Abby Singer, a veteran production manager and assistant director and a DGA member for more than 60 years, died this morning of cancer and old age at the Motion Picture & Television Country House in Woodland Hills. He was 96. Singer got his start working as an assistant for Harry Cohn’s right-hand man Jack Fier at Columbia Pictures in 1949 after a stint in the Navy and moved on to Universal in 1957 to work in TV. He eventually landed at Mary Tyler Moore and Grant Tinker’s MTM Productions, where he oversaw such series as Rhoda, Phyllis, The Bob Newhart Show, WKRP In Cincinnati, The White Shadow, Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere. His last film as unit production manager was on 1997’s Family Plan. He later taught at the American Film Institute Conservatory.
But Singer’s name is known to film and TV crews everywhere for a production shot that came to be known as the “Abby Singer shot.” Partly thanks to his training under notorious tightwad Fier, Singer spent his long career honing his skills at saving productions dough, and his idea was to begin moving crew and gear to the next location one shot before the last shot of the day, with the idea that the next location would be set up ahead of time — thereby saving money and precious shooting time. (The last shot of the day, by the way, is known as “the martini.”) Here’s a Spring 2011 interview in the DGA Quarterly with Singer where he recalled how his namesake shot came to be:
“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.”
Although he’s not certain where it started, the Abby Singer shot has since taken on a life of its own. “It caught on like lightning. I was hearing it all the time,” he remembers. “They said, ‘You’re famous.’ I said, ‘I’m not famous.'”
The shot has indeed given him a certain celebrity. His face has been put on T-shirts designed for crews, and the Robinson Film Center in Shreveport, La., is home to Abby Singer’s Bistro. While traveling in Israel, Singer came across a crew shooting at a restaurant where he was eating. “I was talking to the cameraman,” he recalls. “I said, ‘I’m Abby Singer.’ He said, ‘Stop it!’ He had the crew come over to meet me.”
There is even a building on the Sunset Gower lot (where Columbia Pictures started) dedicated to Singer. A plaque on the side 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’… signaling to crew and management that the end of the workday was near … Today, as in days past, scores have said, ‘We’re on the Abby Singer.’ “
Singer served three terms on the DGA’s National Board and was a member of the Western AD/UPM Council for more than three decades, serving on the Negotiations Committee and the Board of Trustees for the DGA Foundation for a decade, and the DGA-Producer Pension and Health Plans since 1980. In 1985, the DGA presented Singer with the Frank Capra Achievement Award, which honors assistant directors and unit production managers in recognition of career achievement in the industry and service to the guild.