Here’s the Beef
BRECKENRIDGE – You know those stupid television commercials that offer the perfect chance to run into the kitchen for a snack? Well, Breckenridge resident Marsie Wallach didn’t produce those. She produced the ones that made you laugh for weeks – and months – ones like “Where’s the beef?” for Wendy’s and the fast-talking man for Federal Express.
Five years ago, Wallach left her jet-set lifestyle – wherein she based herself out of Chicago and flew around the world shooting (mostly) national commercials – and moved to Breckenridge. But even though she left city life, it took her a couple of years to give up the lifestyle. Her husband and children settled in Summit County, while Wallach still traveled across the country to work on film productions. Finally, two years ago, she set up a full-time life in Breckenridge as a real estate agent with Prudential Timberhill.
But she didn’t leave filmmaking quietly. Her last collaborative project made a big scene at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Being chosen for the festival is a feat in itself – only 75 out of 3,000 entries make it into the festival. Wallach’s collaboration was one of about 20 short films shown, and it was in a grouping of shorts that sold out for three of the six days it ran.
The short film, “OpenMinds,” is a 36-minute offbeat comedy directed by Joe Sedelmaier, who is a world-renowned director best remembered for his humorous commercials (such as “Where’s the beef?”). He began shooting the short 40 years ago, dropped it, resurrected it, and then began tying old and new footage together five years ago.
“It’s about reality versus fantasy, and I think everybody brings something different to it,” Wallach said. “It’s unusual. It’s funny. It’s thoughtful.”
Wallach worked with Sedelmaier for 15 years, climbing her way to the position of executive producer. Before working for Sedelmaier, she made films for businesses and television. Before that, she never dreamed she’d work on famous commercials or films – she planned on majoring in political science at the University of Michigan and was preparing for law school – until she took a film class.
After graduation, she discovered how all-consuming filmmaking could be. She spent six to seven days a week producing made-for-
television movies, and after four years, decided to make commercials.
As a commercial producer, the job didn’t completely take over her life – instead, she took over. She’d fly into a city, cast locals with interesting faces, and take over an entire hotel ballroom, creating, in essence, a miniature company for a few weeks with phone lines, fax machines and computers. At the time, a 30-second commercial started at about $300,000.
She only accepted challenging jobs that used her creative problem-
solving skills. One of her favorite projects involved recreating an entire Fourth of July parade in a small town in Ohio. The whole town turned out for the parade, but the props, crew and technical support came from Chicago. Wallach raffled televisions and other items every couple of hours to keep the townspeople on the streets, and she hired interns from Columbia College to transport the footage by train and process the film to make sure she captured the shots she wanted before dismantling the entire three-day parade. All that to sell motor oil.
At times, her job looked more like a police officer than a producer – that was the case during the “Where’s the beef?” commercials, when the crew from “60 Minutes” and other media interrupted her shooting schedule because of the commercials’ popularity. Then her job involved dealing with the media gracefully while maintaining an efficient shooting schedule.
Since her media frenzies and day trips to New York and Los Angeles, she has slowed down. Originally, she and her husband planned on retiring in Breckenridge, but after returning to Chicago one gray, cold February day after a sunny ski vacation in Summit, they decided, “Why wait?” and made plans for the big move.
Now, Wallach is a seasoned veteran who is satisfied with her career and is ready to help other filmmakers advance in their careers.
“I may have a documentary in me, but it’s so all-consuming that I think I’ll wait until my little one is not a little one – to do (a documentary) would probably be a couple years of my life, and I don’t want to do that right now.”
As far as advice to aspiring filmmakers or actors, she offers plenty of encouragement:
“If you have a story to tell, try to tell it because it’s so easy to be visual now,” she said. “Film school is great, but (whether or not you go to school) get your hands on equipment any way you can and start telling your story. Gain as much experience as you can, even if that means running around with coffee so that maybe you can take that cinematographer for that milkshake. I did that. I took this cinematographer out everyday for his milkshake because he had an ulcer, and I learned so much.
“Actors and actresses, do anything you can. Audition, audition, audition, because it’s the best practice you’ll ever get– even if it’s rejection. The more experience you get the better. I’d be wary of paying someone a lot of money to coach me if I were an actor or actress because there are a lot of scams out there. Start off in a smaller market, and then go to bigger things. Don’t let yourself get stuck in that small market. Once you have the confidence, you just do it. At some point, you just have to jump. You just don’t give up your day job for a while.”
Tell us a creative or inspiring story. If you know a local (or are a local) who works in a creative arts field, call us at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245. Every month we’ll feature a story about an artist, musician, filmmaker, writer, photographer and so on, who is pursuing his or her creative passion.
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