“Buildings Burn, People Die, But Real Love Is Forever”

Once again it is that weird time of year for me, the anniversary of the death of Brandon Lee while shooting The Crow. I wrote the below several years ago on Social Media and I thought I would finally commit it to a blog post.

Musings of “that time” from a Studio employee:

In early 1993 I landed a job as a projectionist at what was then known as Carolco Studios in Wilmington, NC. This was a big deal for me as it meant I would be working at an actual film/TV studio. As with all things in the entertainment industry, the job turned out to be not quite as advertised, although in this case that turned out to be a plus. My primary duty would be to run dailies for the various productions that were on the lot. Dailies (also called rushes), for those who don’t know, are the developed film of the previous day’s scenes that have been shot. Productions watch them to see if everything is going OK and to see if any immediate reshoots are necessary. Now that everything is converting to digital, viewing dailies is more or less immediate and there probably isn’t much call for a dailies projectionist any more. In addition to my projectionist duty I also became an apprentice electrician and was based in the lighting warehouse. So, I would also help arrange lighting packages for productions as well as attend to any electrical and/or rewiring work that would be needed. All of that is a long way of saying that I basically was everywhere on the studio lot.

Carolco Studios is known today as EUE/Screen Gems Studios and is the largest production facility outside of California. The studio was originally founded by Dino De Laurentiis in 1984 and was called DEG. De Laurentiis all but abandoned the facilities a few years later and it was purchased by Carolco in 1990. When Carolco went bankrupt, the George Clooney owned EUE/Screen Gems stepped in and purchased the studio in 1996. Since then it has continued to prosper. Recent films such as Iron Man 3 and We’re the Millers were filmed there and the TV series Under the Dome and Sleepy Hollow call the studios home.

Back when I started there were already a few shows in production, primarily the television series Matlock and a film called The Crow. Being a comic book fan, I was immediately drawn to The Crow, of course, and around my third day I got to run some dailies for them. I was early to the viewing theater, but one of the actors was already there, one Mr. Michael Berryman. You probably know Michael from The Hills Have Eyes, Weird Science or the Motley Crue video for “Smokin’ In the Boys Room.” In The Crow. Michael played the Skull Cowboy, sort of a guide to Brandon Lee’s Eric Draven. If you don’t remember the Skull Cowboy being in the film, you have excellent recall. His scenes were filmed, but never added to the final edit. Real life events, which I relate below, changed the story somewhat and, sadly, the Skull Cowboy and Michael’s awesome performance were left out.

For all the creepy, scary and downright nasty characters he plays, Michael Berryman is one of the coolest and most soft-spoken people I have ever met. He introduced himself that first day like he assumed I had no idea who he was. We chatted a bit before the rest of the cast and crew arrived and a little bit afterwards. He was in town filming his scenes for a few more days and he always made sure to hang out and chat when he saw me. Great guy and I hope to run into him again someday and catch up. (If you are ever at a convention or horror show that he is appearing at I highly encourage you to say hello to him. And be sure to ask him if he still surfs off the coast of New York…).

To say that the production of The Crow was a tough one would be an understatement. The show shot very long hours, mostly at night and there were a couple of accidents that had occurred prior to my time at the studio. A carpenter was severely burned and nearly electrocuted; there were a couple of the crew involved in car accidents and a studio worker accidentally stabbed himself in the hand with a screwdriver. That and a couple of other incidents later lead to people calling the film cursed. Here’s the thing, every film and TV production has its share of accidents and mishaps, however the general public rarely hears about them unless it serves to further sensationalize a larger story. I can say that the cast and crew of The Crow were top-notch professionals and behaved as such 100% of the time. They behaved no differently than any other cast and crew and were dedicated to doing their jobs as safely as possible. That just makes what happened to Brandon Lee all the more tragic…

On March 30th I had the good fortune to run into Brandon just outside of the projection room. We had a short conversation, mainly consisting of him asking me what I thought of the footage so far. As a studio employee I mainly kept 9-5 hours and went home that day just like any other. Arriving to work the next day there was a noticeably somber attitude from some of the people I passed. The studio head called down to our department and asked us all to gather in one of the shops with the rest of the studio employees right away, which was unusual. Once everyone was assembled we were informed that there had been an accident early that morning involving Brandon Lee and a firearm and he was currently at the local hospital in critical condition. Obviously, we were all shocked. The Crow was on suspension, but there were other active productions so we all went about our work as best we could.

There was never a moment where any of us thought that Brandon would not make it through this. From what details we were given, the projectile had lodged near his spine, so our biggest fear was that he might end up paralyzed. Also, no one cared about the details above what we were told. That was irrelevant, one of our own was hurt and that’s all that mattered. I happened to be doing some work in the front office just after lunch when I saw a PA walking by from the direction of The Crow office. She was crying. With a cold chill I just knew that the worst had happened. A few minutes later my boss walked by and told me the news that Brandon had died. Those of us not needed for the rest of the day went home. Before we left, the studio head had the unenviable task of reminding everyone that we were not to talk to the press about this. I thought that was rather puzzling… until I drove off the lot.

There were already several news vans camped out just off the studio property and everyone who left that day was accosted by several reporters and their cameramen in an attempt to stop us and get a story. Thankfully no one obliged. The studio and production company issued statements and updates to the press and during that time no one spoke out of turn. Any reports from then that cite “unnamed insiders close to the production” invariably reference some kooky conspiracy theory or are an extrapolation upon existing information. No one cracked, no one talked, we all respected Brandon way too much for that. It was a strange few days. I was followed twice upon leaving work, once to a gas station, the second time all the way to my home, and offered four figures to give information regarding the accident. I refused, appalled at the audacity of the news sharks. It was surreal to come home from work and see random shots of the studio on the evening news and the tabloid news programs, even unknowingly being in some of the footage that was shown. Then, of course, the rumors and conspiracies started.

The next day we were all gathered again and told the facts of what had occurred. A poorly-crimped blank had caused a bullet tip to become lodged in the barrel of the prop gun while shooting close ups. When a blank went off the following night during filming of the next scene, the bullet tip was discharged much like an actual bullet. No conspiracies, no curse, no murder plot. Just a stupid, silly mistake, nothing more sinister than that. The police were on site that day to investigate and eventually reached the same conclusion. They viewed a lot of evidence and I was on call in the projection room for much of it. Another strange, emotionally draining day. At some point, someone put up a poem on the door to the production offices. I wish I had a copy of it as I remember it being very moving and very fitting.

The following day everyone from the studio and involved in the film all gathered on one of the soundstages and there was a lot of great words said about Brandon. We were also informed that Brandon’s mother and fiancĂ©e wished for the film to be completed to honor him and his final performance. There were only eight days left of filming, but it was decided to shut down production for two months, rethink a few key things and then return to finish. It was weird walking around the sets that were left standing, but it definitely felt right to finish the film. Once they resumed production, the film was completed in a couple of weeks and then that was that. A month or so before the film’s release date, the producers rented out a theater and invited everyone who had worked on the film or was part of Carolco Studios to watch it. There was silence throughout and all of us got goosebumps when “For Brandon and Eliza…” came up on the screen at the end of the film. There was a standing ovation and not a dry eye in the house. It was and is a beautiful film and a wonderful tribute to Brandon Lee.

Looking back nearly thirty years later I can still clearly remember so much of what happened during that time, both before and after that tragic day. Occasionally I’ll come across something about The Crow on a website, more so now that there is talk of a remake. Everyone seems to still want to make Brandon’s death into something mysterious. Even the places that call it an accident do so in a way that lends an air of uncertainty to it. Again, really, truly, it was a stupid, stupid accident with no hint of any malice or superstitious nonsense attached to it. The Crow will always be a very special film to me, even if it is sometimes somewhat difficult to watch. I know exactly which scenes were filmed after Brandon’s death and it makes it all the more emotional to watch. That was a strange moment in an overall strange chapter in my life, but I am glad that I was a part of it and happy to remember Brandon as a regular guy who loved doing what he was doing.

…what we leave behind is not as important as how we’ve lived…

The other day we got the first teaser poster for the new series Star Trek: Picard. I remember way back in 1986 when the cast for a new Star Trek show was announced. It is with no small amount of hyperbole that I say a new Trek show was a Very. Big. Deal. at the time. What became a franchise only ever existed through the frame of the original series crew and it was a pretty seismic shift to accept that there would be not only a new TV series, but one set a century after the adventures we were accustomed to featuring a completely unknown starship Enterprise and a crew that was brand new.

I was working at a radio station after school at the time and we got copies of the Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety, bot of which I would read during my shift. I remember being excited finding out that the dude from Dune and Excalibur, both films I have a large amount of affection for, would be starring as the new captain. An actor known primarily for film roles heading up a little sci-fi show seemed to bode well for what we were in store for.

And now, to see Patrick Stewart return to the role over fifteen years after he seemed to punctuate the end of his run is pretty phenomenal. I mean, nowadays everything is being revived and/or rebooted, but it seemed as if the time of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Captain Picard was over on-screen, forever immortalized in continuing adventures in novels. To once again shine the spotlight on a beloved character nearly two decades on and played by the original actor is a real treat.

I think a lot of fans are anticipating and even expecting this to be a “where are they now” whirlwind update of the TNG crew and I suspect those folks will be greatly disappointed. By all accounts this is going to be a very different story with a markedly change man from the one we knew. This isn’t picking up with an Enterprise crew getting unstuck from amber. I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone other than Jean-Luc got only a passing mention, at least in the first season. The focus is right there on the tin, Picard.

At any rate, I, for one, am really looking forward to this next step in the current Star Trek renaissance and am very happy that it is unfolding in serialized fashion over several parts instead of just a nostalgia-grab event film. Engage and make it so!

Well, That Didn’t Go To Plan

So, yeah, my cunning plan to change this into a full time blog kinda went pear-shaped. It’s been nearly two years since I’ve actually posted anything. In the meantime, I’ve written for several anthologies (see the sidebar over there on the right) and have been working on a novel and now another short story. So, yes, I’ve been writing, just not here. Oh, my podcast sort of went on permanent hiatus and I lost a couple of fulltime writing gigs. Ok, bad form all around. Let’s give this another shot and see what happens?

Whither Joss Whedon?

On Sunday, producer and architect Kai Cole published an op-ed piece at The Wrap about her ex-husband, Joss Whedon, claiming that he had spent most of their fifteen year marriage being unfaithful and gaslighting her. As word spread about the article, its contents were not only shocking, but bitterly disappointing to his legion of fans, a group that includes myself. On Monday, the Joss Whedon fansite, Whedonesque made the decision to cease operation as an ongoing website after fifteen years of reporting on and discussion of news related to Whedon and his various projects. Whedon himself had even visited and posted to the site over the years. Amidst all the outcry and anguish, there has been a vocal minority who has questioned whether this should detract from Whedon being a feminist or even if it is really all of that big of a deal.

For those saying that Joss Whedon cheating on his wife is nobody’s business but theirs, or that hey, that’s Hollywood and this doesn’t mean he’s not a feminist still, this article by The Sunday Morning Herald columnist Clementine Ford is worth your time to read and highlights why this is indeed a pretty big deal. I find it a big deal for personal and professional reasons, as well as from the perspective of being an admirer of his. I think he owes it to a lot of people, most especially his now-ex wife, to address this. Yeah, he’s ultimately just a working stiff like all the rest of us, but he took up a banner and positioned himself as a warrior for an extremely important cause that he failed to follow.Turns out, he really wasn’t the feminist that he emphatically claimed to be. And, if this is all true, he turned out to be a pretty terrible human being. Yes, terrible human being. To subject another to years of humiliation and emotional abuse while at the same time doing everything you can to convince them that it is all in their head is one the most inhuman things you can do to another person, short of physically torturing or murdering them.

What is also hugely disappointing is thinking that there must have been friends and colleagues of both Cole and Whedon who knew this was going on, yet said nothing to Cole or took Whedon aside and pointed out that what he was doing was wrong. As Whedon is wont to work with a lot of the same people both behind and in front of the camera, these friends and colleagues would include a number of other people whose work I enjoy and I professionally admire. That’s pretty troublesome as well, that they would say nothing. Then again, perhaps he was very good at hiding it, but, at the very least, the folks he was having affairs with would surely know he was married and that the infidelity was in serious contrast to his supposed feminist beliefs. Much like an political scandal, I think in this case it is also important to know who knew what and when. I’m not saying I plan to boycott everything that Whedon is involved with going forward, but I’m certainly not interested in supporting anything wholly of his creation and I would seriously consider not paying for or viewing any productions and/or creations by anyone who helped him keep this a secret.

For the record, I don’t doubt Cole’s claims, especially since she cites a letter that Whedon wrote her confessing to everything. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I went through something similar to what Cole went through, except in a non-celebrity manner and over a much smaller time scale. I absolutely know how demoralizing it can be and how it can make you question your sanity.So, yes, I absolutely believe her and applaud her for finally talking about it. I’m sure it was hugely cathartic for her and has helped her come to terms with it and, perhaps, take another step towards moving on. I can’t imagine what kind of backlash she has surely faced, because people like to defend their heroes, even in the face of evidence that they don’t deserve the pedestal they’ve been placed on. So yes, my views of this are most assuredly skewed and I’m absolutely giving this more weight and time than it probably deserves. However, I feel that it is worth separating the man from the myth and from the cause of feminism, because he can be damaged and broken without doing the same thing to what he supposedly stood for. The message remains the same even if the messenger needs to change.

“Change, My Dear…”

In 1978, the local PBS station in Providence, Rhode Island started airing Doctor Who. I don’t remember exactly when I started watching, nor what the first episode I saw was, but to say it was a life-altering experience would not be too much of an exaggeration. Tom Baker was playing the Time Lord at this point and I am very sure that the show instantly became my favorite. This was in the days before VCRs became affordable, but that didn’t deter me from recording the episodes. I would prop up my cassette tape recorder against the TV speaker and record the audio. It took a little experimentation to get the audio levels on the recorder and TV just right, but pretty quickly I was able to listen to the episodes at night in bed. I designated a MEGO S.W.A.T. action figure as the Doctor and had my Mom knit a scarf for him and cannibalized the other figures for appropriate looking clothes and accouterments. I even made a cardboard TARDIS for him. I read about the Doctor’s previous incarnations in various magazines, but never really understood what regeneration really meant until Tom Baker did the unthinkable and left the role. It was difficult to wrap my little kid brain around and I don’t think I coped with it very well, until I finally got to see Peter Davison’s first series. Around that time I was living in North Carolina and the PBS station there started airing the surviving episodes of the first three Doctors. The whole concept of different incarnations and regeneration finally clicked in and made me more of a fan of the show. The Doctor regenerating, while still somewhat sad, was no longer a thing to be scared of, but exciting. Change was good and natural and a doorway to more possibilities. Fans of the show are always talking about their favorite Doctor or their Doctor, which is generally the one who was around when they first started watching. For me, I’ve always been a fan of the character, the incarnations not really being different or distinct, just other facets of the Doctor. I felt that the Doctor, to quote the Brigadier, was “Splendid chaps, all of him.”

The Doctor has always been a positive role model to me, as much as a fictional character can be. He is naturally curious about the universe, never judges anyone based on their looks, always does the right things, champions the little people and, above all, abhors violence. This is a character and show that represents imagination unleashed and that good can always defeat evil.It is constantly changing and evolving, finding new planets and times to visit and new stories to tell. For someone going through the awkward and painful metamorphosis of child to teenager to young adult, it was a good lesson in not being afraid of change, but embracing it. All these things and more are what this show and the the character of the Doctor mean to me. And now, in 2017, we face the prospect of the Doctor changing once again. Will all the different personalities the Doctor has morphed into over the years, this one will be the most radically different as it denotes a more pronounced physical change as well. For the first time ever, the Doctor will regenerate into a female.

Given everything I’ve said about the show so far, and how strongly I identify with it, you may be wondering how much the Doctor changing genders affects my opinion of the series and my outlook on the character. The short answer is…not one bit. Yes, this is the most radical change in the character ever, but it is also the most exciting. But here’s the thing, the Doctor has never been defined by being a man or, more specifically, by not being a woman. I don’t see the character herself changing. The Doctor will still be the compassionate champion of the repressed that she’s always been. Saying that one will view the character differently because she’s physically changed seems rather silly, as we’ve seen the Doctor physically change at least twelve times over the last fifty or so years. She’s still the Doctor, Time’s Champion and the Last of the Time Lords (although, with Gallifrey back, that last one isn’t really true anymore). Anything else is just down to an affectation of acting. I don’t consider the Doctor any less heroic now than when she was portrayed by Tom Baker or Patrick Troughton or Matt Smith. The Doctor is the Doctor as far as I’m concerned and I can’t wait to see what new adventures Jodie Whittaker gets into in the years ahead. The Internet tells me that there are many who vehemently disagree with me. That’s fine and maybe those folks should be OK with skipping the show for a few seasons. After all, Jodie will eventually leave the role and who knows who the Doctor will become then. Or the time after that. The point is, if you have a very defined idea of how the Doctor should be and what kind of stories Doctor Who should tell, and neither of those are how it is right now, just wait and it will all change again at some point. In the meantime, I will paraphrase the quote above and say “Splendid chaps, all of her.”