I fondly recall a wonderfully subversive period of my film career when I was the voice of Jimmy, a make-believe PA you’d only ever hear over the radio. It all began on ‘Remember the Titans’ when our 1st Assistant Director (AD) Randy Fletcher made the remarkable transformation that some Firsts undergo once principal photography begins: the changeover from gregarious chum to braying jackass. Nobody thought much of it when Randy began chewing greenhorn PAs new asses within the first week of shooting, it’s typical and usually well-deserved…PAs need to be yelled at, loudly and often. But, when Randy began mercilessly berating seasoned ADs over the radio on channel one I was stunned. He mocked them, yelled at them, patronized them like simple-minded four year olds. It was embarrasing and became so bad, so obvious to all the crew who used channel one, that it began to rankle some people’s opinions of Randy. I found myself wishing that I could snap Randy out of asshole-tyrant mode because I missed the Randy I’d gotten to know during prep.
There’s an amazing amount of chatter on the radio during the making of a film but after a week or so you learn to recognize everyone’s voice and the rhythm of departmental chatter. By the time we’d gotten to the late night, rain soaked, cold weather football sequences it became common to hear a call go up for towels from one of the football team costumers, Jimmy Jay. At that exact time in my life I was a full-fledged, card-carrying uber-fan of the NBC sitcom “NewsRadio” and every time I heard the call go out over the radio for “Jimmy Jay” I mentally turned his name into “Jimmy James”, the eccentric billionaire character from NewsRadio played by actor Stephen Root. I began to quietly say (to myself) “Go for Jimmy”, mimicking a silly baby-talk voice that Root’s character had used in one episode when he instructed one of the radio staff to “Tell Unca Jimmy aw about it….”.
As the nights wore on, more and more towels were needed and Mr. Jay was in constant demand. I found myself repeating the phrase “Go for Jimmy” to myself more and more often. Pretty soon I was doing it without prompting and one day Randy crossed the line on the radio with one of his most competent people and without thinking I grabbed my clip-on microphone and started asking Randy clueless questions in my newfound Jimmy voice, as if I were one of his dumbest PAs. I think he answered a few times but pretty soon realized that somebody was messing with him and stopped responding altogether.
But Jimmy didn’t.
Jimmy simply grew more powerful… and more popular as time went by.
By the time the Mr. Show movie “Run Ronnie Run” came to town Jimmy had made a lot of fans among the local crew and comedian David Cross seemed to appreciate that clueless PA. On “Sweet Home Alabama” 1st AD Louis D’Esposito became an enormous fan of Jimmy and openly pinned me as the source after a few weeks, forcing me to throw him off my trail with an elaborate scheme involving a tape recorder, Prop Truck driver Johnny Poucher and a pre-recorded message from Jimmy though I eventually fessed up during the last week of shooting.
I’m told that to this day there are people who have carried Jimmy along with them to other movie sets and am happy that he may well be my lasting gift to cinematography (though I’d hoped for a bit more).
About two weeks ago I stopped by the set of an indie-feature to drop off some artwork to the propmaster. While I was hanging out they wrapped for the day. I grabbed a radio and warbled “Go for Jimmy!” with glee. Within seconds somebody came back with an enthusiastic “HEY JIMMY!!!!! Where’ve you been???!!!!”.
As my hero Bill McNeil would say, “Good Times…..”… good times indeed.