Take a stroll through Morton Schindel's property and what you will see just brushes the surface of the hidden treasures he has in the 20-acre space that is Weston Woods Studios (1953). Talk with him for an hour and you will only get a small sense of the things he has accomplished in his 92 years.
The founder of Weston Woods has produced over 500 films over the years that his critics say stay true to the original books and the messages that the authors intended.
And that has always been extremely important to Schindel. "What's in the covers of this book who are we to change it?" he says. The books he has translated to film include Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are," Robert McCloskey's "Lentil," (1996) and Don Freeman's "Corduroy" (1984),
"The Story About Ping,"(1955) based on the story by Marjorie Flack, is his favorite because it was one that put the studio on the map. "I like it because it's one of the first we made and our reputation was built on making a film that was just like the book," he said. "It was such a good story and I stuck my neck out and it worked perfectly."
To be able to stick to the original illustrations, Schindel invented the iconographic film technique, in which the camera moves focusing on parts of the picture, without the characters moving, which allows the film to capture the original illustrator's drawings.
Schindel maintains that it was not just talent that got him where he is now, but it was the timing that was just right. "I got lucky," he said. "It was just at a time when Captain Kangaroo was coming on the air." The show was the first place his films were shown. Besides, he was one of the first to ever turn a children's book into a movie. "Nobody had done anything with children's books except lousing them up," he said, adding that when Disney came out with four films, it almost put him out of business because he had not yet built the reputation he has today.
When asked what inspired him to go into his field, Schindel paused and laughed. "Hunger," he said. Illness in his 20s, he said, is what really did it. His doctor told him his best chance of staying healthy was not working. But Schindel had bigger plans. He was already interested in photography and he thought to take it a step further by pursuing film. "I thought, 'If I can turn my hobby into a vocation, I've got an excuse to stay well,'" he said.
Schindel is working to turn his property into the Weston Woods Institute before the year ends. It will be a museum to showcase his films and the children's books that inspired them.
"The gallery," one of the many buildings onsite, is filled with old cameras and memorabilia around every corner. His collection includes one of the first video cameras that Thomas Edison created, the puppets that Robert McCloskey was making when he passed away, and original sketches from various children's book authors, amongst rooms and rooms full of other items.
His wish for Weston Woods is that is stays the way its been since he moved there 60 years ago when Newtown Turnpike was still a dirt road. But with the new institute, he says there is pressure to make the roads wider. "I would love to keep this place the way it is," he said.
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