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A Very Strange Occurrence

Was it Synchronicity ?

In the mid-seventies I was Cameraman/ Editor on a film about historic preservation in the small town of Guthrie, Oklahoma. This was the first big project for the small film company I worked for. The Executive Producer was a college professor who did not know anything about filmmaking, but he got the grant.

The filming followed a style where the people in the film did most of the “writing” with their own words. In addition, the shooting and editing style contributed to this overall structure. The director decided to leave the “Writer” credit off the film, implying that this was a collaborative effort.

Halfway through the editing, the Professor/Producer demanded sole credit as the writer in a full frame billboard. A bloody battle ensued when the director legally contested this action. I showed the final cut on our six-plate machine with a battery of lawyers sitting behind me. I was so stressed that I cut my finger on the guillotine splicer and wrapped my bloody finger in an editor’s glove that I held up as a kind of Red Badge of Courage. The writer’s credit stayed in the film and all the edit materials were spirited away to the lab by the winning team of lawyers.

The film premiered to a full house at the Guthrie’s Carnegie Library. Things remained so contentious that the lawyers hired a separate company to project the film. The projector spun out our hard work as our little film team watched from the back of the room. The Professor was front and center drinking in all the credit. A thunderstorm was moving in as the show neared the mid-point, I heard distant thunder to the West of town.

Now the end credits are flashing up on the screen to the applause of the audience.

Just as the disputed full frame writer credit appears, the lights wink and the projector hesitates. The frame stutters as the loop slips, the screen blurs. The writer’s credit is completely un-readable.

Immediately after the credit passed, the sprockets caught and the remaining credits showed normally. There is a gasp from our group. Did we actually see that ?

Apparently, a lightning strike to the west of town caused a momentary loss of power and the heavy mechanism of the projector momentarily shut down. The momentum of the moving sprockets tore a slice into the film that caused the frames of that one credit to blur.

The next morning, I get a call from the director, his voice shaking with anger “John, get down here, we’ve got trouble” When I arrived at the office, my edit room was again filled with lawyers. I was being accused of tampering with the print and causing the disputed credit to blur during the big premier.

I explained that: #1 The print was out of my hands except for a brief tech check of the entire film that was witnessed by these same lawyers. #2 If I were to sabotage the film, I would definitely cut more than one frame.

I have often thought of that night and the blurred writer’s credit. Was this strange occurrence a case of Synchronicity ?


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