Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Uncharted Territory

The role everyone thinks I'm playing today is Herb. The role I'll actually be playing is "Big TV Star", all in my head. It's to fool my brain. I'm not fooling around in the background today, I'm being featured in an action-packed scene with the series lead. So I'm a bit nervous and anxious. I decide that by playing "Big TV Star" in my head, maybe I'll be able to Fake It Until I Make It.

The show is "Haven" and the scene is with its star, Emily Rose. Away from this TV series, she voices the Elena Fisher character in the series of "Uncharted" video games. Now, my son and I have been playing these games for seven years. He was eight when they first came out. Now he's fifteen and we're both very keen to see the fourth one which is coming out next year. "Uncharted" has been ground-breaking games in terms of video game look and style and not only was I delighted and entertained by the gameplay, but my son and I bonded for hours and hours over these games, whatever that might say about me as a parent.

So the voice coming from over there beside me? I've only ever associated that voice with that character and now sitting in the wardrobe trailer and on set listening to routine conversations, in my head is all BIG ACTION IS GOING TO BREAK OUT ANY MINUTE!! I gotta say, it's very cool and I'm geeking out on the inside a little. Okay, maybe more than a little. Outside I just keep trying to stay in character ("Big Important TV Star") even as I casually text to my son, "I'M LISTENING TO GODDAM ELENA FISHER!"

The Big Important TV Star has a trailer - one fifth of one any way. My door (with a 5 and a Herb and a star on it) is the closest one to the toilets at the back, just saying.

Day one, I have a quick scene with Lucas Bryant who plays (coincidence?) "Nathan" on the show. Lucas is a pretty cool dude, softspoken, understated and a nice guy from what I can tell - I'm still mostly trying to keep out of everybody's way, old habits die hard. I'm on set at 8:00am, I get into wardrobe, Dorothy from Makeup puts a scar on my wrist that will be key to the scene we're shooting and then we go do the work - coverage shot from a bunch of different angles including a closeup of the scar and by 1pm, I'm wrapped for the day. Yup, and I got paid A LOT too.

Still in makeup, I go across the street to get my driver's license renewed. Hey why not look pretty for your picture when you can?

Continuity note, for my first scene I wore white socks and for my second scene I'm wearing black socks. I figure no one will notice.

Day two, one week later. Big day today. I'll be doing a stunt, first time ever. I probably shouldn't say what the stunt is until the show goes to air. Day two on set is also my birthday and I'm expecting (hoping, if I'm to drop character for a moment) that it's going to be a super fun day.

Today makeup is applied with a paintbrush. In a little while I'll be ready for a second coat.

I'm so bad with names. I feel so self-conscious on set because I keep forgetting everyone's name which strikes me as something especially bad in this weird world of show business. Dorothy does my makeup. Dorothy should be an EASY name to remember, my sister in law is named Dorothy. But no, I'm blanking on it while I'm in the trailer and only remember after someone else calls her by name. Duh. Also in the trailer is Joanne who does hair. The hair she's doing belongs to Emily Rose (that's an easy one except why do I keep writing "Audrey Rose"?). Nicole is the fourth AD who meets me all the time at the production trailer (John's in there too) and she gets me a driver to set and to lunch and she brought me a breakfast plate that first morning I was there and still I keep having to look her name up on the call sheet. Geez.


Lee is the director. Forbes is the camera guy, almost as famous Emily Rose (to me, anyway). Gary I met at lunch today, he's the guy that's going to be supervising the stunt. The lady who introduced me to him has been on a whole bunch of other shows I've visited and I needed to find her name on the call sheet too. Dammit. Is it Heather or Megan? Fuck. (It's Heather.)There's a shit pile of names on the call list and most of them will do more to make my performance look good than I will.

That comforts me, by the way. Everybody else's good work helps ease my own anxiety about my upcoming performance. Makeup, wardrobe and effects are going to have more to do with it than I will. I relax a little.

My second coat of makeup gets me a little closer to being performance ready. Later, there will be blood. And also, I will be married to Gabrielle Miller. (We have discussions about "suspension of disbelief".)

On set ... I'll try to remember to add some things after the show has aired so this is not all spoilery, but there were particular moments where my heart rate shot up higher than any other time I've been on set, and that includes when Tom Selleck said hi to me. My breathing was coming too fast and I could feel my pulse pounding along the veins in my neck. I came away bruised and bloody. Part of it was real.

Blood all OVER my hands. At the end, after I was wrapped to the traditional applause of the crew and Emily Rose came over to shake my hand ... well, we decided not to. I was way too sticky. Ah, well.

I didn't get to say goodbye to everyone like I usually do. And say thank you.

It was a strange ride back to Base Camp, adrenaline pounding through me. Fight or flight. WHAT NEXT?!?!? WHAT NEXT!!???!!


Nothing. That is all. Happy birthday. You had fun. Please try to calm down.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sex Or Violence?

I'm too self-conscious.

Other things aside, that inhibits me as an actor. Imagine being a big idiot on stage or on screen. It's hard to pull off because instinctively you don't want to be seen as an idiot. So to be good as an actor, you have to be able to divorce yourself your own idea of self and allow your character to go to places that would otherwise be anathema to you. You have to be okay with being ridiculous.

With this in mind, I've occasionally wondered in a fairly abstract way if I could ever do a nude scene on stage or film. My thinking was,  if I were able to do that, it'd be proof I've pushed past that constraining boundary of self-consciousness.

Now, we actors are generally an immodest lot, especially stage actors. I've had a few experiences where I've had to strip down to my skivvies. For a play called "There Goes The Bride", I was a distracted advertising exec whose daughter was getting married. Since I was being way too slow in getting ready for the wedding (I bumped my head, hilarity ensued), it was up to my stage wife and stage daughter to get me into my wedding clothes. The two of them took off all my clothes -right down to my boxer shorts (it's always boxer shorts) - and then got me dressed again in my good suit.

This all happened downstage centre. Everyone got a good look.

But that's not naked.

The last play I did, I played a male nurse who has to get re-costumed off-stage as a female nurse. Cast-mates were standing by to strip me to my underwear, then re-clothe me in a balloon-filled bra and white nurse's dress.

Immodest among my cast-mates, sure, but not naked and not in front of an audience.

Still. You get the idea. The theatre, the theatre, you need to be comfortable with the idea of showing a fair bit of your own skin in the theatre.

I got a call from my agent to tell me that Thom Fitzgerald was interested in having me audition for a part in his new TV series, "Sex And Violence". The role was for the older half of a gay couple. Nudity and simulated sex would be required.

So, my agent wanted to know: Would I be comfortable with that.

Well now.

The honest answer would be no. But suddenly before me was the opportunity for some self-discovery. Could I do it anyway? Could I be an honest to-god fucking ACTOR and play a gay man. Naked. And having sex.

The idea made me very nervous. There were lots of things to consider beyond just being naked on TV. Like the reactions of people around me to having maybe seen me gay and naked on TV. My parents. My family. My co-workers.

But I wanted to try.

There was a period when I was acting on stage where I had three consecutive roles as a gay man. For "Amelia Earhart Was Not A Spy", I played "Kevin" who was gay in name only. The play took place around a kitchen table, people just talking to each other. Then I was "Bradford Kyle" in "Slaughterhouse". He was an aging drama queen, effete and stereotypically gay. Finally I was "Sidney Nichols" in "California Suite", a closeted gay man with an actress for a wife, both of them in town for the Academy Awards for which the wife was a best-actress nominee. For this I got changed into pyjamas at the end of the scene and got into bed with my wife. So, not really gay.

"Sex And Violence" was going to have it all. My agent asked me if I was up to auditioning. I thought about it. I talked to people. Someone asked me, "Do you want to be known as an actor who takes risks or who plays it safe?"

I said yes to the audition.

I received the sides by e-mail. Two married-to-each-other guys talk to a social worker. Although there were none in that particular scene, the e-mail contained explicit warnings about the requirements for nudity and simulated sex. I was asked again by both the casting agency and my own agent if I was comfortable with being considered for the role. I said yes. They asked me again before I went to audition. I said yes.

The day came. I sat in a chair, pretended my husband was sitting beside me and performed the scene, one take, knocked it out of the park. Got great feedback from the girls running the audition. I was very pleased.

Some time later I got a callback. The callback is where I would have to take off my clothes for the director. I was asked for the fourth time if I was okay with this. And still I said yes.

The most alarming part of the callback turned out to be after Thom gave me suggestions on how to improve the performance from the audition and then asking me to run it again. Well, a couple of weeks had passed since that original audition and I was unprepared to do the scene again. I hadn't studied the lines.

"Did you think you were just coming here to get naked?" Thom asked, amused.

Well ... yes, I said.

Thom had said some very nice things about my original audition. As I bungled my way through the scene a couple of times, I was irked at how badly I blowing that first impression.

"Okay," Thom said. "This is the moment." I stripped off in an adjoining bathroom and took a deep breath, same way you would if you were about to jump into the deep end of a cold pool. I walked out and ignored that I was naked except the once where I interrupted our chat to say, "Oh yeah. Front side, back side." And turned around.

So I did that. I got naked. But I didn't get the part. Not that one anyway. My agent called me days later to say I'd be getting a role but she wasn't sure what. I figured a bit part, some guy with a line. It wasn't until a production assistant called some weeks later to confirm my first day on set that I was very pleasantly surprised to find out I was to be "Martin Sattoway", a principal character (thank you again, Thom!), a victim of domestic abuse. I get clocked pretty good by Genevieve Steele. Otherwise, I was very happy to have had her as my wife.  As Martin I had three days on set and five really good scenes. I was ambivalent about how I thought I did (of course). But there was one scene I thought I did very well, getting emotional in a way I wasn't sure I was able to do. But I did it (I think). Of course having done it, the trick was, okay, do it again the same way for about twelve more takes.

Anyway. I'm interested in seeing how it all came out ... unless I sucked in which case I'll probably go all the way back to being completely self-conscious again and all that audition nudity would be for nothing. Until next time.

Speaking of nudity, here's me in character and clothes as Martin. Obviously Thom saw me with no clothes on and decided,  "Ummmm ... violence."

Friday, February 22, 2013


As far as being a working actor, my best year in years was August 2012.

The truth is, the lion’s share of the work I did actually spanned over two summer months and I wrote about … none of it.

Part of the reason for that was that my on-set experiences were unremarkable as far as the theme of this Blog; you've heard it all before, folks. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy myself; I did. And there are things to write about, so I offer them up in this year-in-review kind of post.

Three of my working days were as Background on the set of Mr. D. It was a pleasure to watch the different cast members at work, doing their scenes, riffing off lines and moments. I spent a single day on set last year where filming took place at the new Citadel High School in Halifax. This year, the school was recreated in an improvised soundstage inside the ice shed of one of the local curling rinks. This was pretty cool. I spent a few days as a teacher – reading in the staff room, going for a coffee, walking down the halls. All of this was unremarkable stuff. The sets were cool and the crew was great and it was fun to watch the actors create. Beyond that it was a lot of sitting around. So I didn’t write it up.

But three days BG on a project, the SAME project, that’s a new personal best!

The month also included an evening shoot for an industrial video. I played a business man coming in a store to buy lottery tickets, seemingly a little desperate for a win (TYPECAST!). The video was part of a series being filmed for the Nova Scotia Gaming Commission to help retailers do their bit to prevent gambling addiction. We shot it in a store downtown, just off the pedway that connects into the casino (little irony there). There was a concert going on that night and a few groups of people wandered by on their way to it. I was doing my bit int he store and overheard someone comment "looks like they’re doing some sort of James Bond thing."

Instant highlight of the night.

I knew the director from ALL THOSE YEARS AGO "when I was Dale Throbbins on “Liography”. "

When I was younger, I wanted to grow up and be a DJ. Ah, the dreams of youth! See, I never really had the voice or the talent, I guess. But I have done some professional voice work, although there's been none of that for a long time. This year, this magic summer, I got TWO voice-over sessions. One was a PSA for the National Day of Mourning. The other was a few lines in a radio spot for Bell. Each of them only took a few minutes to record and for whatever reason, I was paid double scale for the second spot. Lots of fun. In fact, I auditioned for several different spots at two different production houses and I don’t think I went on an audition that I didn’t enjoy … once I actually got into the room (... wait for it).

Another part of why I didn’t get to writing this stuff up is Facebook. There is a group of us actors that hang out and collectively, they are a bigger audience than anyone else out there that will read my blog. So they know all this stuff already. And they’ve had fun with it, especially my tales of accidentally awkward auditions.

Tales. More than one.

The Day of Mourning audition was, I think, the first audition of the summer season. I was happy to go; since I became a Dad it’s been difficult to make myself available so who knows exactly how many months/years had gone by since I was last at this studio. When I was called to go in, I remembered the booth was farther in the back. So I didn’t go through that door on the left where I could see the mixing board, I carried on farther down the hall and went through the door at the end leading me to ... an empty space. Oh, and another door in the back. I reached for that knob and I heard the first door close behind me. With a dreadful kind of certainty I knew even before I tried them that both doors would be locked.


You know, when you go on an audition, there's already a certain amount of nerves that comes into play. You have a jangly level of nervousness from wanting to do well and make a good impression. When your first impression is locking yourself in a closet? This in no way will reduce your feelings of anxiety. You are listening to the voice of experience.

I tapped meekly on the first door I came through. “Uh… help?”

“Happens all the time,” the engineer told me as he let me out of the closet.

“Happens all the time,” posted a member from my Facebook group.

Neither assertion made me feel any less silly. But you know what? I won the audition. Pure logic leads me to conclude that I attributed the win role to locking myself in the closet. (That logic's called Post hoc, ergo propter hoc for those of you playing at home.)

Assorted other smartypantses have said it due to me coming OUT of the closet.

Whatever the reason, now it's weeks later and I'm on an audition at Filmworks, a casting agency that's recently moved locations. They’re on the third floor in an older building in the heart of downtown. If you’re standing directly in front of their office door, there’s a men's room on your right. Now, follow along closely:

I went into the men's room first and washed my hands.

Came back outside, closed the bathroom door behind me.

Reached to my right and opened the outward-swinging Filmworks office door.

Stepped over the threshold and reached behind me to close that door.

Never heard or saw the guy who came up behind me.

When I blindly reached for it, it wasn’t the doorknob I grabbed. In fact, even in the shock of the moment, I’m pretty sure I said out loud, “Hey, THAT’S not the doorknob…”

I sat in a waiting chair and did my best to ignore I’d just grabbed a guy by his junk.

Oh, did I say I was reading for the part of a minister?

Yeah. I won that role too.

(Months afterward, someone suggested I be invited as a guest speaker for a local workshop on audition techniques. I'm reasonably certain the suggestion was made in fun.)

I had a fantastic day on set. It was a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie called “Christmas With Holly”. It was interesting and amusing how I became some sort of minor sex symbol, dressed like a priest. I really should have saved the costume.

I hung out with some people I knew. They were background performers there to play wedding guests (dressed up and looking FINE) and I was an ACTOR and so we teased and kidded each other about this not-so invisible dividing line. Occasionally I got to chat breezily with the director. I spent some hilarious moments in the front pew improvising a different priest character for Tracy, the script supervisor. She immediately figured that he should get his own movie, this priest I was doing. Back at work, my REAL job, I started to refer to him as "Father Dick".

When we got around to shooting, the director set up a shot to feature me and my big move as we all react to the suspicion that the GROOM HAS FINALLY ARRIVED! It resulted in the most specific kind of acting I’ve done so far, not in terms of acting really, more technical in terms of timing, camera tracking and tilting, marks to hit and body position. Oh, and also act. About a second of it showed up in the final cut.

I really didn’t have much more to do than the wedding guests. I felt a little guilty about that since I was there getting paid and credited as an actor and they were getting paid as background. Yes, but in spite of my guilt, I finished the day pleased, happy with how I did, the people I’d met and spent time with, the fun we’d all had. It took the whole day to shoot the scene. The director shot coverage from everywhere. And I do remember being curious about the result; how would all this film he shot look in the final edit?

So that was my year. There were a few other projects that came my way and some I missed out on. One was for “Haven” which has somehow now completed its third season without me in it (I’m looking at YOU Haven, for next year! And Fitz!). I spent a day as background on a new series called “Seed” where I was on set as a doctor whose eye was caught by an incredibly sexy girl leaving the waiting room. It was my acting choice to be startled and briefly ogle her as she went by, thank you, it's a practiced skill. As a background performer though, in my room over there, I worked very hard at trying not to notice her while in Holding.

Summer ended and so did work as an actor. On the personal front, I was looking forward to a vacation I’d planned with my son; we were going to go to Arizona. About a month before we were to leave, an invitation appeared in my inbox from the producers of “Christmas With Holly”. They sent one to all of their cast and crew to attend the premiere of movie. The date for the premiere was to be THE DAY BEFORE Ian and I arrived in Arizona.

The premiere screening was to happen in Hollywood. I may not be a smart man, but I know where Hollywood is and when you live in Halifax, Hollywood's not too far from Arizona. We changed our vacation plans a little to leave a few days earlier and flew to L.A. instead of Phoenix.

On the day we drove up to the studio lot at 20th Century Fox. A security guard and a elegant looking woman in an evening gown cleared us to go through the gate. We enjoyed drinks and snacks at the reception under the Hallmark banner, admired the Emmys and Academy Awards on display, walked over to the Daryl Zanuck Theater and inspected another array of Oscars, met some lovely women in our row (including Tracy and her friend Sharon), came back to the reception for dinner and drinks. Mingled and chatted. One young woman came up to me to ask if she could take a picture of me with her mom. "Sure!" I said, all the while thinking how completely ridiculous that was, a picture with me? Ridiculous! And then immediately wondering, "Is there anyone else who wants to take a picture with me?" (Ridiculous!)

A lot of really fun things happened last year. I got to work on a lot (for me) of projects with a lot of cool people. I got to write my first cheque to my new agent.

But it’s going to be hard to top the coolest thing of all: taking my son to 20th Century Fox Studios in Century City, California for his dad’s very first (and probably only) movie premiere.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

3 D

The wardrobe mistress peered at me doubtfully. "Is this your first time doing background?"

So, that’s not the way I wanted to start the day. The question was asked pleasantly enough, but still.

When I showed up on Friday I had only a paltry collection of earth-tone shirts; it's not a colour I usually wear but that’s what was asked for on the casting call. Wardrobe provided me with an alternate shirt for the for the first scene and we ended up "making do" with a heavy brown shirt of mine for a second one.

So over the weekend I bought new shirts and, pleased to show them off, brought those into set this morning.

It turns out we’re shooting scenes that, in the show, are from the same day as the second scene we did on Friday. And so the wardrobe mistress asked me for that same ugly brown shirt.

The one I'd left behind.


I had given that a brief thought, you know, but I decided that since I wasn't specifically there as a "continuiuty" extra I was good to bring all new shirts in. They were nicer shirts, after all!  So despite having done this kind of stuff A LOT, this is the first time I've done consecutive working days and, hey lookit, I learned soemthing new, the hard way: From now on, bring on all the stuff you've ever worn.

It turns out it's not a hardship on anyone. I apologize to the wardrobe mistress and she brushes it off. Happens all the time, she says. The only thing is that I will sit out the first scene we're shooting this morning, waiting for subsequent scenes that take place on a different day.

So even though this turns out to be no big deal, I feel irked with myself. It seems to me I shouldn't be making "rookie mistakes" at this stage of the game.

A nice breakfast helps to improve the mood. Flavoured croissant, with egg, pea bacon and provolone. A potato pancake. Juice and coffee and paperwork to get me all signed in. All the other teachers are called to the set. I sit in a corner in Holding with a dunce cap on.

Well, no. Not really.

Later, I do get to go in and be part of a scene. I'm just moving behind a window, it's only a few takes and it doesn't take long. I chat briefly with the executive producer whose son played on the same baseball team as mine last year. He gives me the okay to take some pictures of the set I can show my boy later on.

Back again in Holding starts the longest wait of the two days. The talk around the table among the other actors there to be teachers starts with behind-the-scenes stuff. First it's union bureaucracy and then it's sex and the people who use it to get roles. Everyone here knows more than me. I recognize some of the names of the people being talked about. A couple are stars. It's a bit too TMZ for me. I close my eyes and almost fall asleep.

I learn we are calling ourselves BeeGees now. BGs. For BackGround.

On set is Diane, a lady I recognize from the one time I was on set last year, what are the odds! Her daughter is here playing one of the students. I commented to her on the coincidence and it seemed she didn’t find it quite as remarkable. Belatedly I remembered that her main job on set is not to chaperone her daughter, but to be a stand-in for one of the principle actresses, same as last year.  Diane was both friendly and gracious in the face of my doofus-ness.

The hours drag on. This is turning into a long day of mostly waiting. With the heat in Holding, I'm starting to feel like an Ugly Bag of Mostly Water (bonus trekker points if you understood the reference). My smart phone battery dwindles to almost nothing.

Lunch was at around 2pm. The next call to set wasn't until quarter to six. We collected in the "staff room" and waited there some more until we got to go out for a single take of the last scene of the day. We were wrapped at 7pm.

But in the staff room,  prior to turning the cameras around to film that one take with the background, I got to peek through the window past the assembled crew outside and watch the monitors again as Jonathan Torrens and Bette MacDonald performed the scene together.

The people here are so funny. And they’re having a lot of fun. It's a treat to watch them work.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Double D.

I've been here before.

I think I spent most of my time as a twenty-something in this particular building, although due to protocol and confidentiality agreements, I can't tell you where. But it's crowded, it's hot and with all the people here, it's a bit smelly. In spite of all the hours I've spent in this place throughout my life, today I have this weird feeling like I don't belong at all.

There are kids and their moms and production assistants who look like they could be either. I'm here to play a teacher, same as last year for the CBC show "Mr. D". But last year we were at a real school. This year it's a set built inside the ... uh ... building that I'm in.

Have I mentioned it's hot?

I get a shirt from wardrobe and just like that, it's lunch. Yeah! Already! At the table with me is a young man, one of the older kids who is holding court, telling us how he knows EVERYTHING. Also, there are two pretty moms. The conversation is boring except when the mom in the low scooped front reaches down to get something and ends up showing me pretty much everything. It turns out I was fine with that. 

I've brought a book and having pulled it out and read only two more pages, someone approaches and asks "Is that Becca's book?"

Yes, it is.

But it turns out that today won't be a day to read books. Already I'm going to set (3:37 when I peek at my phone) and we shoot the takes of a hallway scene where I'm a teacher reading a magazine in the staff room. We're done at 3:48 and return to "holding". Yes, that fast. It was a little disorientating on set, sitting there in the middle of the "staff room" when my brain keeps telling me we're ... uh ... in the building we're in. It's remarkable, the job they've done to build this set.

In the meantime, I've noticed that I'm the least good-looking among the whole entire assembled cast and also most of the crew. I'm certainly the least cool of everyone. But instead of feeling depressed (as I have in the past), I feel like I'm getting away with something. Like stealing somehow. I must be growing more comfortable with myself.

(The nasty part of my brain helpfully prompts, "Also called: Giving Up.")

Back at holding we teachers are talking about books. One of us is reading the third book in the series of 50 Shades of Grey. Someone brings up having read the Hunger Games out loud. I chime in with Harry Potter, otherwise I don't have much to contribute except for a giggle about having 50 Shades of Grey right there on your lap.

Back on set at 4:19, I'm to do a walk ten beats after the director calls "Action". I will walk from here to there. Beside me, Gerry D., the director (he looks so young) and the writer are having a involved discussion about "Game of Thrones", describing it for Gerry who has never seen it.

We roll. In rehearsals, my shoes are too loud on the floor so I tiptoe, trying to do it without looking like I'm tiptoing. I feel ridiculous. Preston, the AD, reassures me. He's good like that. I've decide to do the scene having a peek at my smartphone as I leave the staff lounge to walk down the corridor to the office. It's my homage to the Pierce Bronson moment from last year. Nobody will ever know that's what I was doing (except us).

We do a bunch of takes. The cameras are turned around. My background action is not required from the new angle. I sit for a while in the Staff Room. I watch the monitor as the actors keep running the scene, making changes on every take, making every take hilarious (how will they decide which one to use? I wonder). I go to eat pizza. There are a couple of crew members at the pizza table and I tell the the story I heard recently about the reporter that asked the Dali Lama if he could tell a Dali Lama joke. This is a true story. Instantly, I'm not getting much back in the way of interest from the crew members. I tell them, the reporter says to the Dali Lama, "The Dali Lama walks into a pizza joint and says, 'Can you make me one with everything?'" The Dali Lama looks at the reporter blankly which is more than I'm getting from the crew members who are working so hard to ignore me that I almost laugh. I plow on regardless, stubbornly talking it right through to the end. They furiously avoid making eye contact. This is suddenly a wonderful moment of performance art for me and I'm aiming to bomb as spectacularly as I can. 

And I do.

I see Preston as I walk away from the table. I tell him the Dali Lama story, mostly just to refresh my palette. He enjoys it more.

I return to the staff room.

Earlier during one of the takes, I had made my cross from the staff room to the school office and was followed a little while later by a pretty girl who entered and (in character) seemed to be looking for someone. After one of the takes I said in a low voice, "He's not here." 

She looked at me warily. "No?"

"No. He's gone out. You just missed him." Then I shut up for a while because it belatedly occurred to me that this was one of the main actors from the scene. I had just committed a bit of a faux pas; as a background performer you do not talk to the main actors, no matter how genial and moderately witty you may think you are.

Later she sat next to me on the couch in the staff room. I said nothing.

That was, until she asked me if I had any plans for the Jazz Fest this weekend. I told her that my plans for the Jazz Fest were limited to me not even knowing that there was a Jazz Fest this weekend.

We talked. There was also a Lebanese Festival going on. I had received an invite for that, but here I was on set and would probably miss it. She told me she wanted to go see the new Spider-Man movie. Good movie, I'd just seen it. Really? Yes. I talked about waiting in line at TIFF to see The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus which was the first movie I saw with Andrew Garfield. She told me that Andrew Garfield had his background in acrobatics and had done a lot of his own stunts for Spider-Man.

We talked.

I was just starting to break through my traditional feelings of discomfort and awkwardness when Preston, the big lug, came up to tell me I was wrapped.

So. That may be showbiz, but not really the Hollywood ending I would have picked.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Money-Making Scams

I begin this entry sitting not at a bus stop but on a park bench next to a bus stop, not far removed from one of the city's major universities. The world goes by me and around me, some of it shabby and ominously dressed, some of it young and very beautiful.

It's a sunny day. I sit in the shade of an old tree, I wish I knew what kind. The breeze blows gently on my neck. My leather jacket is draped over the back of the bench. I'm here because of a scam.

One of the Facebook groups I belong to published an alert about an ad on Kijiji looking for models. As curiosity took hold, I went and then saw a different ad on Kijiji that advertised background casting from a company I'd not heard of. I wondered if that was a scam too. The next day that same question was asked by member of that Facebook group and the reply came: no, they're legit. I went to their site, uploaded my info and got a phone call mere hours later (!!!) and that is why I'm here today for the Stephen King movie, "Bag of Bones".

I'm very early.

It's the Friday afternoon before the long weekend and my workplace shut down early, what luck! I drove to this part of the city and circled for a bit before I found a parking space. I decided to use my ages-old military training and do a quick reconnaissance on foot, locate Extras Holding, find out where my room would be today.

It's looks to be a gym you'd find in a small school, the floor marked with yellow lines for badminton courts and a stage with a drawn curtain to one side. It's odd to find this room here, this gym, because it's in a church. Chairs and tables are set up to receive a lot of people. A lot of extras are needed today. First there is a graveside scene and some of the people milling about here are dressed in mourning clothes. The afternoon scene, the one I'm in, is an auditorium scene, New Yorkers gathered to listen to an author read from his work. On the call sheet, there's a list of names about six pages long; a lot of people are here today.

The room stinks.

Maybe it's not the fault of all the people in it. Maybe it always stinks. I don't feel obliged to come back some other time to find out. And I'm not precisely looking forward to spending the day in it.

So, instead and two hours early, I'm outside in the fresh air, sitting in my shirt-sleeves on a park bench, my leather jacket slung over the back of it. Writing to you. Occasionally, I have to brush away some bug. Sitting here in my new least-favourite human posture - head down, thumbs tapping out words on some fucking phone or other - I'm mostly missing all the pretty girls going by. One just passed not speaking English.

In my car is a suit bag with three different suits to chose from and a sports bag with ties, shoes and some other extras including my book, only one book this time, I just started reading it. I decided not to wear one of my suits to work, instead I dressed in a black short-sleeve shirt, blue jeans, dark socks, black shoes and my leather jacket. A closer read of the costume requirements said that the auditorium scene will have different people dressed different ways from suits and ties to business casual to jeans and t-shirts with maybe jackets and sweaters. It said because of all the people that need to be here, we should arrive to set "camera ready". Perhaps I already am.

I wander.

To the park down the road, watching the people, the ducks, the geese and the time which moves slowly but I'm not impatient. I come back to the church (ha) and run into Laura who I only know from Facebook. She doesn't know me at first and almost not even after. I find a guy in a headset who tells me, actually my room is down the road over THERE. There's a Background Holding #2 that wasn't listed on the map, but it was on the call sheet.

Lots of time. I have more wandering to do, another recce. But first I return to my park bench. Tap, tap, tap with thumbs.

In my travels, I pass a young woman pulling a carry-on suitcase. "It's a long walk to the airport," I think to tell her but don't. Later at the room, there will be half a dozen girls at least with carry-on suitcases, packed with wardrobe choices. I won't be able to recall if any of them was the girl I passed, but I figure one must be.

I wander farther than I have to before doubling back and locating my room, a dark, empty studio space at the University theatre with no chairs but it doesn't stink. The people there aren't from Production, they are with the venue. We chat briefly and I leave to find Bliss which for today is the name of the street where I parked my car.

They said things were running behind. But I'll have my book. And you. For now, what I think I need is a better parking spot, but it turns out Bliss is a lot closer than I thought (... a parable?).

I return to the theatre and read for a while. By the time it's time to check in, a rabble has appeared around me. A PA arrives and starts handing out paperwork. We form a line and it soon begins to stink, oh dear, patchouli and body odour. The group seems so young. I might be the second oldest person here and I start to fear being mistaken for an authority figure. I only see one other person with a blue form, a tell, an indication of an ACTRA member. I wonder how many of the rest of these people know what they're in for. It might be fun to listen in.

Post-paperwork, a return to the room, where chairs are being arranged in a "U" with two or three rows. I quietly suggest one chair at the mouth of the room to face all the others. Not much of a reaction. I thought it was pretty funny. There's a paucity of conversation. All the tones are hushed. The loudest noise is the chair legs clacking together as they are brought out. A quick survey of the room reveals a collection of disinterested faces, like a collection of strangers riding the bus. Many heads are down, lost in the little screens of their smart phones.

We get an overall brief from the PA, boiler plate stuff for the benefit of the rookies. I look around frankly at the people assembled. No one looks back.

A second wave of extras arrives, the morning group from the other set. They seem more relaxed and happening. And older. There's a lot of people here now and still not a single soul I recognize. A very pretty woman almost sits beside me and then changes her mind, easy come, easy go.

We are now a bigger bus of strangers. I don't hear anyone telling tales of this shoot or that shoot they were once on, which is unusual. Just a collection of hushed conversations, not all of them in English. This feels more like church than the church.

People glance over and then glance away. There are empty chairs on either side of me when chairs are at a premium. Maybe it's me that stinks.

Laura arrives! I'm up to one (people I know). I say hi, she says hi back. I'm standing against the wall at this point (oooo, my back) and she walks past me eventually taking the chair next to the one I used to be in.

In dribs and drabs, more and more of the crew show up. The scene we'll be shooting will be in the auditorium that's on the other side of the curtain from where we're collected. The decibel level creeps up. And the tempo of things. I go to wardrobe with a small handful of others and after three tries, I have the shirt I'll wear. So, not quite set ready after all. Wardrobe wanted something coloured other than black so I/we don't get all swallowed up by some collective darkness on set. The shirt I'm wearing now is a baby blue, actually a fine check pattern of blue and white. After Wardrobe I'll go to Make-up where, hey look, I found a longer line. Laura passes by again without a word and I begin to fantasize about un-friending her. I wait in line before I decide to bail and come tap-tap-tap to you some more.

Someone has carved my initials in the extreme top right corner of the corkboard outside the hair and make-up room. And underlined it twice. It looks like it's been there a long time. I'm starting to feel the same as the line-up to hair and make-up refuses to creep or even crawl forward.

When I finally get to the door, I see they have people going three at a time. Earlier I did a rough count of how many were here and I got up to about 70. I think more have arrived since. A gentleman behind me was out-loud thankful we weren't there as horned beasts (I should have said, "Speak for yourself"), some such Star Trek 3-hour makeup job. When I finally got there I might have been in the chair for all of two minutes, trying unsuccessfully to get someone to colour the grey out of my hair, all these young people.

For the second show in a row, I meet someone I know from Bedford Players, Nell (not her real name). We sit in the front row next to each other as all the people who have gone through Wardrobe, Hair and Make-up swap from Extras Holding to the auditorium on other side of the curtain - we're now on set.

Not so fast!!!!!

Everyone up and outside. Like right outside, not Extras Holding. There are some lights to be hung or some such thing and we go outside where Nell shares with me her stories of food deprivation and thirst, conditions incumbent on non-ACTRA film extras. Up since 5 am, and barred from the coffee and donuts on set, told there would be nothing to eat, presented later with very meagre snacks, barred from eating lunch until all the crew has gone through first and then relegated to some distant corner to eat.

I wondered about having her guest-blog for me.

I read this to her and she laughs, "That's not true!" I wonder from having listened to her what part I messed up.

I steal away for a bite from the craft table. I'm asked if I belong to ACTRA and then all is cool. I have my snack beyond the sight of the assembled extras outside the door, no need to incite riot. As I'm not quite finished, the gathered herd moves toward me, ah shit: busted. But at the last moment they're steered elsewhere; it seems someone has opened up a separate craft table for the extras and the resulting scene is one like from "Piranha!!"

Back outside, the sun begins its evening slide and the temperature grows cooler. Mandated for the next while to stay outside as the set is blocked and lit, the extras grow chill. Jason Priestley arrives, ducks a glance over at our collected group (shyly ...? Really? Awkwardly...? Really? Is he ...Canadian?) and heads inside in time for first team run-throughs. I've met Julie (who earlier this morning met Laura, small world). She was keeping an eye on some of my stuff while I went to Make-up. Now I'm guarding her make-shift seat outside while she and Laura move off for a smoke. Seating, you might understand, is rather at a premium, here outside the building in the driveway. Sweaters too, as the wind freshens and the air grows cooler.

Some time later, we return to the auditorium. Some of us are specifically assigned places to sit, others, like me, just go find our own. I'm five rows up on the aisle. Stage right. It's cool in here too, but with the lights and 100 people, I'm not expecting it to stay cool.

Abruptly and completely unexpectedly, my name is called.

I've been wrapped!

Obliging but bewildered, I head behind the curtain to see the PA who soon realizes that the pile of ACTRA papers was mixed up and I'm not one of the union people who arrived earlier this morning and who are about to "turn into pumpkins" (ie - incur overtime). The matter having been quickly cleared up, I return to my seat.

The stand-in in at the podium in front of us is replace by the "first team" actor. I don't know him except it's not Jason Priestley. Jason must be playing the Agent in the scene. This other guy is the Author, the star of the movie, but I don't recognize him.

We're ready to shoot it.

Lock it up.

Clear the lights.

Roll camera.

Speed. Speeding.

"A" camera, scene suchnsuch, take one.



Not until he starts reading to us do I realize the actor at the podium is Pierce Brosnan.

Wearing dark glasses, as he looks up from the book he's reading, he seems to be looking straight at me.

Allow me to say it was suddenly pretty fucking cool.

Doing the scene, I try to give it my best. Like my scenes in Mr D where I was WAY off in the background, I work it best I can, reaching for a feeling, animating myself in realistic ways, not wishing to be some dead-eye zombie extra, investing myself with subtle movement designed the reveal Life and Reality, never mind the camera may not even see me. I give it my best. I make specific choices for my reactions. Listening now, I hang on his words. I'm here to listen to my favourite author. I'm somewhat incredulous and horrific-comic at the outcome of the scene, but play it casually. It's film, not theatre. We do two takes. Mr. Brosnan is awesome in the first one and even better in the second one.

While cameras are being turned around, we're filed out of the auditorium, out of the building and then around to the service door where we will get supper (actually, I find out later, it's substantials, or "subs"). The mouth-watering smell of hot pizza wafts through the air.

But your subs are over here: a choice of veggie or meat hot dogs (small shrivelled weiners and keep your comments to yourself, thank you very much) with cheesies. To the crestfallen girl in line behind me, I explain that in the biz, we call that O.P.P. - Other People's Pizza.

I ate with gusto. Then back inside. Three more takes of the same scene, this time the camera is in front of us, riding rails for a tracking shot. The extras murmur amongst themselves after this first take that Pierce took his cell phone from his left pocket where in the previous set-up he took it from his right. Whether he knew this or someone told him, just before the next take he switched it back to the right one.

Finish, file back outside. I talk with Julie and Laura (who I will not un-friend after all) about the day; agreeing that it's a different kind of day, how there's so few people here we know, how some people have actually left after deciding it wasn't for them or they were too hungry or too cold or too something. I'd heard this had happened among the schoolchildren and teens on Mr. D, but I'm surprised to hear adults have bailed today. Laura is still recovering from a bad sandwich she ate early in the morning - it makes her ill talking about it - but she'll stick this out to the end. I'm very surprised to learn she's not ACTRA. It is a point of some consternation with her and we talk about that for a while before heading back inside to sit behind the curtain in Extras Holding where it's warmer.

Mr. Bronsnan does a few more takes of the same scene with a different camera setup but we can't see this one; we sit quiet as mice behind the curtain that's behind him.

As I was covetting a picture of me with the prop book (imagining me holding it up to show the back with the novel's fake blurb and its photo of Pierce Brosnan as the author on the dust jacket), I overhear the wardrobe mistress talking with two other members of the crew about the prospect of Stephen King (himself!) will he or won't he get a chance to come visit the set. Aficionado that I am, I couldn't help interjecting. "Excuse me for eavesdropping," I said, "but isn't it sort of a tradition for him to make cameos in his movies?"

Have you read me before writing this blog? Do I ever do this sort of stuff? Like, mostly never.

So one of the crew turns to me, a slender man with longish, grey hair, a sharp profile, dark-rimmed glasses framing an intelligent fox face. "When he's invited," the man said. "Only when he's invited. I've done a couple of his movies and..." And he went on to say more, but I might have been suddenly having a moment somewhere between Oops and Holy fuck. Mick Garris, director and executive producer for "Bag of Bones", this was the guy I had sort of interrupted.

Moving on.

Back to set where this time it was OUR turn, the camera tracking over Mr. Brosnan's shoulder to record our reactions. We're awesome. Two takes is all we need. Between these two takes Mr. Brosnan observes to us wryly about the scene that we keep doing over and over and a couple of people maybe laugh louder than they need to. But, hey.

The crew breaks down the setup while we're still in our auditorium seats. What next, I wonder. While I'm wondering I'm also reflecting how the mood has changed among the group, from quiet and introverted, all that hushed conversation, to now, when we seem much more relaxed and jovial.

The camera moves in for tighter reaction shots of individuals in our audience. They are pointed to the other side; they've picked a couple of extras to focus on over there. I'm safe for now. Just before cameras roll again, Jason Priestley moves into a chair and into shot and I think, "Oh."

One take. We're done, we're thanked, we applaud, we file out to be officially wrapped.

On the way out...

not by design but from a collection of purely random actions by about one hundred different people...

... I find myself walking directly behind Pierce Brosnan, for those few instants, following in his footsteps.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Back To School

It's August, and the school I'm in is empty, partly because it August and there's still a month to go before classes start up again and partly because it's just past 7 in the morning and I'm a whopping 45 minutes early for my call-time on the set of "Mr. D", a TV series about a teacher.

The Alice Cooper song has been running around my head since I got up.

Even at this hour, people are beginning to trickle in. My room over here today is a cavernous cafeteria. Two of the four walls are glass and the early morning sunshine is pouring in. It almost feels like outdoors. I sit facing west otherwise I'd be blinded by the sunrise. It's a very nice room.

Crew and extras start to fill up the room and the countdown is on to get signed in and move on to what will hopefully be a highlight of the day: the breakfast burrito.


The burrito includes bacon and eggs, cheese, salsa and comes with a nice cup of strong black coffee. The paperwork includes a statement of citizenship, an agreement for one dollar in exchange for the rights to any appearance I might make in a behind-the-scenes DVD ... and a confidentiality agreement.

I'm sitting at a corner table in the cafeteria having just been introduced to a very pleasant woman who turns out to be one of the stand-ins and will be here for the duration of the series and whose name I can't publish because of the confidentiality agreement.

It's a very private school.

After only one hour, some of the kids have already been moved outside. They're here to play school children and I reflect that I've never worked with children before (other than that one time with my own) and I wonder what that will be like. Unknown to me at this hour, after today I will still not have worked with children. We're shooting outside today, to start at least, and today "today" will act as several other days and I will help (apparently) by changing shirts several times, the wardrobe lady having picked the ones I am to wear and in what order.

Unknown to me at this hour, I will only ever wear the one I'm currently wearing in front of the camera.

It's unusual for things to be moving so quickly so early, people getting in front of camera this fast. I wonder, is this the difference between TV and movies? Some kids are outside but so far I still sit in the corner next to the Extra's Holding sign, alone now as the stand-in lady also seems to have left for set.

At two different times background kids come in and sit down to tables at the west end of the cafeteria and are politely told to move over to the east end - where I am - because their part of the room is over here.

I'm out at 9:00 for filming. Wow. At 10am we're back, on a short break as they turn the cameras around to shoot the same scene we've been working for the past hour. I have no idea what the scene was about, I was so far away. My role as a teacher was just to walk down the pathway leading away from the school, far from the camera. In my last job it was like I had a role and a function and a name and even screen time with the heavy hitters. This time I'm a speck passing somewhere way in the back, a true background performer. But who knows what the rest of the day will bring.

Performing with me is a woman I know from having worked with the Bedford Players. As we make our crosses far from the range of the boom mike, we talk about acting and actors and directors, movies, web sites, kids and plays. Two teachers having a discussion, is what it will look like. I tell her a little about this blog and she's concerned I'll write about her having brought a Danielle Steele book to read. I reassure her with a reminder of, gee, even if I wanted to there's that confidentially agreement.

I wouldn't usually use this space to write about my bathroom breaks, but....

I'm heading down a long hall, passing classrooms and lockers and labs until finally I find the bathrooms - one's for men the other's for staff. There's maybe the tiniest hesitation, but after all I'm not a teacher, I just play one on TV. In the men's room, the urinals are REALLY low to the floor. I speculate idly on whether the staff toilets are at a more adult height. These urinals are low AND waterless. Lettered in a semi-circle around the drain is the company's 800 number. I think, this must be the only company in the world that advertises their 1-800 number (actually 866) where it's read from underneath your own piss.

The things you learn on set.

Hey, my cousin's here too and I wave but the guy who sees me first and says hi isn't my cousin but one of the executive producers. He may have had a hand in casting me for "Black Harbour" all those years ago. His wife and I were in "The Sound of Music" together all those more years ago. These days I see him much more frequently. His son and my son play on the same baseball team. I help coach. We say hi and shake hands (I washed before I came out).

At 11 it's back outside where I show off my range. Where originally I was walking on a concrete path away from the school with another teacher, for this part I'll be walking on a different concrete path TOWARD the school (and this is the part about showing off my range) ... ALONE.

It's a tough call, which scene will I be more obscure in. The first one maybe.

At a little after noon, I come back inside for a sandwich and some applesauce. Out of deference to the kids who are all still outside shooting and who aren't permitted to have sodas from the craft table (reserved for actors and crew), I have some water and a grape juice pack. Just so you know, as a card-carrying member of ACTRA I am entitled to the craft table.

But why make waves.

I finish my book.

I start reading my next book, absurdly pleased with my own foresight to have brought a second one along.

Can you FEEL the glamour of it all?

The third teacher in our triumvirate told the Bedford Player's teacher he was from Persia (so, Iran, right?). At the moment he has his head down, catching not forty thieves, but forty winks. It seems to me like a great idea. Later he and I will improvise a game of no-limit Texas hold-em with juice boxes, straws and empty plastic straw wrappers and I bust him six times in a row.

Oh yeah, by the way, as I settled in earlier this morning, I caught a single word spoken between two of the kids and that word was "Neville". Later, I noticed a boy who looks remarkably how you thought Neville Longbottom would look all grown up when you saw him in the first Harry Potter movie. The resemblance is striking and uncanny.

When they are not on set the kids aren't reading books like us old fuddy-duddies. Almost to the last man (even though some are girls and the rest are only boys) they have out their smart phones, an uncollected lot of kids, a half-dozen to a table, all of them independent and ironically disconnected from each other, thumbs tapping out whatever in their separate isolated spaces.

(Sez the guy tapping this all out on his BlackBerry.)

I duck into an open classroom to change into a different shirt. It might have been the French class. There were posters on the wall for the French Riviera and a sign on the wall: "Le respect n'est pas donné. Tu dois le mériter," which I figured the kids hadn't done, otherwise the sign would have said, "Vous devez".

The 2nd A.D. (whose name I'm dying to say because I REMEMBERED it, small wonder, but can't because, say it with me, the confidentiality agreement), the 2nd AD asks me if I've heard from the casting agent. I confess no, I haven't, to which HE confesses that they had me in mind to read for a part, well, well, well. The casting agent had been distressed to hear I was already there for background work but he-who-must-not-be-named assured her I was deep in the background..

"Economically advantageously deep," I said, grinned and he laughed.


The thing with feathers.

I sent an e-mail to my agent as a heads up and then, taking some initiative, I went back and asked the 2nd AD whether I should make a point of hanging back in the deep background to protect whatever future role there might be for me. The inference being not just to suggest a course of action, but to somehow make it official, this course of action, because there are a lot of people here on set who make decisions and none of them are me.

Either he picked up on this or he had exactly the same idea because the next thing he did was get on the walkie-talkie to let the 3rd AD know they should keep my face more or less hidden from the camera for the rest of the day, however else they wanted to use me, all of it a moot point as it turned out.

"Your pretty face," is what he actually said.

I twirled and laughed. "I think I'm in love!"

Two-thirty comes and it's lunch.

Quarter after four comes and lunch is still the only thing for me on the go, digesting too slowly in my stomach. That was a lot of potatoes. Somewhere something is going on but it doesn't include the rest of us still passing the time in the cafeteria in various sundry and generationally appropriate ways. Some new actors showed up (at least one that I recognized and so would probably you if you're Canadian) and they're off filming something at the moment with a small group of the students, just down the hall which is why a PA has shown up to shoosh us all. The shooshing interrupts a meeting with a former neighbour and personal trainer of mine who has suddenly appeared with her son. He and my boy used to play together regularly before she moved away from our collection of condos. We have more than a nice few moments of catching up.

Natalie (happy to use her name since she's not cast or crew) tells me she's also now a life coach ... and then asks me what's so funny.

This, I said, posted only a couple of days ago.

Once upon a troubled time, many years ago, Natalie gave me one of the best hugs I ever had. It was sometime around Christmas, a holiday hug from a random encounter at a movie theatre that no longer exists, she with her boyfriend, me by myself, a moment she probably doesn't even recall and something I've never forgotten.

At seven oh five, more than six hours after last the leaving set and 139 pages into my second book, we wrapped.