Phil Morrison’s NYU senior project “Tater Tomater” was a ’90s Night Flight short film fave

By on July 3, 2019

Winston-Salem, North Carolina native Phil Morrison was an eighteen year old undergraduate at NYU when he made the 10-minute short film Tater Tomater for his senior project.

Tater Tamater joins our ever-growing selection of short films which aired on “Night Flight,” many of which you can now watch exclusively on Night Flight Plus.


Morrison’s film is a light-hearted darkly comic look at a bad day in the life of a hair-netted cafeteria worker named “Doris” (played by Beth Bostic).

Doris has been having such a hard time dealing with the daily demands of fellow employees and cranky customers at her serving station that one day she simply snaps.


When last seen, poor Doris is stuck on a non-stop rhyming jag, repeating words — like radiator, incubator, humiliator, etc. — that sound like “tater” and “tomater.”

This is actually called “clang associations,” which sometimes happens when a manic bi-polar sufferer has a psychotic break.


The screenplay for the Altman-esque Tater Tomater was written by playwright Angus MacLachlan (he and Morrison and both graduates of the North Carolina School of the Arts, circa 1979-1980).

Originally, it was a skit appearing in several comedic revues — titled “Pairings,” “Really Gross,” and one titled “Behold Zebulon” — with Bostic’s cafeteria worker Doris never failing to bring down the house.


A few years later, Morrison and MacLachlan turned it into a short film for Morrison’s senior project at NYU.

They expanded on Doris’s home life, adding many new characters, including a sister, a couple of bus boys, cooks, and a cashier.


As it turned out, the C&C Cafeteria in Winston-Salem was already scheduled for demolition to make room for a new highway, so Morrison talked the owners into letting him film there during the eight days between Christmas and New Year’s Day of 1987/1988.

Many of the cafeteria’s regular patrons appear in the film after showing up during filming not realizing that, in fact, the restaurant was closed.

By the time Tater Tomater aired on “Night Flight,” during our syndicated era in the early ’90s, it had already previously aired on PBS’s “American Playhouse.”

It had also been reviewed in the New York Times (in March of 1990), and was included in a NYC-area film festival).

In January of 1992, it was screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

After graduation, Morrison began directing major nationally-aired TV commercials & lots of music videos (for Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, Superchunk, the Feelies, Lemonheads, Juliana Hatfield and Sheryl Crow, to name just a few).

Morrison eventually directed and produced Comedy Central’s “Upright Citizens Brigade.”


Morrison and MacLachlan later collaborated on Morrison’s first feature film, 2005’s Junebug, and MacLachlan also directed his own first feature, 2014’s Goodbye to All That.

Read more below about just a few other short films you can watch on Night Flight Plus.


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In this nearly three-hour full episode from June 30th, 1984, we featured Brian Hansen’s Speed of Light (1980), a strange, surreal 40-minute 16mm short about a neurotic blonde-bewigged mother and her young Oreo-munching daughter on a harrowing road trip across Central Texas in a beautiful red T-bird convertible.

Speed of Light — using Apollo mission footage later seen in For All Mankind (1989) — was Hansen’s graduate thesis film at the University of Texas at Austin’s Radio-Television-Film department (UT RTF).

It stars Sally Norvell, who memorably played “Nurse Bibs” in German auteur Wim Wenders’s film Paris, Texas.


This full episode (with commercials!) from August 24, 1984 featured director Marion Cajori’s strange experimental (and slightly NSFW) New Wave love story, White Lies.

The 35-minute experimental 16mm film deals with the theme of displacement, revealing how one woman (Ariel Bock) experiences intense feelings of jealousy before, during, and after a loft party she’s throwing her NYC apartment, which she shares with her boyfriend (Willem Dafoe in one of his very first film roles).


Willem Dafoe in White Lies

David Wechter and Michael Nankin’s short film Gravity (1976) — from the same co-directing team who created another Night Flight Plus streaming exclusive, Junior High School — is a parody of those 1950s-era educational A/V films you might have seen in public school classrooms in the ’60s and ’70s.

You can find this nearly 9-minute black & white comedic short in this Night Flight Short Film Showcase, which originally aired on November 14, 1987.

John Harrison’s 12-minute film Ubu — adapted in 1973 from the late 19th Century absurdist play by Alfred Jarry — is about a white-faced, conical-headed, odd-shaped tyrant whose grand plans for governing include ordering the execution of every aristocrat and government official working for him.

You’ll find it in our full episode from July 14, 1984, streaming on Night Flight Plus!


Junkers is a cautionary tale written and directed by Susan Flaherty and George Grubb.

This 27-minute short comedy was filmed almost entirely at a weatherbeaten little gas station in Poplar Springs, North Carolina, a small, unincorporated little hamlet nestled in green, rolling farmland in an otherwise mostly-flat central part of the state.


Award-winning playwright and performance artist Dan Carbone’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi short film Dot won awards in several international film festivals back in the ’80s, and aired frequently on “Night Flight.”

Dot is now featured over on Night Flight Plus (on the b-side of our “Take Off to Rock and Horror” episode, originally airing on October 25, 1986).


You can also watch several of Larry Hankin‘s original short comedy films (including our favorite, Frogs Never Lie), which were also featured on “Night Flight.”

Watch Tater Tomater and other short films selections on Night Flight Plus.


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.