Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Doing Stuff: Day 7, Being An Extra In An Independent Film

PROLOGUE: My friend Mike works for one of the local TV affiliates and has been sending me press releases for my project. One that came my way was from the producers of a movie entitled God's Prayer (www.godsprayerthemovie.com), which was looking for extras. After going to the website for the movie, which revealed its ridiculous premise and tagline ("If you die with your eyes open, you probably deserved it."), I decided I had to take part in this.

DISCLOSURE: This is not the first time Mike has promped me to become an extra in a movie. Mike, a huge fan of Lloyd Kaufman's cult films, found out about a casting for extras for Lloyd Kaufman's opus "Terra Firmer." I might be in a background scene.

1) Casting was scheduled for 6:30 at a place called "The New Z Bar," located on Spring Garden and Delaware Avenue. I've never spent much time in this part of Philly. There's a reason for this -- I'm not a 21-year-old bodybuilding afficianado from South Jersey who likes to drink Red Bull with Vodka whose idea of a good night is to break his girlfriend's fingers in a car door. I finally find The New Z Bar. It's located next to Delilah's Den, Philly's most infamous strip club. I start wondering about the type of movie I'm trying to be a part of.

2) A New Z Bar bouncer -- a giant ex-Arena Football defensive tackle looking dude -- tells me that my shoes (brown New Balance sneakers) aren't good enough for casting in the movie. I am now guessing that I am about to stumble into a foot fetish porm shoot. I have a pair of dressier shoes in my car. I put these on and try to head into the club. I am again told my shoes aren't dressy enough. A man introduced to me as the film's executive producer for financing -- a bald meathead wearing a suit jacket with an unbuttoned and untucked white dress shirt (which I am guessing is the unofficial dress attire for strip club Champagne Room supervisors) -- tells me to "Go to Payless or don't be in our movie" upon complaint.

3) I am starting to wonder about this project and am thinking about calling it a night. How pathetic do you have to be to get dress shoes to be an extra in a movie that will never, ever see the light of day? I then realize that these are the type of people that I need to meet. And, quickly thinking things over... I'm not too far off from being one of them. I find a Famous Footwear outlet and buy a pair of dress shoes.

4) I head back to the New Z bar. After signing some paperwork I am told to find a seat inside. The furniture is plush, the cielings and walls are at these odd obtuse angles and there are all sorts of odd lights. It looks a bit like the Peach Pit After Dark but also gives off the vibe, particularly with Delilah's next door, that I am about to watch a visiting NBA player get shot at.

5) I look at the other extras. I realize that not only is my footwear not adequate, but I am also not dressed for the occassion. My sweater/slacks "nerdy guy who doesn't know or care to know how to dress" look doesn't quite mesh well with the "girls dressed like they are about to have group sex in a Miami booty rap video" or the "guys who get their fashion advice from the Gotti Boys" style.

6) Two other extras join me on the couch. Next to me is another fish-out-of-water. She's a 55-year-old woman with a Jewfro and fingernails painted firetruck red. I am trying to figure out my way to get her talking, since there has to be a story about this woman. Luckily, I don't have to strategize much, as she just starts talking to me.

"There's a lot of waiting at these things," she volunteers.

"Oh, you've been to these things before?" I ask?

Of course she has.

7) The woman is a secretary at an elementary school in Delaware. But she's always dreamed of being an actress. She's done stand-up comedy at The Spaghetti Warehouse open mic night (which sounds like something I have to take part in, stand-up comedy night at Philly's ass version of Olive Garden) as well as a hotel bar's comedy room in the far suburbs. I ask her about if she does comedy about her job. She says no.

"My comedy is about my life. Just about... some... interesting parts of my life."

She leaves it hanging like that. I figure it's best to leave it to my imagination.

8) The woman later volunteers that she has had a non-speaking role on Forensic Files and has been an extra in a few other movies, including Invincible, the football movie starring Mark Wahlberg which came out a few months ago. I haven't watched it yet.

"If you see the scene where Vince and his wife are getting a hoagie together, they cut to a football practice right after that. I'm in the bleachers. For about one second."

The guy across from us, in his 30's and well dressed, pipes in.

"Oh, you were in Invincible... too?"

9) These two start swapping war stories from being extras in Invincible. Filming was at Franklin Field at UPenn, where the extras would sit in the stands for hours at a time sitting in between lifelike dummies which were set up to look like fans. Filming for Invincible was very arduous -- some nights, extras would be on set from 6:30 p.m. until 3 a.m. She took vacation days from work to have one second of background screen time. And, of course, you don't get paid for this kind of stuff.

"I wanted to kill the director that night," the woman said. "He kept on messing everything up."

10) The guy who was also in Invincible makes a phone call.

"Yeah, I'm at the shoot. I got here a little late. I know the drill with these things by now."

11) He again starts talking to the woman next to me.

"Were you an extra in Invincible or were you a featured extra," he asks her.

"I was an extra."

"Oh... I was a featured extra."

"Really? Wow!"

"Yeah. There's a scene where his wife holds up a sign. I was right behind his wife at the time."

"How did you become a featured extra?"

"I don't know. I guess someone must have really liked me."

12) More of their dialogue.

HER: "It's just very interesting to see how a movie gets made."
HIM: "Sure."
HER: "And it's also a very motivational story."
HIM: "Sure."
HER: "And... you never know. All it takes is someone to see you once. All it takes is one glimpse. And then if they see something in you, then you could really become a star."
HIM: "Sure."

13) Throughout the conversation, people involving in the making of the film were coming down and picking amongst the extras. The women who looked most likely to blow a camera guy were chosen first. Everyone else was told to remain seated.

14) Finally, we were called upstairs to the lounge area. A few cameras, sound equipment and frantic directors were in the middle of the lounge, dictating where everyone was to stand. I was told to stand next to the bar. We were given further instructions -- during the filming, we were to be absolutely silent unless we were told to talk. Then we could talk all we want. But no mater what, we were to just act like we were at a bar.

15) Standing next to me was a very attractive blonde woman who looked like Clarissa Flockheart. Did you ever meet someone who was a complete stranger to you who started talking about her friends as if you knew them? This was that person.

"I was with Sara and Roxanne and we heard about this and decided to come."

16) I asked her if she's done any film work before. She hasn't, but she did appear in an infomercial for a horse racing track based in Louisiana.

17) Within 15 seconds of talking to this woman, I realize that she is both the dumbest and most vapid human being I have ever met in my life. Anyone with a clipboard or equipment she approaches and introduces herself. I've watched the BBC show Extras. I've watched Entourage. Take the exaggerations of those movies -- anonymous figures clawing their way to the top of film -- but put it in Philadelphia for a low-budget independent film which looks as if it's being made on the fly. This is that.

18) One of the actors is standing next to me. He's a young black guy who looks oddly familiar. All of a sudden it hits me.

HOLY SHIT! IT'S THE GUY WHO PLAYS COUNCILMAN TONY GRAY IN THE WIRE!

The *ONE* thing in terms of meeting someone that could actually generate honest emotion from me is if I cuold meet someone from The Wire. And I'm meeting someone who had a fairly important role. In Season 3, he gets set up by Councilman Carcetti to run against Mayor Royce to split the black vote. He's in a few scenes in Season 4 doing campaign stuff. His character was the main plot device in the election story which allowed The Wire's version of Baltimore to have a white mayor.

19) I ask the guy -- his first name is Chris -- if he played Tony Gray on The Wire. He confirms that this is indeed him. He's about to shoot something. So real quickly I add, "Fuck Carcetti." He laughs.

20) During a break, I now completely fawn over this guy. I'm pretty sure no one has recognized him ever before, since he seems so genuinely happy at my pathetic fanboyishness. I tell him how The Wire is my favorite show of all time, that he had some great scenes, etc. He thanked me like 5,000 times. I asked him if he was back for Season 5 -- he said that he was told he'd have a few scenes, but that "other than death and taxes, nothing's guaranteed." He also, upon my questioning, told me that the girl who plays Snoop is "cool as shit" but is a thuggish on screen as she is on TV, that the dude who plays Omar is a super nice guy, and that Ed Burns and David Simon are really awesome to work for. I also told him I hope the show wins every Emmy there is to win this year, particularly for the young group of kids the show focuses on this season, who are just outstanding. He then told me the dude who played Proposition Joe is their real-life acting coach.

21) A few people ask me where he's from. I tell them The Wire. Not one person has never heard of the show. This is a human travesty that no one knows this show. For real, if you're reading this and haven't watched, get the DVD's ASAP. I can't stress that enough. I fucking love The Wire.

22) The hot blonde next to me keeps on bragging to everyone within earshot about her role as an extra. She will be walking from one side of the room to the other and will get in clear view of the camera. I decide I have to mess with this woman.

23) 3..2....1, ACTION! Filming begins. I am pretending to talk to the hot blonde. Slowly, my hand goes up and down her arm as I have a lecherous look in my eyes. I lean over into her ear and whisper to her, "I want to take you to my mom's house because that's where I live." She is trying hard not to laugh, because the big scene of her walking is coming up in 5 seconds, and walking can be difficult for a blonde this stereotypical.

24) The scene ends, and we're told to go back to her original spot. She now asks me if I've done any extra work.

"No, not before. I've been in rehab the past three months. For Sudafed."
"What?"
"Yeah. I was really congested one night, so I popped a Sudafed. One became two and then two became 43. I was snorting that shit and everything. My doctor said it was because I feel empty inside, so I've been looking for a family. I think I finally found one here."
"Wow. That's great."

25) More of our conversation:
HER: "You see how chaotic this is? Can you imagine doing a scene with children?"
ME: "I... I can't work with children."
HER: "Why not?"
ME: "I don't want to go into the details."
HER: "Okay, you're really scaring me now."
ME: "It was with a younger cousin! We were drunk!"

26) Speaking of alcohol, the bartenders at the bar behind me can't serve real alcohol. Their drinks are mostly water, orange juice or orange juice diluted with water. It's a fun night! Everyone keeps on saying the same drink when they come to the bar for their drink.

"I wish I had a drink. A real drink."

I hear this about 75 times. One of the blondes friends -- Sara or Roxanne, I'm not sure which -- came up to us and told me this joke.

I then gave her a hug.

"I wish I had cocaine. Real cocaine."

I then started rubbing my nose. She walked away from me.

27) During another take, two other girls ended up standing next to me for a scene we had to do while whispering.

GIRL: "Hi!"
ME: "Hi! Why did we come to a bar called Whispers? You know, the bar where you can only whisper?"
GIRL: "That's a good one!"
ME: "I think I like Laryngitis better. I like their jukebox."
GIRL: "Yeah. It's sexier there."
(I pause. How is laryngitis sexy?)
ME: "I like Whispers because my wife shuts up."
GIRL: "Oh, that's nice."
ME: "I still hit her when we get home, though."
DUDE STANDING NEXT TO ME: "Yo... don't joke about that."
ME: "I'm not. I hit her all the time. She'll learn though."

28) After a scene, those of us at the bar were told to go back downstairs for a few minutes. On our way down, I saw the guy from the couch. I slapped him on the back.

"Oh man, I saw what you were doing. GREAT work, man. GREAT work. I really loved it."
"Thanks!"

29) I am nearly caught taking notes while trying to evesdrop on someone's conversation. When asked what I'm doing, I come up with a rather lame excuse.

"I'm a lyricist, so whenever I think about a song I'm writing... or some kind of meditation... I write it down right away so I don't lose it, you know?"

He doesn't believe me.

30) We are asked to go back upstairs. I do, and am again placed next to the blonde. This time, my sexual harrassment of her becomes more blatant. I am now grabbing her arm.

"One day, I will have you returned to me."
"Uhm, okay, whatever."

31) Two new girls are next to me. They look like girls you'd see in the background of a Ludacris video. I walk up to them to start hitting on them.

"Hey, ladies, let me get the pin number on your ATM card?"
"What you sayin' to me fool?"
"Let me get your pin number. I got a bad credit rating. I need help."
"Get yo ass away from me now."
"Come on, let me hold a $20."
"I ain't lettin' you hold shit."

32) We were pretty much done filming, when an interesting conversation took place between a guy and a girl.

GUY: "Y'see, I know how to tell if I can get a lady when I'm out. I like to study people."
LADY: "What you mean you study people?"
GUY: "I look at them and try to figure them out, so I can see if I can find and in."
LADY: "That sounds like you be stalking people."

(The guy then opens his eyes extremely wide open, like he's looking at naked breasts for the first time.)

GUY: "I DON'T STALK NOBODY! I STUDY PEOPLE!"

After that, we were told to leave.

3 Comments:

Blogger Lou said...

Gregg,
This is great, I really got a good sense of the whole experience. Love the conversations, they're the best.

Lou

11:45 AM  
Blogger Chad Waters said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:19 AM  
Blogger Chad Waters said...

Greeg: We need pics documenting your upgrade in shoes. Like a monkey->man progression. -C

7:20 AM  

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