Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Encounter With Sam

I was sitting on the grass in the sun, watching the teamster’s unload the lights on the set of Drag Me To Hell, smoking and reading The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. It was one of my last days on campus as CSU Northridge.

Classes were already over, I had already graduated with a BA in film, but I still had a few weeks to squeeze out of my work study job. I'd finished for the day and had no where better to go.

News around the campfire wasn’t good. The writer’s strike was starting to wind down, but the troubles with the recession were just starting to take shape. Me and my friend’s liked to joke that the professors, who two years ago had been bragging about their 100% hire rate, were now bragging about their fifty percent suicide rate. But even this gallows humor was undercut by a faint air of unreality. We did know it was bad, yes. But there was still a sense of optimism about the future. We did not know how bad.

I didn’t really expect to get to meet Raimi, but I was enjoying being on the set of one of my favorite directors, or hell a movie set period for the last time in who knew how long. Ironically this was the second time I had been on the set for Drag Me To Hell. An internship sent me on occasion to do errands at The Fox Lot on Pico. I didn’t like the people I was interning for much, so on those occasions I always took my time to stroll around the lot, and as a result I spent a very happy afternoon watching the 2nd unit shoot pickups on the lawn outside one of the soundstages.

I wasn’t really thinking I’d get a chance to meet Raimi. I was pretty sure he was already in the building, and though the set was hardly high security, and the crew was more or less friendly towards me; their more or less only spectator, I doubted they’d just let me walk up to the director and say “howdy”. But it was still an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon. I was just settlinging into this mindset, when Raimi rode by on a pink bicycle ringing his bell.

Calling it surreal hardly covers it. Had he arrived by Zeppelin or upon the back of the Easter Bunny I doubt I would have been more surprised.

He turned his bike to a row of stands not twenty years away, and after getting over my shock I cautiously started to approach, trying to look as non love knifey as possible.

(What one must avoid...)

He turned saw me coming, and without missing a beat, smiled, said “Hi I’m Sam!” and came forward and shook my hand.

“Mr. Raimi, eight years ago I wrote you a letter asking if I should go to film school and follow my dream you said go for it, and I just wanted to let you know that I graduated a few days ago. I just wanted to say thank you.” And it was all true, he did send me that letter, as well as a picture of himself throwing rocks gleefully at Toby Maguire’s head. This came out of my mouth at a rather furious clip, as if I was afraid that a pack of PA’s would be on me at any moment to drag me off screaming. It took a moment for Raimi to sift through it but once he had, he broke into a grin.

“Thanks for telling me that, I’m really touched.” And it seemed as though he was, we chatted for about ten minutes after that. Talking about his movies, other movies, what he wanted to do with Hell, him asking me questions and seeming genuinely interested in the answers. “I know what you’re talking about with the inspiration though, I can remember going to see some crappy monster movie at the drive in and thinking, ‘Hey there’s no reason I couldn’t do that.” After catching the look of horror on my face, thinking I had inadvertently insulted my idol he quickly assured me, “I know that’s not what you’re saying about my movies.” Phew.

Finally a nervous looking woman with a clipboard approached, and Raimi turned to me and said, “Looks like they’re ready to go.” I thanked him again and he warmly asked if I wanted him to sign something. As it so happened, I had just received a bunch of DVD’s back that I had loaned to a coworker. I tore through my backpack hoping in vain that a Raimi film had magically appeared there in. I had considered running down to the nearby Vons where they sold copies of the Spiderman films to avoid just such an occurrence. But the idea of missing a chance to meet one of my idols to buy a movie I already owned, was not one I relished. But now looking in my pack only one movie even came close.

Which is how I became the only person to own a copy of Shaun Of The Dead signed by Sam Raimi. I handed it over apologetically. “Oh you’re not going to make him sign tha-“ his assistant started, but Raimi cut her off,

“No it’s alright, I like these guys, they’re good guys.” He took his time writing his message, and then shook my hand, wished me luck and turned and went.

In the two years since, I’ve dealt with the cheats, conmen, sociopaths and other assorted unsavories who populate the independent film world. I’ve had the door slammed in my face in half the production houses and studios in LA. I’ve worked a lot of hard long days for free, I’ve written a lot of scripts that will probably never be filmed, and through all this I’ve never come close to being able to make a living doing what I love.

So on the very off chance that you read this Mr. Raimi I’ll just say thank you. Again. Despite all the set backs I have had, personal and professional since that time, I can look back on that afternoon and smile.

When people ask me if it was worth it, going for it, getting my film degree. I can answer “Yeah.” Without a moment’s doubt. Yeah. It was worth it.


J.D. said...

What a great story! That's amazing. You are very lucky and it's great to hear that he sounds like a pretty down-to-earth guy. I got to meet Bruce Campbell at a book signing and he was super nice as well, even willing to personalize what he signed in my book.

Budd said...

Awesome story! Good to know that he is a down to Earth guy. It is awesome that he signed Shawn of the Dead. You should totally get Simon Pegg to sign a copy of Evil Dead.

Simon said...

I have a newfound respect for that guy. Excellent.

Rob said...

"...Which is how I became the only person to own a copy of Shaun Of The Dead signed by Sam Raimi."
Um, hey Bryce- have I told you lately that I hate you? (Seriously envious at the moment).

Bryce Wilson said...

JD: I still haven't met the chin. Someday though...

Budd: I tried to do it when Edgar Wright was signing Spaced at Lazer Blazer, but circumstances prevented me.

@ Simon: Glad I could help!

@ Rob: Don't worry man, that's one of the very few times anyone will ever have to be jealous of me.