Thursday, September 27, 2007

New Amsterdam in Brooklyn

Williamsburg, Brooklyn - the new Greenwich Village... but only on the west-side of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. A late season release for FOX-network TV, this sci-fi detective series was shooting this particular episode in the Brooklyn Beer micro-brewery. This will, I think, be the last gig for me... I've landed a major full-time job in NYC... in fact, in the very middle of NYC: Times Square! And the realization hits me that I have to leave all this fun and friends... yet again.

Oh well... let me get "into character" one more time.

(Episode 6 aired on 3/31/2008-with me in the background and the patriarch hood descendant, Theo Spoor (Larry Keith) in the front left.)

We were all mafiosi, attending a wake for a "dearly departed". And most of the extras picked for this role, really looked the part. Everyone was dressed in dark clothes and a somber attitude -with lots of laughs and chattings between the somber re-takes. I was paired up with Chris, who has been in this business (showbiz, not mafia), for the past 20 years. He was SAG and knew how to make between 20 and 30 thousand dollars per year, being an extra. He also explained something new to me: how to collect unemployment when not working in gigs... hmm! I never did that since I always thought these were only temporary jobs, and not really enough to garner unemployment checks. But Chris knew that they always deduct NY TAXES... and so... you can apply for UI. You learn something new in this business every day.

The star of the show was a foreign film star, Nikolay Coster Waldau -who resembled Dennis Leary... a lot! The director was Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, Cider House Rules... and husband of Lina Olin). Lasse was tall and bald. Which was strange, because in all of his internet photos, he has hair. Oh well, maybe I'll shave my head too one day when my hair gets too thin to do combovers!!
One of the guest stars that Nikolay played a scene with was Adam Storke (Mystic Pizza-1988). Apparently the two characters have a disagreement in the back of the wake-area and Niklay storms out (of the brewery). This is the scene where I was tapped to do a "walk-by".
One of the DP's came over to me and put me next to his camera. He then instructed me to start to do a "banana walk around" of the oncoming star. But the "oncoming star", Nikolay, came over to me also and pointed to the ground where there was a large white spot, saying "When I pass by that, YOU start to move...". WOW! A principal actually spoke to me -directly... with "direction" for the first time in my showbiz career.

I nodded in acknowledgement (he didn't look like he wanted to discuss the matter too much further...). And then the film rolled, ACTION! was called... we did the scene... and it was a wrap!!! Neat. It was a perfect take. The look on the star's face was bewildering. He had a disbelieving grin on his face as he rushed by me... without the slightest of a nod for a "job well done"! Sheeesh...
In the final cut I was literally a blur going past Nikolay as he pauses and looks up in recognition of a painting that he did a hundered or so years ago!

"LUNCH!" was called at around 8:PM and we did the caste-system-lineup: crew, SAG, us extras...
But there was plenty of good food so people could go back for seconds if they wanted to. Few of us did... we just piled it up into 3 plates on our first go-around! There was lot's of political chatter around our table which eventually melded into the aether. Evening had arrived and it was dark outside, so the bright flood-lights were brought into service. A few more scenes and we were wrapped for the day.

On the walk back to our holding area, a Russian orthodox church some 6 blocks away, people struck up conversations with each other. As I was ambling along, suddenly a hand with a cell-phone jutted in front of my face. A young blond girl was attached to it. She began a conversation with me saying: "That's my dog... look how cute she is in that position - my "Moms" just sent me this." It was a bright blob of light on her cell phone... I really couldn't make out the details of the picture shining in my eyes on her cell phone, but I went along with the impromptu conversation: "That's great! Tell me about your dog..." No problem there -she went into a monologue of sorts :
"She is just the best ever dog... got her from a shelter... hated to leave the shelter because you know what will happen to the others, but... my Moms wanted a smaller dog, but... and she is a 'waterdog' with webs between her toes... and she does these cute things like immitate the way I sit... I just love her...". Reminded me of this telephone commercial I once saw on tv -where a young prepubescent cheerleader-type teen goes on and on with run-on sentences while digressing about "...I love chewing gum..."!!! But this girl's demeanor of striking up a sudden friendship just like "that", caught me by surprise and I was feeling great about it... I began to filter out her talk and notice how pretty her face looked... and wondered what made her befriend me. Unexpected flirting like that hasn't happened to me since I was 16.

And then it was "wake-up time" -we arrived back at the holding area scattering to our respective seats as the check-out line for the voucher-signing began to form. I asked the PA doing the administration if I could have a "waiver" (after all, I did a 'banana-walkaround') -but all I got was a guffaw. So I packed up my stuff and shook hands with the guys around the table and Sara, my impromptu doggie-story-teller... and said good bye. I walked over to my car and blasted out of Williamsburg a millon miles above the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Jogging in Central Park for a LINCOLN Mercury commercial

Yet another cushy gig... commercials generally are!

A car promo for Lincoln Mercury that had to have some elements of jogging and spectating hired about 60 of us to be extras in NYC's sunny Central Park. The director was Roger Michell, famous for his direction of the movie Notting Hill and the fallout from his sudden departure of not wanting to direct the 22nd James Bond film due to that old directorial demon: "creative differences". (Apparently there was no shooting date set nor was there a script!?!)
Our first assignment was to cheer the SAG runners from the sidelines. And then we had to change into our jogging outfits to run alongside a very iteresting young lady by the name of Sara. She had lost one of her limbs, a leg, but became an avid jogger utilizing a prosthetic attachment that looked like a curved metal band near the bottom and acted like a spring of sorts to give her an extra bounce as she jogged. She led the pack as we formed a wall of runners behind her while the camera-cart zoomed down the middle of our crowd. But in all the time that we were there, we never saw the Lincoln. Still wondering what the concept of the commercial is!?

A few more takes, and it was -"check the gates"...and "gates are good"... and "it's a wrap"!
Three hours worth of work for $175... and lots of laughs and gigles in between with the other extras. If only I could do this four times a week -like one of my fellow extras does. Alas, for me this was the first gig in 2 weeks. I still haven't mastered the skill of keeping the job-to-job connection work-flow going. It seems the trick is to register with multiple agencies that are getting most of the jobs... but which ones are they? Showbiz is a moving target... and although I got to run today, I still feel like I'm standing still.

Friday, September 07, 2007

I'm JLo's paparazzo at Radio City Music Hall

(Source: Newsday 9/8/2007 - CLICK to enlarge)

Me... and about 49 others -dressed in "tough-to-see-you black"!

This is it... this has to be it. I've reached the epitome of my extra's career. I made it to Radio City Music Hall's stage in front of a live audience at a Rock Concert given for the glammy Fashion Industry! Whooo Hooooo!!!

We rehearsed on Tuesday, taped it on Thursday -and it's airing on CBS tonight! Now that's what I'm talkin' about -or will be talking about for eons to come.

It all started on Tuesday, when I got a last-minute email from my agent to go to a Jennifer Lopez gig at RCMH and to be a paparazzo. I immediately called my agent and we commiserated on how difficult it would be for me to get there for a 7:PM call time, and we hung up. But I just didn't want to let this one go... so I checked the LIRR schedule and figured that if I could catch a taxi as soon as I got into the city, I just might make it! So I called her back and she was encouragingly enthusiastic -giving me the "GO AHEAD! I'll submit your number to them so they'll expect you..."

CLICK! Whoooooooosh!!!

I was out the door and made the train in 5 minutes; 40 minutes later I rushed out of Penn Station and into a NYC cab (complete with a turbaned driver). It was the eve of a pending taxi strike but the driver was efficient and got me to 51st and 6th Ave in 10 minutes (that earned him $1/minute) -it was well worth it. I got to the check-in desk where they gave me an official "paparazzi" sticker and I was now part of this gig!

Entering the great hall with a different "air" than the usual concert-goer was exhilarating. After all, I was now someone on the "inside"... a participant, rather than an observer. We were seated on the left side of the audience seats and told to fill out a bunch of release and tax forms by our handler, Brooke. Later we were corralled up by our stage manager, Seth, who explained that he would be taking us up to the stage and handing us over to AJ, our choreographer... in about an hour or so. We didn't care how long it would take because Martina McBride was doing her number on stage and she was terrific. Wearing beige pants and a black top (slight hint of shiny leather on the shoulder area), she's about 5 foot tall but a great looking lady (having a Jane Russell-type of edge to her) with a powerful voice. We clapped spontaneously every time she sang. And then it was our turn to mount the stage.

Seth took us up on stage-right and we were promptly organized into size places by AJ. He divided us up into two groups and took us over to a metal podium of steps with a red carpet down it's middle. We were given cameras with flashes and lined up along the sides of the steps with orders to "shoot-on-sight". Needless to say, we shot each other up until we could see nothing but bright balls of light in our fields of vision. So that when JLo appeared at the top of the steps, we could only squint at her figure until our eyes returned to normal in the dark theater.

JLo was very friendly... said "Hello everyone....!" with a big smile, and then it was down to business. The dance steps had to be worked out by her entourage of dancers and we had to coordinate our movements with hers as she descended and ascended the steps -all the while snapping away with veracious zeal. AJ quickly corrected our enthusiasm: we would need to "freeze" ourselves whenever JLo and her dancers "froze"... and resume our activity when they renewed theirs as the number progressed along. So there we had it... clear instructions that would meld into chaos when the actual taping occurred... but it was o.k. -the number got rave reviews from the critics as a "high-concept". Some of the other performers didn't fare well with the critics -but I thought all the performers were really good, giving their best for the show.

Steven Tyler was the first to rehearse on Thursday -taping day! Unfortunately he wanted a "closed set" and that meant everyone had to leave the auditorium... even Seth and other Radio City Music Hall employees. Dang... here we were hoping to see everyone rehearse and we were all being kicked out... there goes the whole perk of this deal -or so we thought.

We were taken to the third floor dressing rooms. There were rows and rows of dressing room mirrors with the appropriate peripheral bulbs; we were seated next to each other, partitioning curtains flowing on either side of the narrow aisle. We dutifully took our respective seats and chatted... for about 5 minutes. There was no way that we were going to be sitting here for the next 9 hours!!! Most of us "snuck" out into the stairwell and into the black-background of backstage and whatever was going on there. It was just like in the movies where you have pretty dancing girls shimmying past you, costumed performers warming up, Tyra Banks decked out with a cell-phone constantly in her ears (we almost shared a ride up the elevator with her, but she just couldn't make up her mind weather to risk the disconnection from her cell phone -so she turned down the ride). After trying all the doors, me and another guy found ourselves on the side street... with "the red carpet" in front of us.

It was being set up for the decked-out glitterati who would be arriving as we chatted on. Hunger pangs overtook my friend and I accompanied him to a pizza shop down the block. Later, when we got back to the dressing room area to see if anything was happening and we saw 5 pizza boxes stuffed into the garbage. This was our "dinner", as promised by our stage manager. Not exactly sumptuous -glad I missed out on it. I preferred noshing on the veggie platter and the potato chips. We were told to stay put because the show was going to start in an hour... so this time, a bunch of us decided to go exploring the audience area. Two of the guys went up front and checked out the placards with the famous guests' pictures on it, depicting where they would be sitting. A young guy, dressed in a suit with a folder under his arms began chatting with them. I wasn't going to miss out on this and decided to brave going up front with the thought in mind that this guy was someone famous!?

As it turned out, he began to befriend us with small talk and then dropped an interesting offer:

"I'll give you guys $100 for your passes... how about it. You won't need them're all inside. I just want to get a few of my friends in here... come about it?"


"How about $200... I'll give you $200 right now!!! But the offer is only good now... the closer we get to show time, the less they're worth..."

One of the guys took the deal immediately. He waited for the higher number -and got it. The other one was deep in thought... teeter-tottering in his decision... what should he do?

The pimpy-guy now offered to give his pass back after the show... and that seemed to have sweetened the pot enough to make him caved in.

He gave up on me... primarily because I had mentioned that I worked on a movie with DeCaprio and Winslet in our pre-offer conversations. When he offered me the money I told him I wanted the badge as a "trophy". But his impression of me became something like: "Ahhh! He's rich...he doesn't need the money... he works with big stars!!!"

How easy it is to become corrupted in this industry... it doesn't take much... a little dangle of money...some empty promises...and before you know it... you can lose yourself in the fantasy.

The show started, and we paparazzi decided to stay in the audience seats until it was getting close to our set. And it was the right choice... we saw all the glammy people begin to filter in...beautifully dressed sexy women, fancy duds on the dudes, and plenty of famous designers populated the halls at this spectacular mix of fashion and rock stars.

Steven Tyler and Arrowsmith started the show! YEssssss. We may have missed the rehearsals but now here we were in the audience, watching the "real performance"... the one that would be taped and shown on CBS-TV the following night. Everyone of the stars were fantastic... Fergie, Alicia Keyes, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Maroon 5, Jennifer Hudson, Joe Perry, Carry Underwood and Lindsay Buckingham, Miri Bar-Lev, Martina McBride, Avril Lavigne... AVRIL LAVIGNE!!!

Oh...oh...we had to scatter back into our area to get prepared for our paparazzi number with Jennifer Lopez!!! And suddenly, about 50 shadows popped up from the darkened audience to skittle through the music hall's backstage catacombs of stairs and elevators in preparation for our "centerpiece number". We made it just in time...Seth was taking attendance and was ready to dock people's pay if they weren't in place on time!

We were taken backstage. Given our flashy digital SLR cameras and as soon as the previous act completed, we were lined up along the stage in darkness, put into our places next to JLo's steps and braced for the curtain to raise... JLo genuflected!

The curtain went up... and as I turned my head I saw a sky-full of people sitting OUT THERE... wow...WOW -what a feeling! The thought zapped through my head that I was on stage in front of thousands (soon to be millions when it airs tomorrow on TV) and me and the others had to do this RIGHT or...

Oh piffle... I can't be bothered with thoughts like that -I've got a job to do...and do it we did! In fact the number's title was "DO IT WELL"... and the first words were "DO IT...DO IT". So the adrenalin kicked in and we all performed as a group... an amorphous black blob of men and women with twinkly flashes beckoning JLo's attention as she controlled the stage with her song, dancers... and her provocative presence. It was a terrific success -an explosive centerpiece for the Fashion Rocks festival... and the newspaper reviews validated it. WoW... again! I loved it.

After our number, we were told that we could do what ever we wanted the rest of the show or go home: DUH! Of course we all scrambled back into the audience seats. People were constantly moving back and forth -in and out of their seat, so that it was easy to "trade up" on the vantage point toward the stage. We watched a few more live acts and then it was time for the last number: SANTANA. The man is unbelievable. I remember him from the Woodstock days... a tremendous virtuoso of sound on the electric guitar -he didn't disappoint. Alicia Keyes joined him for the greatest music of the night: Black Magic Woman... This was the only number that people got up for in a standing ovation. Unfortunately that part was edited out from the TV version. In fact, the TV version of this show was not very good "sound-wise". Somehow, TV is unable to transmit the unbelievably good performance that each of these super-artists created on the stage here tonight. The full dimension of SOUND and SIGHT at the live performance was totally missing from the taped televised version. (Although it was still good.)

The evening performance had ended and I got together with my buddies to see if our "shady friend" would follow through with his promise to give us passes to the coveted "AFTERSHOW" that was being held at the Rainbow Room around the corner. Needless to say... he never showed...and of course my friend's pass was never returned either. I bailed early and was glad to have done so. The others waited in hopes of him showing up... Live and learn.

[Epilogue: That's me in the circles... snapping at JLo... and then retreating as she ended the number. I bask in the glory of anonymity!]

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Exhibiting my art at MICROCOSM gallery

["There is a paradox between the concept of "not doing" and of something being demanded of us, something that must be done. Normally we feel a need to do and we express this need in art, in accomplishments, or in other important things. These acts of "doing" are the unconscious responses to something being demanded of us -a certain creativity. We need to find out what this demand is about. What is really demanded of us is to take that concept, which is there for a reason, and come closer to its essence." -Michael Conge 1912-1984]

The assignment was to create some form of art on a 12 inch square canvas, in response to the zen queery:
It was to be my first ever attempt to be exhibited in a gallery -before I left this earth. You may ask why did I want to do this?
Well... it goes back, way back, to my early days as a child -when I liked to draw a lot. Progressed to my teenage years... when I thought I had "something" and wanted to pursue it... and then


My parents and my only artist friend at the time, discouraged me (and perhaps rightly so), diverting my life-path toward a more mundane vocation -but my dream never died. I confess, I am the stereotypical case of the wrong-road-taken-syndrome knows as:

"I always wanted to be an artist..."

But in my case it's true -I REALLY DID WANT TO BE AN ARTIST. And so, here I had my chance at an "open call" to "EXHIBIT YOUR ART in MicroCoSM Gallery"! Of course it cost me $25, plus the canvas, plus the travel expense to get to the NYC gallery... but who cared. My dream has been achieved.