Monday, December 29, 2014

A flurry of jobs at the end of the year

2014 ends with a melange of bookings!

I was called for Blue Bloods twice.  Once as a relative of an officer in a promotion ceremony and weeks later as a witness.  The latter was three and a half hours of "perps" and "witnesses" not being used!? I did get to see Marisa Ramirez come out of her dressing room.  Our glances met in surprise! She gave a quick smile. Great eyes. Everyone was wrapped on a short day!

Epilogue: I got to see myself chatting with another extra in the recently aired moralistic episode of "Sins Of The Father" 

Elementary provided an interesting set: The Brooklyn Museum on a very cold day... and night!  We extras provided a "tuxedoed backdrop" for a fundraiser event during which Lucy Liu's Watson-character has some serious words with someone at the bar.  It was interesting to see all the museum's artistic displays moved to the side in order to make way for the theatrical setup.  Later that evening "some of us" (including me) were selected to walk outside in the frigid air as the principals were "dialogueing" in the lobby.  Luckily I brought my thermals and was paired with an attractive girl.  That's always a good combination for providing warmth.
Cast of "The Mysteries Of Laura"
Two days later I got my wish to be on The Mysteries Of Laura!  In fact I hit the jackpot.
My first role of the day was that of a CSU investigator where Josh Lucas, Laz Alonso and Janina Gavankar were all present to check out a burn-victim in a body bag... while I nonchalantly dusted a piece of burned out furniture in the DUMBO background.  Props provided me with a whole case of CSU equipment but I had no idea that I could disturb it's contents -and so I just used a piece of splintered wood to make believe I was scraping off "evidence!  I'm such a dummy.  Luckily my second role wasn't that complicated -I was a parent at a school party.  There must have been 50 little kids running around inside this set as Debra Messing and her "two kids" were taking selfies for the scene's holiday festivities.  BINGO!  As far as I was considered, I won the jackpot of seeing all the major characters in one gig. Big kudos to the PA in charge of the kids.  She was able to control them with her 3-2-1... QUIET technique!!!

Peter Facinelli
One more tuxedo gig for a new "politico-intrigue" series entitled Odyssey.  It was a large cast call to one of the prestigious hotels in Manhattan.  As I entered a ball-room holding area, I met a bunch of my usual "tuxedo-role friends" and then some in a not-so-tuxedo role: unshaven men dressed up like women!?  As it turned out, the scene called for a CEO-gala with a bunch of cross-dressers to entertain the big-wigs. Peter Facinelli (The Twilight Saga) was one of the principals whose role was to confront an old adversary at a dinner table.  The takes were endless with a lot of wipes.  We did get to rest during our walk-away meal! Some of the scene's benefits were the NYC's building-tops' evening scenery from the 44th floor balcony and the inevitable "you can eat the food now" frenzy of the center table's super-fancy macaroons!  What a mess we left!!! The drawbacks were having our large crowd of extras wait for the small elevators to get back down to holding, so we could wait on the long line to be signed out. Not to mention the tuxedo cleaning bills we'd have to endure! But hey... maybe that can be a tax-deduction?

A new period-piece cop show, Public Morals, was set in the late 1960's, for which Ed Burns is both star and director. The set was in Hell's Kitchen off 11th Avenue. The scene was a "stabbing"... with us extras walking by nonplussed.  I guess it was no big deal for that to happen in Hell's Kitchen back in 1967?  It was a gruesome scene as Ed directed the thug to "stab him wipe the blood in his roll him under the truck... now hide the knife in your jacket...Great!  Let's do another!!!"  Ed was pretty cool. He knew what he wanted to achieve in the scene and was working hard to get the effect.
Me in "present day 1967"  ... and in real 1967
We had great wardrobes, haircuts and period picture-cars in place.  I was particularly worried about the Corvair I had to stand next to.  But as long as no one bumped it from the rear, I felt ok about it. It was yet another gig with a walk-away lunch -but I didn't mind it.  I found Gotham West Market a block away and had one of the best burritos ever!  Later in the afternoon, we were put into a comfortable holding-bus for an hour or so.  One of the women sitting across the isle started a long conversation with me regarding her personal worries.  I did my "therapist shtick" and soon found that the whole bus was quieting down.  Everyone was half-sleepingly tuning in to our dialogue.  Occasional snickering from the nearby seats would accentuate our otherwise Freudian colloquy as I segued into "what about yoga".  And as the sun went down, we wrapped.

My last gig of the season was HAPPYish.  The set was at a Tarrytown train platform where Steve Cogan (Philomena) is waiting for the train while reading a hard-copy of the Steve Jobs bio.  A comical scenario ensues as he bumps into one of the many yuppies around him holding tablets with the same reading material albeit in e-pub format.  Steve replaced P.S. Hoffman (whose untimely death was a sad tragedy). He plays a middle-aged unhappy worker whose not interested in keeping up with the modern social network technology.  We extras "played" commuters - doing walking, standing, "background acting"! There wasn't much dialogue from the principals, but since I was paired up with a long-time extra buddy whom I hadn't seen in ages... well, let's just say our bantering was way-off-track.  Lot's of funny jokes and a couple of train rides back and forth made the day go fast. And... what seems to be a bonus lately on a set: we got fed!

And now the infamous end-of-the-season "slow down" starts.  We extras will be checking for non-existent submissions on an hourly basis.  It seems that a manic-momentum is created throughout our working period that just can't be turned off easily.  Probably no bg-work until mid January!? But 2014 was a pretty good year for extras work.
I don't know what 2015 will bring, but I'm sure looking forward to it... in fact I'm going to "brush up my Shakespeare" (statue).
"Alas poor William... I knew him Horatio
-A man of infinite composite jest!"

Monday, December 15, 2014

Honey Flood, the movie!

She enters... I sneer

Back to the Long Island monastery... St. Josephat's in Glen Cove. The last time I was here was for a TV series Zero Hour (as a monk) -this time I've been cast as an upper-class Englishman attending a party in 1962.  It's an independent movie based on the Elaine Dundy book entitled "The Old Man And Me" wherein a young woman goes after an elderly English scholar in a nefarious way.  Elements of "Gone Girl" permeated the plot.

The monastery is not easy to find and many of the other extras missed the indistinct entrance.  My previous experience allowed me an early presence in holding and consequently an abundant supply of breakfast. On the first day, holding was near the front door, and given the time of the autumnal chilly season on the north-shore of Long Island, we small band of extras eventually succumbed to shivering.  But our conversations flowed and the atmosphere warmed as the half-dozen or so people began to exchange stories.

One of the women in holding identified herself as Russian with the name of Anastasia.  Of course we immediately jumped on her case to see if she was related to the "missing relative of the Czar Nicholas". Russians have such serious faces! It was easy to see that this didn't go over very well, so I changed the topic.

"Has anyone read the book "Proof Of Heaven"?

At first people were reluctant but once the Russian gal began to speak up, others also joined in.  One woman related a personal experience about being severely burned when she was younger and experiencing the ethereal "out of body" experience while the doctors were working on her wounds.  As she spoke, tears came to her eyes and the young Russian girl rushed over to comfort her.  It was a very moving moment.  I realize more now that sharing stories creates a bond and it's one of the ways that we extras can coalesce. How apropos to experience this inside a monastery.
Doing my Kevin Spacey imitation
The set was ready for us and we were taken to a large drawing room decorated with late-1950 period accoutrements. The women were given the type of gowns that I remember my mother used to wear; the men had no problems with standard tuxedos -albeit with long skinny black ties.  I was paired with a woman at a stand-up cocktail table.  My partner got the long cigarette holder and I got a cigarette.  She was totally clueless with how to hold the prop and consequently bumped into people with it.  Most of our direction dealt with walking across the room to partake of some "never-to-be-eaten" finger foods!  But the atmosphere that was created by the crew and the wardrobe department was exceptionally transformational.  I felt and acted like an upper-crusty Englishman at a gala -complete with affectations that make your mouth stretch in unrecognizable directions.  And those English guys think they can do American accents...HAH!

The girl playing Honey Flood was a young striking model, Allegra Carpenter.  Her previous role in ARGO must have caught someone's casting eye and here she was.  A short conversation with her revealed that she grew up in Bali and was very vague about explaining the Balinese belief system.  But who cared... looking into her eyes were mystical enough.
The role of Honey's husband, CD, was played by Julian Sands, with whom I had the privilege to coordinate a fall during his "death scene".  A seasoned actor, he knew exactly what the camera wanted and our repeat takes were minimal.

On the subsequent days back at holding, I began playing chess with some of my fellow extras.  After I remained undefeated, the woman with the burn-story wanted to play with one of the weaker braggadocio-type guys.  The match was underway and although she was holding up quite well, some of the crew came over to kibitz. This put everything on an unfavorable slant for my female chess enthusiast.  She started to lose and although I offered to help her out -she refused.  I respected her for that.  As the inevitable outcome of the game came to a close, her opponent realized the injustice of his winning and stood up to congratulate her with sincere kudos -which was accentuated by the standing-O of the crew members.  Yet another human moment at the monastery.

Night had fallen and we did an outdoor scene.  Smoking (a la herbal cigarettes) was encouraged as we perused the long balcony of the castle-like building.  Again I felt "transported" to a London estate. The priest at the monastery had told us about the history of this area.  Rich parties had taken place here in the era of what was described as the "Gatsby days".  The priest was old but very knowledgeable -although he did walk obliviously through a live set once while we were filming.  Who's to say there weren't priests at English galas?

After three days of a lot of get-to-know-each-other conversations, I became good friends with the stand-in for Julian's role.  His name was Paul and we had long talks about life values.  He was happy to have it all and was ecstatic about his present situation.  He was successfully retired from his profession, had a good family life, was able to travel  -and being an extra in a movie was the cherry on his cake.  In fact he was so loquacious about it that he didn't want to leave.  So when they called it a "wrap" for his role, he kept on talking to us until the crew called him back for another couple of hours of work!?  Oooops... sometimes you just gotta call it quits!

Our last scene was in a smoky jazz lounge area complete with a jazz band -the members of which had just met for the first time.  But their performance was good and Honey Flood did her "strut your stuff" around the room as she casually brushed against each of us.

Another girl  (Natalie Knepp) flirted with the trumpeter (who had no idea how to hold the trumpet) and played a sexy smoking "snooker-table-sitter".  She was very personable and easy to relate to.

Honey may have been up front but I was looking at Natalie in the back

And as the dark and sinfully smoky scene worked well, our director, Aaron Krimsky, wrapped the shoot. Some of the glass menagerie was actually sold to us by the crew.  Paul bought an entire liquor set.  Guess they didn't want to take a chance on breaking any of the props!

As it turned out, this shoot was for a Sundance-type of submission where if it gets noticed, it may also get funding to do the full feature version.  Hopefully with the same cast... including us extras!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

You Jane? Me Mozart!

Purchase SUNY's Performing Arts Center has a magnificent modern theater.  I say that because I was an audience member for the TV series Mozart In The Jungle, which was shooting there.  Based on an expose book by a former concert oboist, Blair Tindall (entitled Sex, Drugs and Classical Music), and with whom I got a chance to speak with during my wait in holding.

My car was in the shop so I had to take the courtesy van from the West-side pickup location.  This time, the van driver found me... and several others, who were real musicians cast for this concert scene that we were all a part of (in one form or another).  The person I sat next to during this upstate trip was a silver-bearded man whose generosity in sharing all things musical was amazingly educational and kept the ride's time passing without notice.  We discussed Brubeck's jazz and clubs associated with that genre -lots of good suggestions for jazz clubs both from him and his friends in the front of the van.

After de-vaning, the musicians were given special treatment and escorted to the building.  I was just kind of ignored so I looked around my new-found unfamiliar surroundings and eventually followed the "To Holding" signs... alone.  But I was ok with that because as it turned out the holding area was huge and the table I was moving towards to settle into, was the band of musicians from the van.  They were friendly and invited me to sit with them.  They were funny and the conversation flowed easily... until the local pseudo-sophisticated PA decided to do a reading of the upcoming script.

As he read the script about how this concert was going on and that it was composed by a man named "BY-ZET"... our table started to roll in laughter -as did some of the more astute members of the extras' gathering who were more attuned to pronouncing Bizet's name. Of course, no one corrected him until he got off his podium with an inflated imago.  Then suddenly we heard:

"Oh NO!.... It's pronounced 'Bee-Zay'...and you guys let me go on??  Ohhhh jeesh!"

But the fun got better when we were placed into the audience as members listening to an interrupted performance between the pretty first-violinist and the quirky young conductor.  I was placed randomly next to two people with tags on their shirts.  They were stand-ins (aka: "Second-team").  And when it came time for the "First-team" to replace them, I realized that I was now sitting next to Jason Schwartzman. Somehow I knew there would be banter. And sure enough we did have short nondescript exchanges.  The scene called for a young lady to be coming into the row and stopping by my knees, telling Schwatzman's character that he was in the wrong seat.  The two of them would then do a bit of pre-dating conversational dialogue -some of it improvisational.  At one point, Schwartzman's dialogue referenced me to her as "the old guy next to you"! But I doubt that it will get put into the final cut.  They were a cute couple and it was a real charge to be next to them.

We were broken for lunch and when we returned, I was told to go down the long-end of my row to get to my seat.  As I clambered my but-end in the narrow foot space, I was going past all my plushly dressed extra buddies as well as some unfamiliar faces.  A few more seats and I was in my place.  As I looked back at everyone my but-end had passed, I noticed that only a couple of seats away from me were Malcolm McDowell and Bernadette Peters sitting together.  Whoa... how embarrassing not to have noticed them.  But it didn't matter because Malcolm's role had to but-pass me later on in the scene.  So it was kind of a "touche" (pun intended).

Malcolm was a real showman.  He liked to interact with the audience and has a very youthful attitude. I had always wondered how he would turn out after the Stanley Kubrick mega hit, "A Clockwork Orange"! It was satisfying to know that he was now a good humored actor (despite his evil character in a Star Trek movie being responsible for Capt. Kirk's death).

I did two days on this scene and enjoyed every classical note of it! On the first night of wrapping, my friend Sam offered to give me a ride to the train station -which I quickly accepted.  It was a slow but very conversational ride.  He had two GPS contraptions going and at times it looked like an argument would ensue between them -mostly because one GPS spoke mainly French.  Suffice it to say that I was glad to get my car back for the second night's trip home.

A "heroic show" participant

Paul Haggis and Oscar Isaac wasn't me.  I wasn't the "hero".  But I did get a call to Yonkers for doing a politico-type of bg role for Show Me A Hero - HBO's upcoming miniseries about the Yonkers housing desegregation case in the 1980's.  For me, it was a mid-morning call to go to the upper West-side of Broadway for a van-pickup that would take me to the set.  I got there an hour early and went for a cup of expensive coffee at a nearby specialty shop. Definitely not worth it.  I'm sticking with my favorite brand, "Icing On The Cake". Having left the coffee shop 15 minutes prior to my pickup time, I waited on the sunny corner for the van... for over an hour -all the while calling my agent to see why it's so late.  She eventually said that the van driver must have missed me but I was still I should take the subway to Grand Central and catch Metro North to Yonkers.  The van would pick me up at that station and I would be reimbursed for the train ride. Exasperation! My usual intentions to be early to set were now working against me.

But the relatively short trip was quite fast and I was picked up at the Yonkers station by a van driver whose enclosed space definitely had an aroma of what would nowadays be considered legal residue in the state of Colorado.  My wardrobe was prepared and I was put in the holding area with dozens of others... for the rest of the day.  The role of "Deputy City Manager" or "clerk" as it was later referred to, was not being used until the last shot. Nonetheless, they did allow us to wander about and so I wandered over to the set to observe the director-du-jour... wondering who it would be.  My answer came snappy quick as the clapboard in front of the camera showed the distinct name of Paul Haggis!

I sat down to an adjacent "legal table" in this court-backroom scene.  Haggis was extremely focused behind and in front of the lens.  During the takes he would sit intently and wear the sound phones over his ears while watching the scene on his monitor.  But as soon as cut was called he would pop-up and scurry to the actors to let them know in no uncertain terms what went wrong in the previous take.  During my short stint in the scene of flipping pages, he noted that I wasn't giving the impression of reading each page -so I should be taking longer to flip through them.  He was right.  I was going through the pages quickly so I could look up and be seen by the camera pointed toward me (and of course the principal at the table, Oscar Isaac).  But once the correction was made, the martini shot was over and everybody hugged and shook hands.  Paul, however, although he stood by the door, was a bit reluctant to extend his hand to us who were exiting the area... not sure why.  Perhaps a bit of OCD?  But whatever the reason for his reluctance, I could see why his micro-managing directorial style was effective in winning him Oscars:  attention to details, details...and more details!

Back to showbiz again

My summer high-profile temp job's contract ended and now I'm back to the world of being anonymous again as an extra.  I consider this a wonderful privilege.  Being a consultant can be hectic.  You become a go-to-guy, everyone wants your attention and you spend a lot of time in meetings and on the phone.  As a result, you rush your breakfast, miss your lunch occasionally and never go home at a reasonable time. Hmmmm... come to think of it, being an extra has similar components.  But at least you get some rest in holding.  A lot of rest.

I started submitting again and got a pretty good response. In fact it was a fantastic opportunity:  I was an extra in a Steven Spielberg-directed movie, St. James Place.  Got fitted for a 1959 look and had two scenes.  The first was inside a Wall Street subway station as a train rider. I was one of the last ones to be taken to set but since none of the PA's came to place me in the scene, I took the initiative to walk to the middle of the platform where I saw Spielberg do his hand-gesturing direction and I stopped in front of an open subway door.  No one objected to my presence for the entire shoot here.  In fact I was given direction to time my aggressive entrance into the subway just as one of the principals exits.  Observing Spielberg in person brought to mind my daughter's father-in-law, who looked remarkably similar to the famous director. I'll have to tell my in-law to see if he can be a stand-in for Spielberg when they do a movie of him!
 The subway scene went on for quite a long time and one of the elderly extras fainted.  He was revived and helped off to a resting place (probably holding).  It was the first time I'd seen someone collapse on the set. Made me wonder if I'll be in that "role" one day.  But the "show" continued and the next scene was in DUMBO.  It was near one of the bridges in an old neighborhood that still had cobble-stones and exposed trolley tracks.  The stores were all fixed up to have the correct period look to them.
Large advertisement signs, groceries and manuscripts on display for sale in front of a store as well as plenty of period cars in beautiful condition... almost too beautiful.  The street was sprayed with water and the shoot began.  Mark Rylance was the principal doing a walk across the set.  I recognized him from his excellent acting on Broadway in Boeing, Boeing.  My wife and I got his autograph at the stage door. Here on the set, we extras have to stick to the protocol of not bothering the principals, so this time Mark and I exchanged looks of friendly approval as he walked past me during the retakes. Most of the other extras were unaware of his credentials.  Again, I felt privileged.

And so I've reached another pinnacle of my extras career.  I was in a Spielberg movie!  (Now let's see if Woody needs any nondescript bg's? I'll even work for $7/hr.)