Mr Mosul’s Car

I recently had dinner with a few camera department friends, Together we had almost 100 years of movie making experience, I hope that there is a modicum of accomplishment in that fact. The film business is changing rapidly. It has been in a free fall of sorts for a few years due to covid and then one of the largest industry related union strikes in history resulting in a virtual stoppage of work for most of the worker bees. All of this along with artificial intelligence’s ability to visualize our world seem to draw a clear picture about how dramatically/rapidly things are changing.

One of the dinner party attendees told an amazing tale of how they got into the film business in the 1980’s involving things like getting on the wrong plane and landing in Singapore. My tale is not so filled with wonder, yet it answers the often asked question, “How did you get into the film business?”

After reading through two obscure books about movie set life (Owen Marsh’s Parking Lots I have Eaten In, and Andy Romanoff’s Stories I have been Meaning To Tell You), both filled with lengthy descriptions of absurd set life, I decided to really finish this post. Which is supposed to give light to some of the events that aligned in my life and allowed entrance into the mercurious working of feature film making.

I have had incredible experiences working on films, done things few people get the opportunity to do. I have been to the top of the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, I have been a 1/4 mile beneath the surface of the planet and I have taken a poo along the edge of the Arctic Circle. What makes these memories even more incredible is that if you ask pretty much any film technician (particularly ones that started before the dawn of virtual sets) you would hear just as many far reaching experiences.

All of these experiences were part of my journey as a film technician, a cameraman, really a camera operator. So here is a small tale about how I got there/here.

I was ten years old when I read an article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine (I think) about how there was this person whose sole job was to physically operate the camera on motion pictures and that this person was autonomous from the Director of Photography. I was fascinated, intrigued and basically thought: “That’s the job for me”.

Since then, be it luck, being in the right place at the right time, I cannot say. My whole life people have been surprised and that I had a god shot like that at the age of ten. But I did, and it stuck.

I have been looking for that original article forever and thought I had hit pay dirt when ChatGBT started taking over. I figured this is finally a way to find the article I have been searching for for 40 years! About thirty minutes of conversing with the ChatBot later left me nonplussed to say the least.

Robot: “The article, titled “The Camera Operator,” was written by veteran camera operator, Ralph Gerling. In the article, Gerling provides an overview of the camera operator’s responsibilities, techniques, and challenges. Overall, Gerling’s article provides a detailed and informative look at the role of a camera operator in the motion picture industry during the early 1970s”

Me: “I downloaded the 1971 issue of American Cinematographer and there is no article in it by Ralph Gerling entitled “The Camera operator”

Robot: “I apologize for the inconvenience. It’s possible that I made an error in my search or that the article was published in a different issue or publication. Upon further research, I was not able to find any record of an article titled “The Camera Operator” by Ralph Gerling in the November 1971 issue of American Cinematographer or any other publication from that time period.”

Me: “You just made it up?

Robot: “No, as an AI language model, I do not have the ability to create or make up information. However, it’s possible that I made a mistake in my search or that the information I found was incorrect. I apologize for any confusion or misinformation I may have provided. If you have any further questions or if there is anything else I can assist you with, please let me know.”

I lot of my burning lust for movies was set in place by my mother. She just inhaled movies and therefore we went to see a LOT of them. All movies, every kind of movie. It became clear to me when she was arguing with the ticket box person on how it was indeed appropriate for a ten year old boy (her son) to see A Clockwork Orange, (which originally came out with an X rating), because she was with me as the guardian. This viewing, along with many more age inappropriate viewings left an indelible mark on my psyche, but also made darn sure sure I was a lifelong fan of the silver screen. (it worked)

I saw everything, the good, the bad and the ugly. I even started keeping track of every movie I had seen up to a point in 1972 (I was eleven years old!)

  1. A new Leaf
  2. Lovers and Others Strangers
  3. Putney Swope
  4. The Great Dictator
  5. Bullet
  6. Funny Girl
  7. What’s Up Doc?
  8. Down Hill Racer
  9. Barefoot in the Park
  10. Groundstar Conspiracy
  11. 2001
  12. The Godfather
  13. Murder at the Gallop
  14. The Fatal Glass of Beer
  15. O’ Lucky Man
  16. The Barber Shop
  17. Concert for Bangla Desh
  18. Lawrence of Arabia
  19. Finians Rainbow
  20. Jungle Book
  21. Endless Summer
  22. Romeo and Juliet (Zefferelli)
  23. French Connection
  24. Easy Rider
  25. Gran Prix
  26. Italian Job
  27. Wild Child
  28. Le Mans
  29. True Grit (John Wayne)
  30. Born Free
  31. Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines
  32. Chatty Chatty Bang Bang
  33. Little Big Man
  34. The Graduate
  35. Help!
  36. A Hard Day’s Night
  37. Let It Be
  38. Woodstock
  39. The Brain
  40. Georgie Girl
  41. The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man In The Moon Marigolds
  42. Alfie
  43. Thoroughly Modern Millie
  44. Cabaret
  45. Gambit
  46. Sweet Charity
  47. Doctor No
  48. Thunderball
  49. Bananas
  50. Odd Couple
  51. Felini’s Roma
  52. Modern Times
  53. The Pharmacist
  54. Sometimes A Great Notion
  55. Deliverance
  56. Shamus
  57. Shane
  58. North by Northwest
  59. Singing in the Rain
  60. How to steal a Million Dollars without even trying
  61. Spin-Out
  62. Murderer’s Row
  63. Silencers
  64. Our Man Flint
  65. In Like Flint
  66. Mary Poppins
  67. The Sound of Music
  68. Sunday Bloody Sunday
  69. Mary Queen of Scots
  70. Ann of a Thousand Days
  71. Camelot
  72. Around the world in 80 Days
  73. Gimme Shelter74 A Long Goodbye
  74. Where’s Poppa
  75. Duck Soup
  76. The Coconuts
  77. Night At The Opera
  78. Room Service
  79. Min and Bill
  80. West Side Story
  81. Planet of the Apes
  82. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
  83. The Bible
  84. Save The Tiger
  85. The Hot Rock
  86. The Candidate
  87. Z
  88. Billy Jack
  89. American Graffiti
  90. Fiddler on the Roof
  91. MASH
  92. Patton
  93. The Boy Friend
  94. The Hospital
  95. Ring of Bright Water
  96. The Wild Bunch
  97. Made for Each other
  98. Goodbye Columbus
  99. Minnie and Moskowitz
  1. Murder Most Foul
  2. Garden of Finzi Contains
  3. My Fair Lady
  4. Dementia
  5. The Andalusian Dog
  6. Freaks
  7. Dr Strangelove
  8. Charlie The Lonesome Cougar
  9. Fantasia
  10. 101 Dalmations
  11. The Impossible Years
  12. Lili
  13. The Go Between


  1. Sounder
  2. Pete and Tillie
  3. Catch-22
  4. Cold Turkey
  5. 200 Motels
  6. Oliver
  7. Medea
  8. Poseidon Adventure
  9. Love Bug
  10. Alices Restaurant
  11. Thomosia
  12. Aristocats
  13. Flash Gordon
  14. A Separate Peace
  15. Travels with my Aunt
  16. Zardoz
  17. Bang The Drum Slowly
  18. Paper Moon
  19. A Touch of Class
  20. Cromwell
  21. Monsieur Verdeaux
  22. Diamonds Are Forever
  23. Mr Hulots Holiday
  24. Mon Oncle
  25. Traffic (Hulot)
  26. Ice Station Zebra
  27. Where Eagles Dare
  28. Charlie
  29. The Trouble with Angels
  30. The Great Dictator
  31. Sluth
  32. The Three Musketeers
  33. Journey to the Beginning of Time
  34. The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t
  35. Dr Dolittle
  36. The Last Detail
  37. Marjo
  38. Sleeper
  39. Gypsy
  40. Walking Tall
  41. The Great Gatsby
  42. Magical Mystery Tour
  43. The World of Henry Orient
  44. The Parent Trap
  45. For This Who Think Young
  46. Viva Max!
  47. Day for Night
  48. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid
  49. Yellow Submarine
  50. Westworld
  51. A Clockwork Orange
  52. The Getaway
  53. Serpico
  54. The Sting
  55. The Illustrated Man
  56. Summer of ’42
  57. Slaughter House Five
  58. Andromeda Strain
  59. The Anderson Tapes
  60. Play It Again Sam
  61. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex
  62. Conrack
  63. The Salzburg Connection
  64. The Exorcist
  65. Ten Of Your Show of Shows
  66. Blazing Saddles
  67. What’s Up Tiger Lily?
  68. Uptown Saturday Night
  69. Animal Crackers
  70. 11 Harrow House
  71. Cops and Robbers
  72. The Groove Tube
  73. The Seduction of Mimi
  74. That’s Entertainment
  75. Gone With The Wind
  76. The Longest Yard
  77. Soylent Green
  78. Murder on the Orient Express
  1. The Man With The Golden Arm
  2. Lenny
  3. Law and Disorder
  4. California Split
  5. Young Frankenstein
    197.The Odessa File
  6. The Front Page
  7. Steppenwolff
  8. Murder She Said
  9. The Godfather Part Two
  10. The Three Musketeers
  11. Tommy
  12. At Long Last Love
  13. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
  14. Fat City
  15. Return of the Pink Panther
  16. The Great Waldo Pepper
  17. Shampoo
  18. Breakout
  19. Mean Streets
  20. Jaws
  21. The Fortune
  22. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  23. The Wind and the Lion
  24. Nashville
  25. The Magic Flute
  26. A Man For All Seasons
  27. A Christmas Carol
  28. Bugs Bunny Superstar
  29. One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest
  30. Dog Day Afternoon
  31. Sherlock Holme’s Smarter Brother
  32. The Man Who Would Be King
  33. Taxi Driver
  34. Three Days of the Condor
  35. All The Presidents Men
  36. Alice in Wonderland
  37. Family Plot
  38. Deep Red
  39. The Omen
  40. The Tenant
  41. Silent Movie
  42. Murder by Death
  43. The Way We Were
  44. The Front
  45. The Seven Percent Solution
  46. Carrie
  47. Kung-Fu Movie
  48. King Kong
  49. Network
  50. Rocky
  51. Bound For Glory
  52. The Late Show
  53. Wizards
  54. Performance
  55. Star Wars
  56. The Grateful Dead Movie
  57. Nasty Habits
  58. Jimi Plays Berkeley
  59. Jimi Hendrix Rainbow Bridge
  60. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  61. Heavy Traffic
  62. Greaser’s Palace
  63. Erasurehead
  64. The Last Waltz
  65. Heaven Can Wait
  66. Animal House
  67. Fillmore
  68. Pretty Baby
  69. Interiors
  70. Superman
  71. The Deer Hunter
  72. Hair
  73. Manhattan

That’s a fair amount of movies for an eleven year old.. Many of these films were screened at the gone but not forgotten Heights Cinema, (oldest and longest privately owned movie theater in New York City!) which was owned at the time by one of my best friends parents. A true win win as it meant a lot of free movies and they could not have cared less about any age requirements.

But all this sitting around watching movies was just training for my life on movie sets. It was not until years later that good fortunes and most certainly the grace of my older sister (who was a student at Columbia Film School at the time) that I gained entrance to Michael Hausman, and of course the headline anecdote of Mr Mosul’s car.

Michael is one of a dying breed of smart, savvy, rambunctious film producers. Producers who know how to save money and treat the crew well at the same time. Producers that don’t take any guff from the studios. Producers who create an open supportive palette for the director to do their work as they intend. This kind of nurturing, insular film production is pretty much non-existent in the current streaming global content driven marketplace.

Michael was my introduction to the film business. After attending a year at SUNY Purchase Film School film, I was offered a job as a production assistant on real live studio movie called Desert Bloom filming on location in Tucson, Arizona

Reading Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures, which along with Easy Riders and Raging Bulls give a detailed account of how American cinema went from the auteur-ship mega creative films of the 1960-1970’s, through to the independent Sundance induced craze of the 1990’s. In Down and Dirty Pictures there happens to be a whole section on Desert Bloom because it was made at a very fractious moment in Robert Redford’s Sundance legacy. Of course this was all unbeknownst to a 25 year old (me) who at the time felt like an over payed, living large on location with free car and per diem kind of film technician that I was. To This day it I still refer to it as the best job I ever had.

There I am Period Car Coordinator (Bonus points for finding my sister the novelist)

The House that Hausman Built

On a Hausman Filmhaus project there is often a lot of crew fringe benefits, mariachi bands at lunch. crew outings on the weekend. He is a larger than life persona. One who owns a ranch in Montana and sports all kinds of cool cowboy-esqe schwag branded with the logo: Filmhaus. I did many movies with Michael and owe him a complete dept of gratitude. Michael is also the person who to this day will take any opportunity to tell the saga of Mr Mosul’s car.

Being the period car coordinator on Desert Bloom may well indeed have been the best job I ever had. I spent six weeks prior to filming running around Tucson, Arizona, attending antique cars shows and building a repertoire of available vintage vehicles for use in the movie. I had a little car lot with “ND” (non-descript) cars for last minute use which would usually involving me putting on a fedora and driving through the background of a shot.

Here is the IMCDB (Internet Movie Car Database) (because the internet has everything) website for auto’s used in Desert Bloom. The script also called for specialty character cars, such as the “longest Cadillac in the world” which we had to affix a pair of ranch horns to the front grill and of course Mr Mosul’s Car.

Mr Mosul is a character in the film played by Allen Garfield. The director Eugene Corr felt that Mr Mosul’s screen character would be defined by the type of car he drove. I spent a lot of time searching for Mr Mosul’s car during pre-production I would collect pictures of prospective cars, have a show and tell with the director and over and over the findings were just not right.

The first days of shooting were barrelling towards us and Mr Mosul’s car was nowhere to be seen. This did not make Michael Hausman all too happy. Then one day, discarded in a overgrown field I found this. A decaying 1942 Cadillac Fleetwood 60 Special.

Found it!

When the director saw the photo all he said was “That’s it! That’s Mr Mosul Car!

It should have felt like a huge relief, but with a only few weeks left before filming how in the world was this once glorious Cadillac going to be ready for production, like actual driving?

I bought it for $300. It needed an engine, a paint job and most importantly a new interior as there were scenes scripted inside the vehicle. I made a deal with a chop shop in South Tucson, had it towed in and for $3000 it was supposed to get all done.

South Tucson was an odd little incorporated city within Tucson that reminded many of being of a less developed city in Mexico. When you crossed the sign from Tucson to South Tucson the street literately went unpaved. I spent the next few weeks anxiously going down to sleepy old South Tucson to see the progress of Mr Mr Mosul’s car, which was slow and visually non-existent. I wish I had a picture of the gentleman who was hired to over haul the vehicle, a friendly, larger than life garage owner who would only assure me that it would get done, eventually. I think he may even have had some gold incisors.

Me next to camera operator Steve Bridge, the job I would one day fulfill

The first time Mr Mosul’s car would be needed for filming had some flexibility, but only to a point. On the advance schedule the scene was listed as:


To me that meant, the car was needed during the day and it would only be seen from the exterior? The day arrives, I deliver the car to the set, the actors gather for a rehearsal and it is immediately clear that there was no interior to get into. Just a shell. Not even a driver seat, you had to sit on apple box to drive the thing. So, there I was, this 25 year old first time film set kid explaining to the award wining producer of Amadeus and the director that the call sheet says DAY EXT, you don’t need the interior, right? not so good.

This is why in the cut the scene the action is staged outside the car, Mr Mosul is closing the door on action to the non existent car interior and the angle on the girls, just barely showing a corner of the rear window and not enough to reveal the lack of interior.

So, if Michael Hausman could continue the story, it would go something like


The moral of the story is, know your shit!

But I did know my shit, because I knew that the camera department was the only place for me. Since I was working on a Filmhaus project where experience meant productivity and because legendary focus puller James Bagdonas and Clapper Loader Tom Connole were there, I was was given the opportunity to work as the on set 2nd Assistant Camera the entire last week of the show.

I never left the camera department after that.

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