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

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