Hanging Out With Clint Eastwood

Reprint of a post written March 23, 2007.

LA Diary #25: "Hanging With Clint"

This past Wednesday I drove into the underground parking garage of the Director’s Guild of America building and pulled into the space one of the attendants had directed me to.  It was somebody’s reserved parking space but only during work hours.  Now it was 7:15 pm. I was there to attend a “friends and family” screening of a movie called “Pride.” Kevin Phillips, one of the film’s co-stars, who I first met when he was dating Nia Long, invited me. Later I got to know Kevin better when he and one of his other “Pride” co-stars, Alphonso McAuley, hired me to write a script on an idea they had.
            I thought since this was a “friends and family” screening I would see clusters of black moms and grandmas and friends from the hood looking wide-eyed with excitement at being at real life Hollywood event!  But as I boarded the elevator with a group of white men and women I could see I would probably be wrong.  Most of the men appeared to be in their thirties with well trimmed beards and just enough gel in their hair to look fashionably tousled.  The women were slender, mostly blondes, wide-eyed, chewing on gum and smiling with over-bleached teeth at something supposedly witty the men had said aloud or whispered in their ears.  Everyone wore something black—a sports coat, pants, dress— de rigueur for Hollywood events.  I had on jeans, a black jacket and black New York Yankees cap pulled low onto my head.  Hardly any of the men wore caps.  I wondered why I wore one—it certainly wasn’t cold outside.  Maybe it was my personal roof, with an overhang, to hide under and peek out from.
            About a hundred people meandered in the large open lobby of the DGA. A group clustered around Terrence Howard, the star of the film.  He was smiling and shaking hands. I didn’t recognize anybody else although I heard later on that Cuba Gooding Jr and Eva Longoria were there. I skirted around the crowd and made my way to the check-in table.  There is always a moment of nervousness whenever I have to do this.  What if they did not have my name? How, after they check and re-check the list then give me that puppy dog look and say, “Sorry Mr. Williams, your name is not here,” do I walk away with dignity while people all around me snigger at my disgrace?  But they had my name.  I took my one ticket (I was alone) and turned to meld into the crowd of the black and bleached teeth.
Melinda Williams
            “Hey!” a woman’s voice jumped out at me.  I looked at her very slender face. She struggled with my name and then eventually got it. “Avery Williams, right?” I couldn’t pull hers from my memory. “Lisa Sorenson,” she said, obviously not waiting for me to remember.
            “Yes, of course!” I said.  I sounded phony without intending to. She was sitting next to Melinda Williams, her sister, and an actress on the TV series, “Soul Food.”  Her name came to me quicker than Lisa’s had. I was a bit embarrassed, because this type of mental name search would seem appropriate if I had not seen Lisa in years, but we had worked closely together at the end of 2005, as she had been our public relations person when I produced “Medal of Honor Rag.” She asked about my nephews. I had also forgotten she had met them a couple of summers ago at a pool party. She told Melinda, “He has the most cutest little nephews.”
            “They’re doing great,” I lied.  Actually, of late, I had been very concerned about them, especially the older one, regarding his grades.  He’s supposed to be going to high school next year but if his grades don’t dramatically improve he’ll wind up at school known for more for its fights than its academic feats. I immediately wished I had told her the truth, but I would have to stumble backwards and retract what I said and that would have made more conversation than I think she wanted.  She asked what’s new with me—a de rigueur question at Hollywood events.  Everybody wants to know what everybody else is doing so either they can get a lead on a job or compare their sorry state with somebody else’s.
“I’m still writing. A lot,” I said.  “And I’m just hoping that one of these things go into production soon.  It’s tough.”  I looked at Melinda when I said this, making sure to include her in the conversation. She nodded.  I wondered if she had been working a lot since “Soul Food” ended its run.
            I thought about telling Lisa about “Crossed” and how close we really are to actually getting the film made this summer.  Three weeks ago, Heavy and I attached a director to the script: Christopher Erskin. He’s a former USC graduate and video director whose feature film debut was the lamentable “Johnson Family Vacation.”  He told me it started off as a bad script that originally ended with a chitlin’ eating contest that he changed just before shooting began.  He’s a smart guy and Heavy and I like him.  He wants to do “Crossed” because he says it’s a great script and it will give him a chance to direct darker, more serious material.  Will Smith read the latest draft and agreed that’s it’s good too. But I didn’t tell Lisa any of this and just said, “Heavy and I are still working together.”
         “Oh good,” she replied.

            The lights flashed. It was time to go in.  I checked my pass. It was assigned seating and I wondered how far in the back I’d be.  I found my seat and sat down. No one was around me.  I saw an Alpha brother I knew who was into marketing.  We exchanged greetings. He introduced me to a guy named Darryl Miller.  “Cool. What’s up man.” No matter where I am, if I meet somebody black, my “brother-talk” jumps easily.  What if Obama does become President and I have the chance to meet him. Will I say, “Whaddup brother President?”  As I sat down the name “Darryl Miller” tugged at me.  I know that name, but from – ah, then I remembered.  He was the attorney representing Master P when Richard Posell came close to suing him on my behalf several years ago because he owed me money.  P eventually paid.  I reminded Darryl of this, complimenting him on being a good attorney to work with.  He was very gracious and asked me “How is everything going, career-wise?” De Rigueur talk.
            “I’m still writing.”  He told me he had some clients that might need a good writer.  I gave him my card and he asked if I had representation. I told him, “Not right now.”
            “Maybe I can help with that.”   He searched for his business card but had none. “I’ll reach out to you. Email you”
            “Cool. I look forward to it.”  I really don’t expect to hear from him. But that’s Hollywood. Black or white.

            I took my seat again as Kevin had arrived with his crew.  They sat in the same row but there were eight empty seats between us.  I guess I was looking sad sitting on the end by myself so Kevin invited me to move down, closer to the middle. I did. The producer spoke, then the director, a South African named Sunu Gonera, each thanking everybody.  It was then I noticed the older white man sitting in front of me. I knew the answer as I leaned over and whispered to Kevin, “Is that Clint Eastwood?”  Kevin nodded, yes.  Whoa. Clint Eastwood! I thought to myself:  Mr. Make-My-Day. Director extraordinaire.  Hollywood royalty.  Right in front of me!  At the same screening. Was I star struck? Perhaps a little.  But what struck me more was a feeling of appreciation—not for Clint, or being at this particular screening—but just for being at this stage in my career, of feeling so close to living out my dreams.  God is truly good. And amazing. And he is still in the blessing business.  I watched as Clint took out a pack of gum and offered it to the people in his row—all white—all probably his family or staff.  I thought about leaning forward and asking, “Hey Clint, I’d like a piece of gum,” but I didn’t.            
Clint Eastwood
“Pride” played and ended.  I enjoyed it although it seemed as if every character on screen was crying at some point in the movie.  I was proud for Kevin and Alphonso. They each did a good job.  I watched as Clint and his crew (which included an older actress I recognized as Francis Fisher) rose from their seats.  Francis exclaimed out loud: “That was so much better than “300!”  I hoped nobody from that movie was nearby.
Everyone flooded back into the lobby and engaged in the typical Hollywood love fest of hugs and kisses and photographs.  I couldn’t find Kevin or Alphonso amidst the melee so I pulled my hat low and quietly slipped toward the elevator.  Kevin would call me the next day to find out what happened because they had all gone to an after-party and were looking for me. 
As I drove home I was anxious more than ever to complete the rewrites on “Crossed,” and the other scripts: “Chances”-- the Nia Long/T.I film; and “Boot” -- a teen soccer movie. All of these scripts have the strong potential to be made into movies sometime soon. That’s what my career needs—not parties or meaningless socializing—but movies that are made from scripts I’ve written.  It will happen but only through relentless old-fashioned hard work, a bit of good fortune and God’s blessings.  Obviously I have the latter and even more blessings will continue to reveal themselves.
The signs are all there—like hanging out with Clint Eastwood.

Getting It All Done... Now

I've got a lot on my plate--creatively speaking-- to complete these days:
  1. An original screenplay for a "mega-church" preacher who lives in Texas.
  2. A stage play for Thomas Miles (aka Nephew Tommy).
  3. An original screenplay for a film producer (who is actually making movies today!)
  4. A sitcom pilot for a former sitcom TV star
  5. Field produce a docu-reality story for an ESPN program. 
  6. Create, design and consult upon courses for a new film program at Morehouse College
  7. Solicit critiques on "Bach, A Monster" -- my original screenplay.  (Then begin rewrites.)
Someone suggested that I bring on a co-writer.  And though the idea intrigues me, I must admit that I think my ego is pulling me back from the idea.  I've been working to achieve a certain level of success as a writer for many years. And now when it seems as if I have some real opportunities to step up to another level, I have to dilute my potency for the sake of getting these projects done within a certain amount of time?  But getting them done and in a timely manner IS the name of this game.  Opportunity will wait only so long. But how do I get these scripts written quickly and solely by my hand?

I think the answer is discipline and focus. 

I must discipline myself to make the best use of all hours in each day. And I must force my focus to remain sharp, and not sway, for even five minutes.  Will this work?  I don't know.  Of course I cannot neglect my other duties in life (home, exercise, family, etc) of which there are plenty.  But so many of my dreams and desires rest upon my professional achievement.  I must be bold.  I must be bodacious.  And I must begin it now.

And I'll keep you posted.  Wish me luck!

A Concrete Breakfast

Raven-Symone started it.

I've known the cute dimple faced former Cosby star since she was one of the stars in my national play, "A Mother's Prayer." We traveled together on the same sleeper bus for several months. During that time, and afterwards, she shared with me her fascination with cooking and watching cooking shows. The former I get, but a passion for watching cooking shows? I didn't get it because at the time there were only a handful of shows on the air which were more than likely modeled after Julia Childs and the Galloping Gourmet. They seemed drab and uninteresting--like watching someone make oatmeal.

Today, several years later the cooking show explosion is all over the boob tube and now, admittedly, I get it. With one eye on my computer screen, the other eyeball can be found on shows like "Top Chef" and "Chopped" and even those cake baking shows like "Cake Boss." Oh the drama: Will they deliver the leaning tower of Pisa cake without it toppling over?! Wow. Have we been reduced to this level of entertainment? If I had known, before she died, I would have had a camera on my grandmother while she shuffled around her kitchen, hands covered with flour, making her famous home-made biscuits as she sang in a warbled off-key soprano voice, "Guide my feets fo' I runs dis race..." We could have launched the show during Black History Month and called it "Biscuit Singing Granny" or something like that. Anyway, I digress.

What brings all this to mind is the food I got this morning at Atlanta Bread. I bounce back and forth between Starbucks and Atlanta Bread. Starbucks I get the oatmeal. Atlanta bread I get a breakfast sandwich (which are yummy!) This morning I opted for the more healthy fare at Atlanta Bread and ordered the oatmeal--with the works (cranberry, strawberry, walnuts). A red flag should have gone up when it came out from the kitchen so fast. I had barely finished making my coffee. It wasn't carried out by the quiet could-be-cuter-if-she-bothered-to-care cook who normally works in the morning, but rather it was brought to me by this large guy who droned, "You here every mornin' huh?" I was tempted to say, "Sometimes at Starbucks and only when I'm working on a project," but I didn't want him to follow up with, "What project?" Blah, blah, blah. So I simply said, "Yeah." I looked at the bowl. One of the terms I've learned in watching these cooking shows is plating, which is basically the way food is presented to the diner. This was not plated well--although I could tell he tried. The strawberries were cut lengthwise and arranged around the rim of the bowl in a corny configuration surrounding the cranberries and nuts which were sprinkled generously in the middle. Like I said, he tried. But the real sin for me was that the oatmeal tasted like crap! It was not very hot and was so thick I swear I was stirring concrete. I had to ask for a hot cup of water to loosen it up.

I ate it because, well, I was hungry and I'd paid for it. But as I ground the sludge between my teeth I thought to myself that my singing granny or Raven-Symone would not be happy with the Atlanta Bread show this morning. They'd turn the channel.

Directing Commercials

Yesterday I wrapped directing the "Wait and Now" ads-- a series of commercials for Morehouse College. Each commercial, about :30 seconds to a 1:00 minute in length, will be distributed via the Internet throughout the year. We shot seven of them, back to back. The crew, a mix of industry pros, college employees and three great students, were great to work with and gave me the support I needed to pull off the job. Nods go especially to Vice Prez Phillip Howard who served as Executive Producer and to Bret Benson and Ali Amin Carter--two incredibly talented actors.

If you know me (or know about me) I'm usually writing or producing, I don't get a chance to direct as much as I like. So this was a great opportunity for me to stretch my wings and work those directing muscles. It felt good. I'm ready to tackle more. So bring on the Budweiser, Nike, Coca-Cola and Micky D size commercials!