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As originally published on Thursday, July 27, 2006

Movie producer inks distribution deal 40+ years after filming

By Jeff Kinney
Special to The News-Post

 

Movie producer inks distribution deal 40+ years after filming
Staff photo by Travis Pratt

Fred Berney of Walkersville, co-owner and co-operator, of Satellite Media Productions, produced "Once Upon A Coffeehouse" in 1964. More than 40 years later, the film, which marked Joan River's debut, finally has a distribution deal. It was re-released with the new title of "Hootenanny A Go-Go."

   

The world is full of aspiring but frustrated Martin Scorsesees, people who know they have a good movie in them but who, despite valiant effort, can't get a distributor to see the light. So the movie languishes on film in the basement, or, worse, remains merely a gleam in the eye.

And then there are the lucky few who manage, through happenstance and hard work, to present their masterpieces to the world.

Fred Berney of Walkersville is one of those lucky people ... and it only took him 42 years.

Berney, a long-time recording studio owner and media buff, has finally inked a deal with distributor Alpha Video for a DVD release of his musical comedy "Hootenanny A Go Go," a movie he produced in 1964 at the age of 25 on a meager $100,000 budget, but which for decades no distributor would touch.

This, despite the fact that it was Joan Rivers' first film.

Born in Miami, Berney has loved show business all his life, and he became particularly fascinated with radio after visiting a station at the age of 10.

"When most kids were outside playing and doing things, I enjoyed listening to a lot of radio programs," he said. He even used a tape recorder his parents bought him to record his own imaginary radio shows.

As a child, Berney also dreamed of becoming a live performer.

"At one point, I wanted to be a singer and a comedian," he said. "But when I turned 13, my voice changed, and I gave up the singing part."

Undaunted, at age 17 the entrepreneurial young man decided to start his own recording business to help other performers reach their creative potential. Local bands, weddings, bar mitzvahs, you name it -- all took advantage of his nascent technical talents and basic equipment, which amounted to little more than a tape recorder and a couple of microphones.

"I learned that it wasn't the equipment you had, but what you did with it," he said. It also didn't hurt that there were only two other recording studios in town.

The little company grew, facilitated greatly by his father's money and donation of a double-glassed, sound-proof room in a building he owned. Berney kept the recording studio going even while studying radio, television, and film at the University of Miami.

He also expanded into radio after persuading a local station to broadcast a program that he produced, and he even began recording movie trailers. But what he wanted most was to produce his own film.

Inspiration struck while he was producing the radio show remotely from a coffee house in Miami. The owners started sharing stories about the colorful characters that frequented their establishment, and Berney thought these Cheers-esque "trials and tribulations" would make for quality big-screen entertainment.

The only problem: producing a movie takes money, and he didn't have any.

However, noting Berney's obvious talents, at some point his father offered to loan him $30,000 to produce the film. Grateful but ambitious, Berney promptly asked for $60,000.

"Wash your mouth out with soap," his father retorted.

Thinking it unwise to look a $30,000 gift horse in the mouth, he approached the owners of the coffee house. The idea delighted them, so much so that one agreed to write the script and the other to pen the music.

Then there was the problem of casting.

Not being one to aim low, Berney first tried to reel in none other than Johnny Carson.

"Mr. Carson won't appear in a $30,000 movie," one of the comedian's representatives sniffed.

However, a then-unknown Joan Rivers would.

Berney fortuitously ran into her, along with Deanna Lund and Gloria Loring, while scouting for actors in New York State. Neophytes at the time, all of them eagerly signed on.

After casting was complete, the filming itself sailed along smoothly.

The only serious snag was the budget, which ballooned to about $100,000 despite diligent cost-cutting measures, in part because nearly everyone drew union wages and major items like set construction cost more than anticipated. Nevertheless, $100,000 was still considered a pittance even then.

"People didn't believe that we could have done it for that little," Berney said. "We kept a close watch on what we spent."

The entire musical comedy was shot in three weeks and included an original score of lively folk music performed by EPIC recording artist The Goldebriars and others.

The film premiered at a local chain of theaters in Miami in 1965. However, although . Berney pitched the movie to Disney and several other companies, he struggled to find an outlet for national distribution.

But decades later, fortune once again smiled on the project. About a year ago, . Barney attended an old-time radio convention, where he happened to meet the owner of Alpha Video. He presented his sales pitch for the upteenth time -- and the representative bit.

"You have an enthusiasm when you're excited about something, and I think that came out," Berney said.

He's been happy with his relationship with Alpha since, even though the company insisted on scrapping the original title of "Once Upon a Coffee House" because it "lacked sales appeal."

Reflecting on the experience, Berney believes that "Hootenanny A Go Go" -- now available in video stores and on-line at www.amazon.com -- achieved its goals.

"I wanted to do something the whole family could see, as well as a first-class picture," he said. "I didn't want to do one of those exploitation or slasher films that were prevalent at the time."

He added that audiences have loved the film everywhere it has premiered.

"I think we accomplished what we were trying to do," he said. "I also have a very nice letter from Joan Rivers wishing me good luck and asking if there's anything she can do for the film."

His only real regret?

If he'd known from the start that the budget would reach $100,000, he might have been able to land Johnny Carson.


Copyright © 1997-06. Randall Family, LLC. This article is reprinted for the sole use of Fred Berney and may not be reprinted, published, or transferred in any form. All rights reserved.


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