The Lab Burned My Neg

The year? 1989. The place? The beautiful Filoli Estate in Woodside, California. We were working on the trade show video, “Amadeus,” alongside Cadence Design Systems’ in-house Creative Genius (not his title but what he was), Larry Eberle. My stomach was turning, hoping we were going to pull off what was one of our biggest and most ambitious projects to date.

Emperor’s Royal court on-location at Filoli.

Since we were following the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart playing for his mentor (Mentor Graphics was, at the time, the #1 EDA company), we needed a location that would look like the Royal Court of Vienna in the late 1700s. Filoli was the natural choice even with the hefty location fee. It was cheaper than building it from scratch, in CGI and shooting on a sound stage, or shooting in Europe (although that would have been fun). We had rented wigs from the San Francisco Opera, even hired their wig master. We had costumes rented from several shops throughout the Bay Area, and we had an amazing cast—the late Sydney Walker and Dean Goodman. Our star was the spitting image of Tom Hulce (the actor who played the role of Mozart in the Oscar-winning film).

The court breaks out in dance as Mozart moves from chamber music to rock and roll.

We had a big crew (make-up artists, hair stylists, grips, gaffer, etc.), a chamber ensemble (who couldn’t play but looked good), an adapted version of the Mozart composition, and we had a choreographer and dancers. Uh, what? Because every good performance of “Eine Kleine Nachtmuzik” should end with a hip-hop flavored flash mob, right? And because this was in the days of standard definition video, we were originating on 16mm film.

Bottom line–it was a big deal for us and for our client. We had collaborated with Larry on previous ECAD (now Cadence) productions but this was definitely the most elaborate so far. It was truly a creative partnership. After two days of extremely satisfying production, we all went home to anxiously await what we had just “put in the can.” The film was dropped off at the lab, costumes were returned, actors and dancers went on to other jobs or day jobs, the wigs and wig master were on a flight to New York, Larry went back to Cadence—our fun-filled weekend of fantasy role playing seemed destined to produce something amazing.

Emperor Joseph II (the late Dean Goodman) and Salieri (the late Sydney Walker) on set in the first scene of the video.

Needless to say, none of us were prepared for the phone call we got two days later. Some not-so-lucky person was handed the assignment of calling to tell us that the technician left our first reel in the developer for too long and it blew out the first scene we shot—the entrance of Emperor Joseph II and Mentor Salieri (Goodman and Walker). We had done several takes of this vital scene that set the stage for the entire piece—so many, in fact, that I was afraid we’d be into overtime if we didn’t move faster.

We were in a panic. While Tam drove like a bat out of hell to San Francisco to survey the damage, the rest of us were on the phone trying to figure out if we could re-shoot. It was appearing highly unlikely. As we all held our breath for the verdict and fearing the worst, we recalled the magic of the two days of production–how everything had come together so beautifully in a relatively short amount of time and on budget. It was a dream turned nightmare. Finally, we got the call. Tam tells us, “The entire first scene was totally blown out.” As I’m about to burst into tears, he continues, “Fortunately, we were able to salvage the scene with the Bosch Film to Tape telecine.” Viewing the raw film before the correction it was so blown out there was only a trace of the image. After the correction, it’s barely noticeable, although if you watch the scene closely you can see some flicker and it doesn’t quite match the vibrancy of the rest of the piece.

It was, however, enough to get us what we needed and I don’t think anyone ever knew the difference. In fact, “Amadeus” went on to be honored with some of the most prestigious awards in the industry.