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My First Job With Tony Scott


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#1 John David Miller

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Posted 25 August 2012 - 06:06 AM

My deepest and most sincere condolences go out to the entire Scott family. They are in my prayers.

I went against my Father's wishes after I graduated High School. He wanted me to go to college and I decided not to. He was a successful key grip in Hollywood, like his Father before him, and I sought to follow their paths. My Father forbid my career choice and vowed he would not help me get in the film business. I told him I would do it without him. I left home for a small movie out on location. My Father was shocked, but in hindsight, he let me leave on the low budget western, summertime ballbuster, because he thought I would come back broken. I came home with a smile and a pocket full of cash. Right about the time I started giving him pointers on how to be a better grip, he had enough. I had 3 months of non union time and I was telling a vet of 25 years the little tricks I learned. I had a knack for pressing his buttons, like any son. The following morning he woke me up at 4am., "Get your ass up! You are coming to work with me, and you are going to learn the right way." A few months later I was in the union.

At that time, in Hollywood, the highest paying job a grip could get was doing a commercial with Tony Scott. Specifically commercials he was directing for a well known tobacco company. The rate for a grip 20 years ago on these jobs is still DOUBLE of what a key grip makes on a normal high paying 10 hour commercial deal today. I knew this because I worked at a equipment rental company in high school and everyone talked about it. When gear came back from a Tony Scott "tobacco" commercial it was HAMMERED. It was at this rental house I got to meet Tony Scott's key grip, Mike Popovich. Mike knew of my Father and had a mutual respect for him. I asked Mike, where this gear went to get so dirty? He smiled and said, "to hell and back kid, here is a $20, make sure my workbox is taken care of." I was making $4 a hour at the time. Needless to say Mike had my respect.

I called Mike's best boy when I got in the union, I told him I would work hard for him and wanted to earn a spot on his crew. A few weeks later I got a call to do a commercial with Tony Scott. My first commercial. It was out in the desert of Baker, CA. Here is the spot:

United Airlines

We showed up in the desert before sunrise to setup along with other departments. I was amazed at how big of an operation was going on, people everywhere. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing. A massive amount of work was going on without panic but rather with fun. It was very clear I was working with a group that was a family. After some time passed it was announced that Tony was 15 minutes out. Everyone began working even faster for his arrival. We had cameras and lights all set up ready for our director. Actors were in costume and on set with props in hand. Out of nowhere comes a helicopter, skimming across the dunes. It made a large high banking circle around our basecamp like it was trying to avoid a surface-to-air missile. I had never seen anything like it in my life. I was in awe. The bird lightly touches down and out jumps the man in the pink cap, Tony Scott. He had his beige fishing vest on, a #2 Monte Cristo cigar in his mouth, and a bullhorn in his hand. As he cleared the blades he turned and gave the pilot a nod and off the helicopter went. He began walking towards the basecamp and was met with a wrapped plate of food by a PA. He waived off the food and handed the bullhorn to the kid while searching the pockets of his vest for a match. He pulled out a large wood match, lit his $30 cigar, grabbed his bullhorn, gave the PA a wink, and began his march straight through the basecamp to the set. There was silence as he got to set. All eyes on him. All of the department were together ready for him. His AD had meet up with him and was walking with him asking him questions. Tony's first order of business was shaking all his department heads hands or kissing cheeks of the lady's in vanities. He made a few calls about the props, asking for obscure items; "Give him some block and tackle, him a monocle and pocket watch, and give her a light blue parasol." To every request a "yes" or "you got it Tony" was replied. He made these calls without any appearance of deliberation. This was my first glimpse of a director who knew exactly what he wanted. It was clear he was trying get to the camera and kept getting sidetracked with questions. Once he got to the camera, Paul Cameron ASC, began to open it up and was pointing things out all over the camera body. I thought it was strange, it was like he was being shown how a camera worked. I asked a grip who was watching with me if Paul was showing Tony how film cameras work. The grip looked at me like the idiot I was and said, "they are using a hand cranked camera which is pretty obscure." I shook my head like I understood, but I was clueless. After a few minutes of show and tell Tony began to walk off into the dunes. 20 minutes later he has still walking and out of sight. Over the walkie the word came, "pack it all up we are starting out here." People began loading up their gear, transpo began getting the plane ready to move. Everyone worked like no crew I had ever seen before, everyone gave 100%. They worked as hard and as fast as they could, not frantic or with yelling, but fast with drive. Looking back, nobody wanted to be the person or dept. that Tony had to wait on. Everyone wanted to be part of his army and I was no different.

We got moved and set up. In a flurry that is a bit of a blur in my memory but we began to roll cameras. Cameras everywhere. Tony yelling out direction with his English accent. He wasn't angry we was hilarious. Everyone behind the camera was grinning or trying not to laugh. Tony wasn't directing a comedy but rather a serious period piece. Tony would bullhorn things like, "You there with the top hat, start running up the hill! Don't look at me man just go, go, go!(quietly ask an AD the extras name)That's it Wong! Run up that hill, run. You had too much breakfast go man, go! Pretend the Motherland is on the other side." For the next few hours he used this extra to have fun with his crew and other members of the cast. "That's it, cue that pigeon! Wait it's **(obscenity removed)** up! It's afraid of Wong, Wong get out of there...your too big." Everyone thought it was humorous and perhaps happy it wasn't them in Tony's cross hairs. After Wong was no longer needed Tony called him over to the monitors, gave him one of his cherished cigars, called the still photographer over for picture together, whispered a few words in his ear, gave him a hug, and asked the crew to give him a cheer. The other extras looked on with envy.

Tony called very few of his crew by their real name. He gave everyone he liked a nickname. It was sometime after lunch when I heard my name being called to set by Popovich. "Kid, grab a furnipad and come see me on set." Up until this point I stayed on a stakebed truck and ran gear out to one of Pops regular grips that would meet me just off the actual set. I ran in like Rudy when they finally let him play in a Notre Dame game. I got on set to find Pops standing next to Tony who was on the camera dolly. They were both watching as I ran in clueless, and got a little laugh out of it. I ran over to Pops and he said, "Tony wants to meet you." I shook Tony's hand and gave him my name. He gave me a strange look and said, "You look like David Bowie! But your too tall." Everyone around the camera got a little laugh. Tony came close to me and said, "Now then, Bowie, run that pad over to that pretty girl in the black dress and have her sit on it, ok, off you go." I ran out and asked her to do what Tony said. The next thing I know Tony is yelling at me on his bullhorn, "Bowie you little hooligan! No peeping up her dress! Slide her over a foot...Not that way, the other way man. Your **(obscenity removed)** up like Wang you horny devil. Slide her a bit more--a bit more; that's it there! Good Bowie, now get the **(obscenity removed)** out of there...you're too tall to be on film, go man go!" As I ran back behind camera Tony was smiling, he gave me a wink and a thumbs up then called ACTION.

Almost 15 years has passed. Some say it was this commercial that got Tony started on the hand cranked signature look that Tony became known for. I went on to do several movies with Tony Scott and many, many commercials. I became Pop's best boy in that time and now a key grip out on my own. Certainly much of my work ethic is because of Tony and his army. Tony was a better leader than he was a director. I have never been around anyone who could get people to give more than what they thought they had to give than Tony Scott; he did it effortlessly. Tony was a true General that lead his army from the front lines. I feel both privileged and honored to have been part of his army. May God rest his weary soul in peace.
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#2 Adam Brown

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Posted 25 August 2012 - 09:30 AM

A very cool story, man. A pleasure to read!
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#3 Ed Moore

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Posted 25 August 2012 - 09:48 AM

Brilliant story, thanks for sharing!
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 25 August 2012 - 10:57 AM

Thanks for that story!
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#5 Tom Jensen

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Posted 26 August 2012 - 12:19 AM

That was wonderful. Thank you!
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#6 Freya Black

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Posted 26 August 2012 - 06:37 AM

That is a FANTASTIC story, and more evidence of what I was saying previously that Tony Scott seems to have been a big inspirational influence on filmmakers. So many people talking about what a great mentor he was etc.

love

Freya
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#7 Darryl Richard Humber

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Posted 26 August 2012 - 07:59 PM

Great story. Although I never had the pleasure, I have worked with many of his regulars. They all spoke well of him.
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#8 Mark McCann

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 08:16 PM

Wonderdul story to read, thanks for that.
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