Wednesday, March 28, 2012

ELEMENTARY my dear Lucy

Yet another version of the Sherlock Holmes / John Watson relationship!? Hmmm... not so elementary -there is complexity afoot. Between Lucy Liu's first-ever depiction of Watson being a female and Johnny Lee Miller (of Eli Stone and Dexter fame) as a rather diminutive Sherlock... I don't know... I can't really say.

On my way to holding, my wife called me to let me know that a deathly ill cousin (about to be placed on hospice care) whom we've been visiting in the hospital for the past week, had come out of her high-fever coma-like deterioration and is sitting up and talking normally. When you hear news like this... it just makes everything else have a blissfull aura. And with that happy attitude I continued on to find "holding".

Our holding area was in St. Agnes on New York City's East 43rd Street, where about a hundred or so of us extras arrived at 7:00 PM and were processed to be subway travelers for this pilot shoot. From what one of the crew told me, this was the only episode being shot and then it's pitch-and-sell time to CBS. Sudden flashes of Spike Lee's MONY, my first TV pilot participation, came into memory. That particular pilot never made it to the boob tube... let's hope this one fares better.

We were placed in Grand Central Station's subway shuttle (S train) platform for about 4 hours. The director on the set was a man in a ND-grey shirt named Michael Cuesta (Homeland).

Our direction was to act like typical New Yorkers going for the train as Lucy Liu and Johnny Lee Miller were passing in front of us, preceded by a cadre of steady-cam assistants. I was paired up with a stunning looking young lady and our banter between takes made the hours very bearable. Our dash into the train was routine but unpredictable as to just how much nano-second screentime we'd be getting on this simple scene's final cut.

No food for the extras tonight... only a bottle of welcome water while we were on set and in holding. An AFTRA agent told us that this would not happen if we were in the union. He also told us that AFTRA and SAG were coming to a resolution on merging and that the voting results were being counted this Friday. I said I'd wait to join them... aha, yeah... check's in the Saturday mail.

I was somewhat hungry for a snack when they released us at midnight. Nothing seemed to attract my appetite -it was as though I really didn't need food. So I bought a simple tea and a croissant at Penn Station while letting my stiff body slide into the relative comfort of a metal chair in this multi-food shop. Suddenly the thought of a recovering cousin came back to memory and I was feeling great again.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Court scenes of Blue Bloods and Damages

Ironically, it was almost the same court-scene scenario for both episodes. I did Damages (last episode of season 5) on Friday of a week ago, and Blue Bloods (season 2) on just this past Friday. One court was in Queens and the latter in the Bronx, but they both depicted the opening statements of a serious court trial.

Bridget Moynahan is a stunning tall lady with great legs... but her countenance is a combination of sad and aloof. Her lines were direct and well delivered in contrast with Damages' Glenn Close and Rose Byrne -who blew their lines countless times. A very important lesson for us extras to see the pros make repeated mistakes and yet continue with their performances as best they can.
During the shoot of Damages, it was obvious that neither Glenn nor Rose had their hearts in their performance. Perhaps they were tired, or perhaps it was time to wind the show down. They lost a lot of viewers when they switched channels from FX to Direct TV -myslef included (since my cable provider doesn't have it)!

So, by contrast, Blue Bloods did a very good job of keeping the court gallery engaged and alert to the shenanigans of the defendants. I particularly liked the director, James Whimore Jr.

He's the son of the late James Whitmore, whom I remember with wonderful memories of the acting work he'd done on TV in "Judd For The Defense"... of course he became a prolific actor on stage and screen as well -he was also a US Marine in World War II. And now his son is here -directing us in his own style: loud, brash, crabby, overbearing -but always in a friendly manner....

In the back of the courtroom some of us had trouble believing that he was the son, but an iPhone with access to the internet was immediately enlisted to verify his imdb status as well as his genetics. Other topics in the back of the courtroom were about porn-bloopers... which all but made us crackup in a plethora of comical discussions. Luckily our direction was to make noise at certain times of the "court proceedings" -and needless to say, we timed our boysterous behaviour accordingly. (pssst... "the real show always takes place backstage")

The holding area was a great hall in the Bronx County Court's rotunda area. We had to be metal-detected and searched to be able to enter it. But once inside, we were treated to good food and some inspirational quotes and paintings of the court's founding fathers that surrounded us during our repast. One quote in particular impressed me the most:


After we were released, at 1:30 AM in the Bronx, a small band of leery travelers gathered -planning the "possibly dangerous" walk to the subway a few blocks down from the Grand Concourse. So about 7 of us tribaled our resources and walked the dark streets. Only one incident with a demostrative amorous couple (humping under the streetlight while laughing at us) were encoutered, but we circumnavigated their playfull attitude and quickly descended to the subway platform. The rest of the trip went without incident and we all chatted up a storm that made the ride to 34th Street relatively quick. Unfortunately, at this time the LIRR trains to home are few and far in between. This allowed me forty minutes to observe the early St. Patricks Day drunks stumbling and keeling over onto the stations sturdy columns -many of them were young women. Young disgusting-when-drunk women... judgmentally sad. Guess that too is part of "HER INSTITUTIONS".

Reflection: You don't have to be a drunk to get home at 3:30 AM.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

A 1920s Realism on the set of Boardwalk Empire

Working on the set created for Boardwalk Empire

Very impressive! The set that was created for this show was simply AMAZING... so true to life. It actually made you feel like you were transported back in time and you had to creatively interact with all of the manufactured reality in order to contribute to the show's success.

Season #3 kicked off with this episode -the idea was to establish new relationships and character definitions before the plot begins to thicken. The role of Richard Harrow, the half-faced man, is played by Jack Huston (yes... related to all the Hustons -John, Angelica, etc.).

Jack Huston as Richard Harrow

In this scene he is target shooting at a carnival (which was another set located down the steps from the boardwalk). He is bonding with a little boy who is the son of his good friend (one of the most popular characters killed in the season-finale episode of last season). The scene had to be reshot numerous times -one reason being was that the little boy was constantly blocking his face with the many toys he had to hold. Later I found out that the little boy was a twin. They use twins a lot I was told, because of the child-labor laws. There is a restriction clause on how long they can be worked -and so twins or even triplets are hired for childrens' roles.

I got lucky, because after standing in the distance, one of the AD's decided to bring me up front and put me directly behind Jack, along with some other mix of extras, and the direction was to look on in amazement as his sharpshooting skills miff the patience of the booth's barker. The barker asks Jack to leave before all his toy inventory is depleted. Being a veteran of WWI, where Richard was a sniper -his shooting skills are, of course, an unfair advantage. But Richard moves on unperturbed with his young companion and melds into the crowd along the carnival's central-planked avenue -busy on both sides with other barkers, and a LIVE ELEPHANT.

This was a wonderful surprise... to be one of the mulling crowds' member and to saunter a few feet past a live elephant. In holding we were pre-warned by the PA's "not to touch the elephant"! But there was some trepidation due to the chilly weather this day. It seems that the animal rights clause in the elephant's contract did not allow it to work if the temperature fell below a certain degree. Luckilly for us the sunny day warmed up a bit -not too much... just a bit and the elephant was allowed to "act". (Kids and elephants have great union contracts.) In fact the PA's were handing out "chemical hand-warmers" to us in order to prevent shivering. For me, it was my toes in my thin 1920's shoes that started to numb, but my jumping up and down between takes brought the circulation's warmth back.

At another scene, we were instructed to interact with the "tall man" and the "fat lady". So we imitated her hula-dance and stretched to shake hands with the tall fellow. The poor fat-lady was also very cold between takes and had to have a long coat put on her (I believe her contract clause may have stipulated it) ... unfortunately, no one cared for the tall man (seems there are no unions for tall-men)!? I felt bad for him. But we all persevered and the day ended only when the sun went down. This is a kind of signature use of light for Boardwalk Empire -natural lighting and a tenacious crave for detailed authenticity -which was part of what earned them the Emmy Award this year.

I have to note that the food was varied, plentifull and excellent. Everyone was treated well and it was one of the few times that the privileged union/non-union lineup didn't bother me. I also met up with my friend Marilyn, whom I haven't seen on set in ages. I snapped a few photos in holding of our period get-ups.
And then an unusual event occured where we were asked to lineup in the front of the holding area. It seems that a city film crew from the mayor's office was doing a documentary of sorts on the Boardwalk Empire costumes and set for REEL -for which we all had to sign a separate release to use our image. I believe there's a special clause in the agreement for us extras which only allows a kind of "exploitation":

"...(c) the right to exhibit, distribute, transmit and/or otherwise exploit such reproductions containing my voice and/or appearance, edited or altered as you may see fit, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the universe in perpetuity, and in advertising and publicity in connection therewith... "

In other words... we don't get anything extra for the extra. Sometimes I wish I was an elephant... or a kid... or a "fat-lady"!