“Be careful of what you wish for.”
I can still hear those words echoing from my father’s lips. I’d never given any true or realistic thought as to what might happen if I got my way, because getting my way would mean the impossible.
I was 19 years old. The year was 1999. Innocence was close to being lost, both on a personal and societal level. I’d just finished my freshmen year at Keene State College in New Hampshire, and I was certain I’d be the next film school wunderkind who “got noticed.” Everyone thinks that when you’re still naïve and filled with the energy that comes from finally making your own movies.
I grew up in a film-friendly household in the 80’s and 90’s, with weekly trips to the cinema, and an endless supply of titles on VHS to keep me occupied. But when the time came, and a camera was put in my hands, it was then that I got a taste of a process that has intrigued me for over half of my life. But I wanted more. I wanted to experience Hollywood—to taste the big-budget thrills of my dreams—and I needed to work for my idol.
At the time, producer Jerry Bruckheimer was the Golden God of Hollywood. Some filmmakers and producers peak once, and then there’s a steady decline. Bruckheimer peaked multiple times throughout his career, nearly once every decade, but right around the year 2000, it was something else entirely, as he’d just transitioned into television with the insanely profitable CSI television series, after conquering big-screen, box-office records with movie after movie. His company was shooting Pearl Harbor, prepping Black Hawk Down, releasing Gone in 60 Seconds, wrapping Remember the Titans, researching King Arthur and National Treasure, and developing a new Bad Boys movie while figuring out how to adapt the Pirates of the Caribbean theme park attraction as a movie franchise. It was just an utter blitzkrieg of filmed entertainment, to say nothing of the iconic producer’s accomplishments from years previous.
I’d been bitten by the sexy and flashy Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer/Tony Scott slick-and-gritty aesthetic as a little kid, and then all the way through high-school, with Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, Days of Thunder, Crimson Tide, Bad Boys, Enemy of the State, and Armageddon becoming touchstone events for me as a movie lover. So, naturally, he was the only person on my list. Go Big or Go Home.
So, I decided that something had to be done. And spurred on by my dad’s encouragement to open up a line of communication in some form, I decided to embark on the ultimate letter-writing campaign. These were the days before everyone was reachable through social media, and for a kid in Connecticut with zero industry connections, it felt like the tallest possible mountain had to be scaled while wearing ballerina slippers. In short—it wasn’t going to happen.
“Be careful of what you wish for,” my dad said, as I popped my first letter to Jerry in the mail.
“Why,” I asked?
“Because if he says ‘Yes,’ you have to be prepared to go out to Los Angeles,” he said.
“I’m ready,” I replied.
And so, for the entire summer before the start of my sophomore year, I sent a letter to Jerry, every week. About eight letters were sent during my break from classes. I told him all about my first year at school, my favorite films, and what I’d seen and enjoyed recently in theaters. I even pitched him a couple of ideas. And I ended each letter with the polite request of being able to get my first break in the industry with him at his company. No big deal—I was just asking him to make my dreams come true.
And for two months … I sent letters … via FED EX and UPS and Express Mail … and heard nothing back. But I remained undeterred. As I’ve learned so often in life, if you want something done, you have to do it yourself.
Sophomore year commenced, and my letter writing never stopped. I just changed my return address from my parent’s house in Connecticut, to my personal mailbox at school in New Hampshire. I remember, after sending a few letters from the campus mail stop, I started to get frustrated, and I called my dad, hoping he’d lift my spirits, somehow …
“Do you think he’s actually getting these letters,” I asked my dad?
It was like I was asking about the existence of Santa Claus.
“Yes. He’s getting them. Someone’s getting them. Listen … one of two things is going to happen. You’re either going to get a note back from them saying to come out to California, or the FBI is going to show up at your dorm, and arrest you for harassment. Either way, it’ll be a good story to tell later in life,” my dad said.
And now, just as my father predicted, here I am telling the story for the first time, and it’s absolutely amazing that I can actually say that Jerry did respond, and did ask me to come out to his Santa Monica compound, and see how the magic unfolded. But first—that day—that fateful day in early October 1999 when I went to my campus mailbox, and peeked inside the little corner-square clear window, and I saw a letter facing my direction, with that iconic lightning bolt logo on the outside of the envelope—I knew in that moment that it was Judgment Day.
I was shaking. Sweating. I grabbed the letter from the box, and I didn’t open it. I was too nervous. I walked back to my dorm room, pondering the possibilities in my head—what was about to happen? Was I about to face the ultimate in rejection, or the ultimate in success? I nearly vomited from the momentary mental stress and anxiety-ridden excitement that was building up inside of me. My dorm-mate, John, was back at our pad, and when I came in, I showed him the envelope, and he knew it was game time. All of my buddies knew what I’d been up to each week in September, methodically sending letters out to the biggest movie producer in the world.
“This is it, dude,” I exclaimed!
“I know, man! Go for it! Open it,” John replied.
I cracked the corner, and slowly slid out the one-page contents.
There would be no visit from the FBI. Instead, there was a wonderful letter from Jerry’s then-Director of Production, KristieAnne Groelinger, who informed me that the big man had in fact received all of my correspondences, and that he’d be delighted to extend me an invite to intern at the offices, during my junior year. I could feel the earth moving underneath my feet, and I nearly fainted from the adrenaline rush.
“John! We’re going to California!” I yelled.
My friend had told me a few weeks prior that if I got the YES from Jerry, he wanted to go out west with me and do the national exchange program for the year, because that’s the excuse for schooling that we’d need to use in order to keep getting credit for classes. We’d quickly realize that going to classes doesn’t really go hand-in-hand with life in Los Angeles, but I’m getting way ahead of myself …
I called my dad and told him the amazing news, and I could tell in his voice that he always knew that I’d get a positive response from 3,000 miles away. He knew that it would mean massive changes for his son, but he knew that it was something I had to experience. I credit my dad’s eternal sense of optimism as one of the subliminal things that made the entire experience actually happen. It was willed into existence.
Of course, I had to get through all of sophomore year knowing that the following year, I’d be out in California, in a totally foreign land, doing things that I could only have ever dreamed of doing, so keeping focused that year … I’ll admit … was a challenge. I had the great fortune of making life-long friends with my dorm mates, and the fact that I was experimenting with Super 8 and 16mm filmmaking kept me fully occupied. But it was an excruciating endurance test, the world’s craziest waiting game.
On that hot August morning, when John and I departed from my parent’s driveway in their borrowed Isuzu Trooper, packed so tightly that we couldn’t see out the rearview mirror during our entire cross-country drive, I knew my life was heading into an insane new chapter—one that I could never possibly predict.
It was time to make my dreams become a reality.
All that stood before us was the open road and a few days of spliffed-out, cross-country travels, before we rolled into the parking lot of California State University, Northridge. My internship at Jerry Bruckheimer Films would start in a couple of days.
The time had finally come.
*Feature photo by Suzy Hazelwood (Pexels)