Oscar-Nominated Producer Reveals Why His Car Is Now His Office (Guest Column)
As studios purge rich on-the-lot deals, this top dealmaker has learned to love — and make do with — a mobile workspace on wheels (complete with Siri as the assistant).
This story first appeared in the Aug. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
On a crisp fall day in 2012, I was summoned to Building 88 to meet with the powers that be at 20th Century Fox, my home studio for what I thought would be my whole career.
As I walked the main corridor I had traversed hundreds of times, I had this sinking feeling. That plush carpet now felt like quicksand. Politely, they thanked me for my services as a producer and then promptly informed me they would not be renewing my deal.
Afterward, as I sat in my Chevy Volt in a coveted "Gold Door" parking spot right in front of the main doors, I knew my world was about to change -- dramatically. But little did I know that as I cranked up the air conditioning in my electric car, I had just stepped into my new office. Yes, I do have a home workspace, but the sheer habit of driving to work at various high-rises and studios during the past 30 years has made it practically impossible for me to be a stay-at-home producer. No matter how nice the digs, in the end you spend way too much time bartering with the gardener, letting in the water and power guy or signing for eBay packages.
I was let go around the time that studios began severing the umbilical cord for hundreds of producers. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that on-the-lot producing deals have dropped by 52 percent since 2000. Even A-listers such as Jerry Bruckheimer and Joel Silver are being told the same thing: "We still want your movies; we just don't want your overhead." For folks like me, that meant shedding staff and other costs and turning Friendly Films into a virtual one-man band.
One of the smartest moves I made was to sign up for a desk at a cozy spot called The Office in Santa Monica. For a few hundred dollars a month, you get a desk, an outlet and peace and quiet (cellphone calls are not allowed). I go there most afternoons, but for the rest of the day it's mostly the Volt and me. Whether I'm on my way to meetings in the Valley or lunches in Beverly Hills, I try to make the most of my time in my car office. It has leather seats, frosty air conditioning and a kick-ass stereo -- pretty much what every man wants in his office. I talk to Siri as if she were my assistant, and there's a 12-pack of Fiji water in my trunk so I can offer myself something fancy to drink before meetings -- just like in a real Hollywood office. Alas, I have yet to figure out how to hang a few of those ubiquitous framed one-sheets in the backseat area.
For those transitioning from on-the-lot to in-the-car producers, a hybrid vehicle is an excellent choice. It's quiet because when I'm talking to agents, they don't need to hear the engine roar over their own screams -- that would be unprofessional. And at nearly $5 a gallon for gas, obviously you want a vehicle that does not burn up a bunch of overhead.
You'll need a different set of supplies, too. I carry a tin of quarters at all times for those annoying meters from the Stone Age that don't take credit cards. However, I have learned that 99 percent of meter maids/men will not ticket you if you are sitting in your car having what appears to be an important conversation, even if the meter is red. Once I had to mute my phone during a conference call to plead my case; I got away with a warning and quickly reloaded the meter before rejoining the call. In addition, I always keep a healthy supply of Pilot Precise V7 pens in the middle compartment for taking notes when I'm parked or even while driving. And you can never have enough baby wipes for when coffee spills during those angry moments when the last buyer on your list passes on the spec script you just knew was going to sell.
Do I miss my spacious suite of offices at Sunset Plaza with the jukebox in the waiting room? You bet. Am I nostalgic for the bike rides around the Fox lot and the ability to bring Sparky, my beloved (late) border collie, to the office? Of course.
But good things have happened in the Volt! It was here, parked in front of the Coral Tree Cafe in Brentwood, that David Madden called to say I had sold Fox TV Studios my first TV project, The Queen of the South. It was here, in front of V Cafe on Melrose Avenue, that Pierce Brosnan called to say he wanted to star in my film project I.T., which I had labored on for two years without a fee. And it was here, somewhere along Santa Monica Boulevard in bumper-to-bumper traffic, that I learned we had raised enough cash to make my directorial debut on the upcoming documentary Sneakerheadz.
I have yet to host a meeting in my rolling office, but I'm thinking about scheduling one. So if you see me on 26th Street in Santa Monica, sitting in the Volt in front of The Office with screenwriter Noah Oppenheim (a fellow habitue there) in the passenger seat, please don't disturb us. It's not a drug deal or some illicit liaison; it's just a modern Hollywood producer plying his trade.
David T. Friendly is an Oscar-nominated producer of Little Miss Sunshine and many other films.