Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Unfinished at the Zero Hour

Another rush call... where you never know what you’re in for!  One day you're an orthodox hassid -the next day you're a mysterious monk.  That's showbiz.

The casting agency called me to be available for a 5:30 PM call at St. Josephat Monastery in Glen Cove on Long Island.  My instructions were to wear a black shirt, socks, shoes, pants, belt… simply black!  That was simple enough –extras are always prepared for black… it’s the blend-in-the-background de facto national color for us extras.

The location was quite remote but my trusty GPS got me in front of the gates.  Unfortunately the gates had unclear signs on it and I bypassed it the first time, winding up on a foggy beach parking lot a mile down the road.  But the beach parking lot was loaded with the huge Haddad trucks so I felt reassured.  When I asked where I should park, the workers there were ambiguous and didn’t know.  So I trekked back to the monastery gates and entered.  The path took me up a narrow winding road with no visible signs of civilization –until I got to the top.  There, I saw the bright studio lights and people!  I also saw a row of cars parked off the road and figured I’d pull in behind one of them.

BAD MOVE!  I was stuck in mud.

I felt my front wheel-drive wheels slipping and the car sliding.  Repeated maneuvers to get back on the paved road, just inches away were futile.  Two guys came along to try to direct me but their savvy was not up to the challenges of the muddy mush and I just got dangerously closer and closer to another vehicle.  At that point the two guys bailed.   Since my driver’s side door was too close to the adjacent vehicle, I had to clamber out of the car through the passenger side.  SLURP!  Stepping into the unavoidable mud I realized that part of my black shoes were now brown.  As I walked away from my precariously positioned car, I knew I’d have to call for help… eventually.

Walking up the stone path and into the monastery’s front yard, I asked where holding was from the workers.  No one knew!?  I had studied up on the location and was familiar with the exterior so I decided to go to where the most lights were (near the front door) and went in.  Again asking where the extras are being held again brought no result.  But this was the film crew… with 2-way radios in their ears… couldn’t they ask “someone”?!  No one knew where holding was??  Amazing chaos.

I went exploring around the busy-crewed house, noticing the neat architecture (circa 1910) and the iconic decorations (occupied by Basilian monks since the early 1940's) which I had studied from the website's information.  At the moment nothing was neat.  The icons, statues, candle holders, were shoved all over the place and there were cardboard mats and cable taped to the floors.  Complicated technology meets monastic simplicity.

Eventually I came upon a separate room with a fireplace where there were seats arranged with the sign “Solutions” on the back of them.  I wished they had the word “Extras” instead.  One silver-haired man was sitting in a wooden pew.  I asked him if this was holding.  He immediately acknowledged that it was and became very enthused to have company.  As we chatted, it turned out that we had worked together on  "The Men Who Built America" a few months ago. He told me that he lived in this neighborhood and had once worked with his father at this monastery as carpenters.  He explained that the monastery was almost closed up now.  Only two people were running it and very few monks were joining up.  He lamented that young people are not very religious anymore.  That they only turn to God when they have one foot in the grave.

The PA entered and we asked him if we could check in but he was vague about it and rushed out of the room.  Another extra had found our holding area and sat down.  More chatting ensued and after a long wait we decided to wander toward the absent PA’s area.  While there were vouchers there, it was only for union people.  We assumed the PA went out to get the non-union vouchers.  Soon another dozen extras entered –they were bussed in and had just arrived.  I started to wish that I’d taken the buss too… reflecting on my stuck-in-the-mud situation.  Two PA’s also arrived with more vouchers.  I filled mine out and informed the PA about needing help with my car.  He said he’d look into it.  I’ve heard that response before, it usually meant that it would be forgotten.  I started to worry more about my debilitated transportation at the end of the night.  Soon after the check in fiasco, we were led out into the courtyard for a short break under the tent where the snacks were set up –and it began to rain.  Great… more mud under my car.

Later, back in holding, two wardrobe women showed up with a batch of long red robes.  We were finally told that we would be “monks” of some mysterious order.  We put on the robes and immediately the photo-frenzy started.  Each of us were taking iPhone pictures of ourselves since it was great resume-type material.  An elderly man and a young “apprentice” priest entered our area and greeted us with handshakes.  They were the only real “monks” of the place.  But they were enthused, and later took photos of us in a group shot.

After we all calmed down into our seats, a short time passed by and the PA announced that we were all dismissed –the director had decided not to do our scene tonight… putting it off until the end of the week.  BUT… we would all get paid for the day!  Wow… here I was worried that we’d be here past midnight but with this “unexpected turn of events” we were checked out at 8:00 PM.  I was second on line and would have been on my way home were it not for my car’s predicament.  I asked the PA again if anyone was going to help me out but the same reply was mantracized:  “Hang tight.  I’ll look into it.”

OK… so no one was going to help anytime soon –and I’ll have to spend the night here with the real monks.  And then I remembered my seldom-used AAA card hiding in my wallet.  As I began to make my call, the PA kept Shhhh-shing us because we were too loud and the filming (somewhere in the monastery) was picking up all the sounds.  Later on, after we did our bathroom break, an “announcement” came from one of the directors below our floor:  “Stop flushing the fucking toilet!  The sound is being picked up every fucking time the fucking toilet is being fucking flushed!!!”

So I ventured around to another room, the kitchen, where I saw an elderly woman doing her chores while a small TV was blaring away.  I figured I’d be “safe” making noise here.  I called the AAA people who said they would be sending someone in 20 minutes.  I wanted to believe that, but knowing the difficulties in finding this place, I had my doubts.  So I began to chat with the “kitcheness”in anticipation of a long wait.

She had a striking resemblance to Charlotte Rae from the old Different Strokes TV series and a friendly demeanor.  She had overheard my plaints on the phone and was sympathetic to my predicament.  We also chatted about the history of this place. Mostly she was very excited about the TV scenes they’d done outside her kitchen window.  She described a scene earlier in the day where a lot of characters were shooting each other “by the gazebo”… and how a helicopter came down and women in white robes rushed to “escape in it”.  I listened intently and wished that my rush call would have been earlier so I could have witnessed these scenes also.  DAMN!

Twenty minutes later the AAA guys arrived!  It was still drizzling when the two Russians expertly figured out the precise pulls and pushes that had to be made in order to extract my slip-sliding car from the pitch-black night’s mire.  After 30 minutes my two front wheels were on the road and I was able to be on my way… but not before tipping them.  They were REALLY GOOD at their job and I made sure to mention it to their boss.

Of course the three-minute trip down the “mountain” was now rainy and foggy… not unlike in the “Rocky Horror Picture Show”.  And at one point I almost made the wrong turn –no Dr. Frankenfurter on this trip!  Finally the mist cleared and I saw the front gates (it gave new meaning to the thrill of “checking the gates”) and I was back on the civilized road to home again.  

I never got to be in a scene... I never got to see the set where they were actually filming... never got to see who the director was on this episode (last of the season) -much less any of the celebrities.  Oh well, such are the adventures of a paid extra when acting strange is not an option.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Blue Blood Hassid in Brooklyn

Me and Lulu
A rush-call to be a hassid in episode 14 of the new season for Blue Bloods got me in front of the makeup mirror with Lulu at the Broadway Stages in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  She was an expert makeup artist from Dublin, who as it turned out was also on the set of  "Man on a Ledge" doing similar work to plain folk like me.  As our banter continued she chatted with her colleague behind me -revealing that neither of them were comfortable being in front of the camera, even though they had plenty of opportunities.  Myself being a ham (no kosher pun intended), I'd always wondered about that aspect of showbiz... "Why wouldn't someone want to be a star? ...and all the other folderol that comes attached to that (fame, riches, a fake life...)".  But I understood and respected their comfort zone.  After all, they were happy to contribute to the industry with their art and were satisfied with that.  Nuff said.

Sneaking a look at the call-sheet, I found out that the episode was entitled "MEN IN BLACK" and due to air in 6 to 8 weeks, right in the middle of Oscar-award season.  The scene dealt with a gathering of hassids inside of a synagogue to mourn the murder of one of their community members.  Our direction was to shuckle (the ritual swaying during prayer) as the rabbi at the podium chanted the El Mole Rahamim (prayer for the dead).  Being Jewish, I knew the routine very well.  Quite frankly, I loved the whole scene -I was in my element... not to be outdone by the accompanying conflict of emotions that this was supposed to be a very sad moment (Jewish guilt).  As we were all lined up in a group on the perfectly built set of the synagogue, two principals were brought to the front: Richard Masur and Len Cariou.

Richard Masur and Len Cariou
In my hassidic makeup I became a bit braver than usual in attempting to converse with the principals.  Between takes, I was able to do a quick walking-chat with Richard Masur.  He shook hands with me as I told him I'd seen him in a play (The Oldsmobiles) where he was jumping off a bridge with his wife (played by Alice Playten).

The Oldsmobiles
The conversation had a somber turn when Richard quickly mentioned that she had died sometime after the play run had ended.   I attempted to say hello to Len Cariou but he was in a kind of "deer-in-the-headlights" mode and whizzed by with a quick "Hi!".  Probably trying not to get into another familiar "dinner-scene conversation" that most Blue Bloods fans try to initiate with him.  I was only going to mention my bodyguard scene with him in Damages.

In a following scene, the director, Alex Chappel, wanted hassids spread around the synagogue in schmoozing-bunches. I was paired up with another hassid where our direction was to react to a loud noise as one of the principals, Len Cariou, storms out of the synagogue. I think I might get a split-second of "hazy-background feature time" in this one -as my partner and I gesticulate about the sudden ruckus. 1 rehearsal and 2 takes later we were done.  In fact much of this scene was zooming along at break-neck speed from different angles -each time with a different set of hassids while the "used hassids" were sent back to holding.

Extra hassids (on line for props)
Holding was a hilarious sight.  An entire room full of fake-hassids doing "Oy-veys!" and "Don't mess with my payiss!", all of it punctuated by endless tales of Jewish jokes... all in good taste. I even met my old buddy Dale at this gig.
As I began to compliment his makeup, he quickly corrected me (and later the makeup people who wanted their hair back at the end of the shoot), that it was all his hair!!!  There were about 7 real hassidim hired for this shoot.  They were sequestered across the street in a separate area with kosher food.  At one point I was mixed into their group and chatted with them for a while.  One of the extras named Eliyahu, was an Israeli who promised to pray for me (we can all use some of that sentiment).

At lunch time it was difficult to eat.  The beard was constantly in the way while we were repeatedly told to keep our beards and clothes clean. Fat chance!  I missed breakfast and now I was ravenous. In went the taco, the salmon, and the dreaded gravy-laden mashed potato...(Ha ha ha ha...evil laugh).  All this while the person next to me was telling me about how he had dropped a lot of weight in recent months by skipping soda beverages.  Yeah... Right... as I continued to chomp.  But he was a good-natured late-30-ish guy and told me all about how unhappy he was with his previous real-life job and how he now planned to be a stay-at-home-dad for his expecting wife's birth of twins.  This wife had a great job in the media and was covering news items for presidents Bush and now Obama -as well as covering medical benefits for her husband.  The man had it made in the shade!!!

Getting the voucher filled out and signed was another bit of challenge for me -I'd forgotten my glasses in the mad rush-call and was hard put to decipher some of the instructions in the form.  This got me sent back to "GO" and to check the posted samples stapled to the wall.  Unfortunately they were not the enlarged versions and it took me a while to write things in the correct boxes.  Only a few years in this business and I'm already getting old?  Weyz mir!

EPILOGUE: The show aired on February 8th and the only shot of this scene was FROM THE BACK!!!  Disappointing.  But then again, I didn't see Richard Masur in any other scenes either.  I don't get it... how can they hire a top-notch actor like Richard and not feature him in any way???  And I thought I had a low profile.