Most mornings, on my way into Atlanta, I hop off the Downtown Connector and drive northward on surface streets, enjoying the ever-changing views of town. Quite often I drive past locations from old movie projects and am reminded of those past events in vivid detail. Most recently I’ve been pondering the day we shot in front of the historic Ponce De Leon Apartments at the corner of Ponce and Peachtree. We were there for the pilot episode of “Lawless“. That was the first pilot of Lawless mind you, the one with a very, very medicated Daniel Baldwin… so very medicated was he that I have until recently remembered his outlandish behavior on set far better than the day that I almost robbed a convenience store by accident. But now I remember…
Times were very good for Atlanta’s film scene in 1997. It had become so busy that we often found ourselves backed up (literally) to another production, basecamp to basecamp; something not unusual in Los Angeles, but unusually significant to me. As an up and coming crew person it was exactly the sort of sign I was looking for as confirmation that, yes, I had indeed set out upon a long career in props, far removed from making use of my undergrad degree in Architecture from Georgia Tech.
Now it was at the aforementioned location of Ponce and Peachtree, under blue skies and wispy white clouds, that Propmaster Joe Connolly and I were paddled sworn into the Atlanta chapter (479) of the IATSE; the day we finally became “real” crewmembers, indoctrinated to all of the marvelous behind-the-scenes secrets of filmmaking that most people never even imagine.
But it was a busy show and the signifcance of that moment was overshadowed by many, many factors. First of all, we had begun to realize that Daniel Baldwin was (as he openly explained) “very, very medicated”, ostensibly for a bad back.
Apparently a very naughty back indeed.
The signs of future 12-Step meetings abounded for Mr. Baldwin: the way he yelled nonsense at the Director and the Producers on set (during filming, with crew watching). His gift for showing up on set acting really twitchy, rolling around in dirt to look especially disheveled after a grenade blast (which I still think was a good idea, even if it did scare the shit out of those of us standing near him when he dropped into a squat and began rubbing dirt and crap from the ground into his hair and clothes like a chimpanzee). The way he showed up on the prop truck looking for silverware, eventually borrowing Joe’s Gerber tool, which Joe would eventually have to fetch out of the star trailer, finding it covered in sticky brown stuff. Maybe it was maple syrup. But whatever contractual and substance abuse problems Danny might have been fighting, he never, while he was in Atlanta, to the best of my knowledge, was involved in any sort of robbery event.
No, that was all mine.
While the grips and the camera guys were rigging up the “leg cam” (shown in the photo for this article), Joe asked me to run across Peachtree and around the corner into a convenience store and buy some nudie magazines to dress into the interior of the bad guys’ car. I trotted into the store and asked the short Chinese man behind the counter if he had adult magazines for sale. He confirmed that he did and directed me down one of the aisles and began to follow me to show me his selection when he suddenly began yelling “No rob! No rob!!”
Holy Shit!! Somebody had come into the store to rob the place!! I hadn’t heard the door open but I whirled around to look toward the door to see what was happening but the little man wasn’t looking at the door, he was looking at me!!!!
I was dumbfounded. What was he talking about?
He pointed at my beltline and gestured toward the small of his own back and about that time my stomach lurched because I suddenly remembered that I had a pretty good foam replica of an enormous Desert Eagle crammed into my belt. With my mouth agape I started saying “No, no, it’s not real, it’s not real!!!”
The man’s hands were up like he was being robbed, and mine were up in the air like I was being robbed. I had no idea what to do. I sure didn’t want to make the man think that I was reaching for a gun so I half-turned my butt around so he could see what I was doing and slowly lifted it out between two fingers until he could see how light the thing was. I then carefully, holding the rubber by the barrel, knocked it against my head several times using the same visual shorthand that I’d seen Joe use with 1st ADs to let them know when he was giving an actor a rubber instead of a real gun – usually during a stunt or in the event the camera was far enough away to use the foam knockoff.
And then I handed it to the little man at which point he finally realized that I wasn’t there to rob him and that the gun was fake. He started laughing and running up and down the aisle waving the thing above his head like John Wayne (John Wayne with a Desert Eagle), which was just as much a violation of the Propman’s Prime Directive as my previous gaffe. He was giddy with excitement, and I with relief.
I’m lucky the guy didn’t have a shotgun and a “no questions” policy. I’m lucky he didn’t trigger a silent alarm. I’m lucky he didn’t have a heart attack or a seizure of some description. But more than anything, I’m lucky he gave me the gun back because we needed it in the next scene up.