Owen Wilson to the Rescue
A few weeks after Leonard Nimoy Professional Debacle 2.0 ended, Jodie called me.
Jodie: “I take it you’ve gotten over the Leonard Nimoy incident?”
Me: “Which one? And you would be wrong.”
Jodie: “I understand, but you have to make this situation right.”
Me: “And why is that?”
Jodie: “Because I have to provide the voice-over talent now, and I haven’t got anywhere near the contacts you have. You have to do this for me.”
Guilt doesn’t work on me. Usually. But Jodie Marko was and is one of the most hard-working and brilliant people I worked with in San Francisco, despite the fact that she was from Canada. She had done a lot for me and had always been a reliable colleague. Doing something for her is a legitimate ask on her part.
Me: “Any suggestions? Other than Leonard Nimoy?”
Jodie: “Yes. Didn’t you help get Vince Vaughan’s movie, The Internship, onto the Google campus?”
Me: “Yes. His producer, Sandra Smith, is a friend of a friend. I made the introductions, but make no mistake, she did the heavy lifting.”
Jodie: “You always say that, and it’s not true.”
Me: “Sure it is. I have no marketable skills. I don’t actually do anything. I just know lots of people who have marketable skills and actually do things. That’s all. Maybe that’s what producing is. If that’s the case, that is kind of depressing, don’t you think?”
Me: “Okay. Okay. Okay. I’ll stop. What’s your idea?”
Jodie: “Owen Wilson.”
Me: “Let me unpack this for you, you conniving little twerp. You want me to call in a favor from a woman that I know via a friend of mine, to bail out The Stupid Museum People?”
Jodie: “If you’re going to put it that way.”
Me: “How else should I put it? They blew a huge opportunity to work with a man synonymous with science. No knock on Owen, who was lovely to work with on the movie, but Leonard Nimoy was, oh, how can I say this? Perfect?”
Jodie: “I know. But will you talk to Sandra?”
Me: “For you, yes, but I don’t want anyone from The Stupid Museum People involved in the negotiation. This is you and me, and you don’t know I’m doing this. Got it?”
Sandra Smith, Vince Vaughan's producer at Wild West Picture Show Productions and a total babe, accommodated my request to submit the script to Owen Wilson, who liked it enough to agree to let his voice be used for the video. In order to record, though, we would have to go to him during the filming of the location work on The Internship.
And, of course, the location where he could do the voice-over? The Marin Headlands. Not hard to get to, but the scheduling issue had to do with Owen being able to carve out an hour to read the script, a five minute snoozer about the birth of the universe.
The deal broke down to Sandra’s assistant, Amy calling me and giving me a couple hours to get over the Headlands with my sound engineer. What time and what day? Anyone’s guess. The production would be there for about a week.
I waited. And waited. And waited.
And of course my phone rang the day before I scheduled a trip back to clean out my parent’s house in the over-55 community where my father had spent his last days and from which my mother had recently moved.
Amy: “George, tomorrow afternoon at 3pm is the only day and time that will work for Owen. And even then I’ll have to call you to confirm in the late morning.”
Me: “That’s fine. I’ll call you when I get there with my sound engineer. Would you object to Jodie Marko, my co-producer coming with me?”
Amy: “Not at all. But text me when you arrive. If I get one more phone call.”
Me: “I understand.”
I called Jodie to give her a heads up.
Jodie: “I can go!? Really!?”
Jodie: “The director is going to want to go.”
Me: “Is that right? Some corporate video director with a list of credits as long as a nose hair is going to direct Owen Wilson’s reading of some insomnia-curing copy? I don’t think so. You’re lucky I got you in there. Nobody else.”
Jodie: “He’s not going to be happy about this.”
Me: “Oh well, then by all means. I wouldn’t want someone to be unhappy on one of my jobs.”
Jodie: “Point taken.”
Me: “Oh, and I have to change my flight back to New Jersey. The production company is picking up the tab.”
Jodie: “I’ll submit an expense report. Just don’t upgrade yourself.”
Me: “Count on it.”
Next day found Jodie, me, and Ted Ver Valen, fab sound recordist, in the crew parking lot of The Internship at the base of the Marin Headlands. Windy. Cold. Overcast. I texted Amy who turned us over to Owen’s personal assistant, a jittery young man who could not have been nicer. He led us to Owen’s trailer, introduced us to his boss, and then left us alone. We set up quickly as Owen sat down in a chair and reviewed the copy once more with Jodie, who just would not shut up.
Jodie: “This is so great. Thank you for doing this. I hear you’re from Texas. I hear your mother is from Texas. That makes sense. You know, both of you being from the same state. That would be odd if you weren’t.”
Jodie: “Odd’s not the right word. I’m sure there are people from the same family who live in different states. So, maybe not so odd? I don’t know. How are you? Do you have any questions? I like the script. Do you like it?”
She managed to compose herself and Owen read through the script. There’s something about professional actors. Something they’ve got that the next level down of what might be referred to as somewhat talented and very hard working just don’t have. I listened to him read it and knew he had saved the copy.
The script was a safe, corporate attempt at describing the birth of the universe. Had anyone else read it, you’d nod off in about a minute. I listened to the full five minutes of Owen’s read and knew how the universe was born and why.
Owen: “How is that?”
Me: “Only outstanding.”
Owen: “Why don’t I read it through again in pieces. I’ll start and stop every half page or so.”
Jodie: “That’s a really good idea. Don’t you think? Start and stop. Read it in chunks. Is that how they do that in Texas? If so, that’s really smart. Is everyone in Texas really smart? If not, they should be.”
Owen read through it again. I still have the memory card with the original recording.
Of the many pet peeves I developed regarding the film industry, my favorite is a riff on the “Let no good deed go unpunished.” This particular job for The Stupid Museum People had this in spades. And since it happened towards the tail end of my career, I, obviously didn’t hesitate to call the ungrateful on their various character flaws.
In addition to embarrassing myself during the second failed Leonard Nimoy attempt, not only did I score Owen Wilson to voice the opening video, but I also found more than 30 minutes of finished 3D animation of artists renderings of the universe and its beginnings. I also convinced some Unabomber type time-lapse expert to sell us three shots of his night sky work for the price of one.
To follow are the total number of thank yous I received from the director, who would have to have used hand-puppets for his Birth of the Universe video had it not been for Yours truly:
What did I get? I got the following email when the director received the raw takes of Owen Wilson’s brilliant read.
To: George Young From: Herr Director
Re: Owen Wilson V.O. for The Birth of the Universe
Listened to the Owen Wilson voice-over. I should have been included in the recording since there are different ways I would have had him read certain parts of the script.
Is there a reason I was not scheduled as part of the team?
I’d gotten to the age where I waited until I responded to emails such as this. Obviously, in one of her few lapses, Jodie had not called Herr Director to explain to him why we couldn’t cram one more body into Owen Wilson’s trailer. Remember, I was no longer, technically, on the project.
To: Herr Director From: George Young
Re:Re: Owen Wilson V.O. for The Birth of the Universe
Why you’re welcome! Glad you liked the tracks, and the scoring of a Hollywood Star for this little POS video. And your continued gratitude for the 3D animation freebies, the recently released Hubble Telescope photography, and the three for the price of one time-lapse photos, is just overwhelming. It makes all the grief I normally get from narcissistic, ungrateful, self-centered jerks fade in oblivion.
Good luck with the edit. Given what you have to work with, I’m sure that even a one of those narcissistic, ungrateful, self-centered jerks of a director couldn’t screw it up.
A few weeks later, after I returned from cleaning out my parent’s house, Jodie called to fill me in on just how much my response had bent Herr Director out of shape.
Me: “A simple thank you would have been nice. The guy writes a substitute for Sominex. Owen throws a 10,000 Volt charge into it, and I’m the bad guy? How does that work?”
Jodie: “He felt left out.”
Me: “That’s because we left him out. This wasn’t the type of situation where we schedule an hour at One Union Recording and put Owen Wilson in a cab. We’re lucky we got him. You’re lucky you got me to get him, because after that Leonard Nimoy fiasco, I should not have done anything to help the project. I did it for you, as you requested.”
Jodie: “I get it. But now I have to listen to him for the rest of the project.”
Me: “Jodie, just do what I do.”
Jodie: “Not a chance. I still have to work with the guy.”
Me: “What if I apologized?”
Jodie noticeably brightened her tone.
Jodie: “You would do that?”
Me: “Sure would. Just as soon as the ungrateful jerk thanks me for turning his unwatchable video into something worthwhile.”
Jodie: “That’s a long way of saying ‘No.’”