Sunday, July 29, 2007

Silvercup Studios and "The Arena" commercial

I was alreay familiar with the navigable environs of the confusing "Streets" and "Avenues" criss-crossing this area of Queens, which made my trip relatively shorter from Long Island.
As my car was nearing the studios for my 1:PM call to set, I was also on my cellphone to my friend Massimo -who runs a silkscreening company nearby. I needed some tips on parking possibilities and he gave me some expert guidance on the best (and cheapest) location.
The walk was only 2 blocks up and the guard here was much more informed than my previous day's experience at Kaufman-Astoria Studios (excrucio) that were also in this upcoming neighborhood.

I was given a pass and immediately shown into Studio 3, where Persona Films were preping the green background for the CMS FOREX commercial shoot that I and about 40 others were slated to act in. Max and Shaun were the PA's who were handling us. Their professionalism was exemplary -they were curteous, doting and informed. We were immediately given access to an air-conditioned room, a large cooler filled with water, soda and gatorade... as well as snacks and a large mirror with the traditional stage bulbs attached to its periphery. What a difference from the shlocky "bums-rush" treatment at Kaufman-Astoria Studios.

The makeup lady came in and took us into her area for some "touch ups". As I chatted with her, I realized that it was Paula -she was also part of the makeup crew for "Revoutionary Road", which we both worked on a few weeks ago. My shiny forehead was now completely dull from Paula's makeup pallette and we were ready to go into the studio.

"Don't walk on the green paint!" was the immediate direction from several PAs. Two huge walls were completely painted bright green with some accurately placed "cross-hairs" for later CG-simulation of a Romanesque arena. And then we were guided to a four level fabricated set of bleachers, upon which we were to stand in our dark suits under the HOTTEST STUDIO LIGHTS I've ever experienced. Our young director, Yan Vizenberg spoke with a Russian accent:

"You are agressive stockbrokers in the podium where there are four animated currencies -they are fighting it out. Yell loud and cheer them with thubs-up or thumbs-down... throw paper and talk on your cellphones and crackberries!" The rest of our direction came from his bald-comical-stocky-bearded assistant. "LOOK AT THE RED 'X'... LISTEN FOR THE GONG... LOOK SURPRISED. It was a real directorial show!

[That's me in the circle -although I must have been replicated at different times doing different motions all over the arena!]

The shoot took about 6 hours... Yan and his English-accented partner Helga were constantly conferring abut the specifics as we yelled our heads off for fast-mo, slo-mo,!!!
Shots were positioned from the left, the right...from the back -we were shuffeled constantly... front row shots...then back row shots. And although we were given breaks, our shirts (and underwear) were soaking wet from the exhuberance and the super-hot lights.
At the end we met Max in the lobby, where he doled out our envelopes containing $50. We also learned that the commercial will air only in the industry circles of the financial arena's brokerage houses. What irony... my "real-job" usually takes place in the environs of Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan Chase, BlackRock et al. It would be a real kicker if I landed a job soon and saw myself in this commercial... OY!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Kaufman-Astoria Studios and the "Power Of TEN" game show

Arriving at the Kaufman Astoria Studios parking lot, just across the street from the business entrance, resulted in an immediate argument with the parking lot caretaker. An elderly man wearing blue overalls speaking with an overbearing foreign accent that easily leads to a mish-mosh of misunderstandings for parking instructions. As I pulled up and asked how much it would cost to park here, he gave me a long cocophonous explanation that enventuated on a single phrase of communal understanding: $7.00 -Sounded fair to me.

But as soon as I gave him the money he told me to leave the convenient parking lot and embark upon a search for a movie-house parking area a few blocks away... where I could now park my vehicle on a rooftop area! Huhhhhh?

"Give me back the money -I'll find my own parking spot for free!" I retorted. And I did... right across from the big front entrance to the studio-building that was just around the corner.

After going into the lobby and asking where the "POWER OF 10" extras were to be assembled, the guards behind the security desk knew nothing. Eventually they called a neuromancing PA with a jacked-in secret-service-type of earpiece that was constantly issuing instructions and status updates to her somewhat over-multi-tasked brain. Nonetheless, she was able to point me in the right direction with as little eye-contact that she could afford... "go outside the building and around the OTHER corner! You'll see the others lined up there." Here we go...

Around the corner... there were about a hundred young people waiting to be called in for audience seat-filler gigs. It was a new game show hosted by Drew Cary. But no one was going in... everyone was just mulling about aimlessly. As I found out later, there were 2 groups: people WITH tickets and people who were EXTRAS from varius agencies. Mine was Extra Mile...others were Kaplan...etc. And the reason no one was going in was because they overbooked the number of extras (who would provide seat-filling-talent, should the ticketed population decide on not showing up). But the "ticket holders" were arriving en masse and we extras had to stand around without shelter, drink, food or toilet facilities from 6:30 PM until 10:30 PM before there was a need for us. And then finally one of the PA's announced: "I need 15 people...", and IN we went to the audience area with the show already in progress. Our "act" was to "CHEER Drew and the contestants"!
Oh joy...been there/done that at David Letterman and at Millionaire.

After 20 minutes, the show ended... Drew gave a short and quick bye-bye and went off the stage, high-fiving me as he passed by. What-a-guy! (What a dull gig!)

In the process of waiting around for hours prior to being called into action, I made a few new friends... most of them Italian -one of which bummed a ride off me to Long Beach. I didn't mind. It made me feel more usefull than a hungry, thirsty, piss-filled cheerleader.

Adam Sandler and his messy ZOHAN (whatever that is?)

My agent notified me that it would be a night shoot but that we "wouldn't be working overnight"! YEAH...RIGHT...

When I arrived at holding for the 8:PM weeknight shoot, everyone was shmoozing outside St. Mary's on 46th Street. It was a very humid and hot night that kept us sweating for most of the 9 and a half hours that we were to spend here. Inside the church, there was no air conditioning, no food and no production assistants to check us in. They arrived late and that pretty much set the tone for the night... LATE!

After about 6 hours, I went inside the holding area and just took in the heat for a while. My friend Pat, came over and intoned: "You must be CRAZY, NUTS and someone must have DROPPED YOU ON YOUR HEAD if you're staying in here!" -and gave me a friendly, albeit concerned smile. I was into my Gurdjieffian-fourth-way mental exercise of "CONSCIOUS EFFORT and VOLUNTARY SUFFERING..." (but I could never explain that to him in 25 words or less). So I smiled back. Suddenly an announcement was made and we were taken to Times Square and set up on the super-busy post-midnight sidewalks as "added pedestrian fodder" for the evening's big "limo-scene" (oh... a pun). The white stretch-limo was driven by a stunt driver with an Adam Sandler-standin (for safety, no doubt) sitting next to him as the vehicle careened up Broadway opposite the one-way traffic flow -zigzaging past all the oncoming cars. I have to say that the driver was excellent because he had to repeat the scene several times with the hairline-crash-misses intact. Bravo!

Unfortunately, with all the stars in this movie, we never got to see ANY of them. Not Adam Sandler, not Rob Schneider, not Mariah Carey, not Henry Winkler, not Talia Shire... nada, nookoo, nyitzky-nyitzky, swah, zipo stars on this set!!! So it was very disheartening to go through all the hot weather and lack of food, and standing for long periods of times without rest, etc... without the "reward" of seeing one of the principal characters. About the only thing we were given was water bottles and left-over cookies, potato chips and lolly pops... and the only "star" we saw up close was the limo-driver being made up with a wig and a hat! Oh well, chalk this one up to yet another Gurdjeffian exercise: MAKING SUPER EFFORTS!!!

The gates were checked and we were sent home at 5:30 AM... the sun was begining to rise. And as we extras commiserated on our way out, we vowed NEVER to do night-shoots again! It just wasn't worth it for $7.50 per hour. Some of us even vowed NEVER TO SEE THIS MOVIE!

Monday, July 16, 2007

DiCaprio,Winslet & Mendes on a Revolutionary Road

The dream team! I wish I could have kept dreaming but... I had to self-report to the set of Revolutionary Road in Fairfield, Connecticut at 5:30 AM. We, background extras, all needed to get a 1950's haircut and this crew didn't like to waste any time. We had to eat our sumptuous breakfasts while filling out our I-9 forms, obtaining our fitted wardrobes (bathing suits)... and board the bus to the nearby beach: Sasco Beach. A Long Island Sound beach with rough sand and plenty of rocks to walk bearfoot upon. Luckily, the weather was cool and cloudy, so that my "bare bodkin" was somewhat spared by the summer's usual tempermental elements.

My placement was relatively near the principal charachters so that I was able to observe them up close as they went through their thespian routines as well as their personal ideosynchracies.
DiCaprio likes to bite his nails and often uses a toothpick. Kate Winslet likes to keep her hands on her hips and maintains a serious attitude. Both are excellent actors and deliver their lines with the appropriate accurate physical accompaniments (happy-sad-mad) -as the scene calls for it. And the scene called for a lot of "it"... especially from the director and husband of Kate, Sam Mendes.

Mendes is a very meticulous director. He doesn't like to let go of a scene easily. So there were a lot of retakes... in fact we started to call his style "The Groundhog Day" style...named after the repetition-themed Bill Murray movie. Over and over the takes were requested and delivered, until eventulally Sam was satisfied and shook his wife's hand! How nice...romance and gratification. What a team!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The "27 Dresses" of Katherine Heigl

( This was one of the best background exposures I ever got in a major motion picture. Even my wife shouted "WOW! That's you..." )
It just keeps getting better and better... these 3:PM call times are great!
The studios must have figured out after all these years that getting the extras on set in the early morning is just another way of assuring them more overtime pay! After all, there is so much to set up at the locations: euqipment, lights, props, fabrications, food...etc. This time we were taken to set at 5:30 PM -not too bad of an initial wait for those of us dressed to be part of the NYC backround business crowd. Unfortunately it was a different story for the "wedding guests"... they had to wait 9 hours in their fancy costumes prior to shoot time!

Katherine Heigl and Judy Greer were waiting for us on the corner of Madison Avenue and 50th Street last Sunday. They were dressed in shiny purplish bridesmaids outfits and kept picking up their dresses' bottoms as the humid city streets radiated the clammy summer heat up their legs. Between takes, Judy Greer was wearing flip-flops instead of the high heeled accessory and Katherine Heigle had a lit cigarette pulled in and out of her mouth by a doting production assistant.

"Oh no Katherine...DON'T SMOKE! It'll just make your `anatomy greyer'..." I undertoned to my partner, a fellow "businessman" with whom I was paired for the walkby shoot that would start in a moment or two. And after discussing with him how often women seem to be getting lung cancer, he and a fellow extra, dressed as a hippy, lit up a couple of "fags" of their own (pardon my British).
The shoot was over in an hour or so and we were taken back to holding: The Women's Republican Club on 51st Street off 5th Avenue.

Going up to the 2nd floor, there were portraits of famous patrons, first of which was Nancy Reagan. "She used to carry a gun in her purse!" I mentioned to one of the extras in my group.
"Did she REALLY?" was her response. Many of the extras were young and "before my time", and as I found out later, devoid of political savy that predated Saturday!

Upstairs we were seated at a dozzen or so linen covered, albeit unset, dinner tables while the SAG crew was lined up to eat. We, the non-union people, were told in no uncertain expletives that this was for "SAG ONLY...SAG ONLY!!!". So I got on the line and got my portion. (They rarely check for your SAG card proof.)

Meanwhile, back at the table, we were told to "scrunch" together because more people were coming!? This created an intimate group of 10 people at our table with various backgrounds whose stories ranged from experiences of living in a haunted house, the simple life in South Carolina and the eventual topics of religion, politics, weird jobs and writing the Great American Novel! Along with the banter and a rousing round of a card game that has come to be called BULLSHIT... we managed to pass the hours away until we were summoned again to the night-time streets in front of the New York Palace.

Built in 1882, it evolved from housing for the local gentry to being a fancy-shmancy hotel. We were taken over to the set and placed on our #1 marks as a large truck pulled up and began to wet down the street. "They always do that for night shoots! It makes it look prettier on the film!", my new loquacious walking-partner explained as my beige pants were being sprayed. In between shoots, she proceeded to tell me her life story for the next hour: actress... therapist... religious instigator...and back to being an actress again!

"And what about you?", she deigned to ask... when suddenly the PA's called out, "Who's non-SAG here?". Immediately my hand went up -hoping for what would eventuate. And it did. We, the non-SAGers were told to go back to holding, where we were to sign out and go home!!! Excellent timing.