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.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

My New Facebook Friend: Tom Selleck

Back before the great age of technology, I would get a call from my agent telling me there was a gig somewhere. No longer.

We're not huddled around radios anymore, people. And there's no one fiddling around with the rabbit ears to get rid of the fuzzy picture on the colour-TV. Now it's all HD plasma bigscreen TVs, baby. And Facebook.

(Because it's waiting for me on my DVR, sometime this week maybe I'll watch the movie about Facebook on my HD plasma bigscreen TV.)

I still feel guilty that I don't pay my agent a commission for doing background work; it's a change from my last agent and it's her rule, not mine. She might not even know I'm here today.

The casting agent (different from my "talent" agent) posted a whole mess of stuff on her Facebook site and wouldn't you know, I'm available for some of it! I left her Facebook page to browse over to her casting group's web site where I've already set up an account for myself. I logged in, clicked on the projects I'm available for, and a day later she gave me a call to tell me to come play! Slick as you please. It's just the one I was hoping for too, whattaya know. I'm going to be the Medical Examiner for a scene in the new Jesse Stone movie.

It's Tom Selleck. Again.

The shoot is outside of the city in Sambro, a small fishing village that's a half hour or so from my place. The first big decision of the day was what to wear to set and at the last minute I panicked and removed the clothes I dressed in to start the day - tan shorts and an orange, cream and rust coloured "Charlie Sheen" shirt (we FINALLY have a warm and sunny day) - in favour of a cooler looking shirt and jeans combo and my leather jacket. After my earlier excursion, I needed to feel confident about myself. And earth tones just weren't going to cut it.

The second decision is whether to drive to the spot for crew parking or Extras Holding. Small, stupid things like this are why I need to dress with confidence. I correctly decided on crew parking and after a brief chit-chat with the security guy (who talked about "Tom" the gypsy who has so many different locations to travel to for this movie), I'm shuttled to Base Camp where Extras holding, I'm told, is behind the porta-potties.

Well of course it is.

We're in a 16 x 20 shed with a concrete floor and a long, oval conference table with about 10 office chairs, a telescope and a computer table with a small plasma screen showing static security video from a nearby wharf. The talk is about some forewarning of "interaction" we've received where some of the forensics people might be ... what? Talking with Tom? Who's also the writer apparently? There are implications here.

And then everyone else is gone to wardrobe and I'm alone here typing this out to you.

What will the day bring? That's the excitement, the anxiety and anticipation in the room. It's a beautiful sunny day fraught with potential.

After a short period of being forgotten by the P.A., I walk across the gravel parking lot to the wardrobe trailer where my own best suit is picked (it's the Hugo Boss, Christine) augmented by a shirt and tie not my own. I'm sent to the "five-banger" to change. This is a new term for me, five-banger. It's the long trailer divided up into five dressing rooms, hence, five-banger. The doors are labelled with paper signs: Tom Selleck Stand-in, Doc Perkins, Tom Selleck stunt-double, Stunts. The last door has no sign. It's door #5 where I've been told to change but wait because there's a girl inside.

I wait.

It's so sunny and warm.

The sun washes over me and as I wait, I have some growing appreciation of the logistics of all this, just to back up and arrange all these trailers along this Government Wharf. Setting up Base Camp.

Time keeps on ticking and I begin to suspect that maybe there's not a girl behind door #5. I knock. No answer. I open the door and peer through the gloom and the screen door, taking the first step up into the trailer.

In the deepest part of the room, my eyes adjusting to the dark, there are four men sitting in a single row. They're looking at me. No one says a word. As I start to gasp for something to say (they've scared the piss out of me), I realize they're dummies. Foam dummies. All of them dressed in the uniform of a "Paradise State Trooper".

Things like this don't happen in my real job.

Dressed and having won the Wardrobe Department's seal of approval, it's back to Holding, but not for long. We're travelled by van the short distance to the set. Piling out of the van we head up and over a grassy knoll where a man sits off alone to my left, obscured by a black baseball cap, his features hid by his hand as he talks on the phone.

It's Tom. Of course it is. As people talk and joke creating the hubbub of conversation and crowd noise, Tom's voice, even pitched low, cuts under it all like a strong bass line. I can't make out words and I don't try to. But there's that voice. Again.

And I confess to the thrill of getting to hear it in real life.

The new place for Extras is outside an old, grey, two-story fishing shack. The wooden deck that surrounds it is newer and extends out over the start of the shoreline. Folding chairs are set up for us to sit and look out over the bay. It's quite beautiful. Seagulls croak and call above us. Today my room over here is the great outdoors.

Tom's director's chair is now empty. He has left to shoot a scene.

We wait.

Tessa (the girl who wasn't behind door #5) and I stand by ourselves around the corner of the deck and lean against the wooden rail, looking out over the water. She tells me about working with Hillary Swank and her excitement over the prospect of getting to work with a woman, a strong woman, a tall, strong, important woman - and then she met Hillary who was all of 100 pounds.

I tell her my theory of economy of movement for cinema. Tom Cruise is small. Dustin Hoffman is small. There's a grace and elegance that goes with being slight of frame. It's physics, I say. Put two pennies on a rotating record, the outer one has to move faster than the inner one to travel the same distance. So here's me, tall and maybe gangly and maybe awkward on camera, lumbering my way through space where a shorter, slighter person would move through the same space looking more graceful and much more elegant. Economy of movement. The camera likes smaller people.

About 30 yards away, 6 foot 4 Tom Selleck looms in a silent rebuttal to my theory.

More waiting and minor conversations until 3:15 when someone decides we're not going to do anything before lunch and so we're travelled away from the set to where catering has been set up. As is protocol for a film set, we, the background performers, will sit at a table or two by ourselves and wait until the crew has gone through the lunch line before we get our turn. I have been on movie sets where this protocol was not properly observed and the result was UPSET.

(There are lots of people who work really long hours in this business. I do this for a day here and there and they can be long days. Standing around growing tired feet. The crew does this the same as me only their days are even longer and they do this for a whole lot of days in a row. So it's understandable when people get cranky.)

So we sit and are patient. I've been resisting the craft table so far today and now the aromas of impending lunch waft over and make my mouth water. Tessa, the cheater, breaks out a baggie of trail mix.

At the other end of the room, there's an actor at the lunch table that I recognize but can't immediately place ... until several minutes later when I realize it's Stephen McHattie who, among his host of credits, recently played Hollis Mason, the original Night Owl in "The Watchmen". The cool factor of this goes way up.

After lunch where the conversations were more about our children than anything else (me strongly missing my Boy) we returned to the set and our Background shack and the wooden deck and the water and the views. A small breeze had come up from the water and the air felt a little cooler. It's a very good day to be paid to sit outside.

I reflect how, at this point in the proceedings, Tom and Stephen are like spirits; you don't see them around very much but you can feel them like a presence. Or maybe it's just me.

Time goes by. The sun starts to move around to the other side of the shack.

At this point in the writing, the cameras are being turned around. I've been to set. We've rehearsed and then shot the scene one way with two camera coverage and now the crew will switch around so that the cameras look at it from the other side. With this angle, we'll see the body hanging from the rafters. They're getting the stunt man ready to hang by his neck but not really.

But before, this is what we did:

At around 5:20, I got my "potsie", my buzzer, the tin, my gold sergeant's shield that hangs on a chain around my neck. An hour after that we blocked the scene for rehearsal. Apparently from the script, my name's Herb. So as we start rehearsal Tom, out of character, says to me, "Hi Herb".

Deep, rumbling voice. Casual. Friendly. "Hi, Herb."

After a pause of about seven very long seconds, I reply, "Hi. Jesse."

I'm so fucking smooth.

Once we've rehearsed the blocking, we clear the space for a while and get propped up: purple rubber gloves, a medical clipboard and some pens, a shiny, very sharp silver poking instrument thing that I will use to point at things and REALLY try not to jab anyone with ("How to forever earn the nickname: "Prick").

My cousin is working the shoot as the second assistant director. We've met once before and today we have a pleasant re-introduction. Stacie, who plays one of the forensics detectives, says she could already tell we're related by our eyes and nose. I think to myself, "But Jason got all the cool genes." He's doing very well in this, his chosen career. I'll cop to a fair amount of envy. Jason tells us there's even more Shipleys now; he's just had a new daughter. Another cool moment.

We run the scene and now it's for real, cameras roll, about a half a dozen takes or more and I settle nicely into my M.E. business. Preston, the 3rd A.D., comes over after the early takes to offer suggestions. I do better. Tom gets us out of the scene with a really great line, and CUT. Between takes I'm caught up in the (and, sorry, I have to over-use this word again) coolness of doing a scene with Tom Selleck and Stephen McHattie. Tom stumbles over some words during one of the takes and laughs. Do you say "hung" or "hanged"? It's weird that I remember a very similar conversation being played out in an 87th Precinct novel between the two homicide dicks, Monaghan and Munroe. From reading this I know that the correct usage is "hanged" but Tom decides to say "hung", not because it's the right word but because it sounds better and there's the difference between books and TV.

The sun is creeping toward the horizon and I hear that they are shooting again, without me or ANY of us for this take.

Just the hanging body. The Hanging Man.

The cameras are repositioned and reset. We shoot again. Little bits of business are added to the front of the scene, an extra cross (which I made up on my own, he says proudly), and wow! I'm given a mark! Orange tape on the carpet to nail down EXACTLY where I have to end up when I've finished walking around the Hanging Man. I think the camera is getting good close-ups for cutaways; holy crap it's pointed right at me.

The sun has set. The dog is wrapped (good dog!). The cast is wrapped. The interesting parts of the day are all done. The rest is dénouement. The background is held back and presently we shuffle around the garage space, moving around The Hanging Man who is more comfortably perched atop a step ladder as the camera is also wrapped and we're there to record "wild lines", audio of our footsteps crunching and scraping on the gravel now that the sound-muffling carpets we used to be walking on have been rolled up and put away. At the end of it, the 1st A.D. pours out a bottle of water to the ground directly under the boom mike. Maybe it's the Hanging Man who's finally pissed himself. The last drops dribble out and there's a CUT! and then laughter.

We're wrapped. Before heading back to Base Camp to take care of some final paperwork, change back into my street clothes and get one final startle from the gang of police dummies, I have a brief but nice farewell with my coolest cousin. It was a great day with a fine group of people: Tessa, Stacey and Stacie and Chris and Paul who is also Chris, you had to be there.

No. Really.