Trial By Fire

Back in the sixties we had hoped to launch our movie making career by partnering with a new black LA television station, but things seldom go as planned. Sadly, the Los Angeles experiment with black media fizzled out and consequently the small group of filmmakers involved in the project gave up the ghost. Leo Sullivan and I had no intention of calling it quits. We continued to produce live action and animated TV commercials for any client who could scrape up a few dollars to pay our modest fee. 

Richard Allen had been part of the original group of young film makers. When Richard heard we were still producing films, he wanted to be a part of our fledgling company. Allen had worked for years as an LA police officer and he attended the USC film school in hopes of a career in motion pictures. Another police officer named Norman Edelen was ready for a career move himself. The four of us decided to do something incredible. We began making plans to launch our own motion picture company.

It was the summer of 1965. As the four of us pondered a move into film making, Los Angeles suddenly erupted into flames. The Watts Riot captured the attention of the world, and in a bold, crazy move we decided to capture it on film. The local news media was terrified of going into the riot area. And, who could blame them. Watts had become a war zone. I remember hearing a news crew pinned down in the riot area calling for help and Los Angeles police unable to quell the violence. It was clear no white camera crew considered themselves welcome in the Watts area as rioters roamed the streets smashing vehicles and burning buildings.

For us youthful filmmakers, it provided a golden opportunity for our fledgling production company. Leo Sullivan and Dick Allen took our 16mm Bolex film cameras (one recently purchased from Roy Edward Disney) along with packs of high speed film and headed into the riot area. I remember buildings burning as LA policemen cowered in their patrol cars. It was an incredible weekend and no one knew how it would end. After a long night of filming Leo and I took our 16mm riot footage to the NBC studios in Burbank Calfornia. Newsman, Tom Pettit was busily preparing a news special that would be telecast nationwide that afternoon. Our little film company had produced film footage that millions of people across the nation would be watching. There was hardly a doubt in our minds that now we were clearly in the business of making movies.

 Remembering the streets of Watts in 1965 Los Angeles. We were young filmmakers in a war zone.

Remembering the streets of Watts in 1965 Los Angeles. We were young filmmakers in a war zone.