Saturday, July 17, 2010

Me at the Mental

The room is about 8x8 which is to say SMALL. There is the suggestion that this is the good room because there is an air conditioner here and the rest of the facility is HOT. There's a cold fog outside but by afternoon it will be gone - and this is July so the entire rest of the facility is HOT. Our small room is the only one air-conditioned.

The facility is a mental hospital.

In this small room are seven people, six women and me. Five of these women will play residents. One of the five is Michelle with whom I've done a play and played golf, but we hadn't seen each other in years. It's a nice little reunion. The other, a young girl named Cathy) is a nurse and I've just learned from the director, Thom Fitzgerald, I'm supposed to flirt with her while we watch a horror flick. Hallowe'en 2, he tells us. As the day goes by I wonder if maybe he was just fucking with us.

The name of the movie is "Cloudburst". I'd seen lots of background calls for it from Erin Hennessey's Facebook messages as well as a piece in the paper just the day before yesterday which suggested they were almost finished shooting it. I felt a regret over never having got a chance to play from ALL those opportunities, but here I am today! The call sheet says it's day 33 of 34. So I feel very lucky.

Craft arrives. I debate putting a banana in my pocket. The whole flirting thing, you know.

I travel to wardrobe and I'm fitted into a set of industrial green scrubs. Between our little room and the wardrobe cubby, the crew is setting up the shot and I discover that it will take some self discipline today to keep from gawking. The two principle actors in today's scene are the stars of the movie. Both have both won Academy Awards. I've racked my little brain and I cannot ever recall EVER having worked with someone who's won an Oscar. And here I am today (day 33 of 34) and there are two! Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck) and Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot).

A new addition arrives to our tiny room. Her name is Doreen and she tells Michelle that she's the grandmother of David Carol of Sons of Maxwell who famously has written "United Breaks Guitars". Doreen doesn't want to be here but her grandson David coerced her into being here and I, sitting across from her, appreciate the great irony of her being forced to be here in the rest home. I tell her this and she laughs. I like Doreen and I will spend a lot of the rest of the day making her laugh. She calls me naughty.

Ruth is another in our tiny room and she tells me she's 90 years old. The wardrobe mistress comes by and Ruth balks at having to wear a hairnet that's in the script. I say to her it's because she grills burgers for the group and health regulations would require the hairnet. She believes me utterly and is pleased to have a role to play. Flipping burgers!

I have no shame. I let her believe the lie for longer than I should have. Long enough for the director to have come over and hear it. Whoops.

I reflect on the difference between last time with the provocative French maids and this time with all these lovely old dolls. I think of this but politely say nothing.

There is a very happy vibe on this set.

Given the extremely long days that so many people have to work together putting one of these things together, it's understandable how the mood can get generally surly. But not here. I noted it when I arrived, felt lost (as usual) and carefully asked someone how to get to Extras Holding and the girl I spoke to brightened and said to me, "Oh, you're Ken!" She introduced herself as we got in the elevator. The guy carrying all the sound equipment did likewise.

The sign outside the door to our little room (now populated with four ladies made up to look very geriatric, one nurse and me) says, in fact, "People Holding- now with more cool A.C. than ever before".

Just outside and around the corner from our cooled room, Ms. Fricker runs lines with Ms. Dukakis which is even cooler. Surreptitiously, I watch from another room. I think how neat it is I get to watch this mini-performance for free.

Presently they shoot it for real and following the director's call of "Cut!", I overhear Ms. Dukakis bellowing belligerently about wondering what fucking side of the fucking frame she's supposed to be on. But it's all in jest. Nicole, the nice lady from the elevator and the 2nd a.d. informs me that Ms. Dukakis' character is very gruff and the actress had confessed on an earlier day that she was impressed with how her character swore ALL the FUCKING TIME.

Time began to pile up as it often does. Ennui follows. Doreen confessed a wish to me and then the director that she wished not to be here. The director was ready to let her go, it would be okay if she left, he said (kindly) and I said gently that I hoped she would stay with us. In an example of art imitating life, Doreen and I walked slowly through the hospital, eventually to stand outside on the front steps to get some fresh air, her with her cane and dressed in a nightgown and robe, me in my orderly scrubs.

We talked. She told me a story about her husband who's now dead. "I didn't kill him," she added quickly.

"Because that's the first thing I thought," I said. "You said your husband was dead and I immediately wondered if it was you that killed him."

Doreen laughed, delighted.

For a while, like Noah's ark, they brought ladies to the set two by two, Doreen first with another of the ladies. For the time we'd been waiting, there time in front of the camera was over almost in an instant. Shoot two women in their room, wrap them, shoot two more. Then wrap THEM. After these two scenes, lunch (at 4pm) and the plan was then two shoot the two old men, a mysterious duo who had arrived on set some time ago but on whom we had never laid eyes. I was starting to suspect they might me saving me for last, which in terms of personal revenue was a good thing.

6:46 and the nurse has had a scene, but not me. I've finished the book I was reading (80 Million Eyes), reviewed this here little transcript and threatened to open the second book I brought with me. I arrived at 10am and now the first hint of darkening dusk has crept into the sky.

Ruth is wrapped and she and I (gently) shake hands and say goodbye as she gets set to leave, pushing her walker ahead of her. On the way past, she shares another goodbye with Ms. Dukakis who places her hand over the other woman's and says that it was a pleasure working with her. Olympia says. With an honest smile. It's been a long day and one of the wardrobe gals is massaging a knot from Ms. Dukakis's shoulder. She makes appreciative noises. Later, she's finished a take and is sitting talking to members of the crew about how she used to do a jigsaw puzzle every summer and apologising for having been too tires to come out with them last night. I stand eavesdropping behind her and remembering what I wrote years ago about Tom Selleck and how remarkable was his voice that first preceded him into the room. Olympia Dukakis has the same remarkableness to her voice, at once authoritative yet friendly, vibrant yet weary. That weary, New England accent an aural trademark. She's wonderful just to listen to and I wonder how much is it - that quality and distinctiveness of voice - that makes an actor something beyond regular, that makes an actor great. It not something that's put on for the cameras, I realize, standing behind her, listening to her.

It's just her voice.

My son called at 8:30. I only note this because at 9:00 we were wrapped and on the way home. In that in-between time Cathy and I did one rehearsals and two takes of the two of us coming around the corner, flirting and then me walking off back where I came from around the corner and out of frame. Sitting there looking up at me after every take was a 78 year old lady in a pink bed-robe - Olympia Dukakis.

Looking me right in the eyes with a little smile.

You might think that I would have felt intimidated, but no.

Only inadequate.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Happy Times

Wait a minute... I get a trailer? I'm here for background work and I get a trailer?

This is an interesting beginning to my day as an extra on the new series "Drunk and On Drugs: The Happy Funtime Hour".

So, sitting in my trailer, all I'm thinking about is getting breakfast. My call time was for 7:15 in the morning and I'm about a half an hour early, just to mitigate whatever parking issues I might run into. It turns out there was reserved parking - orange traffic cones blocked off a section of Robie Street by the Commons, the yellow and black placard declaring "Crew Park". Background Performer is an extension of the crew, right?

Gee, I sure hope so.

Now with time to spare (and a trailer to sit in) I start this entry and from somewhere nearby, through the foggy, grey, heavy, drizzly air of the morning I can smell breakfast cooking. And I'm hungry. But a PA (production assistant - or maybe she was an AD, an assistant director ... I never did get a really good look at the call sheet) has alerted someone over the headset that I'm here and wardrobe should come and check what clothes I've brought, so I dare not move. First things first. A keen sense of priority is a good thing to keep about you on a film set.

I'm writing mere moments later! She's been here and I'm dressed as they want me. Let's see about breakfast!!!

I got the last burrito. Don't tell anyone.

Down the line a bit, there are three others also here as background players who are sharing another section of the trailer. So far I have my part to myself. It doesn't feel like a special consideration, it feels like being ostracised - but maybe that's just a glimpse into my personality. More of that to come....

So the waiting begins and with it a vague uncertainty of "am I where I should be?" At this moment, to my moderate relief, the PA comes back to shepherd a few of us "diners" to hair and makeup. We're intercepted on the way by the hair and makeup lady who lets the PA know that for the shots we're doing, we don't need anything done. About face and back to the trailer but not for long. It's time to be travelled to Extras Holding.

Now that's more like it.

The shooting site is "Cousin's Restaurant", remade to be the Stoned-Os Cafe. Across the street there's an Inn (the Commons Inn, actually) and the first hurdle is: find a door that's not locked so we can get in the Inn.

With the departure of the driver we're suddenly a collection of Extras who've been left entirely to our own devices, never a good thing. We loiter through the bottom floor and then wander up a staircase and eventually run into a guy straight out of Central Casting, "The Manager", who collects and pleasantly let's us know that our room is over HERE, room 209 in the Inn and it has a sofa, two armchairs a bathroom and a queen sized bed.

Wow this is better even than the trailer! What's going on?

Next to me is an ice bucket that's sadly missing its bottle of champagne. And ice. Across from me is a young girl with Lulu Lemon sweats covering her waitress costume. She doesn't seem at all nervous about sharing the room with the bed and three good looking guys. One of these guys, Glen, also has a blog and we swap URLs. The other introduced himself as Andrew and it clicks - the reason he looks familiar is that he's Andrew Gillis aka Les Ismore, the newsman-bluesman from the radio station I used to listen to several years ago. I mentioned how I found his Sunday night Blues show one night coming home from the movie "Crossroads" where I'd fallen in love with that brand of Blues music. That was more than 20 years ago, boys and girls.

The PA is back and wouldn't you know it we're in the wrong room. We're travelled outside of the Inn and across the street to a nondescript apartment building where there's a sign that's the best clue that we've FINALLY found the right place.

The sign says:



Inside is a cramped and dim space, one hundred and fifty year old wooden floors and the smell of must and mould. Some grey fold-out chairs are lined against the wall and a dingy blue couch is set at the other side of the room. This is it all right. Inside are a couple other players who have found their way without us. Two are dressed in French maid uniforms and I try not to look.

I'm only here for a moment before we're called to set, me and two others. The set is a diner across the street. Inside is a mini-city worth of film crew. All the Trailer Park Boys are there, but Mike Smith (Bubbles) is the only one you might recognize. He's wearing a long blonde wig, a moustache and vintage 70s aviator sunglasses. And powder blue short-shorts. JP is the most eye-catching guy there with a receding hairline, a long black ponytail and dark sunglasses. It's the hair-lip that grabs your attention though. Rob Wells spent the whole time sitting with his back to me. All of his lines would be mumbled like Marlon Brando's godfather. The last guy at the table I didn't recognize. In front of him was a blue cookie that he was trying to snort like cocaine.

I was at the luncheonette counter with my own blue plate special: remnants of a sandwich, the bread flecked with green and blue, blue-stained lettuce and royal-blue salami. Complementing the dinner is a glass of mysterious blue liquid. During the scene, I do two things: one is to keep my face hidden from each of the two cameras and the other is push the toasty crumbs around on my plate in my best imitation of James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano. Have you every watched that guy eat on camera? Pay attention next time.

The biggest problem with the setup (while I was there) was the view of traffic through the door, a door that was eventually covered with placards on the inside and a thin white sheet of paper on the outside. From time to time I get up from my round luncheonette stool to stand and stretch my legs. I complain to Glen that by the time we're done my bum will have gone completely flat. It's just after nine before we get everything the director wants from that first scene. He has re-adjusted the camera shots and is cackling to the guy next to him, "We're breaking the rules!!"

"What are you, like six years old?" the guy says.

"I get excited about stupid shit," the director says with a grin.

Yes, I think and I'm reminded of a Japanese management professor I met once in my real life. He spoke with a classic Samurai accent and cadence telling us, "Old business model: Start with customer. NO!!! New business model: Start with joy."


Start with joy.

After returning to Holding, updating my entry and filling out my paperwork for the day (ensuring I'll get paid), Glen and Andrew are called to set as soldiers. They undress and then dress in vintage uniforms (we actors are an immodest lot) and I'm left behind with an apple and the two French maids, Tina and Veronica, who resist coming over to sit with me on the couch.

So now, waiting. One hour. Three hours. I listen to the French maids tell tales. One spent a season with The Actor's Studio in Los Angeles. The other dated Matt Mays. They each have splendid stories to tell, stories populated with Names of People You Know and they tell them back and forth as I listen in, rapt, attentive and silent, hearing about different parts of this business that I know very little about. There is a vocal style to the telling of their stories, a gloss which maybe comes from being young and female and maybe has something to do with being in the Biz. A third girl, Jackie, arrives wearing even less than the maids. Later in the day as part of the scene, one of the actors will dip his fingers into her cleavage (she says: "I have to act like I'm happy about it"). She shows off her costume at the girls' request and then bundles up again in a black jacket. She looks naked from the hips down because she is, except for a pair of beige and brown cowboy boots. She's the perfect blonde with that carefree, happy look emanating from wide, blue eyes, a look that may or may not be part of the act. At this point, from this thought, I reflect over my OWN impressions of all this: the girls, the Biz, vive le difference and all that, and I wonder over the possibility that I might be so cynical and jaundiced and old.

I work really hard at not being impressed by how pretty all girls are.

At 12:00 noon I go back to the set. The French maids follow a little while later and I notice all the guys noticing them which sets off a whole other series of metaphysical thoughts about this male-dominated biz. As the day goes on I'm reminded more and more of - and this, Reader, is where the difficult part of the day begins - of how uncool I am, like seriously.

Over the space of a couple of hours it really corrodes at my psyche and already-fragile self-image. One of the other girls, Kirsten, is dressed up to strongly (like, REALLY) ressemble Kate Winslet. I say to her we could do our own show together: "The Movie Star and the Shmoe." Later, Cheryl, a lovely girl who has been my waitress in a scene on set and who is suffering from progressively worse back spasms as we sit alone together at Washroom/Holding, she and I have a nice chat about many things, including this image issue and at the end of it I feel a little better.

To end the day I stood on the sidewalk and later in the scene wearing a Hallowe'en Dracula cape, a black t-shirt, no pants except for the blue silk boxers with Santa Claus playing golf, black dress shoes and black socks pulled up to my calves. I'll leave it to you to determine whether or not this added to my cool and sexy feel.

This is not me