I Got Paid to Rob a Bank - OZY | A Modern Media Company

I Got Paid to Rob a Bank

I Got Paid to Rob a Bank

By Eugene S. Robinson


Crime doesn’t pay. Except when it does.

By Eugene S. Robinson

“I got good news and bad news.” The words came from my agent, Craig Jones.

“Gimme the bad news.” Always ask for the bad news first. That way there’s always a chance to bounce back.

“You got booked on an industrial.”

“And the good news?”

He paused. “Well, that’s sort of the good news too.” You see, industrial commercials are to national commercials what summer stock is to Broadway: ugly stepchildren. But it was still money, though way less, and a chance to exercise some chops.

“Who and what?”

“I’ll send you the info, but it’s for Bank of America, and you’re …” — Jones paused again — “… playing a bank robber.”

This was really just a good news–good news scenario as far as I was concerned. All of the adrenaline rush of robbing a bank without any of the pesky downside: cops, jail time and quite possibly a violent death. Call time was early, and the location was a recently decommissioned bank that, when rolled up on one gray, fall Northern California morning, was abuzz with extras playing tellers and a film crew doing what needed to be done to make the set look as real as possible. 

Robber 2 would grab the deskbound manager type; Robber 3 would jump the counter and start gathering up cash … I was supposed to pistol-whip a teller.

A production assistant introduced himself and introduced us, the three bank robbers, to the equipment captain, who shoved a .45 semi-auto in my hand. Bank robber No. 2 got himself a sawed-off shotgun, and bank robber No. 3 was given a large revolver. 

“You guys know how to use these?” he started to ask, before the noise of me pulling the slide down and checking the action interrupted him.

“I have an FFL.”

He smiled and went on to tell us that we should handle them like they were “real” guns and not dry-fire them, drop them or “do anything else stupid with them.”

We laughed, quietly, and spoke softly among ourselves. Mostly about how much of a blast this was going to be. Then the stunt coordinator came over with the director, Mike Coll, and they spelled out the scene.


We’d get our cue right outside the double doors, which we’d open, moving into the bank space. Robber 2 would grab a deskbound manager type; Robber 3 would jump the counter and start gathering up cash, while screaming at everyone not to move; and I was supposed to kick someone who moved and then pistol-whip a teller and drag her into the vault, where she’d stuff our bags with cash. Then we’d flee.

Simple enough, right?

Not right. The stunt guy went over how to kick the hapless customer right before telling me that HE would be playing the hapless customer. He dropped to his hands and knees, full-on cat-cow yoga style, arching up with his jacket absorbing my kick as he played it up falling over to one side. It was great theater, and once the scene was blocked and we had worked it out, he said, “Now I’m going to teach you how to pistol-whip her.” He pointed to the actress playing the Hapless Teller.

“Rather than have the butt of the gun handle at the bottom of your hand,” he began, “have it end inside your grip.” So I choked up on the gun butt, and when I brought it down as instructed, the soft meat of my fist hit the back of her head. 

“How’s that?” the stunt cat asked, all solicitude and professional care.

“Not bad at all,” the Hapless Teller smiled. I smiled. The director started screaming, and the PAs followed suit. It was go time, and we hustled back to our start positions.

“OK. Lights. Camera. Speed. ACTION!”

And on that last word, and in the lead, I kick in the bank door, my leg working like a piston, and scream so loud that I can see people on the crew drop clipboards.

“PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR, AND GET DOWN ON THE FUCKING FLOOR!!!!” The other robbers are third-railed and jumping up on desks and counters, and if this was just the movies, really at this point, none of us knew. We were in the ZONE.

“I SAID, GET DOWN!!!” And I kicked the stunt coordinator like we practiced and down he went while I rushed over to the Hapless Teller. “VAULT!!! CASH!!!” And I brought the soft part of my fist down on the back of her head as she buckled and dropped and started filling bags.

I grab a few and, mindful of the fact that in a few movie minutes we’re going to be swarmed by cops, we kick out of the doors we came through and … “CUT!”

Silence and a beat, and the director and assistant director and everyone on the crew collectively exhaled before starting to clap and cheer. The camera operator said, “I almost stopped filming … fuck. It felt, well, real.” Only then did we scan the room and see that the stunt coordinator was being attended to. As was the Hapless Teller. 

His rib was broken, and she was bleeding from where the butt of my .45 had slipped through my hand and actually hit her head.

I apologize all around while noticing the director watching what we had just done on a monitor. 

“You want to do another?” the AD asked.

“We can do cutaways, but …” And here he looked at the pained stunt guy and the no-longer-bleeding but still Hapless Teller. “Better safe than sorry!”

And so again: “Lights. Camera. Speed. ACTION!” We fly through the door with no less brio than before, but this time? No broken ribs, no bleeding heads and none of the chaos that came from suddenly being thrust into something that was movielike but also a little more.

We were still amped, but the second time? It was work. And when we finally saw the finished commercial a month or so later? They used … the first one. There was never really any other choice.

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