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.

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