When I lived in Los Angeles, I worked in the arena of property representation for film projects. The company that employed me acted as a liaison between working properties—office buildings, abandoned warehouses/hospitals, private parks, etc.—and TV/film productions that didn’t want to have to build a set for every scene they needed.
For example: you’d never guess this, but the very same office was used as:
- A police station in Robbery Homicide Division and the pilot episode of Cold Case
- A newspaper newsroom in the ABC series Night Stalker
- Television offices in the movie The Insider
- A law office in the movie Collateral
Same building, same floor, same exact space, all made to look different and represent different cities.
I could probably write a half-dozen stories involving celebrities who were complete and total dicks, but I’m always torn when it comes to the mercurial substance known as Karma. On the one hand, if Karma existed, then how did some of those complete and total dicks become rich and famous? On the other hand, if I write about what complete and total dicks they are, I fully believe something negative would happen to me.
It’s illogical and stupid, but it’s how I feel, so I’m fucked.
So, if negativity is off the table, then positivity remains. There is a laundry list of people I had kind interactions with—Jason Statham, Tim Matheson (Otter!)—but two memories really stand out to me.
The first involves not a production day, but one I was spending as an office drone. A location scout called inquiring about a property; a director was searching for the right location to capture a mood. Could someone meet him at a certain building at a certain time so he could snap some pictures?
In full candor, I didn’t wanna.
If I went, I had two irritating means-of-transportation options: by foot or car. If I drove, I’d have to deal with downtown LA traffic and parking, neither of which is much fun. If I walked, I’d be in +90 degrees heat in my dress clothes and be sweating like *insert your favorite hack line about sweating here*
(Examples: sweating like Mel Gibson at a NAACP meeting; Rihanna at a spelling bee, Justin Bieber at a NAMBLA meeting, etc.)
Neither idea seemed very fun to me.
I told the scout someone would meet him, and then started calling my collogues already in the field: who could bop on over to the building in question and show this guy around? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
No one wanted to do it; everyone had an excuse. It fell to me to take my grumpy ass out of the air-conditioned office and across the city.
I arrived a little early and waited by the security desk. A short while later, a quartet of men walked in the far side of the lobby and made straight into the elevator banks. One man looked like a location scout; the other three were just in casual clothes. I started heading their way.
Within seconds, the location scout came back into view; I figured they tried going up on their own and been stymied. This was all post 9/11, and you couldn’t just get on an elevator in a skyscraper and go up; they were on lockdown unless you had a security pass.
I approached with a wave as the scout said: “I brought the director, writer, and a producer.”
I shrugged; fine by me. One person or 20, it didn’t change what I had to do.
When you work on film shoots, you become accustomed to seeing famous people. It’s in the job description, and you act accordingly. Case in point: I was once asked to cover for a friend working a Heineken commercial being filmed by David Fincher. I thought to myself, “If someone of his stature is working on a beer commercial, they probably have some money sunk into it.” Sure enough, as I wandered the set, I saw Brad Pitt rehearsing. I wasn’t fazed; it made sense. Pitt and Fincher got along, and enjoyed making movies together. I thought, “Neat,” and kept moving. It wasn’t my place to approach or bother him.
In the lobby of the building that day, rounding the corner by the elevator banks I came face to face with a trio of men involved in light conversation. Seeing their location scout return, they looked up, and upon seeing me one stuck out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m George” with a smile.
And I was taken aback.
I knew he was “George,” because his last name was “Clooney.”
I recognized one of the people as Grant Heslov, but I knew him as the actor from True Lies; I had no idea he was Clooney’s writing partner.
I introduced myself, somewhat dazed, and watched as my clumsy paw shook George Clooney’s hand. I then took them to the floor they wanted to visit, answered a couple questions, then hung back and let them examine the space to their heart’s desire.
When all was said and done, I took them back down and showed them out. Before leaving Mr. Clooney turned back to me, stuck his hand out once again, and said, “Nathan, thanks for helping us out today.” In essence, he thanked me for doing my job, something I didn’t need to be thanked for.
It was a cool little moment to me, because (1) I hadn’t wanted to go on the scout in the first place, (2) I hadn’t expected to see anyone famous, much less A-List famous, and (3) he was so goddamned kind to me.
They didn’t end up using the property, but the film they shot was the excellent Good Night and Good Luck.
Another moment I had was on a film being made by a nervous, first-time director. He had friends in high places—which is always more important than talent or creativity in Hollywood—and was throwing together a mess of a movie: a comedy without laughs.
The movie had a couple name stars, and then was able to wrangle even more name actors for minor roles. I was unlucky enough to get copy of the script, and winced as every “hilarious” action was written in all caps, as if to accentuate the hijinks: “He gets into his car, yells his dramatic line, AND THEN BACKS UP DOWN INTO A DITCH BECAUSE HE DIDN’T KNOW THE CAR WAS IN REVERSE, HAHAHAHAHAHA!”
(The script didn’t actually say “Hahahaha,” but it might as well have)
Script-doctoring wasn’t my job, and my input was in absolutely no way required, wanted, or important to them, so I just did my best to conceal myself in the corners.
Until one day at lunch, that is. On one particular day, I went from hiding in the shadows to front-and-center, because… well, I felt like it.
I had gotten to know a few of the underlings on the crew—production assistants and other low-level workers—and enjoyed their company. I don’t remember the kid’s actual name but one of the production assistants—I’ll call him Scott—was having a birthday. He was turning nineteen, and fresh off the boat from Ohio. This was his first experience in film.
At lunch, I waited until the entire crew had gone through the line and was seated, then grabbed Scott and yelled out loudly: “Excuse me! Can I have your attention for a second? I’m sure you all know Scott, he’s the gofer that gets you whatever you need whenever you need it, but did you know it’s his birthday today? This is the first film he’s ever worked on, and he’s turning nineteen right now, so on the count of three, everyone yell ‘Happy Birthday!’ One, two…”
Upon that third number being uttered by yours truly, a cry arose from the crew, a bellowed “Happy Birthday!” from all.
I heard, but did not see from where, a loud thumping; someone was pounding their table in celebration in a “Hear-hear!” sort of merriment.
And that was that. Scott turned beet red; I went off to scrounge some food before catering packed up. A few minutes later, lunch tray in hand, I sat down at a table and looked up to see Alec Baldwin facing me, one table over. He was one of the secondary actors in the film.
I was slightly surprised; most name actors went back to their personal trailers for lunch. And I don’t mean for this film, I mean in general. Actors don’t eat with the crew. The star of this movie not only left for lunch, but also went and hid in his private trailer every chance he could. Hell, I even rode up in an elevator with the main star once, but didn’t realize it because he tucked himself away in a corner and had on a baseball hat and sunglasses. The elevator contained three people: the actor, one of the set assistants, and me. She and I chatted for the entire ride, and I didn’t realize the star was the other person until the doors opened and he darted out past us and into his private cubicle, where he would wait out of sight of we commoners until called.
Yet there Alec was, eating and chatting it up with everyone.
Scott eventually sat down next to me, and I pointed out Mr. Baldwin: “I didn’t know he was in here,” I said. “Think he wished you a happy birthday?“
“I know he did,” Scott explained. “That’s why I turned red. Alec was pounding on the table and clapping for me.”
Well, neat. That’s who the overly-enthused person was: Alec Baldwin. He had been clapping for a nineteen-year-old kid on his first film production with no ego invested in the situation at all.
Not that it means anything, but the next day I waited until the line was run down to almost nothing and went for lunch; Alec was at the back of what was left of the line.
When I walked up, he turned, looked at me, and broke into a wide smile, graciously saying, “No, no! You go ahead of me. I don’t have to be back on set for a while.”
I tried to demur, but he took my shoulder and pushed me in front of him, ending the movement with a back slap and another smile.
He didn’t want anyone to have to wait for him; “Crew eats first.”
Nice guy, that Alec Baldwin.