Saturday, July 14, 2012

Men Who Built America on the History Channel

Managing without a hat

The GPS said one way... but I knew a better route from the travel experience I gained through my previous gig last week.  Up I95 and over to the west on I287 until you're almost at the Tappan Zee Bridge.  This was Tarrytown and the set was at a huge estate called the Lyndhurst Mansion.

The History Channel was doing a documentary re-enactment of the Men Who Built America (Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Edison, Ford, etc.).  This was episodes 4 and 5 and the three scenarios were centered around the first use of the electric chair by Edison; young Ford making a decision on whether or not to keep his job or continue to work on something called the "automobile"; and Carnegie getting bad news affecting his fortunes.

I was selected to deliver a few lines to young Ford as his manager (along with my assistant).  The director, Patrick Reams, asked me to do a quick reading and decided to use me in the scene.  My lines were simple:

I'm promoting you to chief engineer.

Thank you... sir.

But... you'll have to stop working on your... "automobile"

(looking shaken and indicisive)

You can either stay or go.
The choice is yours.

I'll stay.

(turns to assitant with a quick glance and leaves)

There were about seven takes... I kept saying "you can take it or leave it" at times. After each take the director provided additional descriptions and pointers to indicate what he and the AD wanted from the short scene.  He was very kene with recognizing that I had "some sort of European accent"... and that I had been in a "managerial position before".  He wanted the lines delivered with a "high brow attitude" and little emotion.  I was screwing up the initial takes with too much facial accentuation (raised eybrows, sniffing nose, bulging eyes, tonal inflections).  Once I was able to be aware of my "overacting" face, the scene was able to be completed.  It was shot from two different side angles -one fairly close.  Now let's see if it stays in the story.  It's supposed to air in October this year.

Other scenes for me dealt with make-believe chatting while drinking congnac and a silhouette shot of discussing business while Carnegie lay on his sick-bed caughing and attended by a nurse.  The nurse, by the way, was the estate's manager who was recruited to be in the story (since the production company wasn't able to get any women to come to Tarrytown).  I think there were about 15 extras in all.  Most of them being used for witnessing the first electrocution death penalty in the other parts of the mansion.  The crew was terrific and we all got along very well during break times and even swapped some pretty good engineering stories (in addition to the usual "When I was on Spiderman..." showbiz brags.

This was a memorable gig for me.  Wow! I actually got lines to say this time.

Can A Song Save Your Life (a.k.a. the Adam Levine Show)

I submitted for this gig (CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE?) a number of times but never got picked.  Then I got a notice in my email from BE IN A MOVIE (dot com), that they need audience people at Grammercy Theater in NYC for this movie.  One glitch with this agency: no pay!

But I'm a Maroon5 fan and really like Adam Levine's tunes so I sacrificed a day to "hang with the man"... and 300 other extras at this small venue.  It was well worth it!
We were divided into 2 groups: one in the "mosh pit" area in front of the stage and the other group up in the seats.  I was in the pit, about 10 layers of people away from the stage.  The scene was about Adam's character, Dave, longing to hook-up with the love of his life by playing a song that they both worked on in their past relationship.  He screwed up the relationship and now wants desperately to reconnect with her. At the end of his usual set, he sets up a guitar on stage, hoping desperately that she will be in the audience -and will come up on stage, pick up the guitar and join him in singing the tune.  Sadly... the girl never materializes.

This tune is repeated an endless amount of times throughout the day in retakes -each time we cheer with various intensity as per the director's whim.  Luckily, the song was really good.  But even better, Adam's banter with the audience was unstopable.  He was constantly toying with us... at times asking us to tell a joke, or to yell out songs he could sing... and he did a great job with each song -from Beatles tunes to Cee-lo Green's unadultarated F-U mantra.  In fact the centerpiece of his commeraderie with us was incessent cursing. Not too many sentences went by without some curse-word just for the heck of it... and then the director got up there and did the same thing... cursed out the audience (albeit in a friendly way).  It was like being at a frat house...FUN!

As the day went on, I camped out by the bar and chit-chatted with one of the photographers.  He told me that the movie was sold, looked good and would most likely be a success -but he had no idea as to when it would be released.  And as the day wore on... I gravitated toward the seats which were concealed by darkness, and sank into one of the remote comfy theater seats by the wall.  I never enjoyed a theater seat as much as this one.  It seems I'd been standing on my feet for hours on end in the mosh pit and was in too much of a euphoric state from all the entertainment to realize that my legs needed a rest.  I have no idea if I'll be seen in this movie at all... but after sitting in a comfy chair, being entertained by "Dave", and doing it all for free... I just didn't mind.

NISSIN noodle commercial at Yale

Just gimme some noodles and no one gets slammed!
My wife on the left side and me on the right in circles.

The casting agency reached me in a frantic request to bring people along to New Haven, CT... they were short on warm bodies for a noodle commercial.  And that inspired me to volunteer my wife, who was sitting at the dinette table with an incredulous look (i.e. What's this about???).  The caller asked if she was under 50 -so I lied and said she was 47 and some three months old!

"O.K....bring her!  Bye."

...and suddenly my wife erupted -flagrantly upset at me.

"They're going to ask us for our id's... drivers license -and then they'll know...and then they'll send us home after a two hour trip!" ...and blah, blah, blah.

I reassured her that I "knew the business" and that when casting is short of people, they will take anybody.  Of course  I WAS RIGHT! (this time).  We got up early to make the 6:30 AM call and arrived at a tennis stadium near Yale.  At first things were sparse but then people started to condense at the not-so-well marked parking space and we found the air-conditioned holding area under the stadium.  We were here to be tennis audience extras -used for "layering" so that 100 people can be made to look like thousands during a tennis game (thanks to subsequent CG treatments).

Kei Nishikori

The crew was Japanese and I immediately thought that this gig would be similar to my previous "Lost In Translation" encounter with TV-ASAHI back in March 2006. And although there were similarities, this crew was much more professional.  After all, they were shooting this noodle commercial for one of the biggest Japanese noodle-making giants (you know the one: Ramen noodles... just add hot water and the mystery packet ingredients).
Stadium at Yale

On center court (there was only one court), played the #1 ranked Japanese tennis player (ranked #18 in the world), I believe his name was Kei Nishikori.  A very athletic performer with high jumping return serves -he certainly impressed all of us.  But the gist of his appearance here was to endorse the noodles.  His direction was to play hard and then sit down to refresh by eating multiple offerings of noodles on tennis racket-like strainers from 5 different cooks.  One of the cooks actually dropped the entire serving on the tennis court and quickly picked it up with his hands, putting it back on the strainer. YUM!

Throughout the day, we were all mixed up around the stadium's seating arena, and the day got hotter and hotter.  Some of us were putting towels on our heads or holding up whatever opaque object we had at hand to block out the sun.  The PA's were busy distributing water and sun-screen spray cans.  Bio-breaks were provided at reasonable intervals -however, the bathrooms were at the top of the long stadium steps.  But it was worth the many hikes for a few minutes relief from the sun. 

After our bagged-lunch break (you would think that at least they would offer us some noodle soup), my wife and I encountered a person who said he was responsible for the stadium's maintenance and he began to tell us the strange situation surrounding it's politics.  Apparently, for the past 25 years, the stadium was put into use just once a year -for one tennis tournament (named after the Bank-du-jour that sponsored the event).  It seem that the inhabitants of this area (professors et al) had control of the stadium's activity and they did not want any additional noise or traffic (e.g. from rock concerts) in their neighborhood.  Ah... but this control-by-contract was expiring this year and new plans would be forthcoming once this freedom from academic control was to be transferred   After all, the economy wasn't so good now and the town needed to make money.  What better way than to provide a venue for rock concerts, exhibits, crafts fairs or whatever else a stadium could be utilized for. Other interesting stories from the stadium's custodian dealt with how the entire stadium shook and swayed during last year's east-coast earthquake.  Exciting!

One of the PA's told us that this commercial will be released around the time when the U.S. OPEN takes place in September, however it will not be seen in the U.S.!? (But I'm sure it will wind up on YouTube at some point.)  And then it was time to "layer the stadium" again... so back into the hot bowl of noodle-tennis mania we went for the rest of the day.  My wife was having a sweaty good time -even with me laying into her about how she worried we'd be "deported for not being under 50"!  The "martini shot" of the day came when we had to do some fake clapping and cheering -all of which became very real when they paid us in cash.  My wife was smiling all the way home... welcome to the world of PAID extras honey!