When he made his first film, The Producers, everyone told Mel Brooks he was crazy.
Joke after joke was in the worst taste, laughing at Nazis, laughing at Hitler.
They tried to get him to leave out the most extreme gags, like the overhead Busby Berkeley shot of a dancing swastika.
Brooks said: “You don’t walk up to bell unless you’re gonna ring it”, and he left it in.
The studio heads were disgusted, they said the public wouldn’t stand for it.
With no advertising, they showed the film in one cinema in Philadelphia, without advertising there was no audience, just the seven studio heads.
None of them laughed and they walked out in silence, the film was put aside and forgotten.
Mel Brooks said his film career was over, it was: “The worst night of my life”.
A year later, Paul Mazursky was making a film with Peter Sellers.
Sellers was bored and decided they should hold a film club every week.
They’d get together at Charles Aidikoff’s screening room, one of them would choose a film and provide the appropriate food.
Sellers went first with “Pather Panchali” by Satyajit Ray, and brought Tandoori Chicken.
Mazursky said next week he’d show Fellini’s “Vitteloni” and his wife would make spaghetti.
But when next week came there was a mix-up, Mazursky thought Aidikoff would get the film, Aidikoff thought Mazursky was bringing the film.
So there was no “Vitteloni” by Fellini.
Mazursky said: “Well we got the food, we gotta see something, what have you got in the projection room?”
Aidikoff said: “Nothing really, just a can of film lying around nobody wants.”
Sellers said: “Never mind, put it on, just so we’ve got something to watch.”
And Charles Aidikoff began playing The Producers.
No one said anything, then they began smiling, then giggling, then falling around and screaming with laughter.
At the end of the film, Peter Sellers ran to the phone and began dialling friends to tell them he’d just seen the greatest comedy film in decades.
The next day Peter Sellers took out whole-page ads in the film-trade magazines:
“Last night I saw the ultimate film: ”The Producers”.
Brilliantly written and directed by Mel Brooks, it is the essence of all great comedy combined in a single motion picture.
Without any doubt, Mel Brooks displays true genius in weaving together tragedy-comedy, comedy-tragedy, pity, fear, hysteria, schizophrenia, inspired madness and a largess of lunacy with sheer magic. The casting was perfect.
Those of us who have seen this film and understand it have experienced a phenomenon which occurs only once in a life span.”
Those ads inspired the Fine Arts Theatre in New York to run the film, film-lovers who read the trade-papers queued around the block.
Word spread so fast that anyone who was anyone had to see it.
Mel Brooks won an Oscar, presented to him by Frank Sinatra.
The Producers was converted into a stage play, which had a six-year run on Broadway.
The stage play was converted back into another version of the film.
Nearly all Mel Brooks subsequent films were in the top ten box-office earners in their year: The Twelve Chairs, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, History of the World (part one), Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
So the point is, ignore the people who tell you they know what the public thinks, they don’t.
Don’t take them seriously.
In fact, we’re better at our jobs when we don’t take anything too seriously.
Or, as Mel Brooks said in his Oscar acceptance speech: “I’ve just got say what’s in my heart: Ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom.”