In my previous life and career working on studio films, I was very fortunate to have been recommended by one of the producers of Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind to work on M. Night Shyamalan’s next film, Signs. It was an unreal experience from the start for me (a month before shooting after we wrapped ABM) and then two days before the first day of production… September 11th happened.
My wife was working in Manhattan that day, so you can imagine all the emotions I went through over those terrible hours. I had no idea how bad it was or would get on that otherwise beautiful Tuesday in the Northeast because we didn’t have cable tv in our production offices (Disney ran a tight ship) and my job that day was to take M. Night Shyamalan’s last screenplay draft and make 150 copies at a copy shop by myself and never leave the copy machine until I was done. The script was watermarked and security was at a premium as the production was frightened that the script would end up on the internet. Ridiculously, given the context of the day, I was to guard it with my life. As my copying went on and on, all I could hear was the copier and the screaming of the employees in the back of the copy place as they watched the second Tower get hit, people jump to their deaths and then, the Towers fall.
It was on this production that I met Mel Gibson several times. When he went around and introduced himself to the crew one by one – he would come up, offer his hand and say “Hi, I’m Mel. What are you doing on the film?” and then would spend a few minutes talking with you. He had one bodyguard and that was it. He also ate with the crew and didn’t seem to hole up in his trailer a lot. That was really appreciate by all of us below-the-line types.
While we were shooting on two late Friday nights in a row at our farmhouse set in Doylestown, PA, I won a crew game involving playing cards. Let’s just say that winning twice in a row never happens and being newly married and newly mortgaged, I was quite thankful. Mel was there to congratulate me on the second time and tell me I was a lucky son of a (bleep) with a hearty laugh. He was so down to earth and I would have loved to work on his next film, the one in the dead language (Aramaic) about Jesus and learn how he directs a flick. Alas, it wasn’t to be…
I still have the really cool $99 Victorinox Swiss Army knife Mel gave to every member of the crew at the wrap party and I felt good that I was able to thank him personally when he passed by on the last night. He was a multi-millionaire and big star, but I was raised to say “thank you” when someone, anyone gives you a gift. From Mel, again he gave me a hearty laugh and said that he was “happy to do it and for what they paid us Production Assistants, we deserved a good knife!” He was very affable, humble and funny given all his success by then (in 2001). That is the Mel Gibson I prefer and like to remember, but I do acknowledge the realities of his anti-Semitic and sexist words and deeds in coming years.
Well, most of us know what happened during the release of that Jesus movie in the dead language (Aramaic) which he directed and the years after in his life. His career was on fumes for a long while, though Apocalypto was great in my opinion. I believe it was completed before Mel’s traffic stop and bigger troubles. Nevertheless, I just saw the trailer for Mel Gibson’s newest directorial effort – the World War II film, Hacksaw Ridge. The trailer is excellent and if the released film matched the intensity and interesting plotline (based on a true story of a conscientious objector), this has Oscar-bait written all over it. I for one am dying to see it and I hope Mel will finally return to the Hollywood fold as a director and more frequently working actor. And hopefully, his penance and life lessons are accepted and respected if sincere. Here is the trailer for your review: