“This is it?” and “I need some space.”
One mildly annoying thing about the film industry is that, regardless of how simple a shot may be to get, you almost have to put on a big to-do to make the producers feel like they’re getting what they paid for. Sometimes, if given a blessed situation, all you need to shoot a scene is a bounce card or nothing at all. But take a few hours to put an 18K HMI through a double 12×12′ silk and now you’ve got a production even the biggest movie star can be proud of walking on to! Maybe I’m exaggerating… or maybe I’m not. My point is, sometimes you really don’t need much of anything to get a good looking shot.
When we went to Billy’s house [mansion] in Long Island, we brought the usual light kit we’d been lugging around for all our other interviews (sorry, the 18K HMI didn’t fit in the SUV we had). We did the usual scout around the place to find the best spot. I told the director that the library/study/whatever room it was would be the best spot (see bottom left picture of the stolen image on the right). Billy went away and I started setting up the camera with our production assistant as a sit-in for Billy. Once I set up the camera, I took a look at what we had and thought that it looked great as-is. I wrestled with the idea of not using lights at all and told the director that not lighting would be the best thing to do. The circumstances were perfect. It was overcast, middle of the day, large windows, dark room and a most-likely short interview. The director trusted me and we went with it.
We called Billy and told him we were ready. He walked into the dark room where he most likely expected lights and C-stands and flags and silks and whatnot, saw nothing but a camera and a chair and said,
“This is it?”
I said, “Yeah, it looks great!” “Okay,” he responded and we did the interview. Thanks to God, a great architect, and a decent eye, we did one of our most important interviews with almost no work at all. That’s how I roll. ;)
So we were in Hershey, PA documenting a concert which was basically a “trial run” for the big Last Play at Shea concert in Queens. It was a fairly large stadium that seats over 30,000 people. They were doing a sound check with Billy and I kept my distance as I was supposed to. But somewhere in the middle of his song, I kept getting closer and closer because the shot was so good. I kept thinking, this is amazing! What a great shot! Then he stopped and talked to the sound guy about something. Then he turned to me and said, “Are you with the documentary crew?” I said very proudly, “Yes, I am.” Then he said the words that put our non-existent relationship on hold:
“I NEED SOME SPACE.”
I was heartbroken. Ok, maybe heartbroken isn’t the word… Let’s see. Ah yes, über-embarrassed. Yeah, that’s the word. Billy Joel just told me to back off and it was echoing in the stadium for everyone to hear. I know for a fact that the sound from the stadium could be heard in the adjacent amusement park as well because I was over in that area later in the day and I could hear everything played and uttered on the sound system. As I backed off, I looked at the director off stage who was standing next to our Billy Joel liaison and they were both giving me the “back off!” hand/arm gestures. Oy vey.
Other than a “hello” here and there during the entire production, those are the only two things Billy Joel ever really said to me. People ask if I got to know Billy pretty well. The answer is a resounding “NO” and I am most certain that Billy doesn’t know me from Adam. I was just the guy behind the camera. Yup, there you have it.
I do want to clarify that Billy was always very nice and I respect him as a person and an artist. I hope I didn’t paint him in a bad light for comedy’s sake.
In closing, here is a picture of me and the thirty thousand in Hershey, PA: