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.
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.
"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.
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.