Back around 1999 or 2000 an Atlanta-based Assistant Director, Todd Turner, leveraged the resources of the film ‘Unshackled’ to complete his first indie film, ‘Good Neighbor’. Shot up in Winder 40 minutes north of Atlanta, the low-budget film was bound to be an unremarkable shelf-warmer but Todd was able to parlay his relationship with local film crews to help him get the movie shot.
Ultimately, a lot of Todd’s crew were publicly and demonstratively unhappy with how a much ballyhooed back-end deal failed to materialize (lesson of the day kids, never work for a back-end deal). Happily, I intentionally worked on the movie for free simply to help out a friend and for the opportunity to meet actor Billy Dee Williams.
Now remember, I’d worked on twenty or more movies before this little film came along and I had long since quelled any desires to pester famous people for autographs or requests to “do the voice from….” and so on. Of course, all of that studied discipline went zinging out the window the instant I found out that the guy who used to own the Millennium Falcon would be on set; I’m an absolute fanboy at heart.
The big scene I’d come to help out with involved the actress Danica McKellar (from some TV show I’m too lazy to IMdB), who had to shoot a gun in the scene and I was there to make sure that nobody did anything stupid. First up was training her how to fire the weapon realistically, which she took to like a well-armed duck to water. Even though the guns we were using were small caliber theatrical blanks (instead of plugged real weapons) there is always the possibility that an actor will be too nervous to fire a gun without flinching. During our short shooting/safety lesson Danica fell entirely into character and squeezed off shots with her eyes wide open.
A little while later I’m back upstairs, waiting for the small crew to finish lighting a new setup. With everything nearly in place they called for the actors and soon enough I spotted Billy Dee heading up the stairs to join us. As he neared the top landing he spotted me and said (as if I didn’t know) “I’m gonna need my gun.”
This was it my friends, my moment to shine and by golly I was prepared. As Billy had been scaling the stairs, I had quietly unhooked a machined metal cylinder from my utility belt. It had short fins radially aligned along the bottom half, narrowed to a point toward the top and was capped by a complex arrangement of rings. Along its side were several studs. The thing was beautiful.
Without hesitation, I handed the cylinder to Billy Dee who took it and stared at it in confusion.
“What is this?” was his puzzled query. He glanced up at me with a guarded, baffled look.
Suddenly my plan seemed rash and foolhardy. See, I had no place to go beyond my next line. A line that sounded very much like….
“It’s… it’s an umm, it’s a lightsaber.”
The words stumbled out of my mouth and the pride with which I’d thought to enshrine the word ‘lightsaber’ came out much more along the inflection that might’ve accompanied the phrase, “I always knew that I was a dumbass sir and it’s only now that I realize the enormity of my dorkiness and I really don’t know how to finish this conversation now thank you very much.”
Blessedly, Billy Dee handed the lightsaber back to me, pointed toward the room where the actors chairs were staged and allowed,”I’ll be in here when you guys are ready to shoot.”
And that’s the time that I went all fanboy on Billy Dee Williams. See kids, it can happen to anybody. Even Your Old Pal Drew.