The gregarious producer and Hollywood hustler behind many of the top big-screen comedies in the 2000s — including ‘The Hangover’ trilogy — died last week at age 45.
In 1998, while I was living with my parents in New Jersey, Fox Searchlight offered me a small amount of money to rewrite a movie for them. When I came to Los Angeles for my first big notes meeting ever, Lisa Fragner, one of the Fox execs, said I should meet with a couple of her friends who were just starting a management company.
So one afternoon I went to Chris Bender’s and J.C. Spink’s house, which doubled as their office during the day. I thought that was cool, two friends that struck out on their own, started their own management company, living and working in the same house. It sounded like a sitcom.
As I talked to Chris Bender in the lobby/living room, I heard a large booming laugh down the hall. I’m sure the neighbors heard it, too; it was thunderous.
This was my first exposure to J.C. Spink.
J.C. eventually left his bedroom/office and greeted me, and the visual matched the laugh. J.C. was a big guy, all smiles and energy. Wherever he was, J.C. was just happy to be there, was happy you were there, was happy in general.
Chris and J.C. became my managers shortly thereafter. From there, things started moving very quickly. I think I was their first script sale, which I still wear as a badge of honor. They took me on a whirlwind of general meetings, sitting down with any executive that had a spare hour. J.C. would hit the meetings as a fan of whoever we were about to talk to. I’m not talking a “Hollywood” fan: J.C. would find the one thing the executive did that was awesome and geek out about with him or her.
The meetings were a strange combination of intimidating and repetitive. But J.C. found ways to make them fun. I remember getting into J.C.’s doorless jeep to hit the Universal lot. J.C. sped down the freeway, very excited for one particular meeting. After the meeting was over, I figured out why: J.C. knew how to sneak from the lot into the Universal Theme Park. He was so excited to show me around.
“You have to go on Back to the Future!” He said. “Best ride!”
We went on it. It was.
“You have to go on the E.T. ride!” he said. “Second best ride!”
At the beginning of the ride, you give your name to the worker at the entrance. J.C. said, “Pepe.” I gave the woman my real name. I was already nervous about sneaking onto the park; I didn’t want to add falsifying my identity to my list of crimes.
At the end of the ride, E.T. thanks each ride-goer personally for helping him return home. As J.C. passed E.T., the little alien looked at him and said, “Thank you, Pepe.” J.C. looked back at me and smiled huge, so proud he had just gotten one over on the mechanical puppet.
The last ride we went on before we had to leave for our next meeting was Jurassic Park. Now if you haven’t gone on it, it re-creates the incredible white-water rapid scene that wasn’t in the movie. And you stand an 85 percent chance of getting very, very wet. And get wet we did. Head to toe, covered in water. Two big pale dudes, in sopping wet button-downs and khakis. This thrilled J.C. “For our next meeting, don’t bring it up. If he brings it up, if he points out we’re wet, just deny it.”
I maintained it would be funnier to act surprised if they pointed it out. J.C. was proud of me, that would be pretty good. “I bet you,” he said, “that they won’t even mention it.”
They didn’t. We had a great meeting, utterly drenched. The execs were all smiles. Also, J.C. asked for a glass of water, which I thought was an excellent touch.
If, from these stories, it sounds like J.C. was just a very loud gremlin who simply enjoyed causing mayhem, rest assured he was not. The number of scripts J.C. and Chris developed, nurtured and sold is the stuff of industry legend. They were, quite simply, an incredible duo that knew how to get a script to work, and what studio would be the best for it.
J.C. Spink loved movies, loved TV, loved comics and considered himself lucky to be in this business. One time, a studio flew me out to L.A. for script notes. I knew it was not going to be a typical meeting when not one, but two, managers were scheduled to go with me: Chris, who had a good relationship with the executive, and Nicole, a new manager at Benderspink and one of the many incredible people I met through this company.
At the last minute, J.C. said he wanted to go.
The script we were discussing was based on characters I created when I was a really little kid. It was a silly script, and at that lunch, we were arguing about very silly things. I remember a grown man actually slamming his hand on the lunch table and asking, “But who are the Boogey Man’s friends?” and Nicole having to say, very passionately yet firmly, “It says it in the script, it’s Dust Bunny and Sand Man.”
It got louder from there. The entire time J.C. didn’t say much, just smiled and ate. And then suddenly, everybody ran out of things to say and sat there in frustrated silence. J.C. had a huge grin on his face. Cheshire Cat, all teeth on display.
Chris looked at him and said, “What are you so happy about?”
J.C. just shrugged and said, “We’re making movies, this is cool. This is what we want to do!”
He was probably doing it to diffuse the situation. To remind everyone we were lucky to be there in the first place. Or maybe he was just saying the first thing that popped into his head. Either way, J.C. meant it. He was happy to be there. In that lunch. In this business. He loved making stuff, he loved helping his clients and friends make stuff.
J.C. hasn’t been my manager for a few years now, but he would send me an email when an article popped up with my name in it. The last exchange we had was exactly about that, and ended with J.C. saying, “I’m so glad I was the first one to show this to you.”
That was the last time we’d talk. J.C. Spink passed last week. I never got to tell him how much he changed my life. Without him and Chris, I wouldn’t have had such an unbelievable support system when I was starting out. I wouldn’t have had people who not only believed in me, but looked out for me and helped me find my voice. I am who I am, and I get to do what I do for a living, because I walked into that house/office many years ago. And I know I’m just one of many writers who feel that way.
Thank you, Pepe.
Lynch wrote and co-wrote The Secret Life of Pets and Minions, among other movies.