews I shot over that Bar Mitzvah weekend, the family was unbelievably cooperative, and trusting. One highlight of the project was the joyful response when family members watched their ancient home movies that I had transferred to VHS tapes. Judah, for instance, had never seen the home movie of his own wedding from 1953! And for me, it was an extra treat to edit in cutaways of my three kids celebrating at a family "simcha", though my eight-year-old Daniel insisted that the compromising shot of him sipping from my beer was cool.
Now, I get to sit back and wait to see what the family actually thinks of Something From Nothing when it premieres on January 14th! If the response is good, maybe there will be demand for a sequel after all.
Top of Page