March 16, 2014

'This Shot & One More': RIP Legendary Production Manager Abby Singer

Abby SingerAbby Singer was one of the most famous names in Hollywood, though he wasn't an actor or director, and even most of the people who have used his name on a regular basis over the years don't know there was a real man behind "The Abby Singer Shot." As a production manager, Singer gained fame with his time and money-saving shot that continues to signal the near-end of the working day to crews around the world. Singer passed away last Thursday, at the age of 96; click through to learn the story of Abby Singer, and the shot that has become a staple of productions around the world. 

Like many industries, filmmaking and TV production have their own, unique vocabulary. To an outsider, the language spoken on set can seem needlessly complicated, with mundane objects referred to by obscure terms, e.g., the humble clothespin, ubiquitous in production and known on set as either a "CP 47", "C-47," "47," "peg," "ammo" or "bullet." One of the most famous of these terms is "The Abby Singer Shot," AKA the penultimate (second-to-last) shot of the day, intended to save money and time by alerting crews to transition into a location move and the last shot of the day, "the Martini shot." But who was Abby Singer?

After serving in the Navy, Singer started working at Columbia Pictures in 1949 as an assistant to studio President Harry Cohn's aide Jack Fier, apparently a notorious tightwad, always looking to save a buck for his boss (who, according to IMDB, was "crude, uneducated, foul and, even on his best behavior, abrasive," which sounds about right for a studio head. Kidding. Kidding.) In 1957, Singer moved over to Universal, where he spent the rest of his career in TV, working on classics like The Bob Newhart Show, WKRP In Cincinnati, The White Shadow, Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere. Owing to his training under Fier, Singer was always looking for ways to streamline production costs, and initiated the practice of having the crew begin the move to the next location before the last shot of the day, saving time, which, as we all know, and especially in film and TV production, equals $$$. Here's an interview Singer gave to The Archive of American Televisionexplaining the origins of the shot:

He also explained the idea in interview he gave to the DGA Quarterly:

"It was probably on Wagon Train, although I can’t be sure,” he says. “Working in TV we made many moves per day—from the back lot to the stage, or from one stage to another. I’d say to the guys, ‘One more shot and then we’re moving,’ so when we moved, they were all prepared. The time saved could add up to a full hour of shooting for the director."

Hollywood being a small town, Singer's technique caught on, and his time and money-saving technique came to be known as "The Abby Singer Shot," with crews around the world still saying his name day after day, even though most have no idea who Abby Singer is. But he is a legend: there is Abby Singer's Bistro at the Robinson Film Center in Shreveport, LA, and a plaque on a building on the Sunset Gower Lot, the original home of Columbia Pictures, reads, in part, “Abby became legendary by creating one of the most famous lines uttered by filmmakers around the world. 'This shot and one more -- ' Today, as in days past, scores have said, 'We’re on the Abby Singer."'

Singer passed away at the Motion Picture & Television Country House in Woodland HillsCalifornia on Thursday. He was 96. He will be missed, but his name will live on in productions for years to come.

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