Leonard Nimoy and The Stupid Museum People - Part 1
Updated: May 19, 2019
Closing in on the end of my career did not make me sentimental. It did not make me regretful. It did not give me pause. It might have were it not for two jobs I produced in the waning years of my profession as a producer.
And they both involved Leonard Nimoy, and The Stupid Museum People, as I will refer to them.
Up first, a science museum. Science. Leonard Nimoy. Star Trek. In Search Of. Perfect, right? A match made in Heaven. Except for Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking, perhaps the most ideal personality to voice a video for a science museum would be Leonard Nimoy.
It started with a conference call. Museum production is staffed by people who are about 10% doers and 90% stand-around-and-watch-doers. The latter just want to be associated with the project, and not actually accomplish anything.
On the call were about 375 people. The freelance side included me, Jodie Marko, and Anna Vavloukis. The three of us waited out the usual six hour waste of time instituted by the Museum Overlord, otherwise listed as The Creative Director. If he said collaboration once, he said it six zillion times.
Collaboration is a term used by creatives that means, “I’ll pay lip service to your ideas. Do what I want. When it ultimately fails, I’ll blame production.” I think it’s a noun.
The conference call got around to me, Jodie, and Anna.
Creative Overlord: “We need someone with an identifiable voice for the opening video.”
I texted Jodie, ‘DO NOT TELL THEM I KNOW LEONARD NIMOY’S AGENT!’
Jodie hopped on the opportunity.
Jodie: “George knows Leonard Nimoy’s agent.”
Me: “Well, I—”
Stupid Museum People: “Ooh. Leonard Nimoy! Perfect! Can I go to the session?”
Other Stupid Museum People: “What’s he like? Does he have those ears and eyebrows?”
Even More Stupid Museum People: “How soon can we record him? What a great idea. Thank you! Gotta go!”
About 370 End Of Conference Call Beeps chattered over the line.
Me: “Thanks for that.”
Jodie: “Happy to help.”
Me: “I’ll get you for this. I don’t know what’s entailed in getting him to work on this. He might want hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Jodie: “It’s just a couple phone calls.”
Jodie’s last comment is an inside joke between us. An executive producer for who we worked in the 90’s had a habit of explaining that all production consisted of would be a few phone calls to the right people. Somehow this woman is still alive.
As much as I complained about being put on the spot in situations such as this, I actually took pride in being able to do what others could not. That’s what line production is.
Called the agent and explained the project. She requested a script. I sent it. Less than one day later, my cell phone rang.
Super Agent: “Leonard read the script and he’s interested.”
Me: “Who is this? Is this you, Tolbert?”
Super Agent: “What?”
Me: “Sorry. Joke from Major League, the baseball movie.”
Super Agent: “Got it. Leonard takes most of his fees now in donations to a charity of his choice. Are you okay with that?”
She sent me the list of charities and the amount, which was so reasonable, I thought about paying it myself just for the opportunity to work with Mister Spock. Alas, The Stupid Museum People did not see it that way and they expressed as much on the next 375 person conference call.
Stupid Museum People: “What? Money? We have to spend money on this?
More Stupid Museum People: “That’s not fair. I don’t get it.”
Even More Stupid Museum People: “Waaaaaaahhhhh!!! That’s not fair.”
Creative Overlord: “You said you knew Leonard personally.”
Me: “Okay, take it easy. First of all I said I knew who represented Leonard Nimoy. I do, and I contacted her, and Mister Nimoy likes the project. He’s willing to do it, but wants a donation to one of his charities. What he’s asking is a fraction of what he gets for appearances and voice-overs. This is a bargain.”
Over the speaker phone Jodie, Anna, and I heard the Creative Overlord breaking up a handful of slap fights.
Creative Overlord: “After much discussion and an impressive amount of collaboration, we have decided to pass on Mister Nimoy.”
Me: “You’re joking, right? And stop saying ‘collaboration.’”
Creative Overlord: “If Mister Nimoy would reconsider his request for payment—”
Me: “Leonard Nimoy is not requesting payment. He is asking for a charitable contribution to a very worthy cause. I don’t know who else you have in mind in terms of notoriety who would be a fit for the vpice-over for the opening video of the museum, but this financial bargain ain’t gonna get any better.”
Creative Overlord: “This isn’t our responsibility. Production has to come up with someone.”
Me: “Sure. How about Chris Sullivan?”
Creative Overlord: “Who is Chris Sullivan?”
Me: “Great V.O. talent and he’d probably do this for scale.”
Creative Overlord: “I never heard of him.”
Me: “Maybe you should get out more often.”
Creative Overlord: “Maybe you should take this a little more seriously. We have tasked you with providing a recognizable voice.”
Me: “Chris has a recognizable voice. You want a recognizable name, not voice, and that is going to have a price tag associated with it. Leonard Nimoy’s request is awful good.”
Creative Overlord: “We’re a non-profit, and can’t spend that kind of money.”
Me: “Are you joking? Have you seen your graphics invoices lately? You’ve turned the search for the perfect color palette into a re-do of the Sistine Chapel. If you hadn’t investigate 82 shades of purple, or was it indigo, we’d have the dough to make Mister Nimoy’s donation, which means we’d have Mister Nimoy, which means you’d have your recognizable NAME.”
Creative Overlord: “Are you shouting?”
Creative Overlord: “Maybe you should get hold of yourself.”
Me: “Maybe you should ki—”
Jodie hung up the speakerphone.
To this day I don’t know who they got to voice the video that greeted you as you entered the museum. The Stupid Museum People took so long putting the videos to bed that Jodie, Anna, and I were long gone and onto other projects. I did, however, have one more conversation with The Creative Overlord the next day.
Creative Overlord: “We could use Mister Nimoy for our fund-raising video.”
Me: “Is that right?”
Creative Overlord: “Yes, I may be able to make a case for the money.”
Me: “Let me get this straight. You want me to go back to Leonard Nimoy’s agent, after telling him ‘Thanks but no thanks?’”
Creative Overlord: “If he’s really interested in doing something for the museum, he would like to do this.”
Me: “Is that right? You want me to present to the agent a fund-raising video as some sort of a salve for bailing on Leonard Nimoy who wanted to work on the video that every customer will see when they walk through the front door?”
Creative Overlord: “I don’t see why not.”
Me: “I’m not going to do it. It was hard enough to go back there and tell his agent we had decided against it.”
Creative Overlord: “I don’t see why not.”
Me: “You said that before, and that might be part of the problem. Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll go back and tell the agent we’re back on for the opening video. The Museum will make the proper donation. And if, and that’s a big if, she agrees, I’ll ask that he also do the fund-raising video during the same session. How is that?”
Creative Overlord: “You’re not getting it. We don’t have the money for the opening video. We might have it for the fund-raising video. Maybe.”
Me: “Not good enough, Creative Overlord. Maybe doesn’t repair the damage, especially if you are looking for a freebie on a much less interesting project, with all due respect to fund-raising.”
Creative Overlord: “Well, then, maybe somewhere down the road, we’ll find a way to work with Mister Nimoy.”
Me: “The man is in his 80s, Creative Overlord. I’m not sure he has a whole lot of ‘somewhere down the road’ left.”
The call ended, and I thought I’d reached the limits of creative stupidity.
I was wrong.
NEXT WEEK: Leonard Nimoy and The Stupid Museum People - Part 2