In these few hours since learning of Tony Scott’s leap off the Vincent Thomas Bridge, I’ve been flooded with memories of the man. Most of which flash back to the year or so of intense work we shared while developing the film Money Train. I’ve always regretted that, in the end, Tony chose not to direct the movie. And to a point I admit that I’d quietly blamed him for the sub-par picture that it ultimately became. A shadow of the movie we’d so meticulously researched and planned.
Yet upon his death, the recollections that I find so emotionally potent have little to do with what could’ve been. Instead, I’m possessed by images and moments and smiles as I’m reminded of just how much I liked the man and truly enjoyed his company.
I have loads of stories about Tony. As I’m sure do the so many others who’d been touched by the man. In that long year, Tony and I shared first-class seats back and forth and back again from LA to New York, hours and days on end exploring the mysteries of the subways that snake beneath Manhattan, meals, laughs, a few too many cocktails, hangovers, mob tales, cinematic affections, stories about the women in our life… and let’s not forget cigars. I still smoke ‘em. And were it not for Tony’s penchant for Cuban tobacco, I wouldn’t have learned to enjoy the pleasures of a fine cigar.
Of all the stories, one stands out to me at this sad moment in time. It’s about the undoing of our film.
It’d been well over a year since I’d first sat down with Tony to tell him my idea for the film. We’d talked it over, pitched it around town, ultimately sold it to Columbia, and roundly researched the subject before I ventured off to write the first draft. It was during this writing period that Tony had begun production on True Romance, a movie he called his little independent film. After a string of big budget popcorn flicks, Tony was juiced about the chance to direct the Quentin Tarantino script. He’d even slipped me a copy before one of our trips back east. We must’ve spent no less than an hour on the flight discussing the pivotal scene in True Romance where Clarence decides to rescue Alabama from Drexl, the white Rastafarian drug dealer. Tony was over the moon that Gary Oldman had agreed to play the evil character. If I hadn’t known the man’s picture credits like my social security number, I would’ve thought he was about to embark on his maiden movie movie voyage. He was that jacked.
Upon completion of my first draft, I hand-delivered the only copy of the script to Tony’s house and awaited his notes. Because he was still toiling in actual production, I expected a wait of no less than a week or two. But days later, I received a call from his office, asking me if I could meet him on the set to discuss the script. I was amazed but not surprised. Tony was a remarkable multi-tasker. A magician of his own time and space.
The following day, I pointed my car downtown and met with Tony on the abandoned grounds of the historic Ambassador Hotel. The locale, famed for the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy, was the setting for the movie’s final act. Tony was filming the climactic hotel room shootout. When I arrived, Chris Penn was getting wired up for his death moment with Patricia Arquette. The air was choked with leftover movie smoke and floating bits of goose down. Meanwhile, the Englishman, decked out in his trademark faded pink baseball cap and matching running shorts, was adding a fourth camera to capture the continuous mayhem.
I think I must’ve waited a couple hours to hear Tony’s notes. During which time I shared a bench with Patricia Arquette where we traded kindred stories of our favorite filmmaker. I came away with the feeling that she had a bit of a crush on the man. Well earned, I reckon.
Finally, once the set-up had been exhausted of movie blood and ear-deafening blanks, we retired to Tony’s trailer to discuss my script. His switch from on-set commander to screenplay editor was stark. Sure, he was plenty effusive about my hard work. And I recall his notes were incisive, consistent with all our prior concerns and discussions, targeted and for the most part pretty dead-on. He expressed his excitement about following up True Romance with Money Train.
But expressing excitement and being excited are two different animals. Once we’d finished our notes session, Tony reclaimed his previous demeanor. And it was nothing less than exuberant.
I recall Tony seated in his trailer, doffing his baseball cap, popping a can of Diet Coke and croaking something like:
“You know Doug. I feel like, for the first time in my career, that I’m making something artful.”
And he meant it to. It wasn’t a bunch of cinematic hyperbole for the press junket. Over the prior year, Tony had confessed plenty to me about being Ridley Scott’s younger brother, not caring much for his rep as a “hired gun” instead of being referred to as a “filmmaker.” Don’t get me wrong. Tony loved being Ridley’s sibling. From what I recall, the two spoke every day about every sprocket they were running through their collective cameras. Tony just didn’t care for the comparisons.
Even as I sit here, many years hence, I will never forget the satisfied look on Tony’s face. With True Romance he was finally feeling accomplished.
As I meandered home in the rush hour slow-and-go, I wondered if Tony could possibly feel as satisfied with the eventual making of Money Train. I certainly prayed so. After all, we’d had such a glowing meeting on the script. Yet something inside me was twisting. Trying to inform me that Tony had left something out. Moments after I arrived home I received a call from Columbia Pictures.
“He walked from the movie,” said Barry Josephson, the studio exec assigned to Money Train.
“I don’t get it. I just left him downtown. He gave me his notes.”
“His manager just called and said he’s out,” said Barry. “Loved the script but he’s done with big studio movies.”
I understood. I’d just left him only hours earlier, seated on his trailer sofa, artistically sated by the movie he was making. I tried to explain it to Barry, but he either couldn’t or wouldn’t hear the rationale.
Months passed and without Tony to protect me from the studio’s change in direction, I was eventually fired from Money Train. I helplessly watched the script go through rewrites that effectively lobotomized all my good work. All the while, I quietly blamed Tony for throwing me overboard for the sexier dialogue and phraseology of Quentin Tarantino. Then again, who could blame him. Quentin Tarantino is a helluva writer.
Too bad for Tony that despite the critical success of True Romance, it led to no awards nor accolades nor serious box office nor significant offers to make headier movies. We next bumped into each other while I was making Bad Boys and he was filming Crimson Tide, both movies for the same producers. It was polite. But I could tell Tony felt he’d let me down. And, at the time, I thought he had.
Ours paths didn’t cross again for a long while. I was developing a movie with a commercial director who shared production space with Tony. One day, Tony caught the young shooter stealing a Montecristo #2 cigar from his private humidor. When the commercial helmer told Tony the smokes were for me, Tony insisted the director grab a handful and to make certain I knew the smokes were gifts from an old compadre.
Not long ago, I wrote a couple of TV pilots for Tony and Ridley’s production company. Though I only received the famed brothers’ notes via the head of their company, I did run into Tony a time or two. It was always with a hug and a hello, followed by small talk and a summary getaway.
I could tell that Tony was still uncomfortable around me. The truth was, I was long past any issues I’d had with Money Train. I was just damn glad to see him happily down the road to his next adventure.
So it’s with the past far out of reach and fond memories that I bid so long and safe travels to Tony Scott. Sure, you’ll be remembered. Deservedly so. But how I remember you will remain forever etched in my psyche. Sitting back on your trailer sofa, Diet Coke clutched in your hand, and truly satisfied with the movie you’d nearly finished.
My prayer for others is that we all have such a satisfied moment.
God Bless you Tony Scott. And God speed.