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

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