Monday, December 22, 2003

The Old "Hide the Alien Probe" Trick.

On my third and last trip to the set of "Reversible Errors", I met up with Chase, an actor with whom I meet up frequently and a guy who invariably gets called to play a cop. Chase and I have played cops together a number of times - on Task Force: Caviar, on Phase IV, sundry and various others.

On Phase IV I was one of four cops who arrested Dean Cain. On the first take my “partner” and I hadn't thought to talk about who was who for the shot - and as a result, after we loaded Dean in the back seat of the police cruiser, we both went around to the passenger side. "I thought I gave the keys to you!" I ad-libbed and the crew laughed.

That was the day I arrested Superman.

Which has nothing to do with the story I'm telling here, I only just thought of it.

Anyway, Chase and I are hanging around the Reversible Errors set reminiscing fondly over the time he was humping my leg on The Lexx.

Let me explain.

Sometimes you get to an audition and you only find out what they want when you get there. This audition was one of those times. So the casting agent says to me, "You're in a grocery store in the produce section and a third eye grows in the middle of your forehead and this eye makes you want to kill, KILL, KILL!!!

Interesting. I think about this for a moment and what comes to mind is the Tweety and Sylvester episode ("Hyde and Go Tweet") where the cat is chasing the bird through a laboratory and Tweety hides (ha-ha) in a bottle of "Mr. Hyde" formula. With much jittering and contortion, Tweety is transformed into this monstrous thing and starts chasing Sylvester around the lab. So that's how I played the scene, with much Tweety-like jittering and contortion and maniacal blabbering.

And I won the part. Go figure.

It was for the role of "Produce Manager". And even though it was an "Actor" role, there were no lines. And even though there were no lines, I was still sent a script. It arrived the day before shooting. I read it and my face went white.

In the opening scene the produce manager is invaded by a carrot-shaped alien probe which enters his body through his rectum.

("Rectum? Damn near killed 'em.")

I thought … well I can’t remember what I thought. I remember sitting on the downstairs couch dumbfounded, wondering what my parents would think should they ever see this particular part. I made a spot decision: “Well ... this might be one I don't tell them about”.

I shot my second scene first. For my first day I had already been captured by government agents and was immobilized in this thing that looked like a hot water heater with head clamps. What the thing actually was … was a hollowed-out hot water heater with head clamps attached. What it was supposed to be was this portable X-ray tube where the chief agent could see me and then gaze up to a monitor and see how the alien probe was playing havoc with my innards. Supposedly.

Tidbits from that first day of shooting on The Lexx:
  • The guy leading me around to see everyone was the rectal alien probe expert, Professor Shnoog. Professor Shnoog was played by British actor Clive Merrison. Many months afterward, I saw him playing a scene with Kristen Scott Thomas in a movie called Up at the Villa. This is my one degree of separation from Kristen Scott Thomas ... with whom I fell in love as Katherine Clifton in The English Patient which is my all-time favourite movie. As I’m writing this article, I had to search for the title “Up at the Villa” and wouldn’t you know it, I find that Clive Merrison was also in The English Patient! Who knew? Had I known all this at the time, I might have been much more conversant with Mr. Merrison. Hmmm. So maybe it’s good I didn’t know.
  • The head of the agency was this guy Prince, played by Nigel Bennett, who despite his long and growing list of film credits will always be known around my house as "It's not Oatmeal!" I got to do two scenes with him, one in his dark and evil office, and one in the Oval Office of the White House ... which was a very cool set. On that awful evening when I first received the script, my heart sank because it read so bad on the page. Whatever anyone else thinks about this episode in particular, I thought Nigel Bennett's performance greatly transcended the material (such as it was) and rescued the show. "It's going to be good after all!" I thought. (Well, let's not get carried away.)
  • I arrived at the green room for my first day on set and a production assistant welcomes me intoning, "Welcome to the world of soft porn". This did little to assuage my fear of the shoot and its related subject matter. When I noticed that Season Three episodes had started showing up on the satellite network, I found out what he meant. Young, nubile, naked bodies. Directly targeting the 18-24 male demographic. Alas, there was no nudity in my episode. (Rats.)
  • By the way, to this day I still haven't seen the episode. I was told that they played it on the movie screen at the Oxford cinema which was rented out for the year end cast party for The Lexx. Somehow, I never received an invitation. Sheila from Filmworks told me about this later during some subsequent audition. It was a terrible episode, she told me. But your part was good, she added.
I seemed to have wandered off track.

What I started out doing was telling you how Chase and I got involved in some good old-fashioned leg-humping.

So here it is, my second day of Lexx's "The Bad Carrot" shoot and we're on location in the brand new grocery store at the south end of the city. It's open for business and all the customers are milling about, doing their early morning marketing. We begin shooting the first scene of the episode. Two black SUVs pull up and ATF agents spill from every door. They burst into the store, weapons drawn and at the ready, and deploy directly to the Produce section. A bewildered store manager (me) wanders over. The agents surround a display of carrots and the lead agent (Chase) pokes through them, searching them, frisking them maybe, with the barrel of his 9mm Glock. Suddenly, one of the carrots flies up into the air and whizzes around, ultimately going up the pant leg of the hapless produce manager. Undaunted, the ATF agent tackles the manager and starts shoving his hand up the man's pant leg in attempt to apprehend the evil carrot. This is where Chase and I are flopping around on the floor, him humping my leg and his hand up my pants. All this while the shoppers (both extras who are in on it and real people who are not) look on in shock.

We shoot the scene and shoot the scene.

When the director is satisfied he's got the shots he wants, he asks for the actors to record "wild lines"; lines that are performed soley for the benefit of the microphone and audio crew just in case there's a need for them during post-production. I'm also asked to do my lines. As you may recall ... I have none. But while all the other shoppers shop and the little old ladies and gentlemen are perusing the grocery store for Metamucil and Campbell's tomato soup way over there in aisle seven, I stand under the microphone and scream blood-curdling screams at the top of my lungs as the capricious carrot supposedly makes its anal invasion.

Chase and I are on the set of Reversible Errors laughing ourselves silly over the memory of it.

----------------- Still to Come -----------------

  • Christmas with Valerie Bertenelli
  • Stuff I haven't done yet but hope to.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

3rd Reversible.

The phone rang at 1:00 on Saturday afternoon. It was the casting agent (who's found my shirt and pants) asking me if I could go immediately to set as a stand-in. I was there fifteen minutes later. I rushed to the set and waited for about four hours before I was asked to help out with the blocking as part of the second team. It seems there were stand-ins after all, just not enough to cover for all of the principle actors (the first team) who were required in the scenes they were shooting.

(Tom Selleck wasn't one of them by the way. Neither was William H. Macy. James Rebhorn was there, but if he remembered my name this time around (Ha!!) he gave no sign.)

Much of my time was spent succumbing to the temptations of the craft table.

Near the end of the day, Jim was sitting with one leg crossed over the other and I could see that he had a piece of bright orange blocking tape stuck to the bottom of his shoe. I went over to him and yanked it off. The tape, I mean.

Says Jim: "Oh, thanks. That was there so I could always hit my mark.”

Says I: “And you never have to look down for it.”

We both yuck it up.

I guess you had to be there.


Still to Come


  • The old "Carrot Up the Bum" trick.
  • Christmas with Valerie Bertenelli 
  • Stuff I haven't done yet but hope to.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Thank God For Cable

Anyone who knows anything about hockey knows that watching it on TV isn't as fun as it used to be. When I was growing up, I rooted for the Chicago Blackhawks and could list for you most of their line-up. And I could list for you most of the Montreal Canadiens, even though they were the dreaded enemy. I could list for you a lot of the players from a lot of the other teams.

Today, I wouldn't be able to name a single player from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Or the Minnesota Wild. Or even the Los Angeles Kings. Part of it is that there are so many players on so many teams. More, it's because all of these "extra" players aren't as good as Hull and Makita and Esposito and even Lafleur and Dryden and et cetera and et cetera. The talent pool is diluted and so it's not as much fun to watch.

But it's great if you are a hockey player.

So, thank God for cable.

Because I got to star once on a TV show. Me.

Way up on the cable dial, on the Comedy Network, was the show "Liography". Starring Leslie Nielsen. I auditioned a couple of times for a few different parts. My favorite was for a mafia lawyer. I never got any of those parts. The last audition, I had finished doing the stuff I'd prepared for two different roles when suddenly the director became very animated. He asked me if I wouldn't mind doing a cold read for another part.

In this business, remember, you never say no.

And from the cold read, I won the title role for "The Dale Throbbins Story". The show was a Tony Robbins parody, cleverly written by Ed MacDonald. I had a great two days, doing both the filming and shooting still photos in front of a green screen. And one of those photos....

But back to that in a moment.

The way they filmed the series was like this: First, the character scenes were filmed in their entirety for all of the years' shows. Next, over the course of two weeks, all of the host scenes were filmed for all of the episodes. The result of this was that like every other actor on that show, I can say that although I starred in a TV show with Leslie Nielsen, I never had the chance to meet him.

Months later as the series was set to debut, Leslie Nielsen was featured on the cover of TV Guide. On the table of contents page, there was a second picture of him holding up a book titled, "Wake Up Your Giant Self Inside You" by ... Dale Throbbins. The picture on the front cover was one we'd taken in front of the green screen. Although we'd never shared time on set, there we were through the magic of Hollywood, together in TV guide.

Years and years ago, I graduated military college and was made an officer in the Armed Forces. My commissioning scroll was signed by the Minister of National Defence, Eric Nielsen. For two years I've been trying to get a copy of that picture so that I could have it autographed by Leslie Nielsen and hang it next to the scroll that was signed by his brother. I keep calling the production company to get a copy of that photo and they keep saying "Yes" ... which by now you know means "Not a chance in hell."


Still to Come


  • 3rd Trip to Reversible Errors
  • The old "Carrot Up the Bum" trick.

  • Christmas with Valerie Bertenelli 

  • Stuff I haven't done yet but hope to.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Union Ward

I'm back to talking about history.

The last show I did without a union card was the Made In Canada show where I shared that brief bon mot with Rick Mercer at the end of a long day. It convinced me (the long day, not Rick) to go after my union card. I had enough screen credits to qualify for an apprentice membership, so I got one. Having a union card is both empowering and limiting. It's empowering for all the obvious reasons. Better money, better representation, better craft table. It's limiting because those other jobs that used to come my way, non-union commercials produced by the local television station for example, were no longer available to me. So far I haven't noticed that I've been missing out on any work that I'd like to do. And it's very nice being on a union voucher every time you go out on a shoot (mo' money, mo' money, mo' money).

Case in point: My first job as a union apprentice.

The name of the show was "Catch a Falling Star", starring Sela Ward. I was called to play in the background as a "special effects guy". Note that I was not to be responsible for any special effects for the movie, I was just to play a special effects guy. Try to keep up, it can be confusing sometimes, I know.

So anyway, I have to dress the part and so went out to buy khaki shorts and olive green short-sleeve shirt - stuff with lots of pockets. Put this on, add wool socks and hiking boots, and voila. You look like you're part of a film crew. Except for the shirt, which I've since remarked is usually a t-shirt, and often black. But I was younger and less experienced in those by-gone halcyon days so I got the Jeff Probst type thing.

The wardrobe lady looked at me and said, "Perfect". Mission accomplished.

The director had me stand up on some scaffolding where there was a giant fan and a giant box full of potato flakes. The shot was set up to be a shot within a shot. We were filming a film crew filming a movie. The director in the scene, not the real director, but the actor playing the director was actually a TV chef and in the scene had to cajole and mildly berate the Sela Ward character, spoiled Hollywood brat that she was. The character. Not Sela. The director, the real director, was concerned a mere background actor (me) might not be able to accomplish the business of the shot - that was dumping the giant box of potato flakes into the fan so that it would create the illusion of falling snow (extras not having figured out the trick of gravity and the inclined plane? I don't know). Instead the real director got a real member of the crew to play a fake special effects guy and get up on the scaffolding. The director (real) told me to hold onto that pipe right there, look like you're helping to steady the scaffolding. So I'm holding the pipe. Maybe that's what on a film set is called a "grip". Ha-ha. I made a little funny, there.

We started shooting, we did a few takes. the snow (potato flakes) fell from the clear blue sky. The director (real) at one point asked for someone with a knife (a real "Cut!" .. ho-ho ha-ha, I can't stop myself this morning).

Someone approaches. "Here's a knife."

"That's not a knife," I say in my best Mick Dundee voice, which must have been pretty good, because it cracked up the director.

It was a good day on set, beautiful blue skies, warm and sunny. I ate in the lunch tent with one of the L.A. producers, blissfully unaware of who I was chatting up. I recommended a fantastic restaurant to her in the local area; I hope she had a chance to go. Sela wasn't with us for lunch. She'd left the set very suddenly when word reached the set that her toddler son had burned himself on something. The injury must have been minor since she returned later in the afternoon. I must say that in real life, Sela is both shorter and more beautiful than she looks on TV. Being a recently accredited professional and all (the union card, remember) I tried not to look at her too much.

At the end of the day, we happy few background performers lined up to be signed out by one of the production assistants. She asked who wants to be paid now and who wants to wait. Those who wanted to wait to get paid would be put on a voucher and their cheque mailed to them. Those who wanted to be paid now could get the cash in their hand and leave now. It sounded like a good deal to a couple of people who chose to be paid by cash.

I thought this was a pretty crappy deception, but I said nothing.

Shame on me, shame on me, shame on me.

There was one woman who discovered the ruse after the fact, after she already had her cash in her hand, that to be paid later meant to be put on a voucher which meant to be paid about three times what she ended up getting. Upset more over the deception than the money, she wept in frustration.

I stood next to her and felt small.

Still to Come

  • Eric Neilsen and his brother Leslie
  • The old "Carrot Up the Bum" trick.
  • Christmas with Valerie Bertenelli
  • Stuff I haven't done yet but hope to.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

2 Reversible

Day 2 on the set with Tom Selleck and the rest of the cast and crew of the movie "Reversible Errors". Coming soon to CBS.

It began with a member of the crew asking me if the flights got out of Vancouver last night, what with all the rain. Seems she had relatives on the flight.

I had to reply that I wasn't an airline employee, I just played one on TV.

On the second day I spend almost all of the time in Extra's Holding. My call time is 8:45 am and I go to set once around 1:00 pm or so for about five minutes, three takes of a brief scene and that's it. At 3:00 I'm wrapped; it's been 6 hours from the crew call and they're not ready to go to lunch yet. The union rule is that if you go past 6 hours with no lunch, you have to pay everyone a penalty. I know this and I'm looking at my watch as it creeps up toward three, fully expecting an A.D. to come in and tell me and the others we who came in at 0845 that we're wrapped. At 3:00 pm on the dot, someone comes in and tells us we're wrapped.

But before that....

I almost killed Jim Rebhorn as I was coming out of the washroom. It was one of those moments where two people have reached the door at the same time, completely unaware that there is someone moving toward them from the other side. In George Carlin speak, "You are now an accident waiting to happen!" We narrowly missed a serious collision and laughed nervously at each other. Then he makes a gun out of his thumb and forefinger and pointing it at me he says, "Ken. Right?"

I was both shocked and awed, agog that he remembered my name after a very brief and minor encounter on the first day (I'm an extra remember?).

"Yes," I replied, pointing my finger back at him. "James. Never done Star Trek."

"Yes," he says, laughs and goes to do his business.

I opened my mouth to say something else but instead turned and went back to my own little room. He was going to the bathroom after all.

Still to Come

  • Eric Neilsen and his brother Leslie
  • Sela Ward and Valerie Bertenelli (although not at the same time)
  • Stuff as it comes to me.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Reversible Extra

With the customary half-day notice, I arrived on the film set for the mini-series "Reversible Errors". The shoot takes place at the airport; I'm to play an airport manager. So here I am in my dark suit and, thanks to my wife (an airline employee), I'm sporting cufflinks and an old union pin from two now-defunct airlines. Although no one will ever see them, I'm a walking "homage".

At this precise moment, the wardrobe mistress commented on how perfect was my airline pin. I read her the last half paragraph.

By the way, we'll be working with Tom Selleck today. Tomorrow too. The show also stars William H. Macy, but the call sheet today doesn't list his name for either day.

Hey, it's free haircut day! The hair and make-up people will be giving me a tidy-up haircut and patching the hole that the errant razor made (a reversible error, y'might say...). Plus, there's a free breakfast burrito. And coffee. And juice, treats, lunch and supper. As I may have mentioned earlier, it can be very difficult staying thin on a film set.

The casting agent and the wardrobe staff are the same as from the Elizabeth Smart Story, so aside from meeting Tom Selleck today, I'm hoping to get my shirt and pants back. Oops, no such luck. It's a different wardrobe van after all.

"Tom's traveling," Luke, 3rd AD, announces.

It's the voice you hear first, that rich, rumbling, cowboy voice, announcing his approach and it's somehow more imposing than his 6'4" frame. The voice. He appears from around the corner, exiting the stairwell to the set, light, brown corduroy sports jacket, dark brown slacks the colour of his trademark moustache, and eyes that look tired somehow. He looks for his chair, and then his co-star for the scene we're about to do. He's "desperate to run lines." His words. In that voice. He retires to a corner to rehearse and here I am in mine, opposite, standing amid the lights, just out of frame, trying to keep out of the way. Ready for my cue to cross.

Tom enters the set and asks for someone to prompt lines for the first few rehearsals.

I'm to walk across the frame with one file folder, crossing outside the glass office where the main action takes place. Later in the dialogue, I cross back with a different file folder reading it, going back to the place I started from.

There's another actor here in the scene, Jim Rebhorn . The call sheet lists him as "James", he introduces himself as "Jim". He looks like an actor I've seen in Star Trek, and between takes, I ask him. He chuckles and tells me, no, he's never been in Star Trek. D'oh!

The scenes go quickly. Whatever the concerns might have been over dropped lines don't materialize into extra takes. A couple three runs through and we're moving on.

In between setting up shots, Tom runs lines, discusses the scene with the director and chats with some of the extras, memorizing their names.

Later, I'm in an office that's being repainted for a future scene. The painters are working just barely out of frame while we shoot. The office looks out on the runway, and during a pause, a blue and white helicopter flies in and makes a nifty landing in an area reserved for private planes.

"That's T.C. in his new ride," I say and the painter and I giggle quietly.

Still To Come

  • Eric Neilsen and his brother Leslie
  • Sea Ward and Valerie Bertenelli (but not at the same time)
  • Even more news!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Comrade Brother Union Member

My wife says that the caste system of India has nothing on the actor's union.

My last non-union job was working on an early episode of Made in Canada. My agent had set it up somehow that I was to be a vouchered background performer for the day. The difference between being vouchered and non-vouchered is about $11 an hour.

The shoot was to be done entirely in the new Electropolis, a old power generating station that had recently been converted into studio sound stages. Inside, yellow signs directed cast and crew to the different locations. There was a green screen studio, primarily used to make The Lexx, vast, high-ceilinged areas for different and various sets, the green room with sofas, adjacent dressing rooms, make up and wardrobe areas and a downstairs craft table near the sets for the actors and crew to enjoy a wide range of beverages, treats, goodies, candy, sandwiches and other assorted yummy confections.

A different series of yellow signs pointed the way to a dingy room off and around the corner from the upstairs wardrobe department: Welcome to Extras Holding.

And your room is over here.

Contrary to the spread that was laid out for the actors at the craft table, extras holding offered bottled water and donuts. About 15 people regaled each other with past glories of this job and that photo shoot, reading books, offering advice to each other about "the biz".

The day lasted 14 hours, maybe longer.

We shot a number of different scenes. I got to be in two of them and ended up with some pretty good screen time. In the first scene, I played a reporter covering a press conference. The gag was that the "heroes" of the show had campaigned and forced out an executive co-worker, only to discover that he was Keifer Sutherland's brother-in-law. Restitution was made and the executive comes back... briefly. A press conference is held to announce a new Kiefer Sutherland project for Pyramid (the production company), only to have Kiefer Sutherland appear via tele-conference and announce he and his brother-in-law are leaving Pyramid to produce the new show on their own (the new show will be about a small town vampire and it will be called the Lost Bay Boys. HA!) Pyramid execs at the head table are shocked and appalled. Cut to me, a reporter, with an incredulous (and gruesomely goofy) look on my face. The execs try to make a hasty escape to the back door, but the brother-in-law (who had quietly left as the Kiefer Sutherland statement started) has locked them in. They turn to face the stampeding press.

And in one of the takes, I, as part of the stampede, accidentally stomped on Leah Pinsent's foot.

Later, we reset and did a restaurant scene where I did a splendid job of not coughing during a take where I had sipped badly on a drink and felt it choking me. My finest work to date.

At the end of the day, everybody was signed out by an AD. Those who were on a voucher had the papers filled out and would receive their money in a week or two in the mail. Those who weren't on a voucher were paid on the spot, although considerably less. Standing in line to be processed the girl in front of me was complaining that she was supposed to be on a voucher. The AD calmly informed her that she was out of vouchers (each production has a minimum amount of vouchered performers that they must engage according to union rules … in this case the minimum had been reached and so there were no more). The girl protested and debated and argued and cajoled to no avail. The amount of money involved was a difference of about $150 dollars for the day. Behind her, I was reflecting that my agent had assured me I was going to be on a voucher. In front of me, the girl complained about how her agent had assured her she was going to be on a voucher.

Hope dimmed.

I ended up getting $84 dollars for my full day's work. I told people afterward that it had been a great experience working on that set, and that I'd never do it again. Not as a non-vouchered background extra. I'd taken a day's vacation from work and $6 an hour didn't seem to me to be worth it. I resolved that I'd get a union card.

Leaving the set, I happened to run into Rick Mercer, the star and co-creator of the show. Summoning up my courage to actually speak to him, I commented on what a long day it had been and that after a single day on the set I felt pretty tired and worn out.

"And you have to do this every day." I said.

"Yeah," he replied with that sardonic look of his, "but there's no heavy-lifting."

Still To Come

  • Leslie Neisen and His Brother Eric
  • Valerie Bertenilli, and Sela Ward (although not all at the same time).
  • Future Escapades

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Why I Hate Harrison Ford.

There are two important things to know up-front.

First of all, I don't think I look like him. Ask me to pick an actor I most resemble, I don't think Harrison Ford makes the list.

Second of all, okay, I don't really hate him. But maybe at the end of the story you'll understand why the mention of his name gets my blood pressure up.

Cast your minds back. It's a couple of years ago, a year and a half, maybe. A call comes out of the blue from my agent saying that Harrison Ford is coming to our fair town to do a movie. The local casting agent has called to say that she thinks I would be great as a stand-in for Harrison Ford during the shoot. This would be good work. A whole lot of days on a movie shoot making some pretty good money. PLUS, (added bonus) you'd be standing in for Harrison Ford whom you'd undoubtedly meet. Han Solo himself. The venerable Indiana Jones. Holy crow.

In case you don't know, a stand-in is a schmoe who stands around on the actor's mark while the set crew spends hours lighting, moving cameras and generally setting up the shot. Only when everything is good and ready do actors (sometimes called "the Real-ies") finally show up and ... ACTION! So the cool thing about being a stand-in is essentially they pay you for doing nothing but standing around and keeping your mouth shut. The other cool thing about being a stand-in is that you've crossed over, just barely, some mystical and barely perceived dividing line that separates cast and crew. You, the stand-in, are part of the crew. Not cast. Especially not the lowly herd of extras. The crew.

At the time, my wife was still working shifts, going to work around lunch time, coming back home late in the evenings. Our son was two-and-a-half years old and in daycare. The Harrison Ford shoot was going to last three or four weeks. It was going to be impossible to get all of that time covered, but I'd been able to arrange things with work and my wife and my mom so that I'd be free to do a whole week on the shoot, which, my agent tells me, will be starting on a Thursday, some weeks hence.

So the time, she passes, and suddenly it's some weeks later and I haven't heard anything else about the film shoot. It's a Wednesday, the day before the stand-in work was supposed to start, and I'm doing this office curling tournament; I've been away from my cubicle all morning. At the lunch break I check my messages and whoops! there's a call from my agent. If I still want to be Harrison Ford's stand-in, be at such-and-such a place at noon.

Noon, she said. And the time is now 1:30pm. AAAAUGGHHH!!!!!!!!

Still in my curling gear, I scramble to get to "base camp" which fortunately is only a couple blocks away. I arrive huffing and enter a horde, a mob, a throng of people. There are Russian soldiers and sailors, shipyard workers, officers, women in peasant clothes, about a hundred or so extras dressed in costume, sitting, standing and wandering about, all of them ready and waiting to be bussed down to the set. Some of them are speaking Russian, showing off. Like they're going to get a speaking roll or something.

I push my way through the Russian crowds until I find a PA (production assistant) and ask, gee, if I'm not too late, who do I see about the stand-in role? The lady says, nope, not too late. There have been delays. She points me to a room. Go there.

In the room are about 10 other guys hoping to be Harrison Ford's stand-in.

Well, wait a minute now, I thought this was my job by acclamation.

Apparently not. And there's me, in curling pants.

After waiting an hour or so, the busses finally arrive and extras and stand-in wannabes alike are "travelled" down to the set. The stand-ins mill together in an uncomfortable gaggle, the competition among us is intense and silent and barely observable.

In a while, an assistant director (AD) comes around, gives us all the once over and says, "You and you." Wouldn't you know it, one of the "you"s was me. Turns out I'm not to be Harrison Ford after all; I'm to be Liam Neeson. The AD beckons us onward and we're drawn deeper into the set. The Russian sub, K-19 itself, looms large above with its shiny metal bow. A technical consultant is running military drill moves with some background folk, teaching them to salute like proper Russian sailors. The director, Katheryn Bigelow, comes over briefly to give final approval. She asks if we have any experience. I say background and acting, but not as a stand-in. She regards me for a second and then nods consent. We'll start blocking in about 30 minutes, she says, then turns and heads off.

Well, wait a minute. We start today? Not tomorrow? As in TOMORROW: the day I have all the arrangements in place? As opposed to TODAY, where there's nothing? TODAY where my wife is already at work and my son already in daycare and there's no one to pick him up if it's not me? That TODAY?

Today, says the AD.

"I can't do it," I said. The AD looks at me. "I need a driver to take me back to base camp please," I said.

On the way out (outwardly calm but jets of red-hot steam shooting into the brain-side of my eardrums ... I can't begin to desribe how pissed I was) the radio crackles and somebody says, "Harrison Ford just arrived if anyone cares" and I sure didn't. Mere minutes later radio conversations start to buzz about a satellite dish that was supposed to be on Harrison Ford's trailer but wasn't. Minutes after that: "Can we get a time estimate on when that satellite dish is going to get here?"

It was a lonely ride back to base camp, me and the driver. Me thinking all the way, "Somebody only has to tell me the right date. That's all. Just tell me the right date."

Were it just this one incident, the residual anguish and exaggerated hurt feelings wouldn't be so bad. For you see, as with Peter and Jesus, I denied Mr. Ford three times.

A few weeks later the casting agent calls me late in the afternoon to tell me the regular stand-in was unavailable tomorrow and could I stand-in for Harrison Ford (these calls always come in at the last minute). I said, Sure!

So I went out that evening and commented (read: boasted) to all my friends that I was going to be Harrison Ford's stand-in. It was going to be great. "Can you get a picture? Can you get an autograph?" Ha ha, we'll see (meaning: No).

I get home and there's a phone message. It's the casting agent again. The regular stand-in is available afterall. I would not be required. Thanks anyway.

I am Joe's cautionary tale. Pride before the fall.

More pages blow from the calendar. The sun inches ever higher in the sky. The temperature warms. Curling season and golfing season overlap. It's a glorious, warm spring day and I'm standing on the golf course out by point where the ocean first meets the harbour. From where I stand, leaning on a golf club, waiting for my shot, I can look out past the mouth of the harbour and watch as they film the Russian submarine supposedly at sea, a Sikorsky helicopter buzzing overhead.

I think of what might have been.

Late at night comes the third call from the casting agent. Am I available tomorrow? I check the calendar. It's a day off for my wife, but I can see that she has written in an appointment for something. I'm not sure what the appointment is for. And since it's night and since it's late (theses calls always, always, always come late) and since my wife is in bed asleep, I go back to the casting agent and tell her, No, I'm sorry, I'm not available. I hang up the phone gently.

Alone in the darkened house, I think a very quiet thought to myself and that thought is, "Strike three".

Turns out my wife's appointment was for a leg-waxing.

Still To Come

  • Leslie Neisen and His Brother Eric
  • Valerie Bertenilli, Sela Ward and Rick Mercer (although not all at the same time).
  • Future Escapades

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Unbeknownst to you ...

There has been another entry written for this journal. Half written, anyway. Mostly written, we'll say. Where is it, you ask, or maybe you don't. Well, I'll tell you.

I was asked to do some background work on the movie "The Elizabeth Smart Movie" which will appear somewhere on TV screens this coming November. I was hoping for four days work up to the time the casting agent called to say there was a mix up in wardrobe and that all the police uniforms (I was to be a policeman) were for people of 5'10" stature only. At 6'2", I do not fit the bill.

So I came in as a detective.

My call time was for 8:00. I parked in the church parking lot. The church was next to the university that was doubling as police headquarters. The church also housed an interior set and in the basement was extras holding. I parked my car in the church parking lot, went inside, had my wardrobe selected from all the clothes I brought, and then I sat and I sat and I sat. I read my book, I wrote my part of my Harrison Ford entry (which I just discovered has gone to data heaven thanks to a dropped pocket PC… DRAT!!!!) Late in the day I went on set and did two quick scenes, both outside, both with me a long way from the camera. But that's okay; the more unrecognizable you are in a scene, the better chance you have of getting more scenes.

I was asked if I was okay to come in for the next day as well, playing the same guy in the same clothes ("but bring all the other wardrobe stuff you brought just in case").

Day two started badly and would only get worse.

The call time for day two was 6:45am. I set my alarm clock for 5:45. I woke up in the middle of the night and had a bad time getting back to sleep and found myself constantly fighting the urge to check the clock to see what time it was. When I finally caved, the clock said it was 6:20am.


I made it to the set with 1 minute to spare. Driving quickly, you should know.

I parked in the church parking lot, but there's a security guard there this time, and he's kicking people out who are not on church business. I left the car to put my two bags of clothes inside where I met up with the casting agent. She told me don't worry about the paperwork yet, go get some breakfast. I said, there were actually three things I needed to do; park my car, breakfast and shave.

First, park the car. I ended up about five or six blocks away from the church before I finally found a spot where I could legally park my car for the day.

I step out of the car and that was when the kidney stone hit.

I remember saying distinctly and out loud to myself, "I think I might be in trouble here…"

Five or six blocks is a short enough walk under normal circumstances, but when the screwdriver that is renal colic is tearing at your guts, it's a tough slog. On the way back I saw one of the vans with "Elizabeth Smart" on the dashboard, and vainly I tried to flag him down.

I made it back to the church. On the way I had considered lying down on the sidewalk. I figured if I was just to lie down on the sidewalk, someone would surely stop and help me. I didn't. I made it back to the church where immediately people were asking me if I was all right. Seems also that the casting agent had brought too many detectives in for the day, so they were quick to ask me if I wanted to go home for the day. I told them I didn't want to go home, I wanted to go to the Emergency room.

A van and a driver were called for (not the one I'd seen, as it turned out) and a very nice woman waited with me until I finally got into a bed in Emergency. Drugs of several sorts were administered and all became right in my doped up world.

The ending of this little tale (to this point anyway) is minorly unresolved. The stone was passed and only one extra trip to Emergency was required. My car is where it belongs - in my driveway. My two bags of clothes were recovered and returned. I got a prescription for some great drugs. I haven't yet got a call back to do any more work on the set and wouldn't you know it, my shirt and pants from day one that were on a separate hanger are still missing.

(I give the shirt off my back and the stone from my urinary tract....)

When I was lying there in the hospital corridor, drugged stupid and reflecting on the day, my cynical brain was already crafting this entry with a cynical and jaundiced eye. It will end, I thought, with the sentence something like, "Since there were too many detectives, I helped out greatly by getting sick and removing myself from the set."

But later, as I'm trying to arrange to get my car home and my two bags of clothes, I met or heard from a number of people from the crew, most of whom I didn't know or hadn't met, and I was confronted with very genuine concern about how I was getting along and they all seemed very pleased to hear that I was doing fine. I have embraced with gusto this idea that Extras don't matter. It's the theme of this blog after all. Now there they were, the buggers, the crew, proving me wrong.

And it felt nice.

My initial cynicism blew away leaving a bad aftertaste for having had it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Vomiting Your Way To Stardom!

I got my first big break ....

Well ... wait a minute right there. Let’s cut that out right away.

First of all, the first big break was the Elvis thing with the lottery commercial and the second thing is that there was NO break… there was NO BREAK! …. Because here I am distracted from my “real” work at my “real job”, typing to you from my tiny little cubicle. Joe Schmoe at his desk job. A sometimes part-time actor. Not a star.

Ergo, no break.

The first time I got my name on TV, this is.

Once upon a time there was a neat little show that we used to film down here in our neck of the woods called “Black Harbour” (Go here for a picture ). Black Harbour starred Rebecca Jenkins, and Geraint Wyn Davies who, perhaps most famously, played the title character on a show called “Forever Knight”.

In Black Harbour’s second season, I auditioned for the role of “Mr. Grace”. The thing was there’s a boat tour and a guy gets really sick on the tour and the tour operator is forced to come into this private dock. A guy shows up, the guy who owns the dock. The boat operator’s father killed this guy’s father. So begins a story line that will run through future episodes. Black Harbour’s version of the Hatfields and the McCoys.

The guy who got sick was Mr. Grace, very key to the whole plot thread, you’ll pardon me while I roll my eyes.

So I’m auditioning for the role of Mr. Grace and I’m doing the lines and the direction is after saying the lines, the guy throws up. Well, let me tell you I was pretty convincing. I specialize in retching noises. Well, I don’t, but I’m really very good at it. Really. I’m sure I turned people’s stomachs at the audition, I was that convincing. Made them sick enough that they gave me the part.

When we went before camera, they'd cut out the throwing up bit. My best bit.

I remember the episode was directed my none other than Mr. Davies, himself. “Ger” if you were bold enough (I wasn’t). Playing in all my scenes were two women, one who was supposed to be my personal assistant, the other who was supposed to be my girlfriend. The really weird thing is that these were the same two girls who were in the lottery commercial with me. We hadn’t seen each other in a couple of years. In fact, both had left the area, one to L.A. and the other to New York. But here they were back again (one for good, the other just visiting). It was very cool. They are both very beautiful women, by the way. And so when we wrapped after the second day, Geraint gave each of them a farewell hug. I stood near to them and forlornly opened my arms. A hangdog expression on my face. Best acting I’d done for two days. Ger turns, sees me, drops to his knees and give me a big hug around my hips. Nice.

The hug notwithstanding, the two coolest things about doing the show were getting a trailer and seeing the credit.

The trailer was huge; a room all to myself, a little metal stepladder needed to get up to the door, it was so high. I was hanging out at the trailer, sitting on the steps by myself when Rebecca Jenkins wandered by and asked me if I’d run lines with her for her upcoming scene. This was the absolute high point of the shoot, I don’t mind telling you.

When I finally saw the episode on TV … I was awful. Really, really terrible. I sucked like an Electrolux. But when it was all over, there was the credit at the end of the show:

Mr. Grace …………………………………………Yours Truly

Coast, to coast to coast.

Just to let everyone in the country know who that horrendous actor was. I take consolation in the fact no one really reads the credits, that it was a fantastic experience which made for great memories and nice stories, that I got to meet Elizabeth Ann and Heather again and that if they’d let me vomit, I coulda been a star.


Yesterday I auditioned for the role of a desk sergeant in the upcoming movie about the Elizabeth Smart story. While I was there, I was asked to come in today to read for the part of “Mr. Maloney” for “Trailer Park Boys”. One of the producers on “Trailer Park Boys” is Mike Volpe. His wife and I were both in the local Drama League's production of “Sound of Music”; she played Maria, I played Franz the butler. Coincidentally, Mike Volpe was also one of the producers of “Black Harbour”.


- Why I Hate Harrison Ford.
- Rick Mercer, Sela Ward, Valerie Bertenelli, but not Leslie Nielsen
- Future escapades.

Monday, July 28, 2003

When No Means No and Yes Also Means No.

In what I sometimes call my "real life" world, I learn all about different theories on how to do business better. It's given me insights to the importance of customer service. Two quick stories:

My dry-cleaner lost a pair of my black pants years ago. They apologized and looked and looked, but never found them. The lady behind the counter asked me how much they were and I gave a guess and instantly that became my "tab" at the dry-cleaners. I wouldn't have to pay for dry-cleaning until that amount was reached. Years later, they are the only dry-cleaner I go to.

A couple of years ago we had some "lawn experts" do our lawn for us. They called the year after to confirm they'd be doing it for us again that year. I told them that, well, LAST year we were pretty disappointed with the results - the lawn was brown and the only green parts were the weeds. So, here again is an opportunity to make a customer for life. The guy on the phone says, "Okay," with a very brusque tone and hung up.

We do the lawn ourselves now.

In the BIZ, it's a stranger world. In the BIZ, the answer is always, "Yes." Even when it's "No", it's "Yes". This can be frustrating.

There's an arc to a person's perceptions about doing movies and stuff. At first it's glory and glamour. I can remember standing "off-stage" in the black, cables snaking around my feet, getting ready to appear in my first commercial (the lottery commercial, a background poker player with Fat Dick, just a couple of guys behind the REAL action). I was sweating and my guts were rolling from nerves. When the commercial's all done, you go home and sit and wait and finally jump up from the couch when at last it appears on TV. You call around and ask to get copies of the commercials so you can have them on tape at home to show off. You call your agent, the production company, the ad agency.

They all tell you, Yes, they can get you a copy.

And sometimes they do.

Other times you wait and wait and then call again. Yes, they tell you, and the cycle repeats.

You learn that the stock answer to any question is "Yes." Even when the answer is "No," you're told "Yes." I can only assume that it's done to keep everybody happy ... or at least to not have people be mad a YOU. You said yes, after all.

The only time I was told No, was from Agent # 3.

Agent #3 bought and assumed control of the talent directory from Agent #2 who, as you will recall, bolted town with his co-agent wife and took all the peoples' money with them. Agent #3 was from Florida and had the distinction of once having appeared in Playboy. Agent #3 has since gone back to the States and yielded the reins to her then-secretary, now-president, Agent #4. I'll wait a moment while you jot all this down on your scorecard.

So. Agents get you auditions, auditions infrequently get you work, work gets you your cheque. Woo-hoo! You're a professional!

When you receive a cheque for having done work for TV and film, you get the whole amount. By comparison, when I receive a cheque from my "real job", I only get about half the whole amount. The government gets about half in taxes and pension and unemployment insurance and all that. But the acting cheques come deduction-free, and that rhymes with "T" and that spells Trouble.

The government's going to want all that money sooner or later, see, so that's why you have to be careful with acting money.

I'm sure you've heard of people more famous than I who have gotten into trouble over this point.

So when the acting cheque comes in, I do the math. Amount divided by two. There's my half. From the other half, pay the agent her commission. Pay whatever other expenses. Whatever else is left over, that goes to mutual funds. What goes to mutual funds doesn't go to the governement as tax (not yet, anyway). All of this financial wheeling and dealing gets recorded in a spreadsheet that I maintain and submit with my taxes. Everything above board and clear as a bell. Everybody's happy.

Revenue Canada was not happy.

What happened was that the payroll company gave me a T4A, which is a declaration of earnings, for the full amount of all the acting cheques I received. I had recorded the full amounts of all the individual cheques on my spreadsheet, and from each took away all my expenses and put what was left over on my income tax form. Net income from professional services. Revenue Canada, not seeing the GROSS number, the number from the T4A, the number that they WANTED to see on my tax return, assumed I hadn't declared ANY of what I got and lo and behold, my $200 tax rebate was transmogrified into a tax-owing bill for $500.


This has happened three times now. The last time it was when I sent my taxes out to my mutual funds guy to do them and he got caught the same as I did. I had since figured out a better way of clearly showing that acting income and I let him know how to solve the problem. But the first time it happened, I was a little panicked and I went to my agent to ask for help.

She told me no.


It's a personal problem, I was told. It wasn't her business.

It's a business problem, I said, related directly to my work as an actor.

No, it was a personal problem. Go away son, you're bothering me.

Frustration, bitterness, gnashing of teeth. Eventually, of course, I sorted it out on my own. But I'm still noticing how the agent (even Agent #4) is happy to take her commission … but for that you get notice of auditions and that seems to be where the service ends.

Also, Revenue Canada has me in their sights and every year at tax time I notice that they are very watchful of what I submit. They still occasionally like to tell me that I owe them money when I've declared it all in my little spreadsheet.

There's a guy in my office that used to work with Revenue Canada. I told him this story and asked him if it's possible that a person can get blacklisted. He assured me that, yes, there's probably a little red flag on my file.

Which means I'm screwed. I'll never have another simple tax return for the rest of my life. Yay.

I was on a movie set with the ex-Mrs. Eddie Van Halen about a week ago. She has her own trailer of course. All the principle actors have their own trailers. I show up on this hot July afternoon with two suitcases full of clothes, sweaters and winter coats. We're shooting a Christmas movie. "John Christmas" is the name of it. Watch for it this year on CBS. Anyway, I stroll up to the set with all my belongings to report in. The actors are here, the crew is over here and you, Mr. Extra, your room is over there. Welcome to Extras Holding. It's a big, blank room with hard metal folding chairs. In this room I will sit (stand, mostly, because of a current back ailment) for HOURS. There is no glamour on a film set. There is no glory. It's all about waiting. And waiting.

And waiting.

You soon figure out: bring a book.

There were about twenty of us there by the end of the evening in the big blank room. Almost everyone was sitting and reading.

Time passed.

I struck up a conversation with another of the extras and started talking about the "Arc of Expectation" as a movie extra. How you start all nervous, like me in that first lottery ad. How, at first, you wants copies of all the little bits you've done, then later you become less and less interested.

It looked like it was going to be a long night. It looked like I might not even get to go in front of the camera for that last scene.

I told of the time I did background work for a movie called "Magic of Marciano". It starred Nastassja Kinski (who I never saw first or last). For this movie I sat in a different blank room with folding tables and folding chairs. I sat for hours and hours and hours. Fat Dick was there too, unless my memory is faulty. Briefly, I went to the set to start to work on some blocking. I was to be a detective going through a bedroom, a crime scene. Something wasn't quite right though, the crew wasn't ready and I was sent back to Extras Holding.

The next word came hours later and the word was that we were wrapped. Thanks very much. You're done. And I had never even gone before the camera.

I was crushed. Disappointed. I had my cool detective suit on, my shoulder holster, my gun, and I never got to play.

Now, years later, sitting near the set of "John Christmas" where it appeared that once again I might not get to go before the camera, I told the "Magic of Marciano" story to another of the background performers.

And how one of the biggest lessons you learn is that whether they use you or not, the money still spends the same.

Just don't forget to give half to the government.

Still to come!

- Vomit Your Way To Stardom!
- Why I Hate Harrison Ford.
- Rick Mercer, Sela Ward, Valerie Bertenelli, but not Leslie Nielsen

Monday, July 21, 2003


But from the humblest of beginnings. When some scantily-clad morsel whispered in my ear that I had good bone structure in my face. It changed everything. You could get an agent, she said. You could be a model, she said. So I did. Got an agent and everything. Life changed. Fame beckoned. I would become famous and powerful and rich beyond the dreams of avarice.


See, what actually happened ....

I became an extra.

I blame it all on the weak Canadian dollar.

Not the dollar's fault that I didn't become wealthy and famous and powerful. No, no. That was a function of LACK OF TALENT. No, the fact that I got to be in an EXTRA is because Hollywood started farming out its productions to cheaper places and one of them was mine. On account of the weak Canadian dollar, you see.

So more and more, here come the movies. To my home town.

And you out there, yes YOU! You like all the behind the scenes stuff, don't you. Sure you do. My mission then is to employ this ultimate object of virtual self-importance and ego-feeding and pass onto you all the little morsels of my little successes.

No, not the scantily-clad one.

I have some back-story to catch up on, you'll pardon me for not bringing you the latest quite yet. I'm just getting started here! For crying out loud....

Cast your mind back, Johnny and Janey. Back into the farthest reaches of time.

Back, back.

Not that far.

Here's me in a dim stairwell, confidently striding up the stairs to a murky office, a dim vestibule, it was the agent's lair and they seemed to agree with the scantily-clad morsel about the bone structure and sent me out to get pictures. And so I did. Pictures of me in a white shirt and a thin leather tie. Smiling. Skinny little face on me that's still there but hidden by an extra, oh, twenty pounds of fat. Triumphant return to the dim vestible and oh my...

... the agency's out of business.

Locked door.

Big sign on it.

"Out of Business."

You know, they must have known when they sent me out for pictures. They must have. It was only a couple of days ago. I blamed the photographer, the only one who made money on this deal. A greek guy, named George. Last name also George, but greek. George with a lot of opopulopulous after it, some such thing. I couldn't blame the agent (but I did) he was gone. So I blamed the photographer. Measly, money-grubbing, rashinfrashin....

Here's me at the start. Already ground on the rocks of defeat and rejection. Get used to it, son. You're in show bidness now.

On to Agent Number Two.

Buy courses and more photos and get trained and .. hey! There's a picture of my hand in a newspaper ad, by god! And another one of my hand in a mineral water ad. Stupid little morsel didn't say ANYTHING about my hands, how do you like THAT, huh?

My agent had a policy of holding back performer's money. You needed to have a good excuse to get it from them. I had a trip to Montreal coming up, so they gave me most of mine. And so later, when the husband and wife team ran out of town with everyone's money (honest to god I'm not making this up), what they took only included about a thousand or so bucks that was mine. Little over a thousand bucks.

Agent Number Three. And I still haven't met anyone famous.

So. The first breakthrough.

A beautiful little story to demonstrate how absurd it all is.

It's a lottery commercial. This far back, the movies haven't really found us yet, so all us amateur players keep meeting at all the same auditions and compare who's done what. By and large, it's commercials for the lottery. Or for the phone company. Either - or. My very first work was for a lottery commercial. I was an extra around a card table, playing a fake game of poker with another chronic extra, Fat Dick.

Anyway, the breakthrough. There I am in the audition for another lottery commercial doing a slate (my name, who's my agent). They're looking for a Billy Crystal type for a lottery ad. I don't know what's a Billy Crystal type except that I ain't it. But I go and I slate and then at the end of the slate I mimic Elvis and say, "Thank-yuh. Thank-yuh ver much".

The ad agency sends all the tapes to New York to the director with their recommendations for the four principle roles that they're casting. The director takes three and ignores the fourth. Instead of who was recommended, he picks ME. During the wardrobe fitting (my colour will be blue) the director asks me if I knew why I won the audition. I stammered something unintelligible that I no longer can recall. He said, "No, it was that Elvis thing you did at the end of the slate." As a result of seeing it, he decided on the spot that the role wouldn't be a Billy Crystal type, it would be a guy named Eddie who thought he was Elvis.

Such are the vagueries of luck and showbiz.

I laughed my ass off the whole drive home.

It remains my best work and my biggest paycheque, that lottery commercial, even though I've since done a starring role on TV (high up on the cable dial mind you) which got me into TV Guide. That first one, the lottery commercial with Bill Carr still remains the biggest and best.

"Another Scratch 'Em game, Eddie?"
(me, doing Elvis, sitting on a giant , paper-mache kaiser bun): "Hit me, baby. I'm on a roll!"

You know, I heard later on that there's a guy in the city - all he does is Elvis work. He's a for-real Elvis impersonator. He saw our commercial and he was PISSED. How come they were doing an Elvis thing and he never even got a look?!?!?!

Because ... (say it with me, class) the role was for a Billy Crystal type.

During this, my first real shoot, I learned the two most important words in the film business: CRAFT TABLE. (Bagles with cream cheese and strawberry jam. BLISS!!!!!)

So there I am, on set. Day three of the shoot. The scene had me in this big blue 1960 Ford Galaxy convertible. Saying my lines. "Hey, Jimmy. You playing that lottery scratch and win sports game aGAIN?" Like Elvis, remember. Over and over and over. Thirsty work. During a brief pause I got out of the car and went to get a drink.

"Whoa, whoa whoa!" the assistant director (A.D.) says to me. "Where are you going?"
"I'm just going to get a drink from the craft table."
"No, no. You stay in the car and someone will go and GET that FOR you."

Cool gig.

So time passes, I'm still sitting in the big blue car, still doing my lines (new camera angle) and I'm working on a new thirst. It's a hot, hot day. I say somewhat meekly, "Can I get a water or a juice please?" In a flash there are two people there at my window, one with a water, one with a juice. One might begin to see how this type of power could corrupt the weak-minded.

Four days later I'm Joe Schmoe again. Working as an office clerk. Arranging invoice payments.

Missing my craft table.


- Red Flagged: How to Make the Revenue Canada Black List.
- Vomit Your Way To Stardom!
- Why I Hate Harrison Ford.
- Rick Mercer, Sela Ward, Valerie Bertenelli, but not Leslie Nielsen.