THE BEVERLY HILLS POLO LOUNGE
We met at the Beverly Hills Hotel the next morning. Tony Scott had gotten over his jet lag. He was fresh-faced. While British, he was wearing the 80s uniform of Hollywood: white T, blue jeans and black blazer. The producers, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer were there; and Don was wearing his latest pair of $500 shades.
We were discussing whether or not Tony should be directing Top Gun.
Since Tony had fallen asleep in the last meeting, we decided to reboot at the hotel after he had gotten a proper night’s sleep.
“Tony, I looked at The Hunger last night,” I said. “Can I make a suggestion?”
“Go ahead, mate.”
“If this is to work out with you directing this movie, you need to make a promise. You need to shoot a master of every scene.”
“Oh mate, masters — they’re so boring,” he sighed.
” In The Hunger, half the time I didn’t know where we were….”
Tony squeezed his face and looked at Jerry.
“Okay, so what’s the big deal, Tony?” Jerry said in his typical soft way. “We’ll shoot a quick master for safety and coverage.”
Tony looked off into space.
“There was so much gauze and camosoles in the Hunger, I had no idea what was going on. Too many close-ups. Give the meat and potatoes guy from Cleveland (that was me) the cue as to where we are in the story. But it isn’t just for safety, Jerry, a master can be used for drama too.”
By the end of our eggs, we agreed that Tony would direct and that he would shoot a master for every scene.
PRESIDENT NED’S OFFICE
We shook hands and we congratulated Tony. Subject to a deal with Paramount’s business affairs, he was shooting a movie in ten weeks.
“What do you mean you hired the sleeper?” Ned Tanen shouted. He jumped on the button on the floor with his motorcycle boots , closing the white door automatically so he could have at his “green pea soup” rant at full throttle.
“I have never hired a dead guy to direct a movie!” He shouted.
“He wasn’t dead, he was asleep!”
I know what he was doing. Even though he had already told me that it was my decision as the project executive, to hire Tony, he was testing me. He wanted to see if I had thought my decision through; that I was being responsible. The “Killer Dillers” (Jeff Katzenberg, Barry Diller, and Michael Eisner) who had previously been running Paramount were notorious screamers and shouters. I once saw Chairman Barry Diller throw his white desk at President Michael Eisner over whether or not Indiana Jones should be made. Michael quit and went home; as I remember he came back several days later after Barry reluctantly agreed to make the movie.
“Listen, Ned,” I said, unphased by his rant. “I relooked at The Hunger. Tony has spent too much time doing commercials. Everything was in close-up like he was shooting a shoe or a diamond ring . We talked it out and he has agreed to shoot a master of every scene and the producers are backing it. We are covered and we have a movie that can start shooting.” We had no movies. We needed movies. We made and acquired 11 movies that year – a small batch but it was one of the biggest year Paramount ever had. Every poicture was a hit.
Ned turned around and shrugged his big shoulders. He picked up a fog horn off his credenza and started blowing it.
“What does that mean?”
“I guess that means we have a picture.”
“We start shooting in ten weeks.” I told him. “The budget is locked at $13 million and Cruise will be pay or play as soon as Tony is signed.”
“Have you made a deal with Tony yet?” Ned asked as he fell back into his black executive chair.
“Today, we will make the deal. It will be within the $13 million budget cap.”
We worked hard all day especially with Bill Unger, Tony’s long term manager, to get a deal closed. The deal was done by 3 pm.
THE EXECUTIVE SCREENING ROOM
My idol was Francois Truffaut , the leader, along with Godard, of the French New Wave. Truffaut had died of a brain tumor that year at the early age of 52. Ironically, a brain tumor had also been rumored to have been the reason that Tony jumped off that bridge; the rumor turned out to be false.
My way of mourning Truffaut’s passing was to watch his movies. It helped me remember why I had gotten involved in the movie business in the first place : because movies could be works of art. I was in the 20-seat executive screening room alone, eating my take-out Mexican food from Oblaths across the street from the studio. This room had seen a lot of footage from The Godfather to Chinatown.
I was in the middle of the first reel when Tony creaked open the door. He was carrying some champagne and two dixie cups. He had come to celebrate. He asked if he could join me.
I explained to him that the movie was “Jules and Jim” and that it had been part of the new movement of film-making in France: camera work off the tripod: hand held, on bicycles, wagons, loose. “There wouldn’t have been a Bonnie in Clyde” I said. “If there hadn’t been a Breathless first,” I explained.
Tony had started out wanting to be a painter and got a degree in fine arts from Sunderland Art School, but eventually followed his big brother, Ridley, into movies. But Tony had an exceptional eye that came out of studying light in painting. He had an incredible eye.
“By the way, you’ll see a master in every one of these scenes.” I told him. And it was true, even in the daring fluidity of the camera moves, there was always somewhere in the scene an establishing shot.
We drank the champagne and clinked our paper cups and happily watched the movie.
“Jeanne Moreau is the ultimate girl in this.” I told him.”She is bold, strong, beautiful, vulnerable and lives her life on her terms.”
And Truffaut, with the help of the camereman and DP, Raoul Coutard , had photographed Jeanne Moreau in lavish close-up, in slow-motion, in still shots. “Oh my God!” Tony said as he fell in love with Moreau on screen. “This is bloody marvelous!”
“I am going to shoot those MIGs like they were her legs and those air-carriers like they were her breasts. And I’m going to use slow motion and magic hour!” he said dreamily. I laughed with his humor.
As director Mel Gibson told me recently, “A movie is a like a dream.”
It was so true. Ad it was that ordinary Friday night. So Tony and I let the dream of Truffaut and a woman who was loved by two men, Jules and Jim, take us over.
“Who are you thinking for the girl in the film?”
There had been much talk about Demi Moore. Ned Tanen had just worked with her as a producer on Saint Elmo’s Fire and she was a bright young star.
“We already have the girl.” Tony said, laughing.
“Tom Cruise. I told you. I am going to shoot him as if he was f— Jeanne Moreau!.”
NEXT: TONY SCOTT TRANSFORMS A WILLING TOM CRUISE INTO A GLOBAL SEX OBJECT
Note: Like countless others who share this grief, I’ve had trouble making sense of a world suddenly without Tony Scott. These stories on Top Gun are, I suppose, a cathartic way to work through the inherent sadness of his passing. I apologize in advance to anyone who thinks these stories might be untimely. I had only love and respect for Tony.