April 9, 2012 by JoBe Cerny
I was a graduate assistant at Northwestern University in the Theatre Department when I was working on my M.A. I was also allowed to take graduate level courses in the Film school as part of my studies. And I got to know quite a few people in the Graduate Film program who entered the advertising business in Chicago at the same time I did. Northwestern has a really great networking program. And to this day, graduating students from Northwestern University contact me to help them find acting and advertising work in Chicago. And one of the people who I met in the Northwestern Film Department was a film maker named Bob Dahlin. He has come in and out of my life many times throughout my career.
When I first met Bob, he was finishing his thesis film. He had a budget of $1,000.00 to do a black and white 16 MM film that was projected to be about 25 minutes long. So he had to beg and borrow to make his film. Two years later I bumped into him at Carl Turk’s studio, and he was still working on the film. He was hired by Carl Turk, a great Chicago filmmaker and cameraman, and Carl let him use his equipment. Bob asked me if I could do some scratch voice-overs for his film, and so I did. The film had several great actors in it that went on to successful careers. It was a story of a student film maker who idolized Alfred Hitchcock and made a student film that paid homage to Hitchcock’s career. Then he persuaded Hitchcock to see his film. I was the voice of the student who persuaded Hitchcock to watch his film; I constantly talk while Hitchcock watches the film. The film is so terrible that Hitchcock is greatly distressed by it, and Hitchcock’s reactions to the film are very amusing.
The week I finished working on the scratch-track, the Army shipped me off again to an out of the way destination to repair some armored personnel carriers. In the meantime, Bob needed to make some changes in the scratch track, so he had a friend of mine replace my voice with his. Since it was a student film, and there was no money involved, I told Bob that I understood he had to get the project completed and so he replaced me. Two weeks later, Bob called me up to see the finished movie. I went and saw it, and it was really funny. But then a couple of weeks after that, he called me up and said to me: “You’ll never guess who called me today.”
I replied: “Who?”
Bob was a great kidder, so I didn’t believe him for a second. At that point in my life I didn’t even know people made phone calls to Europe. It seemed impossible that Hitchcock could have talked to Bob. So, I said: “You’re kidding me, right?”
He said: “No! Alfred Hitchcock actually called me. He watched the film.”
This was too much. This was crazy. This was life imitating the movies instead of vice versa! This was the real Alfred Hitchcock watching a student film about a student film maker showing his student film to an actor playing Hitchcock. And the real Alfred Hitchcock actually watched Bob’s film and liked it!
Then Bob said: “And guess what else?”
I couldn’t guess anything could top what I just heard, so I said: “I don’t have the vaguest idea. Just tell me.”
Bob suggested I guess because it would be fun, but I prompted him to tell me.
“Hitchcock is going have the studio release the film as a short with his next film!”
To make a long story, short, Bob’s thesis film “Suspension” was the first student film to win an Academy Award.
But that’s not the end of the story. This is a Hitchcock story! There needs to be one more remarkable twist.
Fifteen years later, I walked out into my back yard. A small forest separated our yard from the yard in back of us. A woman by the name of Betty owned the house, but a man was standing in the woods. I was worried that something happened to Betty, so I walked towards the man. Amazingly it was Bob Dahlin. I was shocked to see him, and he was shocked to see me. So, I said: “Bob, what are you doing in Betty’s yard? Did something happen to her?”
He responded: “She’s fine. I just married her daughter.”
So to this day when students ask me to work on their student films I always say yes . . . because some things are just meant to be!