Monday, November 15, 2010

Man On A Ledge on Madison Avenue

Elizabeth Banks and Sam Worthington (aka: The Avatar guy)
I should have known when my agent, Desiree, asked me if I was up to doing this stint for 2 weekends –that it was going to be something grueling. And it was… 5:AM calls, for which, I had to get up at 3:15 AM… or so I set my clock, and then promptly turned it off in my sleep-deprived delirium. Of course my wife –who happened to get up at 4:AM nudged me to remind me about this gig.

And then I realized... WHOAAA! ---- I'm gonna be late?!!!
Kyra Sedgwick, cop, ME-the one with the bright face- and Sam Worthington

And in 10 minutes I took my shower, dressed and was out the door and into my car. I was no longer deliberating on whether or not I should take a train from my home station. The drive from my house to the city on the empty roads was a marvel of delight! I was there and parked at our 45th street and 2nd Avenue holding area in under 40 minutes.

Why I rush to these early calls I’ll never know. The line was out the door and the hundreds of extras that were slated for this scene weren’t finished being processed for another hour. But a commitment is a commitment –and I stick by it.

Holding was a kind of an unfinished store with a second half-floor overlooking the 1st. It had exposed girders and lot’s of cement dust. But it was able to hold the large band of extras –many of whom (us non-SAG bg’s) were corralled to the cramped, untabled, darkened, second floor. This is such a bunch of hooeyfied discrimination. SAG gets to be in a spacious floor with tables and the rest of us get to cramp up in a cave-like dwelling. Reminded me of the beginning of 2001:A Space Odyssey –where the apes are huddling inside a cavern. First come, first served -I say!

Three madeup Hassids

One of the production assistants went around to ask if anyone wanted to be made up to be a Hassidic Jew!? Three old guys were "chosen" –and it took about an hour for the makeup experts to affix the appropriate facial hair to make them look authentic. Luckily there were 2 real-deal Hassids they could copy from. Other exotics were Sikhs and Moslems.
(Gosh… I hope it’s politically correct to call them “exotics” -since the rest of us were ND's?!)

We were finally called to set a little before 7:AM and placed in bunches along the four corners of Madison Avenue and 45th Street, near The Roosevelt Hotel. This is where “the ledge” was going to be… about 20 stories up. There was very little oversight for us bg's and we tended to wander over to wherever we wanted to -unless we were selected to do some "feature" work (but only the cute girls get picked for that)!

Michael Laurence

I wound up on one corner the first day doing the "crowd below does cheer and fist-pump" action for the man on the ledge. There was a taxi in front of us and the scuzzy-looking guy sitting on it looked familiar. I inched up to him and asked him if he was in the last season of DAMAGES. He was glad that I recognized him and we chatted for a minute or two. As it turned out, he was playing a scuzzy-looking guy again in this scene also. His name was Michael Laurence -an upcoming star.


Sam was our hero and confidently tethered through his clothing, as were the other ledge-walkers (cameramen, stunt dudes, other actors, etc.)... but it was still a scarry sight to see Sam sit on the corner ledge and dangle his feet while waving to the crowd below to react to him. 20 stories below, an airbag awaited any wardrobe-malfunction problems that might suddenly occur.

Man on a Ledge throws money to the extras

The "jump" was done in 4 takes: two for the stunt-double, who was raised about 30 feet above the bag via crane and cable; and two takes following with Sam doing a 10 foot backward-falling dive from the crane's ledge (sans tether). We were viewing this from our new places -next to an ambulance that was constantly on and sending carbon monoxide into our immediate area. We complained to the nearby PA to tell the ambulance driver to turn the motor off... he then called another PA with our complaint...who, in turn called another PA... until finally, the 4 th PA behind us came over to us and asked "What's the problem???". When we explained and showed him the exhaust we had to stand near, he shrugged his shoulder, spoke into his walkie-talkie and no one did anything. Since we were all getting a bit dizzy, we decided to take our safety into our own hands and joined another crowd -far away from the ambulance. No one noticed. As I said before, oversight on this set was very poor. Where are the union-reps when you need them?

Director Asger Leth

But we background extras are a hearty group and when we "smell" action coming up -we persevere! And action it was... as Kyra Sedgewick and Ed Harris came on the set. The director with the very understated persona was Asger Leth. He was friendly enough and even posed for the crowd toward the end of the day. Only the physical scenes seemed to animate him -as he went over to Ed and Sam to explain how he wanted the fight-movements to take place.

Sam Worthington fights with Ed Harris - ME at extreme right

The scene was Sam Worthington slugging Ed Harris while Kyra, as a newswoman, interviews him during his aggressive arrest by the army of cops. For some reason, Kyra kept laughing everytime after this scene ended. Ed Harris got the worst of it -as his clean beige suit got dirtier and dirtier on the back after each take. I was worried for Ed... he looked very skinny to start with. Maybe it was because of his age... or maybe it was to make him look more evil for the part he was playing... or maybe because of all the cigarettes he was smoking on set??? Nonetheless, the makeup department always fixed him up and he survived the dozzen or so rough takes.

At one point we were placed around Ed Harris' Mercedes and told to react to the fighting. Later we were taken away to the remotest parts of the set as tracks were laid down for the camera to shoot from "behind" us (albeit without us). An hour later we were taken back to the car, only to realize that a different set of people were already there. As we tried to insist that "we were here first" a fight almost broke out between two girls. One of them getting really nasty -cursing and ready to poke the other gal in the face. (As I always say: The real show takes place behind the scenes!) I blame this all on the crew who did not insist on having "continuity" in the scene. We were about 8 feet away from the principal characters -so our faces were definitely associated with the scene. But how will it look when all of a sudden you have different faces in the background a second or so later in the film. Very poor oversight on this set.

Though there was ONE good thing about the poor oversight... the paparazzo's were rampant -both internal to our set and externally (freelancers and tourists) . No one could control the incessant cell-phone cameras from sneaking photos of the stars and the scenes at just about every juncture... even during the takes. This resulted in me being able to find a couple of pretty good photos on the web... the very next day! (So, for us extras, the papparazzi is our friend.)

Our legs were killing us -we had to stand for most of the 10 hour sets over a couple of days of shooting. Ten minute breaks afforded us a few cups of coffe to stay awake form our sleep-deprived stupor. And lunch was a "boxed lunch" -for most of us who were non-SAG; the union guys got hot food downstairs while we had to watch them eat from our upstairs cave. But I chalked it up to practicing "humility" and hung with my fellow extras in communistic endurance... waiting for "the REVOLUTION"!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Got into an Italian film: IL GIORNO IN PIU

The title translates into meaning "The Extra Day"... and that's exactly what I did. Took an "extra" vacation day to be in this gig.

Visions of Frederico Fellini wafted through my egotistic mushy brain. Half expecting some surrealistic dreamscape as my background -but as it turned out, it was Times Square's bustling crowd across the street from TKTS and in front of McDonalds on a relatively gray and chilly Monday. Very close to where my paying-job takes place!
Fabio Volo
The love story was based on a book written by the main actor, Fabio Volo. Apparently he loses a letter that was meant to be sent to a girl he needs to meet. But having lost the envelope with all the pertinent info about her -he is lost. Fortunately for him, a hot dog vendor finds the letter and intercedes in some way to bring them together -albeit after some comical romps.
Massimo Venier

We were taken to this set and summarily selected for the "hot dog vendor scene"! My luck still held out as the director, Massimo Venier, chose me (most likely because of my long beige scarf). They wanted someone who was wearing "something light colored" as opposed to the drab blacks and grays that most of us sported (as per wardrobe instructions in our call sheets).

And so it was me and the "intermediary star" of this film, the hot dog vendor, who would be the centerpiece of the film maker's camera lens... and the gawking tourists, at least for an hour or two! I kept fantasizing about my co-workers walking by -alas, that didn't happen!
The direction was to have the vendor serve me a hot dog on a bun (I never eat that stuff -but then, that's part of acting strange) -and as I accept it, he sees some signage on a van that he must note down immediately. I fiddle with my pockets -vainly searching for some change while he mugs surprise and intense discovery. Our exchange is friendly enough, but I suspect the only thing that will be in the film is my hand accepting the hot dog... if that much!?
After wrapping up, I headed for the train -down the same path I usually take for my regular job and soon get a call from my agent. She asked if I could be available for tomorrow because they wanted me back... since they didn't get the shot... since it was getting too Autumn-dark.
Such are the foibles of rescinding Daylight Savings Time: night comes too quickly (especially to my movie career). I was already booked to do something else... and couldn't return.