Saturday, October 16, 2004

A Seinfeld Post About Nothing

"If it weren't for bad luck," the saying goes, "I'd have none at all."

It's been very quiet on the acting front lately. So quiet that I've resorted to posting about auditions (witness my last post). Make that "audition" since it's the only one I've had in months. Well, it's time to take it up a notch and post about an audition that... well, you'll see.

Work at my "real life" job has been busy and eventful. I do continuous improvement work and lately there's been a bunch of money that's come down for CI. So my left-brain part has been quite occupied with writing up contracts and coordinating training and acquiring materials from our private sector partner. I get to go up to Toronto next week for one of their events: a quality awards gala. It's even more significant because for the first time one of our units will be getting an award. I go up on Monday afternoon next week. Tuesday is the big day and the gala dinner in the evening and I fly home on Wednesday afternoon.

There's also a strike going on at work so on Thursday I was out on the virual picket line. Back at work on Friday, there was voice mail from one of the local casting agents telling me that she was looking to arrange an audition for me with the director who's in town to do the new Tom Selleck movie.

The audition's on Tuesday. When I'm in Toronto.

So this ends up being a post about no audition.


Thursday, August 26, 2004

Displacement Issues

I don't usually give auditions a second thought. I think I've talked about this somewhere else in this narrative. When you start, you tell all your friends you have an audition and it sounds cool. You keep doing this until you realize that this hobby of yours is based mostly on rejection and you end up having to tell your friends over and over again, no I didn't get that one either.

They're about to shoot a tourism commercial for my neck of the woods, and they were auditioning golfers. Well, this would be a dream job. Have someone pay me to hit a golf ball. I'm a golfing addict. Just spent a whole bunch of money on eBay lately to get new clubs, new shirts and other, miscellaneous golfing paraphernalia.

I show up for the audition looking very natty in my black pants and new, red Greg Norman shirt. I'm asked to talk on camera for a bit about golfing and the guy asks me to show off my swing. This I did, despite the fact that there wasn't a golf club anywhere to be seen.

So about a week passes and the audition is done and pretty much forgotten about when my new agent calls and tells me I have a call-back. "You must have impressed them," she says. Based on this short supply of information, I figure I must pretty much have the job and the ad company wants to show me off to the clients to get final approval.

But when I show up at a local hotel for the call-back, there are more people there than there were for the original audition! Granted, not all of them were there as golfers. I'm paired up with another guy who's there in shorts and carrying his driver. Eventually we're asked into the room and the other guy starts chirping about how he had - just this morning! - shot the best round of his life, an 81 at Indian Lake (only a par 59, you should know, which makes that 81 look not quite so good ... meow). So the guy's going on about his game and the director goes on about the guy's shorts ... those are the kind he's been talking about and the two chit-chat about his shorts, and then his driver and then about the director's driver and okay thanks for coming.

I'm standing there, feeling a bit confused, until the director finally addresses me and says, you too, thanks for coming.

I leave wondering what the hell that was all about, a bit miffed about how it all went, how it seemed like a waste of time since anything they had got from me (which was nothing ... except for a nicer blue and black shirt) they could have got from the original tape.

I fretted and walked away feeling like the Invisible Man, which for the audition process, ain't good.

Friday, August 06, 2004

What Hugh Grant And I Have In Common

Not a lot actually.

But there was this movie he made called About A Boy where he played a character who can sit around the house all day, a really nice house, an expensive house,  lives large with no job ... all because his father wrote this very famous Christmas song for which he (Hugh) gets piles of dough because the residual cheques keep pouring in.

(You can read this next part in your Forrest Gump voice. It'll sound funnier)

Well, my commercial for Champlain Place Mall got picked up. Again. And I got two more cheques in my mailbox. Again.

I'm hoping .. almost expecting now ...  that my Christmas commercial gets picked up too.

Oh yeah, and I have a new agent. It's nothing I did, the reins have again been passed.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Christmas Comes Twice in July

The cardinal rule of background performance is this: “Remember that you are nothing!” Running a close second is that you only get one, count 'em, ONE! role in any picture. It’s to maintain suspension of disbelief, you see. That's a fancy way of saying that the producers don’t want you, the viewer, to be a smarty-pants and point out the goof-ups. Hey, look! One of the dead guys from the beginning of the picture shows up later in a bar scene, just over the actor’s left shoulder. Look! There he is! Wait. I’ll rewind it.

Viewers are a bunch of smarty-pantses. I know 'cos I am one. Just ask me about my favourite goof-up from "The Untouchables". Sean Connery's magically opening and closing collar button.

We're like hawks, us smarty-pantses.

So anyway, I got called to do Finding John Christmas, a movie filmed here for CBS last July. I showed up early in the morning to play a fireman. I have to say that the nicest thing about showing up early in the morning for a film shoot is the free breakfast. The “Breakfast Burrito” is pretty much a staple on the early morning film set, bacon and eggs and cheese and salsa in a tortilla; it is especially yummy. I got dressed in my station house firefighter duds and went out to get me one.

Outside there’s a guy there standing next to the catering truck and he's giving me the hairy eyeball. I look back at him. There's a moment or so before he relaxes and tells me okay, go ahead. Seems that he wanted to make sure I was really part of the day’s shoot.

Here's where I need to provide a little back-story.

There are signs that tell you when a movie shoot has come to town. Literally, signs. Yellow signs with hand-drawn black lettering. They pop up along the highways and by-ways, marked with a strange kind of code. Sometimes pictograms, sometimes initials or partial words. If you can break the code, you figure out the title of the movie. The reason for all the signs is to help the team of drivers who have been hired for the movie. The signs go from "base camp" and other pick up points and lead to wherever the day's shoot happens to be. Need to get to the set? Just follow the yellow signs.

Well, when your city starts to be a hotbed for movie shoots (as has become our little neck of the woods), the locals start to figure this out, this thing with the yellow signs. The craftier ones (pun intended for all you film savvy folk) further realize that every day’s shoot generally requires a fresh crop of extras. Unfamiliar faces show up for work almost every day, anonymous "extras" that really aren't worth anyone's attention. Who deigns to talk to mere extras? Ignore them, please. They just aren't worth your time.

Hey and wouldn't you know, at every one of these movie sets, at a certain number of times a day, food is served. Food, glorious food.

So, putting it all together: Follow the signs, pretend to be an extra, be ignored, get a free lunch. Giddeeyup!

The guy next to the catering van told me all this. Slyness on this magnitude never would have occured to me in a million years. I marvelled at the rat-fink ingenuity and then chowed down on my burrito, legitimately earned. Yum.

The morning went by at a leisurely pace and I finally got to do my scene in the fire station with Valerie Bertinelli.

That is to say, she was there and I was there.

If I implied that there was any interaction between us, surely that was purely accidental! (Okay, yes, I was funning with you for a sec.) At one point there she was sitting quietly and by herself in her director's chair, me only a few paces behind her. A chance to chat her up, did you say?

Well, see, what do you say? Hey. Having a good time? Liking our town? Still in touch with that rock 'n roll guy? All good ways maybe to get your butt kicked off the set (some maybe better than others). So you stand there, silent, and most of all: employed. Be a professional, godammit!

I've bumped into several movie stars and with the exception of James Rebhorn who I almost accidentally killed in the bathroom (that creates an instant sense of fraternity, I guess) I've never chatted any of them up. It simply comes down to the fact that there's ... really ... just ... nothing to say. Also, you shouldn't.

(Also, alos: I'm severely socially handicapped, the subject of a different kind of blog. Help me, please help me!)

She is a sparkplug, by the way, that Valerie. She's not tall, not physically imposing or anything, but boy, when she speaks, she becomes the center of the universe. She's got that little girl voice that, somehow and pardoxically, explodes into a room.

She is made entirely of pleasant energy. I found her remarkable.

For the scene, I was just there to mill about in the background. The 3rd A.D. had us going to and fro, poking through the coats and boots and helmets that were there on a rack. On behalf of the entire group of extras, I decided that we were looking for the cat (an actor must have his motivation, after all). It cracked us up, somehow - gave us our own energy. We were rooting through pockets, checking out the big rubber boots, looking for the firehouse cat. "What cat?" someone asked and we giggled.

A few weeks later I got a call to do John Christmas.

Well ... hang on. I've done that one already. See Rule number two above, and all that. But the casting agent was desperate. It had been a long shoot and she'd pretty much run out of people. She asked me which scene I'd been in and I told her. Given the types of shots I was in, she figured it would be safe to use me in a second scene. Given that they were looking to pay me more money, I figured I'd do it.

For the second go-round, I played a doctor.

It was hot that day. I parked near some construction on a dusty road and schlepped past all the trailers for the stars with about forty pounds of clothes over my shoulder – you bring lots of options for the wardrobe people. I get myself to Extras Holding and they gave me scrubs to wear (too small and tight enough to show my religion). They even provided me with sneakers and white socks. I got to keep the socks. The perks!

There was snow in front of the building, this in the middle of July. On the hottest day. There it was. A front-end loader carted it in, more and more ice-as-snow to keep it fresh.

We makers of magic.

Speaking of magic makers, the executive producer for the shoot was Daniel H. Blatt. During my part of the shoot, a short, almost timid looking man showed up and kind of limped around behind set. He looked at me almost tentatively and I said "Hi". I'm a friendly guy, after all (socially retarded, but friendly). He nodded back. I didn't know who he was, but in spite of his less-than-imposing presence, I kind of got the sense that he was "somebody". After supper was over that night, the last night of shooting, the Executive Producer got up and made a little speech. It was the man from behind the set, Mr. Blatt. He thanked his cast and crew for their work on what had been a long shoot, especially Ms. Bertinelli who was present and appreciative. Following the thank-you speeches, everyone from the film’s cast and crew received a gift. This is customary. Hats, shirts, sometimes jackets, stuff like that - a customized memento as a thank-you from the producers to cast and crew. Since I was there as a background performer, well … I’m not part of the cast and crew, so, no gift for me (not counting the socks). But I thought myself fortunate to have been there for that day, because I got to share in the vibe, that feeling of the moment.

The gift consisted of a box, a perfect cube, about 4x4x4, wrapped in white paper and tied with a coloured ribbon. Unwrap the paper and what you found was a a mini-, aluminum case (imagine the picture in the link only silver and square). Inside the case was a watch. On the face of the watch were the exec producer’s initials. The crew was genuinely impressed and appreciative. This was a group of folks I recognized from many other shoots. I heard many of them saying it was the nicest gift they’d received on a shoot.

Christmas in July.


Still To Come

  • Hey! I'm all caught up! Stay tuned for the further adventures of!!!

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Break on Through To The Other Side

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted. There’s the Valerie Bertenelli story I’ve been holding onto. There hasn’t been much going on in the area since before last Christmas, and maybe I’ve been holding onto that story in reserve so I won’t feel like there’s nothing left….

I had a horrible bout with back trouble in April and May. I only bring this up because, even though I was off work, I dragged my sorry butt and sore back into two different auditions. One was for a movie called The River Man and the other was for the prequel to last year’s CBC mini-series “Trudeau”.

Weeks pass. My back got better. My sinus infection cleared. A flu bug came and went. I somehow escaped being shot behind the barn, that's how rough of shape I was in. And I got my haircut, a clear signal I’d given up on anything coming from the auditions.

The casting agent called me with an offer for to play on Trudeau: The Early Years”. It was only one line. Maybe two. But it was an Actor part. Was I interested? Both interested and available I informed her.

I took my son to the wardrobe fitting. I picked him up from the babysitter and tried my best to explain to him why Daddy needed to go downtown and what a movie set was. He asked me in a puzzled kind of voice, “Daddy… are you going to be a movie star?” Very sweet of him, but I assured him I was not. We got to set and the wardrobe truck, which was actually parked inside. My son thought it was very cool, a big truck like that parked indoors. He was a hit too (naturally) and different members of the crew treated him to muffins, apple juice and Smarties.

Not surprisingly, he wanted to come back on the day. I wish I could have brought him.

So I show up on another lovely sunny and warm day in our area. I park my car and check in. I’m shown to my trailer.

My trailer.

I got a trailer. Make that "My Trailer".

Never mind it's a shared Trailer. A long, sectional thing that's divided into about four 6x6 rooms. Some people actually call it a kennel. There’s a production assistant who’s very pleasant and polite and always asking me if I want something to drink. Sometimes I say yes. Mostly I hang out in My Trailer, reading my book, killing some time. At some point I’m (interupted) invited to Hair & Makeup where I go get a haircut and my face done. The makeup lady is the same woman who was on my first real shoot for Atlantic Lotto. We’ve run into each other a number of times since. She’s always very nice. She clips my nose hairs and then it’s back to the trailer. In an hour the P.A. comes back to tell me that we’re broke for lunch. Whoo! It's been hard work so far, good thing there's the lunch break. I put down my book and have a lovely meal of pork with mushroom and bacon sauce, rice pilaf and “Colonel Corn with the candlestick in the library”. For desert there is a cheesecake cookie with chocolate and pecan pieces. Yum, and yum.

Afterward, it’s back to My Trailer. Read a bit more, lie back for a while, sit on the doorstep of My Trailer and enjoy the sunshine beating down upon me.

We’re a long way from Extras Holding, baby.

Slowly we start getting geared up to do the scene. I get my suit, a Gucci tie. It takes a couple of tries to get the right white shirt. My pants (which will never be seen on camera) need a bit of pressing, but we can do that later. So, to the set we go, chauffeured in a transport van. We do a blocking for the scene and we’re cleared so that the crew can set up the camera and lights. Back to My Trailer, now in my shorts and black socks with Oxford shoes while my pants go to Wardrobe and get a proper crease in them. Me on the stoop in shorts, black socks and Oxfords. It’s a good look, I say.

In a while, we’re back at the set, doing the scene for real. There are other folks there as Extras, all dressed in suits and ties. All of us supposed to be bureaucrats, but I’m the one with the line. Somehow it makes all the difference in the world, that line. When we finish a scene, we’re cleared from the set; the A.D. makes a point of saying “Clear for background and Ken” (that’s me). When we finish up for the day, they wrap “background and Ken”, then the 1st A.D. plucks at my sleeve and asks me to wait for a sec. Sure, I tell him. Anything you want. He calls into the room, “That’s a camera wrap for Ken everybody!” The crew applauds as a send-off. It’s a very nice moment, the first time for me. Some Extra asks me where I’m going next.

Home, I tell him.

Where’s that? he asks, and I know he's figuring I’m going to tell him I’m from Toronto. Because I had a line, see.

Home to Bedford, I tell him to his great surprise. I want to tell him, mostly I'm just like you. An Extra. But I don't.

It was a very nice day, getting to work a couple of levels higher in this fabulous show business caste system.

I’m sure my future postings from the world of the background performer will only be more acerbic as a result.



Still to Come


  • Christmas with Valerie Bertenelli (I promise)

  • More stuff I haven't done yet but hope to.