Saturday, May 28, 2011

Behind the Wheel, pt. 5: The Director

How about some celebrity? I imagine the best part of being a celebrity is having your own private plane land at a private airport, and then exiting the plane to find your car waiting right there on the tarmac. I have to think all the rumors, the paparazzi, the pressure of your next movie or album grossing x-number of dollars all goes away when you are the only passenger stepping off an airplane into your very own car. It's the price of convenience.

One of the best parts of being a chauffeur was being able to drive that car onto the tarmac, right up next to an airplane. I don't know if it's still allowed after 9/11, this was 1995 when I was doing it.

It was exciting to be able to step into the office of the little FBO airport in Panama City and hear the pilot radioing in that they'd have wheels on the ground in 10 minutes and ask if the car was there waiting. It was. And the other great thing about being a chauffeur was pulling up next to that plane that day as it rolled to a stop and someone ran out to put the chocks behind the wheels, the door opening and seeing Ridley Scott step out.

I'm not too awed by many celebrities. I drove a few who were interesting and quite a few more who sat in the back of my car with their 15 minutes ticking off with every mile. But when Scott and his crew climbed into the 15-passenger van they had requested, it was like Hollywood itself was on board. It was like Alien and Blade Runner and Thelma & Louise were in the seats. Scott had such a commanding presence (it must have been winter because I recall him wearing a coat, which made him seem even more massive, and this was when his face was fuller, his hair redder, as though a viking were beside me) that had he told me to move over so he could drive, I would have.

But I drove. And he smoked, which wasn't allowed in any of our vehicles, yet he got a pass. He might have cut me out of this scene if I'd asked him to put it out. As soon as they stepped off the plane, their cell phones and a huge cigar were lit up. As I said, this was '95; I had a cell phone for work and the weight of the thing is probably what contributed to my later back problems, and I only used it sparingly because it cost over 30-cents per minute. These Hollywood beings, these aliens themselves, however, were chattering like mynah birds from the time they got on the van and for most of the day.

This crew was in Panama City to scout locations for an upcoming film called G.I. Jane. Just an awful movie, a vehicle written around getting Demi Moore into a tank top and a shower. But I was a chauffeur, not a critic, so I just drove. We went to the Navy base on the beach side and, normally, I would wait with the car or van while the clients did whatever it was they were doing. I didn't even ask this time and when the Navy representative met us, I locked up the van and fell in with the tour. We saw helicopters and amphibious landing vehicles up close, we toured barracks, mess halls and saw where they trained elite SCUBA divers.

When that was done, we drove around the beach and I played tour guide, showing them the area, telling them about things. As we rode around, they all talked about the movie and the story, and they pretty much made parts of it up right there in the van. "We could have her trying to diffuse a bomb underwater ..." I'm reminded of it now when I hear my kids planning out a scenario for one of their games. It's very similar, only with a much smaller budget and no Demi Moore.

They didn't end up shooting in Panama City. IMDB tells me it was mostly shot in Jacksonville and Beaufort, S.C. It was a great way to spend an afternoon, nonetheless. I drove them back to their plane, right up on the tarmac, later that evening and they were all very gracious - something not usually found in all Hollywood aliens I've met - as they departed my vehicle and boarded theirs.

Scott even gave me one of his cigars, we'd talked about them as we toured that afternoon, and I smoked it in the van like a big shot.

Ridley Scott - producer/director

Blade Runner
Thelma & Louise
G.I. Jane
Black Hawk Down
American Gangster
Robin Hood (2010)
The A-Team (2010)
The Good Wife