The 2001 remake of Ocean’s 11 was on TV the other evening when I was flipping channels (an old-fashioned habit in this era of entertainment on demand, but not everything has to be premeditated, right?). I happened on a scene that takes place at a dog track in which Rusty, played by Brad Pitt, is recruiting old hand Saul, played by Carl Reiner, to join the big heist that is the centerpiece of the movie. It was a great moment to watch, not because I worship Carl Reiner (which I do) or believe 2001 to have been the peak of Brad Pitt gorgeousness (which it was) but because our family friend Mark is in the scene. He is the lead background extra—the anonymous guy behind them perusing a racing form and peering through his binoculars at the track.
Mark landed the voiceless role because my brother Steve was the propmaster on that movie and had called in a favor. It was hardly the first time a friend or family member played a part in a major release. When my eldest brother, Greg, was breaking into the business as a set decorator, many items from our household made their way into movies. Sarah Jessica Parker’s teenage bedroom in the 1985 film Girls Just Want to Have Fun, for instance, is largely composed of stuff from my teenage bedroom. Greg’s son Ryan was a zombie on the first season of The Walking Dead thanks to his dad’s position as the show’s production designer. My mom created and stitched about 100 stuffed toy mules to be sold on the streets of Tijuana for Seabiscuit; one evening I sat at Steve’s dining table and signed a pile of congratulatory wedding cards that Leonardo DiCaprio would later riffle through in Catch Me If You Can. My longest onscreen time (ahem, to date) is four seconds and change, when the camera tracks my husband and me, bedecked in 1950s duds, as we walk into the Chinese Theatre in The Majestic (before ceding the shot to Jim Carrey).
Knowing the secret sauce that goes into filmmaking has done nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for movies. The illusion remains, even when it’s my handwriting on the cards. I feel the same way about living in Los Angeles. If I recognize a familiar location (oil pumps! the aquarium!) in a TV show, film, or video game, it doesn’t diminish the make-believe; it inspires me to find out more about the how-they-did-it-and-why. That curiosity has fueled a feature we debut this month titled “Imagining L.A.” We begin with a look at Terrence Malick’s new film, Knight of Cups. I asked the cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, and the production designer, Jack Fisk, to tell me some stories behind the images they created.
Also this month we introduce “Los Angeles Icon,” an in-depth interview with a local legend. To kick off that recurring feature, we could think of no one better than producer Quincy Jones, who turns 83 this month and who continues to work at a pace that makes me feel like a slug.