My Date With Diane Lane
Diane Lane and I are about the same age. So when I was 16 and she was 15 and saw her debut on the big screen in A Little Romance, I had a crush. Lane was the Natalie Portman of her time — her debut character precocious and adorable, and that character became her.
I wasn’t a creepy fan; I didn’t write her or anything. I was just a fan — always happy to see her show up in things. In her twenties, her career was spotty, but her Lauren character always had me.
A decade later, the [CMX 6000] editing system I was helping introduce to Hollywood was going to be used on a massive miniseries called Lonesome Dove. The project, produced by CBS and Motown Records, was going to be four 2-hour episodes, shooting on locations in Texas and New Mexico, and editing on location. This was no small task.
This was going to be four simultaneous feature-film-sized projects. A million feet of film. The CMX 6000 had cut TV shows and even some low budget features shooting 200,000 feet of film perhaps, but not 5x that — all of which had to be transferred from film to video and then from video to laserdiscs, in 30 minute chunks. Usually the editing systems were installed in air-conditioned facilities in Hollywood where it was easy to keep an eye on things, not sketchy hotels in the old west. Lonesome Dove was going to be shot on location, the film shipped to LA to get developed and transferred to 4 custom discs each day, and sent from LA back to the production as it moved around the countryside.
The editing system was the size of a small room — a desk-sized computer connected to a few monitors and 12 pairs of modified laserdisc players. That’s a lot of fragile analog equipment that has to work perfectly for months while being moved around, connected disconnected reconnected.
Okay, first of all, this was clearly going to be a project from hell. No one should have embarked on this insanity. But it was also a high-profile, well-funded project and while it was a push, it would be a big win for the product if it pulled through. We rolled the dice.
News was that the cast and crew and editing system would all be together to start with, taking over a few floors of the Radisson hotel in Austin, Texas, the primary location for the first month. There would be a couple moves — from Austin to Del Rio, Texas (on the border) and then on to Santa Fe, NM for the balance. The cast headliners were Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, and Danny Glover, but the rest of the cast were stellar as well, including Angelica Huston, Chris Cooper and Diane Lane.
Wait, Diane Lane is in this? And we’re all living together in a hotel? Things can get pretty rowdy when a production is spending a month in a hotel. I was suddenly less concerned about the risks involved.
Laserdiscs and laserdisc players were fragile; there were micro-tolerances between the laser head and the spinning disc, and if something went wrong, the head could hit the disc, ruin the disc and player. This happened occasionally and was very bad — the cost to a production in terms of dollars and time was high. Pressures on film productions are high anyway, you don’t need that kind of screw up; it was a tense place to have experimental technological products. Suzanne DePasse, the executive producer (and Motown rockstar, best known for discovering the Jackson 5), was looking cautiously over the shoulders of the editor and the post production team, and they were looking at me. The editor and assistants were using a persnickety device with a lot riding on it.
The first scene shot included newbie actor Steve Buscemi riding in a wagon and getting scalped. He came by and introduced himself. The actors weren’t supposed to, but sometimes they’d pop into editorial to see how “things were going” which was sorta code to see how their footage was looking. The key actors in the film didn’t seem to hang out with us in post production, but the younger and newer actors were much happier to let us be part of the socializing that went on at the Radisson. Buscemi was in that group; DB Sweeny too. But most unusual was Rick Schroder. Rick arrived as Ricky, the child movie star who was having trouble aging up. Upon arriving at Lonesome Dove, Ricky asked everyone to now only call him “Rick” — his 18th birthday was coming up in a few weeks and that’s when it would be legal. Rick, Terry-the-assistant editor, and I became a functional social unit for awhile—Rick was excellent at attracting attention. We went shopping for Nokonas and spent our evenings on 4th Street.
I was familiar by then with the shooting schedule and I was sorry to see that Diane Lane’s scenes didn’t start until our last days in Austin. I was only going to be on the project until the editorial team felt comfortable with the workflow and everything was working as promised. It would be a mixed bag to still be around when Lane got to Austin. But perhaps I was worried for nothing.
There was already a problem with the discs that were arriving from LA. By the third day of cutting the discs were crashing into the laserdisc player heads — ruining both. It was an inauspicious start to the project. News of this got to Simon Wincer, the director. Before this project, Wincer had been directing TV in Australia, and was not well known in the US. (He’d later get notoriety for directing Free Willy (1993)). Anyway, we tried to keep him from freaking.
More than half the discs were starting to crash. Upon close examination it looked like they were “puffing up” a small degree, enough to close the gap to the head. The discs were manufactured by adhering the red-laser video data on the bottom of a plastic disc, and then sandwiching that with another clear disc to protect it. I had a theory that it had something to do with the change in humidity between Los Angeles and Austin, causing the two plastic parts to expand in different ways. To test this, I took a few sets of discs into the dry sauna at the Radisson. In short order the discs flattened out and the new directive was to install dehumidifiers in the editing areas. This was often what my job was like. The heroic story of sauna-ing with the movie’s dailies got around quickly.
By the end of the month, once the project was stable and everyone was trained, I needed to rotate out to a new project and leave Lonesome Dove to my teammate Larry. On my last day in Austin I found myself sitting in the lobby, waiting for a table at the atrium restaurant after checking out. The front door to the hotel opened and Diane Lane walked in… and up to the lounge hostess. Being told it would be a 20 minute wait she sat down next to me.
Diane Lane is sitting next to me.
I could feel my heart pounding. I was afraid to look at her. We sat in silence for about 10 minutes. I couldn’t move.
When the hostess called my table I stood up…and taking a deep breath, turned around to Lane… and asked her if she wanted to join me. I introduced myself. And she sweetly accepted. I don’t remember what we ordered, and I don’t remember what we said. I just remember sitting across the table from her and talking and smiling (and her charging it to her room) and me leaving the hotel that day, as happy as I’d been in a long time; elegant closure. I still tend to think of this as “my date with Diane Lane.”
There was a time I was disappointed that I had to leave that production; Lonesome Dove was a great success for everyone involved. Maybe the only saving grace was that Larry, who replaced me in Austin, met a woman that week who he fell in love with. He steadfastly refused to cycle out of Austin even when I volunteered to return a month later. Larry managed to stay through the project, moved to Austin, and eventually married Debbie. He’s still married to her today. So it’s all good. Of course Diane never calls.