[LOS ANGELES] The temperature hovers just below 90 degrees in the sullen shade. Under a congested freeway overpass, a chunk of exhaust-choked asphalt is cordoned off by yellow caution tape. Beyond that barrier, a football-field sized zone is sprinkled with parked cars; two trailers sit side-by-side, perpendicular to a luxury motor home and a catering wagon. An incongruous smell of bacon wafts by, mingling — not altogether unpleasantly — with the smog. It turns out that home base for a big-budget music video isn’t necessarily dripping with champagne dreams and caviar wishes.
Truth is, the glamour factor is just about nil. Inside the trailer on the right, the energy level is permanently set to “amped.” Walkie-talkies crackle and the entire floor sways whenever someone moves, which is all the time. Laptops, fax machines, phones and printers buzz constantly, as a steady stream of problems flow in and solutions filter out. This is the place where dreams are made real. Not by magic, but by a smoothly functioning machine headed by producer Tim Lynch ’95. His right-hand, production manager Becky Brown, describes the tanned 33-year-old as “CEO of the set.” Lynch is unassuming in the extreme: He wears sneakers, khaki pants and a T-shirt covered by an unbuttoned long-sleeved olive green shirt with a frayed collar. “He doesn’t always wear sunglasses indoors,” Brown remarks.
At the wardrobe trailer next door, extras emerge one by one, freshly adorned in tattered yet chic punk rock garb and corresponding attitude. They cluster together at one long table, waiting for their cue to hop in one of the air-conditioned vans and be transported to the day’s first location. Lynch and his crew are no-nonsense, dealing with one request after another, providing directions, water, power cords, apologetic notes, ETAs, stock film reels, updated lists, release forms, signatures and, most important, reassurance to just about anyone who opens the door.
When it’s time to roll, everyone — but for a core group holding down the home fort — seems to vanish as if blown away by a gusting blast of Santa Ana wind. Time is, after all, money. And on this set, a video shoot for the latest single from one of the most popular bands in the world, there’s plenty of money. But even more abundant is the underlying serenity that emanates from Tim Lynch, who’s got the kind of calm presence that assures even the most hectic sort that all will indeed be well.
The post-punk group Green Day has reached an apex in its career as a band, having achieved the kind of crazy popularity that makes the songs on their latest album utterly ubiquitous. That 2004 release, “American Idiot,” has been at the top of the charts for over a year. The group has sold out stadiums across the country on a high-energy tour that showcases pyrotechnics and sheer energetic glee. A parade of singles from the album — “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “American Idiot,” “Holiday” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends” — have been in such heavy rotation on radio and television that they’ve become pop culture staples. It seems likely that every person under the age of 40 in the United States would find them familiar, especially given an entire year’s promotional juggernaut that’s reached a critical mass level of absolute cultural saturation.
In a word, Green Day is huge.
So it’s an enormously big deal that Lynch is producing the fifth of the band’s “American Idiot” videos, this time for the nine-minute epic, “Jesus of Suburbia.” He’s produced the last four videos as well; all in collaboration with acclaimed director Samuel Bayer, whose first foray into the medium was the iconic video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
But even with a budget of well over $400,000, even given Bayer’s apparently well-deserved reputation of being, uh, somewhat volatile on the set, even with a crew of well over 70 people, even with the heat and the exhaust fumes and faint smell of smoke that wafts past from local brush fires, even with all that, Tim Lynch remains supremely cool. He radiates the sort of calm that Zen masters aspire to, and takes the time to make sure that all of the people in his command — which, in this case, means literally everyone within 100 yards — are taken care of. Of course, as producer, that’s his job.
The location this morning (day two of a four-day shoot), is a gritty, graffiti-covered bridge surrounded on three sides by chain-link fence. Director Bayer bears more than a passing resemblance to an aging Spicoli from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” with his tousled, long, professionally streaked hair. As he passes Lynch, Bayer pauses, turns and stops to request that a masseuse be ordered for a cameraman who’s having back trouble after reaching some awkward shots the day before. “No problem,” says Lynch, who hits a couple of buttons on his omnipresent BlackBerry to order one masseuse, over-easy, hold the toast.
Actor Lou Pucci has been cast as the main character; though he looks about 15, word is that he’s actually 20. Pucci’s once light-brown hair has been dyed a harsh black and cut into spiky tufts, the carefully hand-drawn “tattoos” that a make-up artist applied earlier look indistinguishable from the real thing. “We’ve totally transformed him,” confides Lynch. “He was just a normal suburban-looking kid two or three days ago.”
Bayer frowns and gestures with one imperious arm. Immediately, three people rush up and listen intently. They start crumpling up newspaper and flinging it down the long graffiti corridor; more trash is needed to capture the trueness of the grit. Finally, Bayer is ready to shoot. A shout goes out: “Rolling!” Periodically a passage from the song gets blasted, but for the most part, filming is quieter than you might expect. When it’s time to move to the next location, all the equipment, all the people, every scrap of newspaper and drained water bottle is transported out. The speed of the evacuation is absolutely remarkable.
So, how does a guy from Houston, Texas, wind up being responsible for spending hundreds of thousands of other people’s dollars? The answer, it turns out, can be found at the neighborhood mall. As a kid, Tim Lynch haunted the only surf shop in town, which, serendipitously, was across the street from his house. “I was a mall-rat,” he says with a smile.
“I was all about surfing and skateboarding.”
While visiting the University of San Diego campus as a high school senior, he spotted a student whizzing by on a skateboard. That was enough to convince Lynch that USD was the school for him. The communications major looks back on his college years with great affection, at least partly because he met his future wife, Jennifer (Loftus) Lynch ‘95 during their first few weeks as freshmen.
“She was on the volleyball team, and I was on the football team, so we both had to get to school early for practice. We checked each other out pretty early on.” After graduation, Lynch knew he wanted to stay in California; he was less certain about what he was going to do with his freshly minted degree.
“I was trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do. I’d been interning at an NBC affiliate and I hated it. So when I saw this local cable access show, ‘STV,’ I tracked down the house where it was filmed, walked up to the door and said, ‘I want to work for you guys.’”
Though the show, which he describes it as “sort of a ‘Wayne’s World’ type of deal,” didn’t have any money to pay him, Lynch didn’t care. “They did segments on surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, what have you. And when I came in, I brought a sense of real production values to the show.”
Though he may not have realized it at the time, that move — to jump in and do whatever needed doing on the TV show — was the sort of on-the-job training that can’t be easily duplicated.
“I’d film segments, edit them, go on location to places like Hawaii and Mexico; it was great.” Lynch’s face lights up when he recalls those first heady days when the convergence of local music, surfing and skateboarding came together in what seemed a single ephemeral moment.
“Everything was getting ready to explode, but we had all of them on the show right before they broke. We had Blink 182, Unwritten Law, all the San Diego staples. We had surfing videos, music segments, surfers, skateboarders like Tony Hawk … “
His voice trails off, remembering. “So me and a couple other guys learned about production.
I ended up investing with them, buying infomercial time, getting money from sponsors. It was a crash course, all right.”
Fun as the job could be, after a few years, Lynch knew it was time to move on. “‘STV’ was never anything official, there was no real payroll, and all the responsibility was falling on my shoulders.
I wanted to work — really work — in the film business.” Though he looked at film school seriously enough to apply to USC and get accepted at SDSU, he ultimately decided against it.
“I am so glad I didn’t go,” he admits with relief. “It would have been a total waste of time.”
That itch to evolve is what nudged Lynch’s career to the next level, along with a combination of hard work, luck and perseverance. Not that the glam factor had actually kicked in yet: “I knew a guy who was making music videos in Los Angeles, so I started driving back and forth and crashing on people’s couches every night.”
Lynch finally got his break when he made his first video, for the San Diego-based rock band Blink 182, in 1998. He’d started paying close attention to the music videos that record labels were sending for possible airing on “STV,” and he noticed a particular director’s name on a lot of videos of bands he liked. “So, I found him and called him,” Lynch explains, nonchalant.
But even after that first success, he put off moving to L.A. for as long as he could, since his future wife was teaching in San Diego.
“It got pretty old,” he admits. “I had a friend who’d let me sleep at his place, but would never give me my own key, so I’d have to stand out front waiting for him to come home and let me in.”
Again, one cannot help but notice the distinct lack of glitz.
“So, I took the leap and moved to L.A., with Jen behind me all the way. I just bounced around town, and met one director here, another there.” And he started to get steady work almost immediately.
“What’s different about me is that I didn’t come up through the ranks. I started out at the top when I got to town, as a producer.” He pauses, perhaps worried about coming off as arrogant. “It was a different path than most people take,” he amends. “I was producing, sure, but at first it was the lowest of the low jobs.” And then?
“Well, it took a little bit of convincing people I knew what I was doing.” And sometimes he had to make it up as he went along. “People would assume I knew things about time codes, about union rules, and I’d just nod and go home and stay up all night reading production manuals.
I’d improvise.” At times, a certain amount of fudging occurred. “At first, I told people I was five years older than I was,” he laughs. “You know, to give them confidence.”
Back at the trailer, everyone busily checks e-mail, cell phone messages and text messages. (Quite possibly these people have chips directly implanted into their brainstems.) When the producer steps into a room marked “private” to confab with director Bayer, production manager Becky Brown enthuses about her many experiences working with Lynch.
“He’s fun and funny, but more important, he’s really laid back,” she says. Brown herself is not laid back. She’s more like four double espressos with a shot of nitroglycerine. “He’s got the full-on surf vibe.” She shakes her head, in either admiration or disbelief. “He’s always saying we should all slow down and take a break.”
When Lynch emerges, having reached consensus about which stock footage to intersperse in the video, he sits down — just for a minute — and sighs. Two seconds later, he’s up again, checking the schedule. He decides that even though it’s well into the afternoon, the catering truck won’t be serving anytime soon. “We’ll blow through lunch,” Lynch says, definitive. “We’ll blow through everything we can possibly blow through.”
And blow through it they do. The next location, a graffiti-saturated underpass alongside the Los Angeles River, is not only difficult to reach but was recently populated by several dozen homeless people, which makes for both authenticity and unpleasant aromas. The storyline involves a punk rock party, and along with a fire burning in a rusty oil can, flares are periodically lit to add more smoke and drama. Sirens wail, trains chug past in the distance, cars squeal and honk, and filming commences.
After the party scene, the next segment up includes just the main character and his girlfriend. The director is “at a sensitive time,” which means that he has no patience for anything other than translating his artistic vision to film. Since this scene contains actual dialogue, absolute quiet is necessary. “Quiet on the set! Turn off your walkies, turn off your cell phones! Quiet! And we’re rolling!” The extras hold their collective breath. If one of them sneezes, they might be killed. When a shout goes out that the shot has been captured and we’re moving on, the relief is palpable.
The logistics of getting not just dozens of actors to this spot, but also an entire crew, all sorts of heavy equipment, generators, cords, cameras, film, coolers filled with cold drinks, snacks and chairs (yes, they are foldable and yes, they are canvas) to this supremely inconvenient location are daunting to even think about. But Tim Lynch and his crew finessed the details with such deftness that it seems that anything anyone might need has been thought of and transported here.
Except, perhaps, for a better mood for director Bayer, whose already wild hair is sticking up in hectic clumps. “He’s on edge,” a make-up woman remarks. “When the director’s on edge, it makes everyone else edgy.” Everyone, that is, except for Lynch. He’s off to the side, near the culvert that overlooks the river. Of course he’s on the phone. And naturally, he’s laughing.
“I only do things when I feel it,” explains Lynch.
“And I really enjoy working with artists.” He frequently works with RSA USA, acclaimed director Ridley Scott’s film company, and has produced music videos for all sorts of groups, ranging from White Stripes to Black Eyed Peas to Def Leppard. Which is not to say that he spurns commercials — he’s worked for companies like McDonalds, Sprite, Virgin Mobile and Nissan. But truth be told, his heart really still belongs to his first love — surfing.
He’s particularly proud of the 2004 documentary, “A Broke Down Melody,” that he made with some friends. It’s a visually stunning, ruminative film that follows the ocean’s swell through South America, Polynesia and Jamaica, and has a soundtrack by musicians like Jack Johnson, Eddie Vedder and Astor Piazzolla. He’s also pleased with a commercial he recently did for ESPN that follows a group of autistic children as they’re introduced to surfing for the first time.
“On that one, the director was open to letting me into the creative process, which is great. It turned out really nice, and was such a special day,” he recalls. “The kids were so touched by the experience. It made us all really glad to be a part of it.”
And on occasion, there is even some actual glamour. In late August, Lynch and his wife flew to Miami for the MTV Video Music Awards. Green Day won seven of the legendary “Moonman” statues, including awards for Video of the Year and Best Rock Video. Even though MTV has a policy against allowing non-musicians to hop on-stage and accept awards, he still enjoyed the red-carpet hoopla and looks forward to receiving his own statue for producer of the MTV Video of the Year whenever the music network gets around to sending it. “That night was great,” recalls Lynch. “Of course my friends still tease me for going so Hollywood.”
Friendship means a lot to Tim Lynch, and he remains in touch with many of his college buddies. “We met some of our best friends at USD,” he says. “I loved going to school there. I hope some of the students there now can find out what I didn’t know: there’s this whole industry of production that works well for people who don’t fit into the business mold.” He leans back, puts his feet up. “It’s a great field for kids out of college to try; there are so many offshoots, from wardrobe to being an agent. It seems sad to go all through college, be so close to L.A. and still not know about the film business.” But if Lynch has his way, future USD students will certainly at least know about the possibilities. “I’d like to found a film school there someday,” he says with a smile. “Maybe in 10 years, just come back to USD, do some teaching, do some surfing and help people figure out how to break in.”
According to Lynch, it’s not anywhere near as hard as it looks.