I miscalculated. The car sped toward me and there was no time.
Tires squealed and metal impacted my flesh…
Did you ever want a job so bad you’d die for it? Lots of people want jobs they’d kill for, but die? The film business generates that kind of… passion in some people.
I didn’t want to die for my first Hollywood production job. But I almost did. I was trying too hard.
I was just out of film school. A bunch of us were making do, getting occasional commercial gigs here and there. We’d worked some low budget stuff, but a Hollywood crew with a name director? What a dream!
They were going to be shooting at the classic Don Cesar Hotel on the beach in St. Petersburg, Florida, built in the ‘20s and painted the color of Pepto-Bismal. The movie was HealtH.
Everyone was trying to find their way onto the crew. There was no way. There had to be a way.
There was a way.
I got on the show and through me, others got on. We watched each other’s backs. We were called Production Assistants. We were grunts.
Shooting a major motion picture is like a combination of a military operation and a three ring circus, with all that implies.
The politics of holding onto a grunt job! The director, Robert Altman, was famously anti-union. The local Teamsters sent him their regards. One of the local union reps ‘generously’ handed out Teamster logo emblazoned t-shirts to all the locals hired by the production. Cool! Free t-shirts!
The next morning ‘Teamsters’ were everywhere. The Altman thought he was being strong armed. Word came down that anyone seen in “one of those shirts” would no longer be on the show. Those t-shirts disappeared. But the Teamster’s local made its presence known.
Bill, one of my buddies almost got fired one day after drinking lunch with the editors. The editors congregated in the hotel bar for lunch every day. They were a relaxed and friendly bunch, very collegial. These were the rogues who ‘borrowed’ someone’s 50 foot sailboat for an hour or so one night after closing the bar down. They didn’t get caught, but the boat’s owner could have sworn he moored the boat facing out. Curious. So Bill took their invitation and tried to keep up.
Lunch over, our boss detected Bill’s inebriated state, and told him to take the rest of the day off. Bill protested that he was fine. Our boss said he wasn’t fired. He just couldn’t be on the set in that condition. It shook him, thinking he could have been fired. You learn to roll with things.
One afternoon we secured a monstrous set piece in the hotel courtyard, so it wouldn’t fall and kill anyone. It was a tree of sorts, made of styro-foam but weighing about a ton. It consisted of several styro-spheres on stalks, standing almost two stories tall and painted a bilious green. Next to the pink hotel, it was quite memorable.
We anchored steel cable to the roof and ran it down to the ‘tree’ from several locations to stabilize it. Wouldn’t you know, but that night a huge wind storm blew in?
After hours a bunch of us hung out in a meeting room and actor Paul Dooley treated us to a spontaneous demonstration of his amazing sleight of hand. He manipulated a small rubber ball, mysteriously making it disappear and reappear, for several minutes. However, his most amazing trick was creating the illusion of the ball appearing and disappearing, while he was empty handed!
Done for the day, Bill and I were exiting through the lobby of the hotel when the night manager asked if we were with the production. He pointed out the window where we saw the giant ‘tree’ ominously straining against its cables in the gale force winds.
He was genuinely concerned, not only that this looming thing was going to take out a hundred panes of glass but also that innocent guests, or staff, might get injured. I could see his point.
I assured him that I was there when the ‘tree’ was secured and I was certain that it was safe. He asked my name and if he could call me should need arise. I assured him I was with the production company and vouched for the safety of the hotel guests. The night manager took my name and shook my hand in thanks.
Bill and I looked at the ‘tree’ thrashing violently like some nightmarish creature about to break its bonds.
He turned to me. “Are you nuts? How can you be responsible?”
“You think they can make me responsible? That’s what insurance is for. He just needed to know it wasn’t on him. Do you want to hold his hand all night? Chutzpah, my friend. Let’s get out of here.”
We left. The wind subsided and the ‘tree’ stayed put.
One of our tasks was to load a rental truck with props and stuff that had been delivered to the local warehouse and bring it to the location. I was walking to meet the truck when it drove by, honking and proceeding through the intersection without me.
I needed to be on that truck and so made chase. The light changed just before I reached the curb. I made a snap decision that I could make it through before the stationary traffic could get moving.
I ran the red light and discovered the traffic was already in motion and speeding up. I had nowhere to turn as the phalanx of cars bore down on me.
There was no time. The driver slammed on his brakes, but too late. I jumped and rolled onto his hood. He screeched to a stop which threw me off the car. I landed on my feet and I literally hit the ground running. I didn’t look back.
Shaking from the adrenaline rush, I got into the waiting truck. The driver asked if I was okay and all I could say was, “Yeah. Great. Let’s go!”
You just have to roll with things. And have a guardian angel.