Hawaii native hits high point in TV career with 'Heroes'
POSTED: Sunday, October 19, 2008
LOS ANGELES » Even after years of working in episodic television—including the entire run of CBS' "JAG"—assistant director Robert Scott knows he landed a primo gig when he began work on what has become the hit sci-fi cult series "Heroes."
The show "is definitely the high point of my career," Scott says. "It's great to work on a very ambitious and creative show as this one. And the best thing is that everyone takes care of me to the point that it feels like family."
His career journey started in Honolulu, where he remembers watching TV and "picking up a second language," a visual one that prepared him to work in a busy industry many years later.
Scott is speaking between quick bites during lunch in a parking lot a couple of blocks from the "Heroes" location set downtown. Despite a head of graying, short-cropped hair, Scott pretty much looks and acts like the same guy people back home remember from his younger years as the colorful front man for the underground band Mumbo Jumbo, as well as a punk-rock concert promoter.
Still an active surfer and now snowboarder, Scott's been getting his fair share of exercise on this day's shoot as well, getting around the two-block set on his BMX bike.
His venture into film started when he was shooting Super 8 experimental films in high school, then getting involved with the Student Video and Filmmakers' Association as a University of Hawaii-Manoa student. His actual training in the biz began when he won a student video competition in 1985, his prize being an internship on "Magnum, P.I." under the aegis of Belisarius Productions, which later produced "JAG."
"It was so exciting," Scott remembers, "because I finally understood what went on to make TV shows. I would ask questions of every department head on the show, and that way I learned so much more."
Co-show creator and executive producer Don Bellisario was so impressed with Scott's work ethic that when the internship was over, the company paid Scott's airfare to Los Angeles to take part in a training program run by the Directors Guild-Producer Training Plan (find details at http://www.trainingplan.org).
"Through the seminars and on-the-job training, those gave me the connections to get my start in the business, and easily put me 10 years ahead in terms of skills and experience needed for my career. People in the various studios got to know who I was," Scott says.
As second assistant director on "JAG," which ran from 1995 to 2005, "I was able to get my head above water to be able to see the bigger picture," he admits. "I was able to give work options to my boss, and at the start of the second season in 1996, I was promoted to first AD."
Working with the military on "JAG" helped prepare him for large set shoots as well. "Some of my biggest work to date was working with around 100 military personnel on some tarmac, surrounded by C130s, hovercraft and jets. ... That show also had a lot of visual effects, which made for a good lead-in to work on 'Heroes.'"
On wide-ranging location shoots like today's, he says, "I have to try and dominate this downtown street location and stay on top of this cast and crew of 200-plus. You've noticed that I'm all over the place. I have to make sure that every department is on top of the day's duties, from makeup to camera to lighting, and even occasionally helping the actors run through their lines."
Episode director Jeannot Szwarc stops by to comment that Scott is "a very good man. He's my secret-agent man. He's fantastic."
The shooting schedule for "Heroes" runs July through March, and during his months of downtime—"after working my butt off for 10 months straight"—Scott still tries to keep his creative edge through outside work.
His partnership with fellow Hawaii-now-Angeleno Arnie Saiki continues with their sound-score collaboration with L.A. dancer and choreographer Oguri and his butoh group Renzoku. And Scott can catch up with his family, wife Kim Nakakura (whom Scott met in a UH editing lab) and their 13- and 8-year-old sons.
But when his attentions turn back to the sci-fi drama, and particularly its charismatic cast, Scott says: "There's no attitude and no divas here. They work as a true ensemble, even though they're all leads and their faces are on billboards all over town.
"When I was interviewing to work on the show, I knew it was going to be an incredibly ambitious project. But the creators' approach to production has been logical and not at all dehumanizing. The producers try to take care of the crew and not have us constantly work crazy long hours."
And with that, Scott takes his last bite of lunch and hops back on his bike to get back to the set. It'll be another four hours before he can tell cast and crew that it's a wrap for the day.