Sunday, September 04, 2011

Pan Am in the Bowery Ballroom

What better place to shoot a Paris nightclub scene than on Delancey Street in downtown Manhattan... in the Bowery. The location scouts are so imaginative.

My suit-fitting session at Steiner Studios was very productive a few days ago when I got measured for a 1963 outfit: suit with open shirt -pants worn high. Very drab -a perfect fit for an ND background extra.
Steiner Studios are very well kept. They are clean, curteous and very professional there. More so than at my regular day-job. I was immensely impressed. It was also great to be back in my old college neighborhood... Pratt was not far away from here... but I decided this was not the time to visit. I had been an alumni guest there with my wife a few years ago -but memory lane would have to wait, there were other memories coming up.

Holding was at the historical St. Patrick's Old Catherdal on Mulberry Street. I read up on it a bit -as I like to know more and more about NYC's historical places (an extra benefit from this line of work). My preparation came in handy later during our discussions while walking to the set along it's long "protective" brick wall. I also recognized that this was the neighborhood that I had come to for my "Italian film debut" at the end of last year.

We all collected our altered clothings from the wardrobe department and changed behind a makeshift set of labariynthine arras setups. We all had to be styled with a 1963 haircut so we lined up for the looooong wait. But the chit chat made it bearable as our respective turns would eventually come up. My hair had to be done twice.
The first time it only got pasted down... and then as I passed by the head-hairstylist guy, he flagged me down and clipped a few more strands from the back of my duck-ass curls. When he finished with me I looked like an old time Brylcreem ad.
The women looked the best. They all got twinkly evening gowns with high waists and expressed decolletage -complemented by pageboy flip hairdos that were topped off with a pillbox hat! Did they really look like this in Paris 1963... I guess they must have since there were old magazine clips of 1963 people scotch-taped to the walls for reference.

We were taken to the set about 5 blocks away at the Bowery Ballroom -where another makeshift holding area awaited us. This time it was the basement bar -a welcome refuge for us after the very bright sunny walk through the hot summer day. In the basement it was dark and cool. We continued the chat as some of us got sporadically called to set upstairs. I got antsy after a few hours of sitting and not being called -and decided to walk up the steps that opened up to a two tiered dance club -complete with camera crew, directors and a bevy of extras. It was wonderful. But with the hours flying by and many of us not having been called up to set... well, I was having my doubts as to whether or not they were going to use all of us or not. So I accepted my probable fate and moseyed down to the basement to sit out the rest of the afternoon in Pan Am oblivion.

This proved to be a gross misconception on my egotistic part. Because soon after, we were all summoned to "center stage" and spread around the top floor's nightclub scenario. I was placed with one of the women near the bar area, where Colette, one of the "Pan Am stewardesses", played by Karine Vanasse is having a drink with a friend. Oh goody, at least I caught a glimpse of one of the stewardesses. At another part of a scene, I was placed at the bar itself and told to fraternize with the bartender and the guests around me -while smoking a cigarette. I don't smoke... but these were herbal cigarettes and we were not supposed to bring them near our faces or inhale -only for the effect of the 1963 predilection for smoking... everywhere! So I lit one up... then another... and another...and another... and Oh yeah, it was high-school memory time. The young bartender and I were bantering back and forth as the next scene was being set up. Between the scenes, we could take a break by going outside... into the brightness of reality that was Delancey Street. Many years ago, when I first came to this country with my parents, we would go shopping in this neghborhood. Clothes, shoes, tablecloths... all were bought the usual way: bartering. That world disappeared... this was now a shieky-trendy nabe on the fringes of the ever-expanding Chinatown -where young people would come to louder and louder exhibitions of rock-band euphoria... all the while smoking real cigarettes...et al.

A different pretty starlet, this time a blonde, with an English gentleman was now next to me. They chatted with us a bit (thereby releasing us from the "don't speak to the stars" restrictions). I mentioned my trip to England, to Lynne and Ouspensky's grave and the vicar there...etc. The Englishman picked up on the thread, but then the director (man with glasses... I assume it was Thomas Schlamme) called out "camera's rolling...and BACKGROUND!"
The pretty starlet turned out to be Anabelle Wallis -who was playing the part of Bridget -presently having an altercation with two men. There is some secret document being passed between the characters. But all the while, I just keep drinking my wine (cranberry juice) then chatting en francais with the barkeep, and later still with an African-American patron and oogling a girl having a drink a few seats away from me. That, basically was my silently-mimed moment of glory on this set.

[Flash-forward: The resulting scene was actually in episode #2 (aired on 10/2/2011) -and, as shown below (from a photo off my tv screen) -I barely got my profile into a quick shot with Bridget and her frantic pilot boyfriend chasing after a spy in the nightclub.]



While they were "checking the gates", I told Anabelle she did a great job with the script and descended to the dance floor. There must have been better than a half a dozzen scenes that we were all in. My odds of being seen on camera in this early episode have increased -though there are never any guarantees.
During one of the "wait for ACTION!" to be called moments, a rather stunning girl was placed in front of me. I saw the similarity in her face to one of my favorite actresses of the past, and asked her if anyone ever told her she looked like Ava Gardner.

"Who?" was the sincere reply... as my jaw dropped in surprise to her lack of familiarity with one of the greats. And so I turned to the guy next to me who was keeled over on the table in a "lack of sleep stupor" and I asked him:
"You know who Ava Gardner is... don't you?"... I might as well have been in a vacuum. He replied that he didn't know her either -and keeled right back into his restfull position. So I turned to the stunning girl and tried to explain it without any success. And it was at this point that I finally accepted being an anachronism... or at least trapped in the Hollywood Twilight Zone. But I could work with that -after all, it's part of acting strange.

In fact, we worked from 7:30 AM to about 12:30 AM... long... longer than I'd expected. But then one of the other women said that she had worked for this show last week and she didn't get home until 8:00 AM the following morning. Guess I got lucky. I got home at 3:30 AM.