Monday, April 06, 2009

BACK for more

And that's in fact what I keep doing... along with the rest of my background buddies. This time it was for a CBS pilot about a NYC guy who "returns" 8 years after he disappeared in the 9/11 attack. The pilot is aptly named "BACK"... at least for me.

My agent graciously put me on the call-sheet as one of the early numbers -so I had to show up on Palm Sunday at 5:30 AM in the Wall Street Chinese restaurant that was designated as our holding area. Not a bad place. Clean, comfortable and for most of us, barely utilized. We were taken to the set very quickly and used for the next 6 hours without a break -in the cold windy streets of downtown Broadway. Un-f*** beliveable! And me without eating any breakfast!! Now I understand why union-actors are so necessary on the set.
(I took this photo...and others, on my way to work at the World Financial Center on 9/11/2001)
But once the hunger pangs vanished... I realized where I really was. The initial shoot was by the charging bull landmark. I had walked these very streets on 9/11 in my attempts to get home. I took pictures of the bull covered in ashes then... and the streets around it looking like they would after a snow storm. Except it wasn't snow, it was the aftermath of NYC's worst tragedy in history... my personal flashbacks of that day now kept resurfacing. And so I realized how this "pilot for CBS" was a piece of my life as well. I was also... "back"!

The star of the show was Skeet Ulrich -a former principal in the TV apocalyptic series called, JERICHO. He looked pretty cool as a man who sauntered up Broadway as though he had come out of a coma and everything was "strange" to him. That "strangeness" was depicted by him passing a bunch of goth-teens, a pregnant woman, a kissing couple - and a woman who resembled someone familiar, perhaps his wife. Our background task was to pass by in a NYC-rush mode as he took his time walking.

The director, Mark Pellington was very involved with participating in the type of effect he wanted from this scene. At one point he took the steady-cam and started experimenting with it... walking all over the place in a "camera's POV" substitution for the actor. His large stature was immediately noticeable along with his thick glasses and crescent-faced jaw. But, interestingly enough, his style wasn't overbearing, as one would expect. It was more clandestine in many respects. He once went in back of us extras standing on line for the stunt bus -and had the PA go in front of us while he pointed to some of our backs. Indicating which ones he wanted to remain. The PA would do the talking for him in front of us.

Luckily, I was one of the 6 chosen who would be put on the bus. I was no longer freezing my butt off in the windy streets with the rest of the poor actors. I was now sitting inside a warm bus -qwelling at my good fortune. And my fortune got better. One of the supporting actresses, Kerry O'Malley, a beautiful redhead, was slated to be in this scene. Her direction was to be the last one on the bus line outside - give a lingering look...and then board the buss. Right in front of ME! And since the scene had to be repeated a few times, once she got on the bus, she would take her shoes off and rub her cold feet to get them to warm up. At one point she looked up and gave me a big smile... Flashback: Hungary...pre-1956... I remembered one of my mother's young clients who came to her for dresses... her name was Erzsi... very friendly... she escaped with us across the border to freedom. And this actress looked very much like her. After a while the scene re-shoots ended -the actress left and we were told to remain on the bus for a while. Most of us fell asleep from our long ordeal without a food break.

Soon afterwards we were told to return to holding. One of the PA's read off 40 random choices of people who were still needed for the remainder of the afternoon. Most of us were not among them and were happy to be checked out. I had entertained thoughts of lingering in the neighborhood for old times sake but decided that I'd rather go home and prepare myself a tasty meal in the comfort of my house. Pretty much the way I felt back on 9/11.

Epilogue:
After browsing the web to see what ever happened to this pilot, I found the following comment-

"MMur10k: Fri, Mar 19 2010 at 5:09 AM EDT
'Back' was never picked up which is a shame as it was a great concept...
-most things go to pilot and then they're optioned or not optioned. As you can see most pick ups are formulaic or remakes."