The scene: The tastefully decorated living room of a modest mansion in Northwest Washington's Palisades neighborhood.
The time: Last Friday morning, which brought with it a steady downpour.
The cast: Milton Berle, now 74, and four young, aspiring actors from New York.
The play: "Family Business," a story of the disputes among four brothers over their father's will, which ran off-Broadway for about 1 1/2 years and is now being produced for television by a local film production and distribution company called Screenscope.
As the morning rehearsal wears on, Berle is continuously lighting his cigar and trying to put the right Jewish-father twist on lines like, "So, big deal he's going out with a shiksa, at least he's going out."
Among the spectators are Screenscope owners Hal and Carolyn Weiner, who are watching alertly because "Family Business" will be the first feature film they have produced, even though their documentary and commercial credits have taken them around the world several times.
Since starting Screenscope about 13 years ago, Marilyn Weiner said, they have concentrated about 80 percent of their time on "corporate," or "nonfiction" films for IBM, DuPont, Comsat, Johnson & Johnson and other companies. They also have made commercials for Anheuser-Busch and some public service announcements. Their "World of Cooking" series for the Public Broadcasting System ran on over 200 stations, she said.
By the time "Family Business" airs on PBS in January, the Weiners already will have begun a documentary on the floating hospitals of Project Hope, a job that will take them to Poland, Egypt and Indonesia. Hal Weiner also will be well into his directorial debut with "The Image Maker," a film on a day in the life of a political media consultant that will feature cameo appearances by Orson Welles, Dick Cavett, Mort Sahl and others.
In the meantime, the Weiners will be searching for a local executive producer and fundraiser for "The Image Maker," which is expected to cost less than $1 million.
Hal Weiner said he believes the financial community is becoming more aware of the profitability of investing in films.
"There are tax advantages from an investment credit, and film can be depreciated," he said. "Low budget films have an extremely high chance of making a profit. . . . Just making a cable deal, a television deal and an overseas deal would more than equal the investment."
"Real estate as as investment is not as attractive as it used to be, with a lot of office space basically empty," added Marilyn Weiner. "Years ago, people would say, 'why should I invest in film when I can make more in real estate?' "
While the trend in the film industry toward making movies in New York as well as Hollywood is now well established, Hal Weiner said Washington has not benefitted from the move eastward.
"There's been no spillover from New York," he said. "New York mounted a very strong campaign to attract filmmakers . Washington needs to do that."
The editing of "Family Business" will be done in both cities, the Weiners said. They remarked on the need for studios, laboratories and other facilities in Washington, a situation they believe will be remedied by the increased filmmaking activity the city is gradually attracting.