During the junior year of my undergrad, I had the opportunity to intern for Richard Donner and Lauren Shuler-Donner’s film production company. You may or may not have heard of them, but they’re legends in the game having produced such works as the original Superman movies, the current X-Men franchise, The Goonies, Lethal Weapon, The Omen; the list goes on and on.
On the first day walking into their office, I became anxious with an overwhelming sense of impostor syndrome. There they were with their prolific films plastered in poster form hugging every inch of their Beverly Hills office. Films I grew up loving. “What am I doing here?” I asked myself. I felt extremely under qualified. It was the most intimidated I have ever felt in a professional setting. I’m sure I soiled myself in an alternate parallel universe.
That feeling didn’t last long as they welcomed me with open arms. I never had an internship experience quite like that again. They actually took their time showing me the ropes. ME. This kid they plucked out of obscurity with zero experience and zero knowledge. It was fascinating to see the the inner workings of their operation, because they ran it like a mom & pop shop. It's not like the way it's portrayed at all in the movies (ironically). There was no Hollywood BS. My time as their intern was short, but I made some lifelong friends and mentors along the way.
My favorite memory of my time there would have to be when I had the one-in-a-million chance to actually sit down with Mr. Donner and have a conversation with him.
When I felt brave enough to ask my internship supervisor to see if it was even possible, I was surprised by their response when they said that no intern had ever asked for that kind of request before. It was shocking! Here was a golden opportunity to pick the brain of one of our industry’s living legends, why wouldn’t you take that shot?
I couldn't resist.
I remember walking into his office like it was yesterday. It felt like that scene from “The Sandlot” when the kids first stepped foot in James Earl Jones’ house and was enchanted by all of its rich history. Mr. Donner’s office smelled like fresh pine, it was brightly lit, and there were memorabilia from all of the films he directed, scattered all over, along with some old photographs of all his famous film friends.
When I walked in, he said, “Hey! Take a seat, Andrew.”
He would always call me Andrew (apparently there were fifty other Andrews throughout the company’s history), or he’d call me “kid.” I didn’t mind either way. I was just excited to be in the same room as him.
"What did you want to ask me?" he said.
My mind was racing. I had a thousand questions, but I had to mentally sift through them quickly to make sure I wasn’t going to say something stupid.
We ended talking for a long time about the politics of the industry, his pragmatic blue collar approach to directing, and what he thinks of the current state of the movie business. Some of my favorite stories were his recollections of old friends and shenanigans: his on-set fight with Steve McQueen, William Shatner pranking him on “The Twilight Zone”, and how he knew Christopher Reeve was the one to play his Superman right away.
I was like a kid in a candy store.
I spoke very little because I wanted to take as much time to absorb everything he was throwing at me. Yet being the courteous man that is, he continued to prompt me nevertheless. He even asked me a lot of questions about myself. Not once did I feel like I was being lectured or talked down to. That’s how you know someone cares.
We chatted for a whole hour. We probably would be sitting in his office until the sun came down if his wife hadn’t called him home for dinner. I always thought my director heroes would be these larger than life icons in real life. Who'd ever thought one of them turned out to be this friendly grandfather next door type figure? My biggest takeaway from our heart-to-heart was the sense of validation and affirmation. Hearing about his own ups and downs, and how he pulled himself up from his bootstraps to make it to where he is today, it’s more than inspiring. It confirmed everything I’ve done up to this point has not been a total waste.
He immediately forgot my name again once I left his office, but I’ll never forget his parting words to me: “You have to find your own voice, kid. There’s no advice in the world anyone can give you about making pictures unless you know your own voice and the stories you want to tell.”
I strolled down the rain soaked sidewalks of Beverly Hills that night, skipping, and thinking about how much brighter the future is beginning to look for a small town kid like me trying to make it in the big city.
Thanks, Mr. Donner.