Cameraman In Clogs: Scenes From My Life
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
I’m not a journalist. I’m not a cinematographer. I’m not a videographer. I am the cameraman in clogs, a name I was given while shooting Behind-the-Scenes on a movie set. Actually, I gave myself the name.
After rupturing my Achilles tendon playing basketball, I began wearing open back clogs because regular shoes were too painful. Returning to work months later, I felt so conspicuous in my clogs, yet so upright and steady while shooting, that I continued to wear them, embracing the nickname.
When I introduce myself, I always go by Jeff Schwartz, and often the response I get is from a well-known movie. Always spoken word for word, it is a legendary line from the classic comedy SPACEBALLS. Meeting the man who wrote it and spoke it, was an extraordinary
moment in my life.
I was shooting on the movie set of the 2005 comedy THE PRODUCERS, which was based on the Broadway musical and original film written and directed by Mel Brooks. Inside a Brooklyn sound stage designers and craftspeople re-created the 1959 Broadway theater district. A realistic façade featuring flashing marquees, neon lights and newsstands spanning several blocks. There were bustling sidewalks filled with costumed extras and streets with checker cabs rolling by. The set was magnificent, and it was exciting being there.
The film featured Nathan Lane, Mathew Broderick, Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell. I spent many days shooting “the making of the movie” and interviewing the cast and crew. The footage would initially be used to promote the theatrical release of the film, and then included with the VHS and DVD as “an extra added bonus”.
The day came to shoot the interview with Mel Brooks at his office in Manhattan's theater district. He was going to discuss the various incarnations of THE PRODUCERS. His wife, actress Anne Bancroft, had recently passed away, so we were concerned about his mood.
Our crew of three arrived and we rolled a hand truck of gear through the freight entrance into the elevator. A unique feature of New York City office buildings is you never know what you’ll find on any floor. This was your standard office building floor. We approached the numbered suite and knocked.
The door slowly opened and there he stood. The legendary director, producer, screenwriter, actor and comedian. One of the few to receive an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony Award and Kennedy Center Honor. The mythical Mel Brooks, standing there alone. There were no assistants, no security or press people. With that familiar, raspy Brooklyn accent, he invited us into his modest suite.
My producer entered first, followed by our sound mixer and then me. We each introduced our selves as we entered. I had my camera slung over my shoulder, so I placed it on the floor. I extended my hand and timidly said in my local Queens dialect, “Hi, I’m Jeff Schwartz”.
He reached out and grasped my hand. We locked eyes for a long moment, as if written in the script. His fingers slid from mine. He took three steps backward and bowed his head. Moving his hands in a circular motion, he straightened up stating in that illustrious voice, “May the Schwartz be with you.”
I stood in disbelief with my mouth and eyes wide opened. The moment remains embedded in my brain. With a vibrant memory and enthusiastic energy he had us laughing for hours with stories from THE PRODUCERS, BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. I left, feeling like I spent the afternoon with my hysterical uncle.
Mel Brooks is one of those extra-special celebrities and influential people I have been fortunate to meet in a career that began with shooting weddings and bar mitzvahs. I have since traveled the world to extraordinary places, been at exclusive events and made meaningful videos addressing significant social issues.
I love what I do. Every shoot is creative, stimulating, productive and different. Telling stories through a lens has offered me a wealth of wisdom and unparalleled worldview about subjects I never could have dreamed. Today, those recordings live forever in a digital world, but the real-life fascination, plots and intrigue behind those stories live right here, in the “Scenes from My Life.”