Laurel man trades selling insurance for filmmaking New career 'not like working for a living'

This summer, Bob Muller stood on the top of the rocky ledge that is the head of George Washington's colossal likeness at Mount Rushmore National Monument, a feat few enjoy.

He looked over the vista that is five western states and saw clearly that his dream of a life as a filmmaker was right in front of him.


The Laurel resident was mighty glad he'd ditched his career as an insurance agent. This new life had a heck of a lot more adventure.

"This is not like working for a living," Mr. Muller declared, recalling his trip to South Dakota.


He was there to shoot footage for a 30-minute video film he's producing, one of three videos about U.S. historic sites that his company, All-American Video Inc., plans to release this fall.

With the creation of those films, and one on the market about Arlington National Cemetery, Mr. Muller is carving his own niche in the expansive educational video market.

The managers of the nation's historic sites are taking notice of the company's work.

"Their video should be great for us. I've reviewed all the scripts, and it will tell a very accurate story," said Jim Popovich, the National Park Service's chief of interpretation at Mount Rushmore National Monument, near Keystone, S.D.

Though "documentaries and films of all sorts, by all kinds of people," have been produced about Mount Rushmore, Mr. Popovich said, the All-American Video project stands out.

It will be the first professionally produced film aimed strictly at what's called the "interpretive market," that is, viewers who want a condensed, accurate history of the site.

"This a big need for us. A lot of people who come to the monument want to take home something they can share with others about the site," Mr. Popovich said.

Topics of All-American Video projects in the works include Fort McHenry in Baltimore, scheduled for release this month; the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington; and Mount Rushmore.


The videos, which focus on the sites' history and symbolism, will be distributed to vendors who serve the national historic site trade, such as park system gift shops, bookstores and nearby tourism venues. They also are to be available to libraries nationwide.

Mr. Muller has received approval to produce informational films about the Truman and Carter presidential libraries.

Then there's the project that makes Mr. Muller beam, a video about man's first successful flight in a motor-powered airplane -- the Wright brothers' milestone at Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903.

"I'm going to have aeronautical design students at MIT build a replica of the Wright brothers' plane for credit, and we're going to re-create the flight. . . . It will be amazing," Mr. Muller said.

He said he hopes the library and Kitty Hawk videos will be ready for release in 1994.

"I love working on this stuff," he said. "The people you meet are wonderful. Did you know I met Dave Powers, [the curator] of the JFK library? He was in the car with [Vice President Lyndon] Johnson the day Kennedy was shot. That probably never would have happened to me if I'd stayed in the insurance business."


The insurance business was where Mr. Muller was comfortably ensconced for 14 years in Erie, Pa. He specialized in selling disability and life insurance.

"I was just a very average kid who went to college in my hometown of Erie. I wanted to be the next Walter Cronkite, but the college didn't have a communications department, so I did the obvious . . . I got a business degree. Then I got a respectable job."

But the work and life of Walt Disney, whom Mr. Muller had idolized since he was a boy, tugged at him.

"I kept thinking about Walt Disney and how his work actually touched people in a very deep way, and wanting to do something that would do that, too."

"I was in what the insurance industry calls its million dollar round table, meaning I was among the top 5 percent of the sales agents in the world. But I felt pretty empty."

When his wife, Susan, declared she was burned out from teaching elementary school, they decided to bail out of their careers -- and Erie.


In 1990, Mr. Muller traded in his tie and business office for a pair of well-worn Nikes and a slew of high-tech computer software and other electronic gadgetry in the basement of his Laurel home.

"My neighbors hate me. My commute to work is all of 11 seconds," said Mr. Muller.

The Mullers wanted to set up a new life near Washington, "my favorite city in the whole world," Mr. Muller said.

They searched the Washington area for a business to buy, deciding finally on a video production company serving business clients in the Baltimore-Washington area. For the first two years, Mr. Muller focused on producing the training, safety and informational films clients requested.

His staff consists of himself and Dan Clark, chief animator and associate producer. The company contracts out for camera and lighting

and other film crew specialists, as well as script writers. All projects are edited, produced, packaged and distributed out of Mr. Muller's basement. He declined to discuss the company's finances.


In 1992 a break came.

Mr. Muller had heard through business contacts that the National Park Service wanted to have an informational film made about Arlington National Cemetery.

Mr. Muller made a pitch and got the job.

His company is the only film producer to have made a commercially available film about the burial ground, said John Metzler, superintendent of the national cemetery.

"We've been sitting here wondering for a long time why no one ever approached us before about making a film about Arlington," Mr. Metzler said. He said he gets lots of requests for permission to shoot site footage for background use from news organizations, but has never been asked for permission to shoot a film strictly about the cemetery's rich history.

The video enjoys strong sales at the 24 shops and other venues around Washington run by the Parks and History Association, said Joanne Newbery, association executive director. The association supplies and operates gift stores for the National Park Service.


"A lot of books have been written about the cemetery, but the video is the medium of the 1990s," Mr. Metzler said.

"Kids may not want to read a 300-page book about the site, but they'll stick with a 30-minute video."