The definition of the Abby Singer shot is the penultimate shot of a day on a film or TV production set. It comes before the ‘martini shot’, the final shot of the day. But how did the second the last shot come to be named after assistant director and producer Abby Singer?
Who Was Abby Singer?
Born in the US on December 8th, 1917, Abner E. Singer arrived into the world just as the film industry was emerging. Fifty years of experimenting with technology and creativity had seen a revolution in visual storytelling, and audiences were hungry to see more. 1917 saw the first animated feature film and the first film in Technicolor. Charlie Chaplin had been making short films for three years, but wouldn’t be making his first feature film until 1921.
By the 1950s Abby Singer was enjoying a busy career in the filmmaking industry. He worked as Second AD on the 1951 feature film Death of a Salesman, directed by Laslo Benedek, and was Assistant Director for a wide variety of feature films and TV series.
Through the 60s, 70s and 80s he was in demand as a production manager. His production consultant jobs started in the 80s and lasted through the 90s when he was also a producer.
Columbo, St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Diagnosis Murder are just some of the hit TV shows he worked on.
Every year from 1984 to 1988, Abby Singer, executive producer Bruce Paltrow, supervising producer Mark Tinkler, and producers John Masius and Tom Fontana, were nominated for a Primetime Emmy Outstanding Drama Series, for the acclaimed series St. Elsewhere.
He also won the Frank Capra Achievement Award at the Directors Guild of America awards ceremony in 1985.
After retiring in 1997, Abby Singer was recorded several times talking about his work, and in particular the Abby Singer shot. He died of cancer on 13 March, 2014, at the age of 97.
How the Abby Singer Shot came about
In the 1950s, when Abby Singer was 1st AD, he and the crew were working on four or more productions a day. They’d arrive at a stage, set up, film, pack up, and get to the next stage to start again. Sometimes they’d film in the back lot and then move to a stage.
Time is money. People on set are paid shift rates, and overtime is expensive. So the turnaround had to be fast.
As 1st AD, Singer’s job was to keep the set running efficiently while the director focused on the shot.
Calling shots with reference to lunch or the end of the day was not unusual. Abby Singer even thinks a couple of other men called the penultimate shot before he became internationally famous for it.
However, it was during the making of the 1950s TV series One Wagon Train that the Abby Slinger Shot became a recognised call. Instead of waiting until the end to start wrapping up, the crew could set up the penultimate and final shots and meanwhile clear everything else away ready for the next location.
10 to 15 minutes saved on each stage change had a big cumulative effect over the course of a series.
Why is the Abby Slinger Shot still called on set?
The key is this: calling the penultimate shot means you have the equipment ready for the penultimate and final shot, but can quickly pack everything else away.
Then when the final shot – the martini shot – is finished, most of the equipment has already been dealt with. The crew now has only to dismantle and pack up the final pieces of equipment.
In the 1950s, this meant moving onto the next stage 10 to 15 minutes earlier each set change. Today, it means getting the hired equipment back quickly, the location cleaned up ready for the end of the hire, and the relevant crew off set before their paid shift ends.
As a result, when the Abby Slinger shot is called, there’s suddenly a lot of activity on set as the crew start breaking down lights and wrapping up.
Abby Singer’s job as 1st AD was to keep the film set running efficiently so the director could concentrate on their shot. Whether the penultimate shot was first called as a happy accident or well considered design is irrelevant. It was recognising the impact that this call had on the efficiency of the wrapping up process that mattered.