Sunday, January 29, 2006

Did you say Guys and Dolls?

Well... sort of. It was actually a movie-trailer with the working title of "SMALL TIMERS" that was being made by the director, Ken Waddell, and I was cast as one of the gamblers in some key scenes. When we arrived, there was a LOT of green screens and green floors all over the place. This however, was not in recognition of Greenpoint, Brooklyn where the studio was located, but rather in preparation for computer graphic details that were going to be filled into 99% of the background upon completion of the film... or video tape... or whatever the high-definition media that was in vogue at the moment. There wasn't even a clapboard being used anymore since both the sound and the visual tracks would be electronically embedded (in synchronous mode) within the HD "stuff". Wow... I'm so glad to be able to blend in and understand geek-talk.

First off, we had to get fitted in the costume department, where Anika and Angela picked out our 1940-ish period clothes. They had the right sized jacket but my trousers would have to be... ahem...enlarged. I was way out of their 36-inch range! And since they really weren't equipped to "rip-and-sew", I had to improvise by "sucking it up", which needless to say, created a very substantial problem for me: BREATHING! So I decided to compromise by sucking it in during the actual movie shoots and later keeping my pants' zippper half-way down during the long breaks. This made me somewhat self-conscious since there were little kids running around on the set and I didn't want to get tagged with an "expose". My zoot-suit jacket would cover the "faux-pas" but I was constantly checking my fly to make sure the zipper was locked in! As the fitting progressed, it was apparent that my black tee-shirt would not do and I had to put on a newly-opened white tank-top-T; brown wing-tip shoes and a droopy bow-tie (which Anika tied perfectly -for the second time in her life). Then came "the hat"! It was severely crumpled and the brim wouldn't stay sharp. Instead, it kept curling up (like Ed Norton's plumber-hat in The Honeymooners). Anika told me to "work it" during the course of waiting around -and it would eventulally conform to the necessary "wiseguy" shape.

With fitting now completed, we had to go over to makeup. It's always a strange feeling to have a pretty girl gently and professionally apply cosmetics to your face so that you can look "tough" by accentuating your every wrinkle and topping it off by scrawling deep-dark-lines around your eye sockets - only to finish it off by powdering your nose to reduce the "shine". The reduced-shine-proceedure would be repeated a few times throughout the shoot per the director's orders -depending on how often he spotted you on the camera's monitor. Perfection... is not an accident!

Now that we were all prepped, it was time to wait around while the set was being built, repaired, modified and repaired again. And it is during this period that you get to know your fellow actors and stagehands. A lot of chatting takes place and names and numbers are exchanged for networking purposes. After all, you never know when one of them may refer you to a good gig. While chatting, I noticed that one of the actors looked very much like Leonard Nimoy, or Martin Landau, or John Cassavetes -and when I told him so, he was elated. In fact, he had been on one of the Star Trek movie sets (Nemesis) playing an alien on the ship's deck. How "kewl" is that?

I also chatted with the child-actors and one of their parents. They were all SAG and one of the mothers told me that they had an agent who got them regular jobs above the $500 mark. Hmmm... getting real pay.... I'd like that. However, you had to join the union and pay a hefty sum. Hmmm... I'm not into hefty sums of payment just yet.

Child actors are great. They are sooooooooo precocious and easy to talk to. I'm always amazed at their ability to learn lines at a moment's notice and speak them perfectly on cue -EVERY TIME! To me, that is a natural talent that we grownups will always be amazed at. A show in itself. The mother also explained that her young son liked it better in this open studio environment where everyone gets to talk to everyone else, rather than being cooped up in a trailer. The boy was in a recent movie shoot, "The Good Shephard" with Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie where he had to spend most of his time in a trailer -bored to death. I guess it's not always so great to get the "star treatment". It seems to isolate you from the real people and prevents an actor from regaining their natural humility -an essential baseline for character development.

During the final sceene we were sitting at the "speak-easy" tables yaking away with our "dates" -all of whom were pretty women dolled up to be even prettier. For me there's an occasional sense of "unresolved regret" whenever I carry on a friendly conversation that you know will be terminated by the director's loud shout of "CUT!". It's as though I've lost a chance at making a new friend. Then again, that's my own fault -isn't it?

When the shoot is over, there is a sense of a rush to get back into our "own custumes", shake hands with each other and the director... and stand in line to get our pay! This is the usual routine for extras.
Feature actors (those with lines to say), however, have to fill out an invoice and wait for the check in the mail. But then again, they get paid twice as much. Hmmmmm... maybe it's time to get myself an agent?!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Paparazzo instead of The Sopprano???

So I went to this audition for a cop role, got the part, and was told to be ready on the 26th. Then my cell phone rings, and I'm informed that it's been moved up to the 24th -OK. So far so good. I'm pretty flexible when I'm unemployed. The call time was established as "noon"... then I get some more cell phone calls telling me that it will be at 2:PM... then some more calls moving it back to 2:15... 2:45... and finally, "just show up in the lobby at 3:PM and we'll meet you!"

A day before the shoot date, I get a call from Grant Wilfley Casting, asking me to be a background character on The Soppranos on the same date as my Discovery Channel gig... CONFLICT!!! What do I do? What do I do?
I turned down the Sopparanos call because I already committed to the Discovery episode. My conscience is clear -but somehow I know I goofed. How many times does an actor get a shot (no pun intended) at being on The Soppranos? It's probably their last season!!! Oh well, I told Grant Wilfley the reason and asked them to call me, "I'm available next week...". She said she'd "Call again...". I can feel the boys waiting for me... YEAH!

I show up in the lobby of City Lights, the production company for the Discovery Channel and wait a while... no one is coming. I'm directed by the helpfull doorman to ask one of the people standing nearby about the crew I'm supposed to meet. He says that I should ride up the elevator with him and he'll check into it... "After all, I'm the president of the company -I should know about this!?". The elevator went down? Wrong button pressed.... but we were chatting away as we eventually headed in the right direction.

"Are you really a cop?" , the president asked.
"Nah.. I'm an engineer." -my reply elicited a giggle from my new-best-friend in the building. The unsaid ironical truth that lingered in the air was that I was a "working actor but an unemployed engineer". A not so subtle sign of our disturbed politico-economic times. The question begging to be answered was: How long before they outsource actors too? After all, computer generated characters are getting to be "more real than real"!

As we got out of the elevator, the entire crew was standing by. He handed me off to them and after a few cross-handshaking introductions from every angle of the reception area, they explained that the plot had changed!? ...OH, OH!
I was no longer going to be a cop. My new role was to be one of a couple of paparazzi besieging a pretty celebrity as she is trying to escape from a cab!?! (And I was so looking forward to playing a policeman -they even took my measurements for the uniform a few days ago... "a boyhood dream come true"... Alas, it was not to be.)

Off to Central Park we went in a celebrity cab ride of our own with the shooting crew in tow. Eventually everyone arrived and the equipment was set up. We, the "talent", practiced our "lines" and our chaotic camera-flashing-attack on the "targeted celeb". During the course of our stint, I overheard one of the PA's say how unfortunate it was that one of the expected actors blew this gig off -and apparently, that's what started the whole change in the scenario. Groan! Our shoot lasted less than 2 hours and when it was all over, we all shook hands again and went our merry ways.

I can't believe I didn't blow this gig off and take on The Soppranos opportunity instead.... I can't believe it... (hair falling... more hair falling).

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

CEO head/hair-shot

Up the elevator of New York Spaces, an 8th Avenue building venture, where studios are rented to prospect for talents, I rose to the occasion of yet another audition. It was a clean and modern, yet cozy professional atmosphere -a direct opposite of the usual fare of dillapidated walk-ups with creaky stairs and dingy hallways. Inside the Ripley/Grier Studios, room 16A, there was a casting for an interesting (read: paying) gig. If you fit the part, you get to go to Nashville, TN and impersonate a big-wig CEO for a day or so. The others waiting outside to be called in, per sign-in-sheet, were of all sizes and shapes, even though the castcall specified 220 pounds and a 6'1" stature. What the heck... I sat down on the cleverly placed park bench next to the cleverly placed sitting stool and waited for my name to be called. There was music wafting from the adjacent studios and in the reflection of some display glass hanging on the wall, I could see a couple of dancers practicing their "Chorus Line" counts of " a-1-2-3-4-...a-5-6-7-8-aaaaand...hitch...aaaand step....aaaand... a-pop..." My reverie was interrupted by a green-skirted young lady passing closely by and turning the corner to perhaps yet another dramatic scenario in the confines of the individual performance cells. Luckily, she sachayed by our bench a number of times during the course of our anticipated loiterings -thereby making our wait rather bearable.

Suddenly, the director's mating call sounded, "NEXT!"... I went in for the adventure of it... after all, how far off could I be, given the variety of my fellow competitors? It was a standard session. A few black-clad PA/DP types, a video camera, a charming female director. Then the usual headshot request, digital/polaroid shot, stand on the line, slate your name, agency, phone number, turn right, read for us, are you claustaphobic, alergic to anything... let's see the back of your head. The back of my head??? Claustraphobic??? (Was that a subtle way to tell me "bye, bye"?). But... no... they actually inspected the "back of my head".

Apparently the chosen actor would have to have a live-cast-mask made (a process of 4 hours of being covered by goop). I started flashing on Star Wars, and Star Trek alien-creation documentaries I'd seen on TV... and heard myself say, " problem! " The director asked if I could be available for the casting of the mold this week -IF CHOSEN? "Sure!"
They seemed impressed and very cordial as "Elvis left the stage". To me that's a bad sign. I like it when they want you to do more readings, or monologues or movements. So I kind of knew this wasn't going to happen for me.

As I went back to my bench to bundle up my coat, the green-dressed girl sauntered by again. This time I came face to face with her as she smilingly said "Excures me..." while waiting an inordinately long time (2 seconds) in front of me in order to pass through the narrow isle which I was opportunely blocking with my unnecessary "getting ready to leave movements". Just another performance at the Ripley /Grier Studios.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Celebrity feets

A while ago... while tripping through the chilly airs of Bryant Park I noticed a small crowd of photographers gathered in the southwest corner. Something was up! I crunched through the dead leaves toward the hustle and bustle of a crowd of maybe 50 stand-arounds... and became one of them. I overheard a woman mentioning that Mayor Bloomberg, Kenneth Cole, Harry Belafonte and Natasha Richardson were going to appear with a kick-off of a new AIDS campaign entitled "We All Have AIDS". I wondered what would be new about it and decided to stick around for a few minutes.

Mayor B. and Kenneth C. spoke for a couple of minutes while the batallion of cameras flashed-up the otherwise desolate and lonely park at 10 in the morning. And although both speakers were emphatic about raising our consciousness toward this planetary plague, the only new thing about the presentation was the dedication of a silvery tunnel-like exhibit which contained the bas-relief footprints of 20 or so additional celebrities. After the short speeches and the photo-ops with Natasha and Harry, I decided to check out the "star-studded-feet-of-clay".

It was cute... that's about the best description of a row of foot-bottoms, which looked as though they would elicit a chuckle if you deigned to tickle them as you passed by. Whoopy Goldberg's were chubby, Elizabeth Taylor's were plump, and Barry Manilow's were HUGE (what a shwanshtukah he must have)! What a thrill to have to look at the bottom part of a celebrity and then consider that "we all have aids". I guess that's new.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Finally an audition-

Ho hummmm... where AM i?
Oh yes. I went for an audition to see if I could get back to my "horror movie roots"... and whdayaknow, I got the part. I'll be a cannibalistic father-figure -who really "likes" his family! Got a few nasty lines to practice -but hey, it keeps my "edge" semi-blunt. Well, what do you want... it's tough at this time of the year.

During my street-strutting adventures through the city, I saw a couple of stickers on the NO PARKING signs, saying that a particular crew will be filming in the area... and if there were any questions, call 336-6350. Coooool! I did, and it was Law & Order. They weren't looking for any extras at the time but the jazzy operator did refer me to the Grant Wilfley castcall dialup. Which, needless to say, I immediately took advantage of. The robo-human-voice at least provided some mailing information to send my electronic headshots to... one of which was So I did... and of course, I'm still waiting for a callback... bada-boom, bada-bing.

Also, I went to a go-see on 14th Street for a documentary castcall. I had to fill out a "keep-yourself-busy" questionaire until they called me in. Got a camera pointed at me, slated my name and was asked to repeat some "first-impression responses" regarding the SUPERSIZE ME doc. And after a few more interview questions I got the old "we'll get in touch with you" response. Ta da!