Film Group Collection
From 1965 to 1972 they made TV commercials for national and local clients including Eli Lily, Montclair cigarettes, Hills Bros Coffees, Mogen David, Sara Lee, WBIB TV, Sara Lee, Aunt Jemima, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Illinois Bell, Quaker Oats, Chicago Tribune, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Sears. They also made longer sponsored films for clients that are closer to their documentary work including A Matter of Opportunity (1970) and 8 Flags for 99 Cents (1970).
Their documentary films include the two features American Revolution II (1969) and 1971’s The Murder of Fred Hampton. The two films are closely related and document the unrest 1968 Convention, follow the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers, and refute the city of Chicago’s media cover up on Hampton’s death. In 1969 they released a seven part educational film series Urban Crisis and the New Militants in an attempt to update the educational film genre.
In 1964 he and photographer Lars Hedman created Hedman Gray Inc. as a television commercial production company. Clients at the time included AB Dick Copier, Eli Lilly, and Montclair cigarettes. In 1966 the company added documentary filmmaker Mike Shea and changed its name to Hedman Gray and Shea. The name change corresponded with a move to a larger production facility. Hedman left by the end of 1966 and the company changed its name to the Film Group. Gray worked as the director until Shea’s departure in 1967 at which point Gray took over camera duties. In these capacities Gray worked on commercials until 1972 for clients such as Hills Bros. Coffee, Mogen David, Sara Lee, All State, Aunt Jemima, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Illinois Bell, Quaker Oats, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Sears.
In September of 1966 Gray and Shea filmed a civil rights march in Cicero, Illinois led by an associate of Dr. King, Robert Lucas. The film was eventually released in 1969 as Cicero March. In August of 1968 Gray and the other members of the Film Group recorded the tumultuous events at the Democratic Convention. They enlist editor Howard Alk to help them whittle down their raw footage of the Convention into a documentary feature. Alk, however, suggested that they build off of their Convention footage and investigate the larger political atmosphere in Chicago. With this in mind, they began filming the activities of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers that resulted in two films: American Revolution II (1969) that included their Convention footage and The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971). The latter film was included in the civil rights case against the police officers accused of killing Hampton and fellow Panther Mark Clark. Based on this, along with the provocative title of the film and statements to the press by Gray accusing the Chicago Police and City of a cover-up, Gray and the other members of the Film Group (which since 1969 was called Mike Gray Associates) felt intense pressure by the city government – including attempts to seize the Hampton footage. As a result Gray and his wife Carol moved to California. By 1973 he had essentially shut down Mike Gray Associates.
In California Gray began working in feature films and network television. He wrote the original screenplay for The China Syndrome (1979), which was nominated for an Academy Award. He also wrote and directed Wavelength (1983), and worked as a screenwriter on Code of Silence (1985), episodes of the TV series Starman (1986-1987) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994). He also worked as a producer for one year each on the latter two shows. He worked as a second unit director on The Fugitive (1993). American Revolution II and The Murder of Fred Hampton were both released on DVD by Facets in 2007. Cicero March was added to the National Film Registry in 2013.
Outside of filmmaking Gray has worked as a journalist and non-fiction author. His books include The Warning: Accident at Three Mile Island (1982) with Ira Rosen, Angle of Attack: Harrison Storms and the Race to the Moon (1992), Drug Crazy: How We Got Into This Mess and How We Can Get Out (1998), Busted: Stone Cowboys, Narco-Lords, and Washington’s War on Drugs (2002), and The Death Game: Capital Punishment and the Luck of the Draw (2003).
William Cottle was a member of the Chicago film production company Film Group, Inc. from 1966 to 1969. The Film Group made television commercials (local and national) as well as a select number of political documentaries on the impact of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. While assisting in the filming of the disorders associated with the convention, Cottle was detained by the police – an event that helped cement the Film Group’s transition from ad men to political activists. These films have played an important role in the development of the Chicago-style of documentary filmmaking.
Cottle helped fund the creation of the Film Group as it evolved out of an earlier company - Hedman Gray Shea, Inc. When Cottle left the company in 1969 to start his private practice as a lawyer, the Film Group dissolved and his partner, Mike Gray, continued producing films as Mike Gray Associates, Inc. Cottle kept the Film Group name alive by distributing a series of short educational films called Urban Crisis and the New Militants. These films were created from documentary footage shot by the Film Group between 1966 and 1969.
Cottle received his undergraduate degree from Northwestern University in 1953. Three years later he graduated with a law degree from the Northwestern University School of Law. After completing law school he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, in which he served until October, 1958. He then practiced public accounting until he joined the Film Group in 1966. After the dissolution of the Film Group in 1969, Cottle practiced law until 1977. From 1977 until 1997, he served as the Chairman of the Board of the Bank of Chicago’s group of community banks. Currently retired, he spends much of his time as a saxophone player in a local swing band. He lives with his wife Judith in Winnetka, Illinois.