Believe It Or Not (I’m Walking On Air)

Chris and I co-directed our first film in 1981. It was a big-screen remake of the beloved television show, “The Greatest American Hero.” I played Ralph Hinkley. He played the bad guy.

We didn’t cast a William “Bill” Maxwell (Robert Culp). But we had our Pam. Jenny DeLuca was a dead ringer for Connie Sellecca.

In our script — a silent film shot on my father’s Super 8 camera — Ralph gets a call from Pam, changes into his superhero costume, flies to the scene of a carjacking, stops the vehicle in it’s tracks, saves the damsel in distress, apprehends the bad guy, then flies home in time for a romantic dinner with Pam (complete with candle light and cranberry juice).

Chris shot everything under my direction, including the tricky flying scene in which we laid a white sheet over a piano bench, set it against a white wall, and turned on a fan to blow my hair (which I had back then).

When it came time for him to play the bad guy, Chris handed off the camera to his best friend, Eric Caldwell. When it came time for him to be apprehended, he slipped out of another door, and out of my grip. I shouted cut — there was no editing then; we shot everything in sequence — and directed him to put his hands on the hood of the car. Then I yelled action, threw him into the snow, and pummeled him.

Twenty-four years later, Chris and I are still at it. But he’s no longer throwing wrenches in the works. We’ve found a new rhythm. We’re working together.

We shot the opening scene of our Mr. Rogers documentary, “Mr. Rogers & Me,” this morning. Mrs. Rogers gave me her blessing on the film long ago. Now we have to convince his estate. So we’re working on a trailer to demonstrate our intent and capability to our friends at Family Communications, Inc. The scene, in short, mirrors the opening paragraphs of my essay: I wake up, hear the news that Mr. Rogers has died, and go back to sleep.

Chris had some pretty fancy shots in mind: through the window, slow zoom, crane, steadycam. Me, I was thinking simple. “This movie’s like pen and ink,” I said. “Nothing fancy.”

We walked around the room framing various shots, and then agreed on a simple dolly shot. The camera slowly circles my room as an NPR reporter reads the news, then lands on me staring at the clock radio, silencing it, and pulling the pillow over my head.

“Yunno, there’s a great subtext here,” I said. “It shows who the storyteller is before revealing him.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking,” Chris said. “Plus it looks cool.”

We’re not the Cohen Brothers, yet. But we’ve got the brothers part down.

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