Welcome to Hollywood, Part 2
If you haven't already: read part 1.
If you’re looking for stories about Hollywood abuse at the hands of the Tinseltown Devil, you won’t find any here. It’s remarkable to think about how many big-league people I interacted with over the years while working in the industry, and yet I never had a stapler thrown at me, I was never publicly humiliated, and I never saw anything happening to anyone else that I felt I should be worried about or that I had to report. I encountered nothing but exciting experiences working at a number of companies, in both film and television and on the agency side.
Yes, I got lucky—very lucky—to have met and interacted in a positive light with my personal cinematic heroes, especially in the wake of so many A-listers going down the tubes due to their insane and tyrannical behavior.
People always warn about meeting your idols, because oftentimes, the folks you revere from afar are not quite who you think they are when you get up close and personal. How will these titans of entertainment stack up to the exalted image you’ve created in your own mind, for many years? When I was working at Jerry Bruckheimer Films and then for Tony Scott at his private office, Totem Productions, I had the time of my life, and was never disappointed by the realities that arrive when you smash down the walls that separate the movie world and the real world. It’s potentially spell-breaking to peel back that magic curtain, but I had to have a taste, regardless of the outcome.
The year was 2000. The month was August. The school I’d be “attending” was California State University, Northridge. And it was HOT. Very, very hot. I’ve never “done well” with excessive heat, as I’ve always found it much easier to get warmer during the winter, than to stay cool during the summer. And for someone who grew up with four distinct seasons and who loves a classic New England snow storm, the constantly sunny weather and stifling temperatures of the west coast was never something I could fully appreciate.
But it didn’t matter. I had to get focused. Because only two days after arriving in the sunshine state, I’d be showing up to Bruckheimer’s Santa Monica complex, and I knew that my life would never be the same.
It’s nearly impossible to describe the overwhelming feeling of excitement I had when I made that very first drive, from my campus parking lot, over the 405 South and into the city. I’d only been out to L.A. once previous, and the idea of driving on a five-lane highway every day felt very foreign; I never dreamed that I could possibly see that many cars in one area. I’d soon learn all about “Los Angeles Car Culture” and how it was totally normal to spend multiple hours of your day sitting in traffic, with it taking exorbitant amounts of time to do the smallest things. But when you’re 20 years old and your end destination is the workplace of the biggest producer in town, no amount of auto idling was too much.
I pulled into the parking lot of Jerry Bruckheimer Films (JBF), and my legs were weak. It was as if Jell-o had been injected into my bloodstream. I was greeted by a friendly security guard/parking coordinator who I never saw without a smile. Seriously. In all the time I spent at the complex, he was always smiling, regardless of the request being asked of him. And this guy had an important job over there, what with all of the visitors coming and going at all hours of the day, to say nothing of the vehicles he was responsible for, and being the first person who anyone interacted with upon arriving at the office.
Before entering, as if he’d been anticipating my arrival, he handed me a key to the front door. I was in shock—my own key? I, Nick Clement, had a key to the front door of Jerry Bruckheimer’s office—it’s a fact of life that still has never fully settled in. I was in too much personal glory to fully realize that the 1967 Ford Shelby GT500, which had just been driven by Nicolas Cage in Gone in 60 Seconds, was parked in one of the closest spaces to the office, making it impossible for any guest not to check it out on their way in. I’d get to know “Eleanor” a bit more in the coming weeks.
Beaming, I walked through the entrance, and the first thing I noticed was: elegance. And brick—lots of exposed brick, and the colors red and black, and big pieces of gorgeous modern art, and lots and lots of framed two-page spreads from Variety, which announced how much dough each of the JBF blockbusters had made. I told the nice receptionist who I was, and I took a seat in one of the big leather chairs that made up the lobby and waiting area.
There was a busy hum to the office, no major noise per se, but you quickly got the sense it was an all-business atmosphere, and that everyone was hard at work. I noticed how all of the assistant’s desks were lined up in rows, placed outside and in front of their boss’ glass-enclosed private office. Neatly arranged stacks of scripts were waiting to be filed into massive cabinets, and I was struck by how everything was so clean and tidy. I was blown away, to say the least.
But very quickly, that sense of being smashed in the face with so much real movie madness started to dissipate, and I realized that it was just another day at the office for this particular set of people. But my biggest takeaway was that everyone genuinely seemed to be having fun. Yes, long hours were required and much personal time was sacrificed, but everyone seemed to love being there and doing what was required of them, especially to a wet-behind-the-ears intern like me. But what I found during my time at JBF, both as a college intern and then a paid employee, was that the entire place operated like a big family; the boss supported his staff and his execs to the fullest, and in return, he got maximum effort from everyone. There’s a reason why the same day-to-day leaders of JBF are still working there, over 20 years after I had my quick glimpse. It’s always about respect, and that was something I always saw, at every level, while picking up the lunches and dropping off the dry cleaning and making the script copies.
And about those script copies—that was my #1 priority on any given day. Other tasks could acceptably be dropped while in-the-middle-of, in favor of spur-of-the-moment script copying requests, and what I find so cute is that my timeframe of working at JBF occurred right at the tail end of paper scripts being the norm; the town was just about to turn to PDF’s via email. Every copy of every script that I ever made had to be double (sometimes triple) checked for page count accuracy, and as far as I remember, I only screwed up once while on active script duty; I’d been making a dozen simultaneous copies of Black Hawk Down, for a massive meeting that was taking place with all of the key folks involved. But because one of the veteran assistants was a total superstar, he was checking my work, and rushed it back to me so that I could slip the missing page back in before anybody got the copy. That’s teamwork at its finest.
There were any number of nights where I found myself, typically on a Friday, speeding down Olympic Boulevard in my Honda Civic, driving as if I were the star of my own video game, weaving in and out of traffic, so that I could grab the weekend’s big and hot spec script from CAA or William Morris or ICM and bring it back to the office and get it copied for everyone’s “weekend read.” Oh, and stop and grab some cookies at Diddy Riese in Westwood while you’re at it! Who cares if I’d have to double-park my car and risk a ticket or a tow—this stuff had to get done—and I was the man for the job.
When you’re 20 and showing up all over town as the “guy” from Jerry Bruckheimer Films, people treated you differently, and it was always surreal for me to announce my presence when doing the most mundane of tasks. That particular feeling of importance—on a superficially outward level—which was felt, was unlike anything previously experienced—and it shaped how I viewed all of the rest of my working experiences in Hollywood.
I learned the sprawling but relatively-easy-to-navigate city through the iconic Thomas Guide, and by utilizing MapQuest directions for nearly everything. Smart phones? Those were works of science fiction back in those days. GPS? That was expensive stuff and still in its infancy for use in the common consumer’s car back when I was a “runner;” I had to rely on my wits and my instincts and the feel of paper in my fingertips. That I never got into an accident remains a miracle. There was also no text messaging back then as we currently know it. On my first day, I was handed a small digital device called a Nextel, which was essentially a pager that received long-ish text messages, so that’s how the assistants would relay more errands or requests while I was out on the road getting things done. It was fast-paced, uniquely challenging, personally rewarding, and a true eye-opener in terms of seeing all that it took to keep an office running with positive vibes. Keeping that kitchen clean and fridge stocked was another key part of my job, to say nothing of the daily lunch order. Lunch—as it turns out—is what keeps Tinseltown moving along.
Lunch is a critical event in Hollywood. Deals can be made or broken over a mid-day meal, and in general, it’s a time for people to recharge after a stressful morning, while preparing for the rest of the day’s meetings and calls and more stress. In a very short period of time, it became abundantly clear to me that the procuring of lunches was by far the one thing that took precedent over anything else. Even the copying of scripts could wait. Therefore, my entire day was structured around the “lunch run,” and I’d basically put my schedule of events together for each day based on what was happening during lunch time. On the east coast, people typically eat lunch at noon. Not in Los Angeles—1 p.m. is when the town takes a break, so around 12:30 p.m., it was time to get battle-ready, and by 12:55 p.m., I needed to be sure to be back to the office with all orders, unless specific plans dictated otherwise. When I realized how important my actions were in relation to how much it directly affected the higher-ups, it made me want to excel.
And on that final day of my internship, when I was allowed to cherry-pick from the company closet, which contained crew hats and jackets and DVDs and soundtracks and posters to every single Jerry Bruckheimer production, it felt all the more special, because I knew I had given it my all, and that that was the mentality that I’d had to bring to all future endeavors.
There are memories I’ll simply never forget: the decadent Christmas party that I was invited to and where I marched up to Robert Towne and expressed my heartfelt gratitude for all he’d brought to the cinematic arts; sitting in on a development meeting and being totally in awe of the intense and knowledgeable conversation; watching Jerry Bruckheimer, Ridley Scott, and Joe Roth taking an hour-long power walk (with cigars) throughout the office, plotting the brilliance that would become Black Hawk Down; visiting the set of Pirates of the Caribbean at Manhattan Beach Studios and not believing my own two eyes; sitting with Arthur Max as he designed the full-scale, city-street, urban warfare models for Black Hawk Down; spending an afternoon with Gladiator co-writer David Franzoni, who was working at the time on a draft of King Arthur, and us bonding over our shared love for the state of Vermont and all things green; going to the premiere of Remember the Titans at the Rose Bowl with 90,000 screaming fans; and so many other things, big and small, that showed me how the top of the Hollywood food chain operates.
And when it comes to my interactions with the man himself, Jerry was always a complete professional. Quiet, smart, sharply dressed, and very serious, it took a while before I even felt comfortable directly looking at him when he’d appear in the office. And because he was never a show-boat about anything, he’d sometimes pull-in via the back entrance, and you wouldn’t even know he was there. But then, you’d hear the boom from the surround sound in his office while he cued up the Pearl Harbor trailer for Ben Affleck during a visit, and you’d remember that you were in Jerry Bruckheimer’s compound.
As the days progressed, and my confidence levels increased, I noticed that I didn’t feel as nervous around him as I previously did; him pointing out that we had the same sneakers when I delivered food to the steps of his private jet on the tarmac at Burbank Airport for a major production-related trip was when I fully realized that no matter who much of a pedestal I put him on, he was still a human being, like myself, and at that, a human being who was a New Balance fan.
My biggest face-slapper Los Angeles moment happened seemingly by chance, and only occurred because of the generosity of good people. It was towards the end of my semester-long internship at JBF, and over the course of five months, it had become obvious to all of the assistants, and many of the executives, that I was enamored with Tony Scott. One of the assistants, who I’d become very friendly with, commented that she knew the guys in Tony’s office, and she’d heard that they needed some help.
“What are you doing next semester for an internship?” she asked.
“Nothing yet,” I said.
She told me to take a seat, and she picked up the phone. Within a matter of two minutes, I was set up for a five-month stint with Tony at his production office. I’d just spent over half of a year sending weekly letters to Jerry Bruckheimer, begging for a shot, and in 120 seconds, I was able to land my next gig.
The phrase “It’s all who you know” never rung more true in my ears.
It’s hard for me to even write about Tony Scott without getting misty-eyed, let alone going through my memory banks, and thinking about the time I spent with him, at his office, and at his house. He’d just returned after completing photography on Spy Game and was about to start the editing process. He was developing the scripts to both Man on Fire and Domino, while fielding offers to direct the Bond flick Die Another Day and the serial killer thriller Taking Lives, neither of which materialized. It was a full-on immersion in the man’s personal and creative life, and the team he had taking care of his day to day comprised of some of the most dedicated individuals I’ve ever met. But the truth is, Tony was so nice—and so fun—you wanted to please him and do a great job at all times. And then, to be immediately accepted by him and other people of his stature, well, that was head-spinning for a “nobody” like me.
The level of trust that he instilled in me to handle stuff for him on a personal level is something that I’ll always carry with me until my dying days. Sure, there were a roll-call of assistants and helpers and interns that he crossed paths with over the years, but I can guarantee that none of them felt the same way I did, especially when I first encountered one of his trademark pink hats or famous fishing-tackle vests, or when he tasked me with cleaning out his humidor, and then sharing in a Cuban Cohiba with the office staff. I can still see him and his longtime editor, Christian Wagner, cutting scenes from Spy Game together, blazing away on cigars in the courtyard of the half-open-air offices, and I will always cherish picking up his preferred tuna salad sandwiches from Pavilions on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, and then putting his lunch plate together back at the office. The fact that Richard Kelly or Brian Helgeland or Henry Bean were coming in for writer’s meetings was just the icing on the cake; at all times, you just felt cool when you were in Tony’s orbit.
There were tough days, to be sure. And there were days when I absolutely dreaded the thought of sitting behind the wheel of a car and suffering the effects of bumper-to-bumper traffic. But ultimately, because what I was doing on a regular basis was so thrilling, life’s annoyances never fully registered. Which is as it should be when you’re still figuring out the world—you’ll have plenty of years to agonize over the harsh realities of living a full life, but during your formative years, you need to reach out and grab your passions with two hands, and follow all intriguing paths.
Because as we all know, in life, there are so few real guarantees, and most of those are guarantees that you’re not necessarily all that pumped to experience. Some people get bit by a creative bug early in their lives that keeps an inner flame lit from within, and for those who share this quality, sometimes you just need to see how it all gets made.
I know times are very different now than they were 22 years ago, but I’d like to think and hope that, in today’s landscape, if someone wanted nothing more than to work for their idol in the film industry, and that someone sent a new letter each week to that one special person, stating their case as to why they should be taken seriously and be given a chance, they’d get the same chance that I did.
*Feature photo by Anas Hinde (Pexels)