I should have come forward with this years ago…it’s been my little secret for too long but now I’m breaking my silence and going public with the fact that Michael Jackson held my hand, too…
The incident took place at Universal Studios during the filming of the music video, Scream, featuring Michael and his sister, Janet. Not too long before this I had met Michael while working on the stage production and rehearsals for the Dangerous tour.
Both Mark Romanek, the director of Scream, and Tom Foden, the Production Designer, are uncompromising perfectionists. It’s been a real pleasure to work with both of them on numerous projects. In the film business, working with people who maintain a vision is significantly better than working for those who lack the big picture. On this particular job I was working with the art department headed by Tom Foden. Other members of the art department included Dana Garman, Richard Berg, Jamie Vickers, Paulie Pietsch, Mark Brooks, to name a few.
The Scream video may be the most expensive music video ever made, I believe the total production/post production budget was somewhere near 8.3 million dollars. And I can tell you the art department budget took a good chunk of that, maybe half. The sets took up three full sized stages at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, with over a dozen sets placed on these three stages. Once shooting began, my role was the ‘on-set dresser’, basically the ‘art department representative’ who remains on set at all times as the ‘face’ of the art department. By the very nature of the position, the on-set dresser has close interaction with the talent while on the set.
This was a crazy big job, no doubt about it. Three stages, over a dozen sets, twenty shoot days.
On the first day of shooting we had a 7am call, except Michael was detained until mid-afternoon. Then hair and make-up, get him to the set and it’s 4:30 pm before we roll. It became clear that we would be shooting nights for the next twenty or so days. It was also clear that Michael liked it this way…working at night, that is.
Finally, we get down to business. Michael makes his entrance and is met by Mark who explains the shot. The first footage we shoot with Michael is of him dancing on one of the many white floors seen throughout the video. Michael finds his position, about six feet from camera, does a couple of takes, then mentions how the floor (white vinyl linoleum) was feeling slick. I move in with my tools, a fine grade steel wool, rag and a spray bottle with the ‘special sauce’ and scruff up the floor a bit with the wool then step back. Mark comes out from behind the camera, looks at my handiwork then calls out for Tom before asking me if we lost the ‘gloss’. I say no, give it a quick spray with the special sauce and it dries to a sparkle. When I get up from my kneeling position Michael is smiling at me and says, “I remember you from the tour rehearsal”. I say, “That’s right”, and he asks me how my kids are doing, I say, “great, amazing.”
And then everything is back to normal, Michal does his bit and we’re off to a good start.
As predicted, crew call switched from 7am to 4pm, and we worked throughout each night until 4-6am.
In the final hours of the last night of shooting, we had moved to the ‘zen’ set. This was it, last day, last set, last series of shots. The art department had prepped the set with final touches before Michael was brought in to take his place on the zen podium in the center of the set. Michael surveyed the scene and commented on how beautiful the set looked. He was very relaxed and it was obvious he enjoyed sitting in the middle of this temporary temple.
When Mark called out for a piece of the ceiling to be trimmed, I grabbed a 12-step (ladder), scrambled to the top and began sawing. In an unfortunate moment the portable saw kicked back and amputated a third of my left ring finger. Without word, I reached in my back pocket for my rag, wrapped my finger with it and stepped down off the ladder and exited the set. I passed Tom on the way out and showed him what happened. Tom escorted me to the edge of the stage and I laid down on the concrete. It wasn’t long before an entire film crew of towering bodies was in a half circle looking down at me. Union guys chewing gum. 3am. Right?
Suddenly the crowd parts and Michael appears and stands there for a moment, leaning over me, looking down. He looks at my left hand held in the air then he looks at me. Then just like that he is on his knees by my right side and he picks up my right hand and holds it in his. He looks me straight in the eye and tells me how sorry he was, he kept repeating how sorry he was, and then he had tears in his eyes and he held my hand until the ambulance came and took me away.
That next week, recovering at home, the gifts began arriving from Michael and Janet, tasteful and cool things like great soaps, a bathrobe, incense, a card. Anyway, that’s my story. Michael Jackson held my hand, too.
Michael, if you read this, thanks for caring.