Did I ever tell you about the time that I lost Reese Witherspoon’s $4,000 custom-made wedding ring from Tiffany’s? About how I had visions of ending my film career by being stomped to a pulp by Disney’s studio goons and Tiffany’s prissy New York jewelers? I didn’t? Well obviously it all worked out for the best, and it’s hardly as exciting as it sounds, but I figure the statute of limitations has run out and it’s safe to tell the whole story…
When: Tuesday, November 27, 2001
Where: Crawfordville, Georgia
Crew Call: 7am
Dates, times and daily events are courtesy of a personal timesheet journal I maintained for several years.
It was the first day of almost a month of shooting that we were scheduled to do in Taliaferro county (pronounced locally as “Tall-uh-fur”), reputed to be the poorest and least populated of Georgia’s 159 counties. Our crew was just coming off of a four day Thanksgiving vacation and one quick day of shooting south of Atlanta at Starr’s Mill, so we were fairly rested and ready to settle into a long stay at the closest approximation to a backlot you get outside of Hollywood or Disneyworld.
Small towns are great, I love shooting in them. Before our brief holiday vacation we had spent more than two weeks filming up in Rome at Martha Berry’s historic house (notably the wedding scene at the end of the film). While there, we met a lot of neat people, saw some beautiful scenery and managed to shut down the town’s only sushi restaurant. Small towns made you feel worldly and cosmopolitan.
Compared to Rome, Crawfordville was a giant step backwards through forty or fifty years in time. And I don’t mean that in a snobby way, it’s true.
While it actually is a one-light town, Crawfordville has buildings and shops that indicate that it was once occupied by businesses and must have been bustling at some point in its past, probably before the state ran an interstate two miles south of the town. About the biggest thing it has going for it these days is the fact that it’s the hometown of the Vice-President of the Confederacy and that the A.H. Stephens State Park is visible from many of our shooting locations.
And so there we were, on our first day in town, shooting a bunch of little street vignettes. Back down near the watertower (brought in from some town in Texas just for the movie) the grips were lashing speedrail to the Silver Saab convertible that Reese drove in the movie. The rest of the day would be driving shots of her driving through the countryside talking on the phone and I was elected to ride in the follow van, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand you get to sit in a nice comfy seat for hours and hours while you ride around following the process trailer, occasionally getting out to wipe a few dead bugs off the windshield between the actors and camera, spending the remainder of your time napping or talking to the hair and makeup girls. On the other hand the rest of your department is hanging out shooting the shit, napping on the tailgate, eating, exploring the town, etc. When you’re stuck in the follow van, listening to girls talk about crystal healing, prayer teas and hot pink chakras, you pray to the heavens that your crewmates are working their asses off, just as they, if they really are burdened with hard work, wish that you are stuck on a backroad somewhere trying to scrape a particularly nasty bug off the windscreen while the Director, shooting crew and famous actors tap their feet impatiently.
There’s a lot of departmental passive agressiveness associated with follow vans.
Now it was my turn to ride in the follow van. The morning’s work was wrapping up and we received word that they were moving Reese from the makeup trailer up to the car rig, so we gathered all the props that I would need to put on her and dropped them into a variety of ziplock bags which I began stuffing into the assortment of pockets in my cargo pants. I turned and hopped on our set bike and zoomed off to meet up with Reese at the car.
When I got down to the process trailer I saw that it was near our proptruck so I pulled up to our tailgate, set the kickstand and began pulling props out of my pockets. Watch, cellphone, sunglasses, wedding ring… um, nope, no wedding ring. Another search. Nope. Again. Nope. Again.
It was like I was doing the most frantic Macarena you ever saw. By the fifth self-search I was feeling sick. I can’t remember if I called Dwight on the radio or if he had walked down from set by that time but I told him that I couldn’t find the ring, that it was lost. Staying calm, the guys searched the on set tub where it lived… but no luck.
The ring was GONE.
Now this wasn’t just any ring. This was a special ring, a ring that Tiffany’s would not want to ever get out into general circulation because the diamond, while very large and juicy, was artificial. It was our “stunt” diamond, for general shots and only worth about $4,000. Nothing like the $100,000 diamond that was used in the close-ups.
Of course I knew none of this at the time, I thought that I had lost the big daddy of diamond rings and I’m sure that the producers and studio guys wouldn’t laugh off such a simple mistake, they’d think that I had stolen the damned thing. The worst part was that Tiffany’s had been so protective of the fake rings, stating that they would destroy them at the end of the film to prevent an official fake ring from Tiffany’s ever making it out in the general population; they rightly guard their reputation and I was rightly screwed!
As panic began to set in I saw my film career flashing before my eyes (it was, by and large, fairly unimpressive stuff) and didn’t help at all and kept interfering with what I had to do next, for while Dwight went to get a backup ring from the safe, he had encouraged me to retrace my route, which I did.
I hopped on the bicycle and rode sweeping circuits back and forth from the car rig back to the intersection we’d been set up at all morning. Nobody knew what I was doing, just going in looping circles, head craned down to the ground. Citizens were walking up and down the same street, I couldn’t help wondering in terror if one of them had found it, pocketed it, and kept on walking. I remember one old man asking me what I was looking for and I replied that it was some inexpensive thing… not sure what I told him now but I wasn’t taking anyone into my confidence.
I was close to giving up by the time I’d looped my way back up to the area where our carts had been staged all morning. By this time those carts had been rolled back to the proptruck (while I was doing my search pattern) and I remember being surprised that our carts had been parked on gravel all morning, something I never noticed.
Something I did notice was a little plastic bag laying amongst the gravel with a diamond ring in it.
In that moment I think that I had a glimpse of the magic that diamond rings hold for girls when we propose to them, for if there had been a preacher nearby I would have married that pile of gravel in an instant!
According to the notes in my timesheet journal, that frantic search only lasted ten minutes but it felt like an eternity… by the time it was over I was all too ready for a long comfortable van ride. I don’t think Reese was ever aware that her old pal Drew had misplaced her prop ring or that in all the excitement he’d forgotten to pull the cellphone headset from her character drawer. Luckily, I used the same Nokia headset she did in the movie and let her use mine for those scenes. And no, I won’t sell you that old headset with her earwax in it.
I think I lost it.