Monday, September 15, 2008

I Did It Again

Last Tuesday afternoon, I got a call from Extras Casting. Somehow after working on We Are Marshall, I remained on someone's list because two years ago, I was called twice to do a "gig" on October Road, but the timing wasn't right, and besides I didn't want to drive forty to fifty miles south of my house at 5:30 in the morning. The caller asked me if I wanted to be an extra in a pilot for a television show, called "Drop Dead Diva." This time I knew the questions to ask: when, where, and how much would I be paid. Although it was less than minimum wage, I decided since the location was about ten miles from my house and I didn't have to be there until 6:30, I would do it.

The next morning, with mapquest in hand, I loaded up my stuff. I took books, extra make-up, shoes, and of course, my camera. I arrived on time, went to the hospital (abandoned), was given the wrong directions, finally found the right place for extras and waited. That's what you do when you're an extra...wait. After an hour or so, they herded us to wardrobe in groups. For the first scene, I was a nurse. I was given scrubs and tennis shoes and proceeded to a trailer to change. Again, we were herded onto the set (Hollywood talk) to take our places. I was lucky because for this first scene, Carol and I were placed behind the Nurses' Station in chairs. Yea! Carol and her son were also extras in We Are Marshall (WAM). It was good seeing her again.

Just like WAM, they rehearsed the scene about five to ten times before beginning to film. They moved extras around, changed the camera angle, and generally walked around in circles until they were happy. When they began filming, it took at least ten to fifteen takes to complete the scene. The good thing about this "gig" was that there were less than fifty extras. This enabled the director, the assistant director, and the production assistants to give us individual instructions. One smallish man came up to me and introduced himself as Jim. He asked my name, then proceeded to show me what he wanted me to do. My instructions were to hold my hands in the air as if starting to type something on the computer. He was a pleasant guy, but very serious and very, very focused. I started to tell him about my degrees thinking that that would comfort him knowing that I wasn't a total idiot, but held back. It was a good thing that I kept my mouth shut because I later found out that he was the director. It wouldn't be a good thing to be a smart ass to the director. McG, who was the director in WAM hardly ever had direct contact with the extras. I'm just sayin'.

The conditions of the set could have been worse. Because this was in an abandoned hospital, there was no air-conditioning. They had a huge vent piping in cold air, but when they were shooting, it was turned off. By the afternoon, it was getting really, really, hot. They provided lots of water, soft drinks and snacks during the breaks. Again, this didn't happen on the sets of WAM. We had to keep our water bottles and fill them up at the fountains. It's probably because of the large numbers of extras and who knows what their budget was. I just bet Matthew McG got anything he wanted. He had a personal assistant who hovered with Gatorade and a wet towel. I didn't see an assistant hovering around Matthew Fox. I don't even need to start about how I feel about this narcissistic business. My brother-in-law told he they call it "the industry" in LA...that's industry talk for Los Angeles.

The camera man was of utmost importance in the two scenes in which I was involved. It seems that the diva dies in a car wreck at the beginning of the show. The way we (other extras) figure it, after the accident, she is brought to the emergency room, where she either comes back to life, or that is where she dies. Hard to tell. When the action began the camera man who spoke with a German accent, walked quickly down a hall with the camera attached to his body, then turned right passing the nurses' station and went in a back office and shot through a window. I don't want to mislead you into thinking that it was just a camera man, it was he, a guy one step behind him carrying a battery or two, a guy carrying cords and another guy carrying cords. We always knew when they were coming because they always followed the same sequence: rolling, counting from ten to one, then action, then freeze, then eyes open, then cut. The only thing we could figure as to why they yelled, "eyes open," was the diva either came back to life or opened her eyes before she died. I know I'm on the edge of my seat. When Jim and them (a southern phrase, kinda like your mama and 'em) were happy with this first scene, we were sent to Extras' Holding.

A P.A. (industry talk for production assistant) entered the holding area after we had been waiting for about an hour, and announced that we needed to change for the next scene. I changed into my original outfit which was basic khaki slacks and a coral blouse. We were herded into another section of the hospital. The placement of the extras took about thirty minutes. Carol and I kinda stayed in the background thinking that it might be cooler if we weren't under the lights in the hallway. As luck would have it, I was moved to the hot hallway and was instructed to act like I was in the middle of a step. The man next to me, who was playing a doctor, gave me some documents to fan myself. In the shot it looked as if I was reading the papers. You know, sometimes they pay attention to details and sometimes they don't. Since I figure I was supposed to be a visitor, you would think I would have a purse. But, I didn't. No one did. The guy across the hall from me was in a hospital gown sitting on a gurney. We think he was supposed to have a head injury, but he was sitting up with his legs dangling off of the side with an IV taped to his arm. One of the extras who is a nurse said that hospitals don't let you sit up on a gurney, especially with a head injury. I don't know if it was the heat or lack of food that made this scene funny. While the crew were setting things up, this guy kept mumbling something about smelling "poop," only that wasn't the word he was using. Then his friend, who was playing a doctor, was standing next to what looked like a circuit breaker. He kept opening and closing the door to the circuit breaker making a squeaking sound. The two of them were driving me to distraction... and I told them, but it had no effect. During this time, another extra told a P.A. that she was getting dizzy. The natives were getting restless. It really was hot and there was no air circulating, but the crew were working as fast as they could. At one point, the guy who was on the gurney jumped off and started straightening the sheet, mumbling something about having to do everything himself. He was really, really comical...I guess you had to be there.

At last the camera man came running down the hall. The word was that we would appear as blurs. The camera man and his friends stopped at the double doors and shot through the small windows in the door. They probably did that run about five times. It will be interesting to see how that scene turns out. I figure it was about three hours work, including the crew setting it up, for about four seconds on the screen. People actually like to do this.

We broke for lunch about 1:30 and at 2:30 we were back in the holding area. Another P.A. announced that they were going to let eight of us go. After another thirty minutes, he chose me and seven others who could leave. After signing my paperwork, I was in the car and home in thirty minutes.

One big difference in this group and the WAM group was that there were lots of serious extras here. Many of them had been in other projects in the Atlanta area. They love it and really, really, want to act.

This is Meg with another extra. In real life, she is a nurse. She's been an extra in several movies.

This is Carol. In real life, she is in real estate. After WAM, she was an extra in several episodes of October Road.

This is Gary. He did a commercial for Mr. Sparkey and a reality show on BTV. He seems to know "the industry" and enjoys being an extra. During one of our conversations, I mentioned that I would have liked to be more involved in what went on behind the a camera person or a producer, etc. You know, in charge. But Gary has no interest in being behind the scenes, he wants to be an actor...actually he is an actor, but just needs big parts.

Before I left the property, I took a few shots of the action.

It was fun meeting new people and seeing how this group differed from the WAM group. It's an exciting business, but not something I would like to do on a permanent basis. Too much waiting around...I've go too much to do.

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