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.
“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.
“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.