Scott Brodeen. The man. The myth. The legend.
It's late afternoon, and I'm pulling up to a nondescript home in Temecula, California. Slate red tiles are blackened with moss and the lawn is partly long, dead grass and partly barren soil. Overgrown shrubs squat in the flowerbeds and a green garden hose lies half-coiled near the cracked sidewalk like some sort of lethargic snake.
I double-check the address and mentally line up the property with the hastily-Googled satellite image that I'd checked before I left home. Yep, this is it. Scott's house.
I walk up to the door. A tiny "No Solicitors" sign has been affixed to it. Spiderwebs dangle in dusty clumps from the white-stuccoed exterior. A quick series of raps on the door, a few seconds of delay, and the door locks turn. The door opens, and Scott is suddenly there, bigger than life, a smile on his mustached face.
His hair is longer than I remember it, sandy gray and combed over neatly. His iconic mustache is trimmed in a sharp line directly over his upper lip. His eyes are warm and creased with smile-lines at the corners. He's wearing a brown t-shirt with a gigantic snarling lion's face on the front, a stark contrast to his warm countenance. Dirty jeans are hiked high up his hips, cinched in place with a wide leather belt.
"Look who's here!" he exclaims, and we exchange a firm handshake. His grip is firm and cool to the touch.
It's been over ten years since I've seen Scott, even though we keep in touch by phone and email several times a week. It's good to see him again.
Even if you don't know the name, you likely know the kits if you're any sort of Disney Nautilus fan. His iconic models grace the homes of hundreds of collectors around the globe, and have served as the basis for large model company's limited-edition offerings as well as smaller hobby company's low-grade copies.
Some scoff at the few piteous inaccuracies present in Scott's models, armchair model builders who have never brought a kit to market in their lives, or if they have, have brought products that fell far short of Scott's historic offering. What his kits may lack in tiny accuracies, they make up for in passion and love for the boat and for the movie it features in. You can feel it when you hold it in your hands, and few, if any, new owners complain about their purchase.
Scott's been a part of Disney Nautilus lore for decades, and he's touched many an authentic part of the movie in one way or another over the years.
A short time ago, Scott was struck by a heart attack, followed by a stroke. This was likely due to his exceptionally long days at the shops at HMS Creations where he'd worked for nearly 25 years. For each of those years, he commuted over 100 miles from his home, stayed the week to work, then returned back home to spend the weekend with his wife, Becky, a first grade teacher down in San Diego. Dedication like that does not surface often in any industry, and it's a testament to Scott's passion for fantasy, the escapism of movies, and the vision that science fiction offered us that he stayed the course for so long before his body, and not his heart, finally had to give up.
We chat for while in his living room, sitting on a worn couch of faded blue fabric. An entertainment center decorated with Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy movie props stands before us with a tiny television at its center. Science fiction DVDs lie piled on the shelves and the floor in front. Loki, Scott and Becky's orange tabby cat, stares at me disinterestedly from across the room.
We exchange pleasantries for a few minutes. After a short while, Scott apologizes to me profusely, but he needs to get to a doctor's appointment that's he's put off too many times already. I offer to drive him there and we leave the little suburban neighborhood in my rented Toyota 4-Runner.
It's a quick appointment, a regular six-month checkup on Scott's pale skin by the dermatologist to ensure that he doesn't end up with any growths to be alarmed about. They burn off a mole that they feel might be questionable with a bit of liquid nitrogen and Scott is out of the office in less than 10 minutes.
"How about some Outback for dinner?", he asks. I'm all over that. The flight from Milwaukee, where I had been for a work meeting the day previous, was long and did not offer a chance for me to eat at all that day. The Outback is just around the corner from his home. We make it there in a few minutes.
Scott orders a Coke ("I know I shouldn't drink this stuff, but today's a special day" he says). We get a Bloomin' Onion and an order of fried mushrooms to share. It's about then that I get the chance to delve deeper into the iconic model-builder's life.
Scott was always a builder... a maker. He started with model car kits, but soon lost the challenge in them, so he began modifying them, adding parts, changing them, customizing the kits. He'd watch TV programs and began replicating what he saw on the screen, his passion for fantasy and science fiction emerging.
His life was just beginning then, a career in banking was his future. He married a woman named Diane, they had some children, and they were happy. His hard work afforded him a profit-sharing program at the bank, and Scott calculated the time he needed to put in there before he could retire and still get an income that nearly equaled his pay rate. The plan, you see, was to have the security of that income while he pursued his true passion of model and prop-building.
Apparently Diane was going to have none of it. Banking was the responsible choice for their family. Model building was for dreamers. Scott wouldn't be deterred. Diane served him with papers. The marriage was over. Her pre-meditated and carefully engineered departure from their relationship ensured that his income from the bank ended up nearly entirely hers.
A new start then, from scratch. Scott reached out to a long-time friend and mentor at a model prop building company in Los Angeles called HMS Creations. Did they need a full-time employee? Could he come there and work for them? All the man said was, "It's about damned time you asked me."
Over the course of decades, Scott worked on numerous famous movies. Prop copies from the original Wolf Man, Ant-man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek and others too numerous to list line the shelves of his home, all copies surreptitiously taken off of original filming props, permitted by the movie companies provided they never ended up sold, but rather stayed in Scott's personal collection. It likely never even occurred to him to sell copies. Scott was in it for the history and passion of the art, not the money.
As we sit together in the dimly lit interior of the Outback, you can see that the reality of the situation is weighing heavily on the man now. No more movie props. No more driving 100 miles to work each week. He's able now to do what so many only wish they could, retire and start living life on their time. I get the impression that he wishes for anything but. Scott is oddly reflective as we pick at our plates of steak and seafood done in the best of imitation-Australia tradition.
"I don't have much to do now. I just wake up, kiss my wife goodbye in the morning, and try to think of something to do. I don't end up doing much. I watch my Law and Order, and before I know it, another day has gone by."
Something is off about Scott. The fire is missing, the passion. His connection to the world has been misplaced and he's floundering on the couch of his own home, looking for purpose in life again. I don't know what to say to a man that has dedicated decades to a craft that has now been taken away from him by force and not by choice.
We finish up our meal and I drive him home. It's getting late and I'm fighting four hours of sleep and a day on a plane. We plan to hook up in the morning again.
It was the reason that I was there. I'd been working with Scott on a project to kit up his amazing reproduction of the Nautilus that originated as the model for the recent EFX offering in 48th scale. I was missing a few molds from those that he'd originally sent, and decided to come out to help him dig them out of his massive collection of molds, masters and kits from the decades he'd worked at HMS. It was all sitting in his garage, stuffed to the rafters with plastic totes, cardboard boxes and random loose bits of movie history.
I find my hotel nearby, gratefully grab out tomorrow's change of clothes, and pass out in the bed.
I'm back the next morning ready to grab my missing molds and head south, back to San Diego and my 2pm flight home. I try guessing as to how big and heavy the few missing pieces would be, and whether I'd be able to fit them in my suitcase.
The house looks the same as it did yesterday. The garden hose snake greets me as it pass it on the sidewalk. I knock on the door and Scott is there again. I get a severe case of deja vu as I see him. Same neatly combed hair. Same dirty jeans. Same roaring lion t-shirt.
He almost seems excited as he opens up the garage door from his kitchen area. The two car garage is filled to the rafters with totes and boxes. I pick out his yellow motorcycle, the steed he rode to and from Los Angeles for so long, now covered in dust and blocked in by boxes. I wonder if he's able to drive with his medical conditions.
Looking around in earnest, I immediately begin to pick out gems among the detritus. Everywhere I look, history lurks, covered in dust and stuffed haphazardly into boxes. Science fiction model kits are stacked in teetering piles against the walls. Half-built models protrude from between boxes or point skyward as they sink into a box of modeling supplies.
"You'll like this!" he exclaims proudly, and pulls out a massive block of rubber, nearly three feet long. He plunks it onto the little folding table we'd set up and splits the mold open, exposing the curved form of some kind of pole adorned with ornate curlicues at each end. "It's the stanchion from the Nautilus salon, taken right off the original plaster parts." I can't believe it. I'm looking at a snapshot of history, plucked from the pages of the 1950's.
"Put it in your truck and make sure you send me some castings whenever you get around to casting it." I nod dumbly and struggle to carry the fifty pound block of solid rubber through the house and out to the car.
More movie history joins the stanchion. A casting off of the original mirror frame from Nemo's pipe organ. The glass mirrors to go with them. Master molds for the iconic 31" and 16" Nautilus kits. More molds for the 48" boat. A whole crate of rubber molds for the 11' studio-scale model he'd built. Master patterns for a studio-scale squid, along with those for the smaller 31" boat as well.
"Do you remember my little Nautilus lure?" I nod, dumbly. "Take that, too. Here are the molds for it." I'm honestly at a loss for words.
I help move more boxes around and spot a familiar profile protruding from between boxes, a mischievous grin smiling at me from under sightless eyes, "That's not...?" Scott nods and grabs it up.
"Yep, an aluminum casting of the original satyr from the salon fountain's legs. Here, take that." I hold the long length of heavy metal and can only wonder at the history that the little creature has seen.
In the end, we fill the entire rear section of the white SUV I'd rented. I guess conservatively that there is 500lbs of rubber and resin back there. I'd come here expecting to pack a few small molds in my suitcase. I end up leaving with a truck-load of 20,000 Leagues history.
I did my best to convey the gratitude that I felt toward the man. In the matter of an hour, he'd passed along a major portion of his own personal history to me, representative of thousands of hours of time and talent.
The responsibility weighs heavily on me as I shake his hand in the driveway, "Take care of everything, and keep the legacy going for everyone." he says. I can tell that, despite his generosity, the sight of his life's work packed up and leaving was weighing heavily on him.
I make the promise. Cross my heart.
I promise to touch base in a few weeks once the treasure trove gets back to Florida and my shop. No way to pack this for the plane. It's off to FedEx to package everything up and ship it home.
I hop in the car and pull out of the driveway, spotting his tall, lanky frame in the rearview mirror as I turn the corner. I hope he'll be okay. The world would be a far less interesting place without him.