Monday, March 20, 2006

TRAVELER at the Waldorf-Astoria


Another 7:AM call... for the Warner Brothers/ABC-TV pilot called "Traveler". But luckily it was to be in NYC at the famous Waldorf-Astoria. Rene, the Sylvia Fay(e) rep had led me to believe that we would be filming in the lobby.

No.

It was outside. It was the first day of Spring. It was snowing!!!
And since we had to be background extras in business suits, we froze our nuggies OFF... and so did the principals (one of whom was Logan Marshall-Green) from the TV series, "The OC".

But I have to say, that the film crew, headed by the director David Nutter,

was a tenacious bunch and kept us working almost from the time we arrived to the time we finished at 3:PM. Yes, lunch was served but only after the SAG guys had their fill. This class-distinction is still not sitting well with me. One of the women, with whom I had to walk with, told about her experience on a set with Nicole Kidman, who was very gracious and invited the extras to eat from the SAG-side. She also mentioned that Jimmy Falon was one of the friendliest person since he mingled and chatted with the extras on a regular basis during his movies. Robert DeNero also has a good rep among the extras as being the best food provider. Apparently he caters from the best places and makes sure the extras eat well. I still feel there should be a revolution of sorts to keep everyone on an even food-keel during the filming. I'm neither a socialist or a communist but I do believe in equality when it comes to food. This Hollywoodier-than-thou caste-system has got to go.

A sober reminder of my relationship to this industry came when we were being herded from our holding area at St. Bartholemew's to temporarily line up against it's walls prior to heading over to the Waldorf... our handler kept telling us to "Stay against the wall and let the 'real people' pass by!". It "brought me back" to thinking about my first post on this blog -pertaining to the "phantom zone" existence in which I was... or rather, was not.

EPILOGUE: That's me as a hotel patron passing by the boys as they rush into the Waldorf in the 1st episode.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

August Rush in March



Silvia Fay's rep, Ali, gave me a call last night with a "check-in-number" and the "call-in line" to get the rest of the details for the Newark shoot. It was to be 7:AM!!! Yiykes... I'd have to wake up at 4:30 AM to drive there in time. Fully well knowing that I'd probably be waiting hours prior to being called on to the set and lamenting my obsessiveness to be punctiual. Of course, I was right. But Ali had told me that the movie had Robin Williams and Kerri Russell in it -and I really wanted to see those guys. So I relented and decided to do the "time".



I drove to the NJ site and discovered that we, extras, were not allowed to take advantage of the holding area's (Robert Treat Hotel) free parking space which I had been counting on. We'd have to use the public parking building across the street ($15... caching!), the total toll turned out to be $17.50... so that's $32.50 for the honor of being in a Robin Williams film! Compensation: 94.50 + 7.50 (had to haggle for it) = $102.00. So I guess I would go with it (even though it will get me to lose $100.00 from my next week's unemployment check). Sacrifices I make for "my art"... and so did a few hudred other extras!

The holding room was the Victoria Room in the Robert Treat Hotel across the street from NJ PAC (the Newark equivalent of Lincoln Center), where the filming was taking place. We all checked in, got our vouchers filled out and settled down for a 7 hour wait. Lots of chatting, reading, iPod playing, and other innovative time wasters were being conducted at each of the tables in the large dining-room-type set up. But none of them were as whacky as our table. We had Keren -the "almost violin player"!

Her talkative exhuberance was inexhaustable. It seems she forgot to "take her meds today"! The consequences of which allowed us to observe a relentless yaking for hours on end. It started with her being picked to portray a "real violin player". Apparently, when she was taken by the PA's to the filming site, the audition didn't work out and she was replaced by a "fake violin player" -Carl, the tuxedo guy! This started an endless lambasement of poor Carl and it didn't stop until he good-naturedly brought over his "just-for-show" $38 violin and Karen made an attempt to play it. Although she had studied violin at a younger age, she was unable to bring forth any sounds that would even remotely resemble violin playing. All that, after her rantings about being trained by Izhak Pearlman and desciples of Yasha Heifitz. Eventually, her wind dissipated and we were conversing on the "sane plane" (for about 10 minutes). And it was at that point we were requested to accompany our handlers to the filming site across the street.

Our purpose was simple: look like upperclass patrons of the theater while applauding the cello-playing virtuoso embodied by the role of Kerri Russell. We, the audience, would be moved around the huge theater several times for special effects later to be provided on a blue screen. As a result, a few hundred patrons will appear to be a few thousand in the CG-editing room. Kerri Russell was the only star in this scene and it was interesting to observe her acting... very minimalist (IMHO). Still, it was a bit of a charge to see her. And that 's what this whole ordeal was really about for most of us. To see a star... whether she twinkles or not.

While moving around the theater, we had different seating partners and numerous sound-byte introductions. I asked the guy next to me why he had chosen to do this work. He explained that although he was 33 years old, he had a very high-pressure job and had suffered an increase in his heart beat (160 per minute) and some liver problems as well. It took the doctors 22 hours to get his heart back to normal and now he was ordered to stay away from tension-causing situations. Another fellow was a high-level executive, who left his lucrative workplace because it was causing him to miss out on his family life. Now he was involved with locating antiques (hence allowing him a personal pleasure of pursuing historical artifacts) and selling them on E-bay. As we relocated again and again -I wound up next to a very happy woman who had been miserable as a teacher for 40 years and now she was "pursuing her dreams" by being in movies. Still another person whom I rubbed elbows with, admitted that this background-extras job had too much waiting associated with it, and she would never do it again! I was still wondering why I was doing it... It certainly wasn't because of the money. And how long before I too, would lose the magic of the diversionary "pixie dust"?

I suppose my introspective response would be that the "industry of illusion" has ironicly given me a sense of purpose -if only for an undetermined short time.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Just God and me


She descends effortlessly through the smokey clouds (of dry ice) and hands me (a business-suited politico type), the golden egg, with which I play and then, in turn, hand it over to a soldier who manages to break it -whereupon the gooey mess is seen dripping all over the map of the world... and yada, yada, yada. So now I'm doing politics and mixing it with religion.

Well, I liked the idea that I'd be playing a "support role" to God, so I stuck around for the grueling seven hour wait for the scenery to be prepared. It seems that no one ever prepares their set on time but the "talent" has to be on site and availble -no matter what! The crew was nice and I got to chat with Bobby (aka "God"), an Indian girl whose family hails from British Guiana in South America. She was 20-ish, shapely albeit with a diminutive build and a very calm demeanor. Nonetheless, she had broken away from her parents' influence and decided to have "fun" in the fantasy world that we were presently filming. (There's something "Pinnoccioan" about her story and I was wondering what my role here really was. )

In my mind, I couldn't escape the invevitable effect of my superimposing her deific role upon her mortal personality. And it was wreaking havoc with my psyche. Here I was, conversing with someone who has "somehow" been selected to play "God"... and I'd be "Her" co-star! Hmmm, so this is what "Joan of Arcadia" must have felt like.

Ironic, because just a few days ago I had whimsicly considered applying for a "reality show" wherein you had to submit an idea for starting a new religion. I had developed this whole idea about the religion of the ORB (Thanks again Woody!)... and the leader would be the "subORB"... the congregation would meet in a circle and each follower would ... well, never mind. Needless to say, I never submitted anything. But it was fun thinking about it. The stipend offered was to be $5000 and you would have a film crew follow you around and witness how succesfull you would be in recruiting some "followers". And today, here I was, face to face with "God". An omen for sure! (As in: "Oh man... don't you be messin' with my turf!")

All in all, a very inspiring shoot.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

An INDUSTRIAL gig

I got the call while chatting with some artists at the NY Art Show in the Javits Center -I suppose that being there, was an indication of sorts, given the "industrial" nature of the artworks being exhibited. Giclee… phooey!
Oh well, at least I got to pose with MM.


Call time for the Sunday shoot was 9:AM at the Chelsea Market on 9th Avenue and 15th Street. It's a renovated old structure that has become a combination office space and shopping mall. A welcome "sheeky-trendy" spot for Chelsea's west-side financial infusion.

Heading for the second bank of elevators, I heard some steps clicking behind me through the deserted early morning corridors of the pealing brick walled mall. I held the door and was pleasantly surprised by a young woman whose whispery enunciations of gratitude upon her entrance to the elevator recrated a Marilyn Monroe-type of mystique (perhaps a leftover flashback from yesterday). I guessed at her destination being the same as mine -to which she confessed… and a sense of "mutual functionality" between two strangers had now been established (as opposed to just being "who's this creep in the elevator with me").

We were greeted by our Production Manager in the 6th floor offices of NY1/Time Warner, who immediately provided for a few introductions of the people we'd be working with and ushered us to our holding area: a company-lounge with plenty of space, breakfast food and a couple of "lounging extras". After being wardrobed and madeup… we were brought back to holding and began to consume the bagel and cream-cheese delicacies. The rest of the floor was a modern-designed wide office space complete with a news-caster's stage and lots of electronic editing rooms. I was impressed.

Sean was our director and he called me and a few others for an office scenario discussion. He described four scenes: Finance, HR, Marketing and Executive. As it turned out I got to be in 3 out of 4. During the first scenario, I was standing near the ad-client's copy machine (RICOH), pressing a button, grabbing a sheet of paper and begining a succession of mobile chain-reactive office interactions. While the crew was setting up, I was fooling around with the copy machine and kept screwing it up. Lights were flashing and alarms were beeping!? This activity did not go unnoticed by the intrepid film crew and after a few takes, I was told to change places with a tall, skinny, young German-accented guy by the name of Gabriel. I was placed into a "safe cubicle" where my "paper-interactions" would be more benign -albeit still in the frame shots. The film crew kept bumping their camera-dolly into the desks as they rolled back and forth to get the right shot. The dolly was being pushed and pulled by an ADP whose aim wasn't always within the tolerance levels of the narrow office aisle. As it turned out, sitting in the cube was the best deal since the bumpy shots took 2 hours to straighten out. With all the advanced camera equipment around, I couldn't understand why they didn't use the customary rails. Wow… I realized I was getting smart… I'd better shut up and just enjoy the show. The second scene went better (the aisles were wider)!

The final scene of the day was the Executive meeting room. For those who only got to be in this scene, the waiting time in the lounge was close to 8 hours. At least the TV in the lounge room and the munchies would keep them semi-conscious. Otherwise it's a brutal ordeal -especially if you're not loquacious, sleepy or don't know how to meditate. I kept conversing with my elevator buddy and her attractive friends. One of them kept complaining that whenever she got hungry, she'd have an anxiety attack. I made sure to keep some candy in my pocket -just in case she decided to go cannibalistic. Gabe came over and we hit off a friendship when he found out that I was Hungarian: it's that "European thang"! Eventually, as we spoke, I found myself accenting my own English in perfect Zelig-like style. (Thank you Woody Allen, for putting that neurosis in my psyche.)

We, the "executives" were now all in suits and ushered into the modern boardroom for a meeting-scene. The "CEO" would walk from the copy machine with new favorable info and distribute it to us at the table, where "smiles of approval" would abound. Sounds simple… BUT… by 8:PM we were all getting "loopy" and the cross-banter was making all of us giggle… until we finally got the scene down pat and it was a WRAP. Haleluyah!!! Time to get paid our 100 bucks.

The kicker: we had to fill out W-9 forms...
Translation: paid by check within… a month…two at the most!? ...and of course, there would be the dreaded tax-deduction! A typical industry tactic that reduces your real income. Even worse, my unempoyment check got docked $100 for my "working" one day. That just inspired me to expound a few immature expletives: Shnitzelgrooben and BASZ MEG!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

CUT-oh!



This was a real “Lost in Translation” experience. I was told to go to 77 Bleeker Street for the Japanese TV-ASAHI documentary about MADONNA! The address was easy to find –problem was that there was no crew there. After a couple of phone calls and some frantic door-to-door searches, it turned out to be a basement bar, next to a café near the corner of Greenwich Village's Broadway. Went downstairs and opened the heavy doors into a dark, cozy, warm and confusing scene of young people in various stages of costume changes, makeup and spinning dance steps. The crew was there and from what I gathered, were mainly conversant solely in Japanese. As I approached one of them to ask for instructions, he asked my name and after telling it to him he began to call me “Russ”. Wrong-O! When I corrected him, he kept repeating the same name “Russ”. OK?... I figured it was the confusion of pronouncement problems that Japanese people have between the “L” and “R” –the old “rots of ruck” stereotyping. I was told by the oriental agent, who went by the name of Henry, to settle in somewhere -so I found a corner on the cushioned periphery of the lounge and changed into my silk shirt per instructions for the 70's/80's period wardrobe. As it turned out it was the perfect outfit because the scene was to depict the “early years” of young Madonna as she hung out in various dance bars. I began watching the dancing dudes do their fancy steps with “added verve” when I suddenly realized what kind of bar-scene was being shot as the director’s heavy accented instructions were enunciated…

“GAY BAR SCENE!”

One of the PA’s was asked to round up the guys. She started saying, “We need gays at the bar…” When no one responded she figured she had made the wrong pronouncements so she started requesting “ … we need the homos…”. One of her asian friends started to giggle and waved her back for a little western-PC consultation.

In those days, Madonna was picking up gay guys to dance with. The actress depicting Madonna was a cute blonde, overly made up in rouge and frizzed-out hair. She played her part with great exuberance which was demonstrated by a slight wardrobe malfunction as her “boobies” (her words) popped out of her dress. Prior to each take there would be some emotive Japanese instructions from Hiro, the director, which was followed by the english interpretation from Mariko –our female interface to the mysterious whirlwind methods of Japanese TV/movie making. At the end of each take, the Japanese DP would shout “CUT-oh!”. And Mariko would translate for the rest of us: "CUT!"

My part in all this was background bar-fly and way-background-dancer. When the crew couldn’t remember my name, they would call me the “older guy”. Since I wasn’t exactly very active in any of the scenes, I figured that I’d just fade out with the rest of the crowd as we wrapped up the bar scene and got ready to go home. BUT noooooooo! Henry, the director asked me if I could stay another two hours to do one more scene uptown?! Given the sexual predilection of the existing atmosphere, I began to stutter. Uh… w-w-hat was the scene? H-h-ow far uptown?? (Why me?)

"We make you judge”! (Oh good… my “older guy” status had paid off. I'd be doing a "featured role".) And as the gay guys left, it was me and the girls and one other guy packed into the movie van, zipping along the FDR drive chatting about acting schools, method, Meisner, Stanislavski, Brad Pitt, Nicolas Cage, Dustin Hoffman and having a great pseudo-thespian time. Mariko was ordering “lunch” for us from a fancy Japanese restaurant. We arrived at a church (what else is new) near 1st Avenue and 88th Street, where we snuck quietly in the back, past the main sanctuary, where some services were being conducted. (I realized on my subway ride home later, from looking at the darkened foreheads of the passengers, that it was Ash Wednesday .) We went down some winding stairways, up a rickety old elevator to the 3rd floor and opened an aging door to a dilapidated gym. Aging... dilapidated... I knew I was in the right place.

The scene was Madonna’s high school days – she was doing cheerleading. But there was one thing missing:

“MAKEUP-oh!”


Madonna needed to have “arm-pit hair”. This was a real scream. The ticklish application kept her laughing in stitches while the rest of us were rolling on the floor every time she raised her “cheer-leading arms”. Then came the “judges scene”… just as "lunch" had arrived at 9:PM. A stack of warm goodies (a.k.a. motivation) were waiting for us on the table across the gym while we, the 2 judges, were seated as Madonna pleaded with us to let her in to dancing school. My role was to tic-toc my index finger and say “Not this time!”… then wave her to leave.

They shot the scene from every inanely significant angle and finally kiai-ed the word we were all waiting for -so we could eat…

“CUT-oh!”

We grabbed our dishes and dug in. Very tasty, very good… but the crew was not eating!?
They were packing franticly. And inside of a couple of minutes we were asked to leave (apparently they only rented the space for a short time and evacuating it was of paramount import). Damn! I had to rush eating (hate that) and didn’t get the chance to finish the rice. I scrambled, packed up my stuff and felt the rush of freezing weather around me as I exited the house of peace all by myself, carrying the unfinished dish of rice. No ride was offered to the railroad… in fact they had all evaporated like ninjas… the job was done. It was back to Japan for them because, as I found out – it would air this Saturday! Wow… these guys are fast. Perhaps too fast, because they never asked us to sign any wavers. I guess it's not needed in Japan? Visions of vast amounts of Japanese yens for residuals went through my dreamscape... as I foresaw the eventual favorable outcome of an international law suit: "RUSS vs. TV-ASAHI" for unauthorized use of my image. As it turned out, eventually the whole documentary was put on YOUTUBE.com and I got paid fifty bucks from Henry. ( Flashback to 1991: I was at a tech-fair in my former job, where a couple of celbrity look-alikes were posing... one of them was Madonna-con-mia.)


During my walk to the Lexington Avenue subway station, all I could think about was plotting out how I could find a place to sit and enjoy the rice. But as my five block walk-of-obsession progressed, I realized how the cold weather would affect it and how the taste and consistency would turn it into an unappetizing clump… but I still wanted it and began scheming about how I’d be eating it on the train… and then a kind of zen moment pervaded my primal instincts for the gluttonous goal of my culinary satisfaction… and I realized that I ‘wanted it way too much”… and that there was something wrong in that. So I stopped at the nearest trash can –and let it go.

I had found my own translation and solved the koan of “CUT-oh”.

It's called WEBcasting


My first initiation (there's something redundant about that expression) into the world of making movies for the Internet dealt with the concept of “product placement”. It would be a “Sex in the City” type of series wherein a couple of women search for the “perfect man”. Hence the name of the series: “IN MEN WE TRUST”. When completed, people watching the show on the web could click on the actors’ clothes and get immediate information about it’s brand name and where it could be purchased -in addition to which, they could also have selections on how the story ends. Very innovative… but unproven.

The shoot was in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, on the corner of 8th Avenue and 16th Street –a church (why don’t they shoot more movies in synagogues, or mosques, or Buddhist shrines…?). We were given a morning call to get there an hour even earlier than the original call time… the old hurry up and wait routine again –I knew better. Parking was brutal in Brooklyn so I had to cruise around for 40 minutes before I found a spot –thereby arriving at my original call time.

Our extras holding area was downstairs in a chilly, albeit finished basement where we bantered about movies, politics, paint-ball adventures, celebrity-gossip, martial arts, cabbie stories, and constantly grabbed snacks off the Kraft-table. After stuffing my face with jelly-beans, m&m’s, pretzels and power bars… we were pleasantly surprised by Kelsey, the casting PA, who suddenly announced that we were getting “lunch money”… and that we could go out for 45 minutes to eat lunch. Great… except that it was only 11 in the morning and most of us weren’t very hungry after all the munching. Later I’d go out and scout the neighborhood for something other than a slice of pizza or a hero sandwich. I found Lailah, a Greek-run middle-eastern restaurant that also provided for take-out food. Perfect! I blew my lunch money right then and there on a "combination plate".

Four hours had passed without any activity for most of us. No wonder they called it “holding”. Then a walkie-talkie call blared off of Kelsey's lapel to send two actors "upstairs" for background. Upstairs was a room decked out as a horticultural display. Tatiana Pavlova was the director in the center of a bunch of lights and various assistants. She appeared to be a dark-haired discerning young woman with a calm, Russian accent. Her directions were gentle but specific. The scene showed two geeky males and two ditzy women sitting around a table and having a “double entendre” conversation about the plants:

“Gooseberries… they love to reproduce!” (hyuk, hyuk)

My role was that of a horticulturist, inspecting a plant in the background. Another horticulturist would come over and we’d compare our “stalks”. Cheeeesy!
The whole thing took only a couple of minutes, and then it was back down into the basement… for another couple of hours of male-bonding (the women were smart and steered clear of us) until we were released.

Pay: $40.
Lunch: $8.50
Getting the heck out of there: priceless

I took the Belt Parkway in order to get to the location this morning, but now I decided to return home by way of the longer BQE, even though it was going to be during the busy rush-hour trek back to my house. And although it took me two hours to get home, I considered it a “peace-of-cake” after the “wait-training” production I’d just come away from. They wanted me to return and do it again Sunday in lower Manhattan for the late hours of 3:PM to 4:AM in the morning!

I think I’ll have to sleep... or coma... on that decision.

Oh the HORROR

A chopped off arm here… some bloody make-up there… a chained up guy in the basement… and you’ve got the right ingredients for yet another banal horror movie.

So it was with the Adelphi student thesis film production (ERIE ROAD) in Queens –as good a place as any for me to depict the patriarch of a cannibalistic family. My funkiest line: "Show us what you're made of son... I can taste him already! (accentuated by evil laughter)". Other gems were aimed at an unexpected young visitor: "Can we have YOU for dinner?"


Fortunately, lunch was nothing less than 10 boxes of pizza. Which reminded me of my first horror movie a few years ago (2003) with the director Jeff Lieberman. Jeff had done underground horror cult movies like SQUIRM and BLUE SUNSHINE in the 70’s and then kind of faded away until someone from Microsoft apparently funded him for SATAN'S LITTLE HELPER (possibly in hopes of producing a profitable spin-off video game). I spent 3 midnights in Westchester wearing a ghoulish outfit while dancing to the tune of "Play That Funky Music Whiteboy".


There were a lot of extras with some outrageous makeup and we passed the time chit-chatting while mountains of pizza boxes were being delivered as our breakfast, lunch and dinner meals. The principals, Amanda Plummer, Jeff, et al were eating catered pasta and chicken (I still dislike that class division crap). But I snuk around to the place where the good food was and helped myself when no one was there -then all of a sudden, I came face to face with Jeff Lieberman himself. I extended my hand to greet him but he was already munching on some greasy chicken and couldn't find a napkin to wipe up for the customary salutation... so we segued out of the "Seinfeld moment" by attempting some light conversation about another horror movie director I once knew.


"Do you know Sam Sherman? He does Dracula-type of horror movies..."
"No."


"Ummm, would you mind if I took your picture?"
"Amm..."


CLICK!!!


A short-lived private exchange that exuded the epitome of awkward moments. There really wasn't much to talk about. It was more fun being with the other extras, clowning around and exchanging war stories. One heavy-set guy claimed to be psychic and proclaimed that this Westchester mansion was "definitely haunted". He may have had a point. While strolling around the mansion, I took some pictures outside and later realized that I had "captured" the image of a "light orb". These apparations are supposed to be pre-ghost energy sources... or some inexplicable type of camera lens refraction. Neither explanation has been proven -so far.



Fortunately, nothing scarry happened throughout the shoot. Not fortunate enough however, for Lieberman, for whom the only venue for the film was to be at Tribeca and the Horror Film Festival... after which SLH seemed to have gone the way of his other movies: cult oblivion. Apparently there was no mass distribution. Guess I'll wait for the DVD version... Is Satan cold yet?