Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bag of Awesome - Part III

Felicitations, Fearsome Film Fans!

Well, after thinking that my brief stint on the set of the A&E mini-series Bag of Bones was over,  you can imagine my surprise when I received the following email from Johanna at Ballyhoo Casting a few weeks later:

Good afternoon,

We are currently looking for background performers for a scene in Stephen King’s Bag of Bones that is scheduled to take place Friday September 23, 2011 in Halifax.  We are currently looking to see if you are available on this date.  As the hours on a film set can vary, we ask that you keep this in mind and that we do not know in advance what time it will start or finish.  You would be required to bring your own costume consisting of upscale high end clothing, this includes business suits, office attire and upscale casual.

Please let me know as soon as possible if you are interested and available!

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Unfortunately, this email came through on the 19'th and I was now reading it a full day later.  Although I'm still enamored with the charmingly romantic Luddite notion of not owning a smart phone (and the thrilling emancipation from digital ball n' chains like Facebook that comes with it), it also keeps you dangerously out of the loop when a speedy reply to such queries is critical.

And trust me, my current phone is dumb.  Like, beagle-level dumb.  Put it this way: my phone rides the short bus to school.

Mercifully, it wasn't too late.  After I confirmed my initial availability, I received this:

Good evening everyone!

Thank you again for taking this call and joining us as background performers on Stephen King’s Bag of Bones on Friday September 23!  The location will be in Bayers Lake and the exact civic address and call time will be emailed out tomorrow night after filming has finished for the day.

Please find the costume notes below:

NYC Bookstore Patrons

This look is high end - big city - very sharp and crisp – non seasonal – colors should be earth tones. Shirt colors should be pale grey, off white, creams, blues.   The style range is from business suits/office attire to upscale casual attire. Jewelry should be tasteful upscale for business attire can be larger for upscale casual attire.

Thanks again everyone,

Soon Johanna sent another email asking me if I could do Saturday as well.  This offer was both unexpected and fortuitous.  If I could get into a continuity group, I knew this might translate into a lot of additional hours on set.  She also tried to pin me down to confirm that I possessed "a variety of wardrobe."  Here was my response:

Hi, Johanna.

I have a dark navy sports jacket, three pairs of formal pants (one grey, two in a beige-ish hue), seven dress shirts (two blue, one is a muted maroon color, and several prints: cream/white stripe, black, olive print, grey/brown).
I also have two pairs of shoes and a few sweaters which could pass for business casual.   

And I'm also available for both days.


And here was her reply:

Hi David,

Great!  I will put in for both days, you will be wearing the same thing both days too but please still bring your options.  As per the wardrobe listed below, sounds good but just avoid the patterns or anything flashy.

Have a great day,


I was in!  This immediately set me up for the sometimes-protracted and always-painful process of waiting for your call time.  Typically this involves coming to grips with getting up the next morning at the the most ungodly hour you can imagine and then shaving two more hours off of this just to accommodate your nigh-impractical, bus-locomoted travel time.

There was one clue in the previous email that did look very promising, however. Johanna had made a vague reference to a bookstore scene to be shot in Bayers Lake, all the while remaining somewhat coy as to the exact address.

First off, I was already heartened that I wouldn't have to travel very far, since my apartment is only about five minutes away from Bayers Lake by car.  Normally when I do this sort of thing I'm forced to shlep myself and my 80-pound garment bag all over hell and creation by bus.  Being acutely familiar with the business park, I also knew that there was only one possible location we could be shooting in.  This was confirmed when I received the call sheet later that evening:

Hello Everyone,

Thank you for taking this Background Performer Call for us.

Have a great day on Set with us and please remember that it is not good Set etiquette to ask for autographs and the taking of photographs is strictly forbidden...thank you for understanding!


Location: KIDS ZONE CHAPTERS BOOKSTORE 188 Chain Lake Drive Bayers Lake NS
Parking: Please park in the upper parking lot up from Chapters towards Empire Theatres



Review of costume notes:

NYC Bookstore Patrons

    This look is high end - big city - very sharp and crisp – non seasonal – colors should be earth tones. Shirt colors should be pale grey, off white, creams, blues.   The style range is from business suits/office attire to upscale casual attire. Jewelry should be tasteful upscale for business attire can be larger for upscale casual attire.

    NO red, white or black
    No sandals
    No logos
    Ladies, please make sure your shoes are not too loud as the microphones will pick up the noise

       Please bring 3 options from head to toe

Thanks again!   

I was right!  Our location would be the free-standing Chapters book store up by the movie theater.  In many ways, it was a great location for the cast and crew as well.  There would be ample parking, little to no traffic congestion, amenities close by and it would likely be very quiet on an early Friday morning.   

While waiting to receive this valuable missive, I'd also begun the tedious process of washing and ironing everything precious, even though I suspected that this was a colossal waste of time.  Although I've been lucky enough to appear in every film I've done background work for, I also know that you're likely to be on-screen for only about a nanosecond or you'll be reduced to nothing but a blurry blob in the foreground or background.

Nevertheless, I can't help but make a tentative effort to look semi-presentable.  And trust me, I despise ironing.  It's pure hell for anyone who's as OCD as I am.  Mercifully, my Infinitely Better Half (I.B.H.) helped me with this unpalatable task, for which I'm eternally grateful.

Knowing that my trip to the set next morning would be relatively painless, I actually slept quite well.  After breezing though my morning ritual, I got a lift up to the bookstore courtesy of my I.B.H.   Man, I am so grateful that I'm hooked up with someone who is so understanding and accommodating.  I love ya, babe!

The tell-tale movie set signs were unmistakable.  As soon as we pulled into the parking lot we saw a slew of trucks, lighting equipment and crew members out front guzzling down liquid consciousness and scarfing sugary jolts of fried energy.  As I hopped out of the car and grabbed my garment bag out of the trunk, I couldn't help but wonder how much the production company would be paying to the store to keep it closed for most of the day.  It had to be a tidy sum, certainly.

Director Mick Garris arrived on set just behind me.  Once inside, Mike, one of the film's Production Assistants, directed me to the Indigo Kids section in the back corner.  En route I took stock of the feverish activity going on all around me.  The art department was re-dressing the interior to make it look as if it was hosting a major metropolitan book signing.  The Chapters signs were all obscured by a new store name: "Watermans".  Fake posters promoting the "personal appearance" and mock-up copies of Mike Noonan's fictional novel They All Fall Down decorated the once-mundane space.  I was completely amazed by how perfect the illusion seemed to be.

When I got to the back of the store, about thirty additional extras were arrayed in a semi-cirle of folding chairs, all dressed like well-to-do Manhattanites.  All of the chairs were facing a small table where P.A's Mike and Maria were frantically trying to keep up with the deluge of sign-in paperwork being generated.  Fortunately since I can fill out these slips in my sleep now, I was able to complete my check-in, find a place to hang up my garment bag and eke out a spot to sit down in quick order.

Occasionally Mike and another P.A. named Adam called for our attention in order to impart some critical instructions.  During these interludes, I couldn't help but wonder if these guys would have more success wrangling a pack of nip-intoxicated cats.  In quick succession they supplied pertinent pieces of information to complete our paperwork, summarized the do's and don't of set etiquette, and confirmed those among us who were tapped to come back the next day for continuity work (myself included).  Their most explosive revelation, however, was that the Chapters store was intending to stay open during filming!

Given how imperative it usually is to ensure a complete and total lack of noise on a film set, this announcement immediately set tongues a-wagging amongst the horde of background actors.  Despite the obvious challenges that I knew this will pose, I also suspected that a Friday morning wouldn't be too busy and that the crew would be more then capable of retaining some semblance of order.

The stand-in for Mike Noonan and his wife Jo soon appeared.  They looked very familiar to me and I assumed that they were most likely local actors of some renown.  At precicely 9:10 AM a blocking rehearsal began.  Unlike so many others who are either texting, gabbing or preening (or sometimes doing all three at once) I edged up to the boundaries of our designated playpen to watch what was going on.  From my vantage point I could clearly see Mick Garris presiding over the hive of activity.

Annika, one of the wardrobe assistants, breezed through, looking for blatant fashion faux-pas.  She quickly and efficiently made her way through the crowd, eliminating any blacks, whites, gaudy jewelry, seasonal clothing, wild prints or any other styles and colors deemed too gouache for a dignified New Yorker.  I got an initial pass but didn't make it past the keen aesthetics of the main wardrobe lady, who reminded me a bit of Edna Mode from The Incredibles.  Apparently she thought that there were just too many guys dressed in blue shirts.

"Did you bring anything else, dear?" she queryied, her reference to me sounding vaguely fraudulent.

"Yes, I certainly did," I replied.  "In fact I kind of went overboard!"

Of all the options I'd brought along, the shirt she picked out for me to wear was a vaguely iridescent, maroonish affair.  Not willing to bait her aura of authority, I hastily got put it on and then went to fetch my tie collection as instructed.  I quickly picked out the one which I thought looked to be the closest match.

"Oh, goodness, no!" she protested, turning her nose up as if I'd just pulled a piece of St. Bernard poop out of my pack.  "That's far too ugly and busy...what else do you have?"

Slightly wounded, I rummaged around in my bag filled with psychotropic fabric and pulled out a second choice that met with her grudging approval.  Now cleared to proceed, I hung around the hinterland of our holding space to see how things were progressing.  It was then that I noticed a very distinctive-looking woman meandering around amidst the stacks of books.

She was very slim, attractive, and held the vaguest resemblance to a young Sigourney Weaver.  She was clad in a white blouse with red flowers and a slim, knee-length red skirt.  Except for her distinct aura and eye-catching wardrobe, she was behaving like a typical shopper, browsing around, picking up the odd book or knick-knack for closer inspection.  Despite her low-profile, I recognized her right away.

It was Annabeth Gish, who's been consistently busy as a film and television actress since appearing as "Jesse" in the coming-of-age drama Desert Bloom in 1986.  She's also been Julia Robert's sister in Mystic Pizza, played Julie Nixon Eisenhower in Oliver Stone's Nixon and shared screen time with both Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd in the thriller Double Jeopardy.  Personally I remember her best for her stint in the last two seasons of The X-Files as special agent Monica Reyes.  

After meandering amongst the bookshelves, Annabeth was corralled by one of the costume ladies who chided her for strolling around barefoot.  She produced a pair of comfy slippers which the actress happily slipped on, then she drifted back to her directors chair.  The actress enjoyed a quick wrap for breakfast while swaddled in a comfy, warm blanket.  After that she used her phone (which was clearly more intelligent  then my own) to check her email.

"Okay...husband still there...check!   Kids still alive...check!"  I heard her joke with the makeup girls.

This seemed to buoy her spirits considerably.  After a quick 'Good Morning!' exchange with Mick Garris, she resumed puttering about the store, phone now anchored to her ear as she continued her quest for gifts to bring home.

Her two young sons must have a Star Wars fetish since she lingered close to the Clone Wars story books in the Kids Section for quite some time.  I immediately had to tamp down the urge to rush over and shout "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON'T BUY ANYTHING THAT HAS JAR JAR BINKS IN IT!"

I can only imagine how much these people must miss their families, spirited away from them for months at a time.  After all, this was day thirty-five of a thirty-nine day schedule for Bag of Bones.  That's actually a fairly long shoot, but then again, the show is supposed to materialize late in the fall on A&E as four hour long episodes.

Eventually Mike and Maria gathered us all together to go over the scene.  Mega-author Mike Noonan (Pierce Brosnan) is making  a special appearance at bookstore in New York City to sign copies of his latest best-seller.  Noonan's wife Jo (Annabeth Gish), anticipating an awkward and lengthy exchange with a very intense fan, excuses herself from the table to go to lunch, kisses her husband and then dashes off for a secret errand at a pharmacy.  En route back to the bookstore, Jo is tragically struck down in the street by a bus.

After we were given the synopsis I struck up a conversation with another background performer.  I can't remember his name off-hand, but he was a motor coach driver who dabbled with background work in his spare time. We got to talking about a variety of subjects: cruise line guests, history, screenwriting and a slew of other engaging topics.

So engrossed was I in our dialogue that I failed to heed my own Golden Rule: listen to the P.A.'s at all times and try to be the first one on set.  At first, I just noticed a small trickle of extras filter by so I just assumed that these were the ones specifically designated as "Noonan Fans" on the call sheet.  In other words, I thought these guys were pre-designated for the front of the line-up.

But when that trickle became a flood I realized, all too late, that I'd missed the initial general call for the continuity people.  By the time I rushed out there I found myself towards the back of the lineup.  The down side was that I'd be too far away from the table to watch Pierce signing autographs.  The upshot was that I met two fantastic people.  I got to know them pretty well since, for the sake of continuity, we were asked to stick pretty close together. 

One was Shannon, who's 12 year old son is already making quite a splash as an actor, particularly in Haven.  Her awareness of the local film and television scene gave me some awesome leads especially in the arena of voice acting work and possible ways to secure transportation to far-flung locations.  Shannon would prove to be witty and insightful company over the next two days.

The other person was Ashley.  It was her first time doing background work on a movie set and I couldn't help but be reminded of my own introductory experience on Hobo With A Shotgun.  You could tell that she was bursting at the seams with excitement.  She seemed to be very aware of the process and always had relevant questions, particularly in the realm of continuity.  Whip-smart and possessed of a wicked sense of humor, Ashley could always be counted upon for a wry observation or a funny quip.

Now arrayed in the line-up, some crew-members came by and gave us one of  Mike's many "novels" to hold as a prop.  Turns out that Mike Noonan is a pretty prolific dude; I noticed at least four or five distinct books dressed up with fake titles.  I was given a copy of his latest release: They All Fall Down which was featured in the bookstore's promotional material.

I was amazed by the detail.  Wrapped around a real copy of Stephen King's Duma Key  was an illusory dustjacket that looked completely legitimate.  The graphic designers had composed an evocative  cover image depicting a silhouetted figure plummeting to earth between several high-rise buildings with crow-like birds flying in the air around him.  They'd even gone through the trouble of coming up with a plot synopsis, inside flap notes, author's bio, and a photo of Pierce as Mike on the back cover.  Brilliant!

The guest of honor himself soon arrived.  Pierce Brosnan came on set and walked all the way down the line, bidding us all an individual 'Good Morning' as he went.  As he passed by me, I held up the back cover of the prop book with his picture and said:

"Good morning!  Great book by the way!"

He paused for a second, cocked an eyebrow and said in his best deadpan manner:

"Yes!  It's just as good as King's!"

We had a good chuckle as Pierce made his way to the back of the lineup and said 'Hello' to the other extras who were placed strategically all around the story as casual patrons.  He then proceeded to putter around for a little bit, examining the odd book before drifting back to the table where the "signing" would take place.

A rehearsal of the action then followed.  A few people at the head of the lineup got to "meet" Mike, had their book's signed and then turned to leave, miming excited conversation as they went.  Then the "Superfan" showed up, bearing a massive stack of first editions in his arms which he then dropped in front of Mike with a tremendous crash.  Although I couldn't see the exchange from where I was standing, I could certainly hear it.

"Hello, Mr. Noonan," the Superfan said, his voice sounding monotone, yet assertive.  "I'm your biggest fan."

This cracked me up, since it was clearly an homage to that other King-spun tale of obsessive fandom gone horribly awry: Misery.

"So...," Mike/Pierce replied, "I suppose you want me to sign...all...of these?"

"Yes, all of them," came the insistent reply.

"Right, then," Mike heaved a sigh as he resigned himself to a bout of carpel tunnel syndrome.  "And how should I make these out to you?"

"To my BEST FRIEND," the Superfan replied.

" friend, huh?"

"BEST friend, yes." 

I can hear members of the crew, chief amongst them director Mick Garris, begin to chuckle uncontrollably as the rehearsal spun down.  Soon we were getting ready to go for real.  Mick and his A.D. started coordinating a steady-cam shot along the right flank of our prodigious lineup.  As the camera passed by, we were tasked to crane our necks ahead, act anxious and excited and then turn back and forth to other people in the lineup and mime a conversation.  It was a tricky shot since the steady-cam operator had to navigate a narrow path between us and several large display tables, while nailing all the required coverage at the end of the shot.

While the final choreography was being ironed out I started joking around that a prominent display rack featuring Justin Beiber's latest magnum opus First Step To Forever would spoil the shot.

"You can't have that there," I told one of the crew.  "It's gonna date the film.  People are gonna watch this movie in five years and go, 'Oh man!  Remember when that little twerp was popular?'  Maybe I should just light it on fire.  Does anyone have a match?  D'you think it would look weird if there was a flaming bookshelf in the shot?"   

People around me started cracking up.  I think the crew thought I was onto something because they rolled the display farther back out of the shot to clear a path for the camera man and all the trailing wires.  Later on a pair of girls who were w-a-a-a-a-a-y too old to still be suffering under the residual effects of Beiber fever, were asked to stand walk over to the same display and flip through the book.  Frankly, if they'd asked me to do that, I would have thrown a diva fit and walked off the set.   

The first time we did the scene the camera operator moved in a bit too close to the book signing.  The second time he was a bit too far away from the action.  Mick Garris then instructed him to "split the difference" and on the third take, he nailed it.

Between takes I overheard a girl chatting loudly about board games, trying to convince her friend that she was missing out.

"Yeah, I really like this one too.  Settlers of Catan."

My ears instantly perked up as soon as I heard someone mention a reasonably good board game.  We then had a quick chat about how Settlers is so much better then crap like Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit.   

"Is it a hard game to learn?" asked the curious noob.

"Nooo!" we both scoffed simultaneously.

"It's just a bit different from any game you've ever played bore, so it just takes a little bit to pick it up," I said.

"How many people can play it?"

"Four, but you can get an expansion that allows you to play with six," the other girl said, continuing her concerted sales pitch. 

Just as I went back to my spot in the lineup, I spied Carcassonne out of the corner of my eye on the opposite side of the table.

"Hey!" I called back to the board game vet.  "This one's great too.  Have you played it?"

"No!" she replied, excitedly.  "But I heard that it's really good!  I've actually been there, y'know, to the real city.  To Carcassonne!"   

"What?  Really!" I called back, instantly jealous.  "It must have been amazing!"

Her face fell a bit as she described the once-proud, ancient medieval city.

"It's amazing from the outside, but inside it's gotten really commercial.  Very cheesy and touristy."

Unbelievable. You'd think the French, the ones who despised Euro-Disney so vehemently, would have been immune to such a blight.  Sad.

After the shot was completed we were herded back to holding.  Fortunately the sound department had a little monitoring station close by.  They proceeded to shoot a series of close-ups to capture the interaction with the "Superfan".  It was a real thrill to watch these performances captured "live" for digital posterity.  It's positively magical to me.

I could now see what the "Superfan" looked like: a husky, pallid, conservatively-dressed, blank-faced dude with a side-sweep haircut.  I could also detect Pierce Brosnan's blatant wince of pain as the stack of books got plunked down in front of him as well as his look of stark amazement as the fan made his series of nutty requests.  I'm was also delighted to watch Annabeth look on with bemused surprise as the avalanche of books came slamming down onto the table.

Between a break in the action everyone went into a brief holding pattern.  Annabeth found a book that she seemed interested in buying: Canadian author Micheal Ondaatje's latest novel The Cat's Table.  I humored a silent 'Yay!' at this irrefutable sign of good taste!  I marveled at the concept that my very own book was sitting somewhere on the shelf in the very same store, sharing shelf space with such stellar company. If Stephen King, who was once rumored to be involved with a cameo in the film, had walked in, I would have marched him right over to where my book was sitting just so I could tell him: "Look!  I  have you to thank for that!"

Annabeth began expressing some frustration over her phone's failings and Mick asked her if she owned an iPad.  When she told him 'no', the director suddenly launched into an amazing testimonial for Apple's waver-thin technological marvel.  He spun a pretty convincing sales pitch, particularly when he mentioned that he could actually watch the film's dailies using the little wonder tablet.  Incredible.

Time was beginning to tick by.  More and more slack-jawed gawkers (designated as  "bogeys" by the crew) were trying to weasel their way onto the set.  In addition, the staff of the store and some of the real-life customers were becoming star-struck, even attempting to take a photograph of Pierce at one point in time.  Adam the A.D. had to step in at one point and put the kibosh on that.

I also had a brief chat with Andrew, the manager at the store who agreed to stock my book on the shelves.  His initial surprise upon seeing me besuited and part of the background quickly passed as I came near and said:

"Not your typical day on the job, huh?"

Indeed.  At one point in time a woman with a wailing baby flipped out after being denied access to the kid's section of the store.  During all the drama all I could think was: 'Cripes, Honey, circumstances are a just a little bit unusual right now.  Maybe you could kindly take your larval air raid siren out of the store for a bit and come back when it's out of gas.  The store ain't goin' anywhere.'

Back to first positions we went.  The first few fans in the lineup were now gone, so we moved up closer to the front.  We could now see what was going on at the table, which was great.  Initially we lensed a few more wide shots, but this time we didn't have to mime our conversations, we could actually talk to people around us.  Me, Ashley, Shannon, and the dude standing behind us had a great time coming up with crazy shit to say to one another like:

"*Whoof!*  We're almost there!  How long have we been waiting in this lineup, anyway?  Three, four weeks?"
"Man, if I don't get Pierce Brosnan's autograph today, I'm gonna hunt you down and murder you in your sleep!"
"Have any of you guys actually read They All Fall Down yet?   It actually kinda sucks."
"What are the odds that the ten people standing in front of us in the lineup will suddenly get hit by lightning?  Wouldn't that be great?"      

We paused again as catering arrived with several platters of awesome-looking food.  Once again, I'm amazed by the pampering you receive on a proper movie set.  There I was, getting privileged access to a world I once thought impenetrable.  A world that I would have gladly paid money out of my own pocket to be a part of.

But not only was I supposed to be here, I was getting paid to be there and they were feeding me on top of it all!  Indeed, there was an endless parade of coffee, tea, water, apples, bananas, clementines, chocolate bars, donuts, juice and a huge variety of sammichy goodness all free for the taking!  I consider this treatment to be so rarefied and privileged that I still bring my own lunch to set!      

After our little group nosh I noticed that all of the equipment was being turned around for a reverse angle shot, presumably to accommodate the scene where we all of us hear the commotion outside and Mike gets up and runs towards the doors, fearing the worst.  It took quite awhile for the crew to accomplish this, taking great pains all the while to ensure that no open windows would betray the very un-Manhattan like skyline.

During this time, the cast and crew was incredibly approachable.  Mick Garris hung out at the table where I was standing so I had a chance to talk to him about the actors who shared the graveyard scene with me.  He took the opportunity to praise his supporting cast and told me that a wonderful Toronto-based actress by the name of Deborah Graham played Rogette to perfection.  It was a cool little moment and I have to thank him for being so accessible.

I shared another encounter with one of the crew members only moments later.  While I was waiting for the next summons back to our places, I found myself standing by a table laden with books about World War II.  One book in particular, about tanks from that era, really caught my eye.  As I lifted the front cover I heard this:

"Zat vas my grand-fazza's tank."

I look up to see a trim gent, 40-ish, with long graying hair and a goatee who was wearing a brown hat, red checked shirt and some sort of black equipment harness.  He gestured to the illustration of the mean-looking armored vehicle on the front of the book.

"Oh, wow, really?" I said.  "What kind of tank is it?  Panzer IV or...?"

"No," he replied (or perhaps it was "Nein!").  He flipped to the page which identified the tank.  "It's a Tiger."

The coach driver I'd befriended earlier jumped into the conversation, rattling off Rain Man-like details about the tank's specifications.

"Panther...Leopard...," the German prop master muttered to himself as he identified each vehicle in turn.

"Amazing machines," I blurted, clearly allergic to the threat of even so much as a second's worth of awkward silence.  "Along with the Russian T-34 those were some of the best tanks of the war."

"Ja, very much so" he replied, seconds before being called back to work.

That wasn't my only encounter with the same dude.  Later on, when I  was totally engrossed in talking to the coach driver, he came up to me again and asked:

"Do you vant your book signed?"

I turned and frowned at him.  I couldn't fathom why he would asking me that.

"Sorry?" I asked, sounding painfully obtuse.

"Your book!"  he practically shouted.  "Do you vant it signed?"

I hefted up the massive tome and blinked at it remotely.


I handed the thing off to him, wondering if it would earn me some kind of bonus scene in which I'm lording the signed copy over my fellow Noonan fans still stuck in the line-up.  Regardless, the thought occupied my mind for no more then a millisecond as I went back to the conversation.

Soon he reappeared and handed the book back to me.  So engrossed was I in my wanton gabbery that I just accepted it, thanked him and then went on to summarize my discussions forth and final stupid point.  Soon we were called back to set and the A.D. quickly coached us as to what our reactions should be to the chaos erupting outside.

While in the lineup with Shannon and Ashley, the topic turned again to our prop books.  I opened mine up to show them all the little details that the art department had added to the dust jacket.  As soon as she spied the hand-written scrawl on the inside front cover, Ashley shrieked:

"WHAT is THAT!?!" 

I stared at the large, flamboyant script inside the book.

"Um, I...I dunno," I replied helpfully.  "Looks like some kind of signature."

Everyone within earshot crowded around to try and decipher it. It read (as far as we could determine):

Your Best Friend,
Mpiekrce Nbrsnan

Ashly promptly went into an apoplexy of shock and excitement.

"Oh my God!  Oh my God!  Oh my God!  Oh my God!  Oh my God!  Oh my God!  Oh my God!  Oh my God!"

"What?  What is it?!" I asked.

"He signed it!  Pierce Brosnan signed your book!  Why did did you do that!?!?"

"Hold on now, just  wait a minute!" I protested.  "We don't know if that's his signature.  I can barely read it, fer Crissakes!"

"I'm pretty sure it says 'Pierce'," Shannon jumped in, gleefully pouring kerosene on the fire.

" did you get his autograph?!" Ashley demanded, practically grabbing me by the lapels, which, in retrospect, would have been really bad 'cuz I wasn't wearing any lapels.

"I...I didn't," I sputtered back, now totally flummoxed.  "I was just standing over there and that intense-looking German dude just asked me if I wanted to have my book signed so I just gave it to him!"

My fellow extra moved in closer.  I backed away, fearing that I had only seconds to live before I was beaten to death with a woefully un-customized stunt-book.

"I came here with one goal and one goal only: get Pierce Brosnan's autograph.  You're gonna give me that book when your done."

"What?!" I shouted, holding the hardcover to my chest.  "No way!  They're just gonna make me give it back anyway!"

"Why?" she persisted.  "Why would that guy go through the bother of getting the damned thing signed if you weren't supposed to keep it?"

I had to admit that it really didn't make much sense.  After all, we were still standing mid-way in the lineup and the next scene would most certainly be Pierce running towards the door, leaving the rest of us forever waiting for his "autograph".

Just as Ashley leaned closer to deliver what was sure to be a fatal application of the Tongan Death Grip, the A.D. called for "Quiet on the Set!", followed with the familiar succession of "Picture's Up!", "Roll Sound!", "Roll Picture!", "Speed!", "Mark It!" , "Background!" and then "Action!"  Once again we flawlessly mimed talking cheerfully to one another before reacting to the sounds of impact and the sirens just outside.  Regardless of the risk to my own life, I have to admit that Ashley probably deserves a nomination for Best Performance By An Extra Who Only Seconds Ago Was On The Verge Of  Murdering A Fellow Extra.      
I managed to calm her down between takes and the last few shots flew by in quick succession.  Our reaction to the ruckus outside was filmed again a few more times. Then the steady-cam operator reversed his original angle by running backwards down the aisle, first capturing our quizzical reactions to the imaginary noise and then halting as a horror-stricken Pierce got up and ran towards the front of the store.  Several variations of this scene were shot, including a request by director Mick Garris to have us break out of the line up and run after Pierce as he flew past us. 

Soon "That's a Wrap!" was called and we begrudgingly turned in our cool props.  I lingered for as long as I could hoping the German dude would just look and me and say "Zat ist okay.  You can keep zat book if you vant!"

Instead he was supervising the return process.  Before I gave the book back to him, I said:

"Ummm, excuse me, I just had to ask: why did you get this book signed?"

He cocked his head and looked at me as if I was derranged.

"Vat do you mean?" he demanded.

"Well," I shuffled, suddenly rubbing my neck and feeling churlish. "A few hours ago you came up to me and asked if I wanted my book signed.  A said 'yes' and you took it, got it signed and gave it back to me.  I was just wondering why you did that."

He kept staring me as he took back a prop cell phone.  As I kept talking he was staring at me like a dog listing to something weird on the radio.

"I don't know vat you're talking about," he maintained.  "A lot of them ver signed."

With that, I gave up, handed the book back in defeat and slunk back to holding.  At least I could tell Ashley now that I tried to keep the book for her.  I was hoping that this would make her charitable enough to spare my life.
They called our names at random and I was one of the lucky folks to sign out almost immediately.  Just before I left, the wardrobe people snagged me for a continuity photo and threatened to gibbet me if I didn't wear the exact same thing tomorrow morning.  After deciding that a trip to Montana's for ribs while wearing the same duds was probably a bad idea, I gathered up all my crap and humped out to the bus stop.

I had one final odd encounter as I was waiting for the bus.  I was speaking to an ACTRA member who seemed quite bitter that this past summer was supposed to have been very busy, even though he hardly got any calls.  He seemed especially resentful that he wasn't being asked back to do continuity tomorrow and intimated that non-union folks like myself were taking jobs away from ACTRA people.

Now, interestingly enough, during the course of his monologue he revealed that he didn't have an agent nor did I get the impression that he was trolling the casting websites every day to drum up work for himself.  Now, granted, I've only done four films but even I know that I'm really gonna hafta kick it into high gear if I ever decide to really pursue this wacky business (especially if I decide to do voice acting and especially if I'm self-represented at first).   

Rather then feeling as if this encounter was negative or discouraging, I actually thought it rather hopeful.  More and more I was getting the impression that, like any other work environment, film crews really only want to be surrounded by positive, upbeat, accommodating people who will do what's asked of them without a lot of bitching and complaining.

For some reason, I couldn't help but feel as if this meant well for my future.  As I rode back home on the bus, packed in with my fellow lemmings into this massive mobile box, I pondered what adventures would await me on the morrow.

But that is a story for another day.    
EPIC  Link to Ballyhoo's website.  Set up a profile and see what happens, folks!

FAIL  I really  hope this kid can start using his prodigious powers for good instead of evil.  That is, before his target audience starts to get all bitter and angry and start listening to The Cure.



Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bag of Awesome - Part II

Greetings, Mavens of Movie Macabre-ery!

So, there I was, on the set of Bag of Bones, watching veteran horror director Mick Garris run around the set, blocking out shots and trying to anticipate future set-ups like it was all an elaborate chess game.

This had me positively enthralled.  After all, here's a guy who's probably had more conversations with Stephen King then I've had hot meals.  Although I was completely wrapped up in what I was witnessing, the other extras were either fixing their make-up, chatting idly amongst themselves or complaining about having to stand in direct sunlight.

I couldn't help but notice that there was also a black-clad, pony-tailed gent standing at the foot the coffin this whole time.  He chatted warmly with us background folks for a bit, observing that we all looked appropriately formal-looking.

"Yeah, we clean up pretty good, don't we?" I joked.

Turns out, he was serving as a stand-in, allowing the crew to work out all the technical details before bringing the performers into the mix.  Eventually things was hashed out and Mick requested that the principal actors be brought on set.

I turned towards the makeshift sun shelter just a few meters away and saw three very distinct-looking characters headed our way.  The first was played by Nova Scotian actor Gary Levert:

Gary's been pretty darned busy since be began his acting career in earnest back in 1998 when he assumed the role of "Hal" in the TV series Black Harbour.  He's had a parade of solid gigs since, appearing in Emily of New Moon, The Shipping News, Trudeau, Lexx, Shattered City, Trailer Park Boys: The Movie, Jesse Stone: Thin Ice and Haven.       

This time out Gary is playing the role of George Footman, a shady Castle County Deputy Sheriff who's actions play a significant role in the plot of the original novel.  He certainly looked the part: clad in distinctive dark olive/brown pants, holster belt and gun, dark tie, tan shirt, badge, name-tag, hat and shoulder crests.  As soon as he took his place by the foot of the coffin he turned back appraised us all with an approving eye.

In the case of the other two actors, both IMDB and the normally-omniscient power of the internets have failed me in my quest to identify them.  The first was a very tall, imposing older gentlemen dressed in a suit.  If I were to hazard a guess, I'd have to say that he was portraying one of the lawyer characters from the book: either John Storrow or Romeo Bissonette.  He was positioned just to the right of Gary and immediately started to interact with those gathered around, particularly the "priest".

Speaking of the devil, the "good" Father continued to regale his flock with several extremely off-color "sermons" featuring such inappropriate topics as bestiality and ethnic humor.  Pretty soon I was chuckling uncontrollably, which caught the attention of the well-dressed actor standing in front of me.            

"Can you believe he's actually one of the producers?" he leaned over and whispered.

Turns out, it was actually Mark Sennet doing a cameo...

Mark's funded such diverse projects as the television movie Inside the Osmonds, the George Gallo art pic Local Color with Ray Liotta and another Stephen King adaption: Desperation.  When he's not busy keeping the coffers open for productions such as Bag of Bones, apparently he's likely to turn up headlining Amateur Night at "Magooby's Joke House" in Baltimore, Maryland.

I believe the third performer who shared the scene with me is named Debra Graham.  She was cast in the role of  Rogette Whitmore, personal assistant to the book's main baddie, Max Devore.  Her costume and make-up work was flawless.

The slight, rake-thin actress was clad in a long, black frock with a raised veil and a shawl around her neck.  She wore Victorian-style boots and her face was deathly pallid and finely wrinkled.   It was the perfect Cruella DeVille/Black Widow look.  Despite her imposing appearance she took the time to speak with each and every one of the extras gathered around, describing us as appropriately "funereal".  I personally had a chance to chat with her about the tremendous location we were shooting in, how perfect it was to have the paint-peeling church up on the hill and how Nova Scotia is rich with so many great cinematic locations.

Just before the cameras began to crank, one of the the wardrobe ladies (proudly wallowing in what she claimed was an Antigonish accent) bombed through and made sure we all looked ship-shape.  In quick succession, she performed an elaborate but muted handkerchief fold for the "lawyer's" jacket pocket, added an eye-catching silver broach to "Rogette's" shawl, and made sure that Gary's gun and holster covered up his pant's belt.  After a quick hair and make-up appraisal by another team, we were ready for the cameras.     

But just before we got underway there was another notable addition to the gathered:

Yes that's right, folks, Pierce Friggin' Brosnan arrived on set, saying a hearty good morning to Mick Garris and shaking his hand as if they were meeting for the first time.  He greeted his co-stars warmly and then said good morning to everyone before taking his place half way up the hill for the scene.

Instantly the set seemed electrically charged.  All of the men suddenly felt strangely diminished, myself included.  Soccer moms and dilettantes alike leaned over, whispered in each other's ears and giggled like schoolgirls.  Suddenly I recalled a local news story that Pierce had been spotted at local java house called Steve-O-Reno's Cappuccino.  I remembered this because, by no co-incidence I'm sure, everyone on the crew seemed to be drinking from Steve-O-Reno coffee cups.           

Eventually the A.D. came through and parted the mourners like the Red, Sea.  This ensured that the camera had a line of sight through the mourners as it reached the end of its dolly track run behind us.  This was shot a couple of times while Debra went through her actions.

This consisted of taking a white orchid, stepping forward, resting it on the casket, sinking to one knee, lowering her head and then standing back up to engage in a nasty stare-down with Pierce's character Mike Noonan.  Pierce reacted to this by meeting her gaze from behind his reflective shades and then folding his arms in a look of defiance.  This was repeated only a few short times before Mick called "Cut!" followed by "Print that!" followed by "We're moving on!"  Not long after we were escorted back to our holding area.

As soon as I was back inside I set myself to writing feverishly again.  Just as I was getting into it I heard:

"Wow, you look busy!"

I glanced up into the face of an older gent who I'd noticed before sitting part-way up the hill during that last take.  More keen to meet someone new versus scribbling on looseleaf like a madman, I put my work aside and replied back:

"Yeah, I like to write.  I've got this blog thing and if I'm ever on a movie set I like to document the experience whenever I can."

"Well," he said.  "That's a really good idea.  I should have been doing that myself all these years!"

"Oh," I returned.  "I take it this isn't your first time on a movie set?"

"Goodness no!" he replied.  "This is probably the thirtieth film I've done!"

He introduced himself as Bill and over the next forty minutes, he kept me transfixed until our next call.  He'd certainly had plenty of ventures, adventures and misadventures to talk about: like flying combat aircraft in Korea, taking on friendly fire, crash-landing his plane, owning and operating a successful resort and acting as a professor at Saint Mary's University where his equations became instrumental in the development of voter tabulation software.

Needless to say, it would likely be fair to characterize Bill as "financially stable".

And then there were all the movies and whatnot.  He had plenty of stories about his involvement in local film and T.V. productions.  He'd been put through his paces several times by Jonathan Torrens, had appeared in Mike Clattenburg's local comedy phenomenon Trailer Park Boys and witnessed a mass dry-humping of Sandra Bullock during, of all things, a charity hockey game during the filming of Two If By Sea.

At first, Bill just dabbled in these things, but after several health scares, he decided to retire from the rat-race and pursue acting gigs as often as he could.

"Life's too short not to be doing exactly what you love," he said at one point.  "And I love movies."

'Amen,' I thought to myself.

After Bill and I finalized the bonding process by expressing our mutual love for the television show River Monsters, we were all called back to the set.  En route, one of the female mourners somehow managed to maim her foot.  Anyone squeamish at the sight of blood would have been well-advised to avert their gave.  I didn't see the injury myself, but this chick kept bleeding like a Deadite in an Evil Dead film.  Panicked that she might be thrown off-set for delaying the shoot, she keep trying to staunch the wound using any stray piece of paper towel, napkins or tissues handed to her.  She even had a couple of guys trying to help her and they were getting her blood all over their hands.  * Barf *

"Quick!" some yahoo shouted.  "This is a Stephen King film!  Get a camera on this!  You can use it!"

Eventually she began to congeal, so we turned out collective attentions back to the business at hand.  This time the camera had been moved to the south side of the graveyard beyond the creepy old tree.  Debra mimed the same actions as before and this additional coverage was captured both quickly and efficiently.

Another odd thing occurred at this time.  Since a lot of people on set that day were way south of age sixty, we had one elderly gentleman who's been standing in the sun experience a fainting spell.  Things ground to a halt as he was escorted off-set and tended to by paramedics.  Eventually he was okay, but he couldn't get clearance to return to the set.  Mercifully he was way in the background so it was determined that his sudden absence wouldn't impact continuity.      

Then, after one last break, we came back down to see that the cameras had been positioned for a low-angle shot down by the side of the casket.  It was pointed directly back towards Rogette, George Footman and the well-dressed gentleman, with me standing just betwixt them.

When the last take was completed the A.D. shouted "That's a wrap!" and we hoofed our way back up the hill.  There weren't a lot of extras on set that day so it didn't take long to have my release paperwork processed.  I was soon on my (very) merry way.  We'd only been shooting for about five hours, which I thought was rather quick and efficient.  I'd done an epic twelve hour day on November Christmas before but also had to admit that what we shot today was considerably less complicated. 

It's odd to write that I left that graveyard on Cloud Nine, but I really did.  Actually I may have even been on Cloud Ten; I won't be sure until the lab report come back.  I was becoming increasingly comfortable and content being on a movie set set.  I was also 100% convinced that being there was "my first best destiny".  Even burdened down with my forty-pound garment bag and hoofing back to the bus stop in the hot sun, I had a spring in my step and a song in my heart.   

Content with my modest involvement in Bag of Bones thus far, I was prepared to put it behind me and move on to something else.  Little did I know that fate for have more in store for me.  There would be fortuitous meetings, involvement in one of the film's biggest scenes and rubbing elbows with the principal cast and crew.

Sometimes life is pretty friggin' cool, people.

EPIC  The original novel by Stephen King, actually one of his best later-day works.

FAIL  Mercifully nothing this bad happened that day.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

They've Got Us All By The Roddenberries

Hey, Y'All!

Recently an acquaintance of mine posted the following Bookface™ pronouncement.  Reading it kinda broke my heart:

"With _______ back in school I fear I may have to get a 'regular' job. Doing anything other than acting, writing, directing or performing in some way is seriously PAINFUL when I know that I have been born to do nothing else but create art." 

The person who wrote that really shouldn't have to worry about such things.  She's an incredibly hard-working and talented vocalist and actor and I really do believe that neither the world nor reality has any right to ask her to do anything different.   

When I was working in a call center people would always come up to me and say: "OMG!  You're sooooo creative. You're just wasting your time here.  You should be out there doing something with your gifts."

To which I'd usually reply: "Really, wow, that's great advice, but who's gonna bankroll this l'il venture?  Are you gonna sponsor me for this noble but highly unprofitable cause?" 

That would usually shut them up.  

Indeed, we as a society always profess to love our artists, but we never seem to want to put our money where our collective mouths are.  Certainly our block-headed Conservative Harper government doesn't seem to want to help.  I used to witness this crap first-hand as a kid when someone would commission my Dad to do a custom painting and then haggle with him over the already-agreed-upon price, knowing full well that he couldn't sell it to anyone else.  

Look, I'm one of the biggest supporters of capitalism on this planet.  After all, I wouldn't have self-published a book if I didn't think I could sell it for my own financial betterment.  But I'm afraid that, more and more every day, we're moving away from capitalism and veering dangerously towards corporatism.  

I'm constantly hearing tales about how creative, unique people are being forced to abandon their dreams, turn a blind eye to their talents and pledge their allegiance to a patron corporation who's entire function is to turn them into interchangeable drones whose sole function is to make a bunch of rich assholes even richer.  Why is this happening so much?  Because they can't afford to survive financially the way our society is currently set up.

Like you, I never had a say in how things are done in this great, big, wacky world of ours.  As a kid I can remember watching Star Trek and trying to figure out why humanity didn't strive to be a little bit more like the future depicted in this visionary show.  Well, minus the rampant sexism, of course.      

Although I consider the philosophies of the original, early 60's iteration of Star Trek to be half-baked at best, the concept really came to term during the Next Generation run.  It's here that Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future really came into focus.  He seemed to be telling us that one day we'd all look at each other and go: "Hey, we're all not all so different from one another after all!  Why don't we stop all this greedy fussin' and a-feudin' and actually work together for a change!  We could achieve some incredible stuff!"


Indeed.  Perhaps the most intriguing thing Roddenberry posits is the end to monetary pursuits.  His society still has jobs and careers that need doing, but people volunteer to do them.  That way, what you choose to do with your life dove-tails perfectly with your area of interest.  If you're the risk taking type you can become a starship captain.  If you're the creative sort and want to become a traveling interstellar playwright, we gotcha covered.  Hells, even if you wanna do something totally pedestrian like tend the gardens outside Starfleet Academy, why you can just go ahead and fill your trowel!

It's like when Spock tells Kirk in Wrath of Khan: ""If I may be so bold, it was a mistake for you to accept promotion. Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny; anything else is a waste of material." 

So what if being an actor, writer or musician is your first best destiny?  Well, in our society, you'll likely end up with a title like "customer service specialist"; a fate just as wrong-headed as Kirk's promotion to Admiral.   

However, in the utopia if Star Trek, the space government will give you a place to live, food and all the amenities you could ever want.  Presumably as long as you continue to do something productive.  Certainly these philosophies are relevant to more then just artists.  It has the potential to re-work our entire way of thinking.  Can you imagine being free to live your life exactly how you want to, without having to perform meaningless tasks to earn paper credits which, in turn, you can exchange for the privileged of not starving to death or dying of exposure during the winter? 

For an inexplicably large chunk of the population, particularly in the U.S., they most certainly do not want to even ponder such a hellish scenario. They even have a label for just such a repellent concept.  It's a filthy word, a word which instantly conjures up images of shiftless hippies, idle immigrants and communist sympathizers.

That word is "socialism".  

I once got into a knock-down, drag-out argument with a particularly myopic co-worker over this.  After the left-leaning NDP party got elected here in Nova Scotia he went on a loud, public tirade about how their "socialist ways" would soon interfere with the business world and blissfully hand out a free lunch to all kinds of deadbeats and slackers.  

"That's friggin' ridiculous," I shot back.  "Do you really have such a low opinion of your fellow human beings?  Most folks are extremely dedicated and hard-working.  They get a sense of fulfillment and gratification when they feel as if they're contributing to society.  Trouble is, most jobs nowadays are so devoid of free will and creativity that people start to go a bit nuts after doing them for a few months..."

"But that's part of the streamlining process for businesses!" he replied.  "When there's turnover they don't have to put a ton of effort into training people!"

"When did not training people become a good thing?  Besides, what happens when some rich company decides they're not making quite enough money so they lay off all of their workers and ship their jobs down to Guatemala?  Don't you think some higher authority should be able to step in and say 'Hey, look!  We've seen your public records and your company isn't in any financial danger.  You're just doing this to increase the bottom line and make the investors even richer.  You can't do that!"

"Absolutely not!" he shouted back.  "Government has no right to stick their noses into business matters.  If I've worked my ass off to build a successful operation, the last thing I want is some outside influence telling me what to do!"

"Well that would be all well and good if these giant corporations could be trusted to do the right thing!"  I countered.  "I've seen vibrant, healthy businesses lay off people just because the minimum wage went up.  I've seen people forced to work long hours in terrible, stressful and unhealthy conditions.  I've seen supposedly respectable companies close up shop and move just because they couldn't extort enough tax breaks out of the regional government."  

"Well, I...uh..," he stammered.

"And what about all the poor slobs who's lives you've just upset in your quest to maximize profits?  Don't you think there should be some sort of government-sponsored support system to help people survive financially without devastating their life savings as they look for a new job?"

"Yeah, but people abuse stuff like that!"

"Then crack down on the abusers!" I yelled.  "Don't blame honest people for the failings of a few bad apples!  Sometimes corporate assholes do bad things to legitimately good people.  Trust me, I know!"

Yeah, he got real quiet after that.

But there's more lunacy afoot.  The endless debate on universal health care in the U.S. really cracks me up.  Why wouldn't you support a program that could provide basic unalienable rights to those unfortunate souls who don't have access to an affordable company-sponsored health care system?  Cripes, I can't believe that people wouldn't at least like see crooked HMO's get their just deserts.  I'm talking about the criminals who won't cover someone's medical bills just because they happened to be unconscious en route to the hospital after a car crash and couldn't fill out their paperwork properly. 

Seriously, it's like we're still all living in the Dark Ages, people!  It's like we're all still serfs in a feudal society and the Kings are the corporations.

Folks are so concerned and paranoid that someone else might get a slight advantage over them, they just freak the hell out.  Until we all stop being so petty and preoccupied with counting everyone else's beans, there will always be this crazed, irrational hatred for what's been mislabeled by the media and public perception as "socialist".  

For the record, my definition of socialism is "common sense".  It's a focus an humanism, work-life balance and a strong desire to make our world more viable by providing a level playing field for everyone.  I truly believe that the measure of a civilization is how it treats its most underprivileged members.  

Until this perception changes and we look at alternate ways to run our society (perhaps inspired somewhat by the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself), we're just gonna keep frittering our lives away, investing large chunks of our limited time on earth doing monotonous tasks to benefit a bunch of elite, rich jack-holes who don't give a crap about us.  

These corporate bloodsuckers just love to see the word "socialist" get misinterpreted by the media over and over again.  After all, why would they want to change the status quo?  It certainly wouldn't help their pledge for self-supremacy, now would it?

EPIC  This whole doc is pretty cool, but if you skip to Part III ("Project Earth") @ the 1:30 mark you can ponder another person's well-researched speculation of what society could be if we all just got on the same page...


EPIC TOO  Leave it to Jon Stewart to boil things down for us...

FAIL  Good litmus test: if you tend to think that Rupert Murdoch's lapdog Glenn Beck is completely bazonkers then you're on the right track.  This is actually one of the tamer clips I could find of this nut bar:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bag of Awesome - Part I

Hello, Resilient Readers!

Y'know it's kinda funny how fate sometimes intervenes on behalf of your unconscious mind.  I was pondering the other day that I hadn't pursued any background movie work recently.  I'd actually gotten several calls to appear in the Syfy television series Haven but since it's filmed all the way out in Chester and my car is spoken for during the day, I just couldn't commit.  And let me tell ya, folks, it positively killed me to turn down any work on a film set...

But on 7:30 am on Thursday, September 1'st I got a frantic call from a representative from Ballyhoo Casting.  The female voice on the other line sounded decidedly harried, but genuinely relieved to have reached someone on the first ring.

"Hi, David.  It's _________  calling from Ballyhoo Casting Company, how are you?"
"I'm well, thank you."
"Listen, I'm so sorry for the early call..."
"Oh no, that's okay.  I was already up."  (No lie!)
"Okay, well, that's good.  Listen, I was wondering if you might be available to do some background work today."

My heart skipped a beat but I tried to maintain an even keel.  After all, if I had to commute to some far-flung location, I might be forced to bow out.

"Sure, yeah!" I responded.  "Where is it?"
"Halifax.  To be specific it's at the old church at the corner of South Street and South Park downtown."

I did a silent fist pump.  I could get there easily via a Metro Transit carriage ride.  

"Perfect!" I declared.  "I can do that."

Sensing that my enthusiasm was burgeoning on the unchecked, my caller quickly revealed the rest of her unpalatable hand.

"We also need you in a suit," she blurted in a rush.

A suit?  Arrrgghhh!!!  Curse my personal contempt for formal clothing!

"I...uh, I don't have a suit per se...but I do have a sports jacket!"
"What color is it?" came the instant response.
"Um, dark navy," I replied.

Sadly, it would be the exact same jacket I wore on the set of November Christmas.

"Perfect!" she enthused.  "Now, what do you have for pants?"
"Well, I've got a couple of beige-ish pairs."

This elicited a murmur of disapproval.

"Hmmmm," came the verbal frown.  "Do you have any other colors?"
"Oh, wait!" I remembered.  "I've got a gray pair!"
"Okay, great!  Wear those," she said.  "As for a shirt, wear something understated, something a bit somber.  It's supposed to be a funereal scene."
"Okay, cool," I said.

There was one last critical piece of information missing.

"When's my call time?"

There came the briefest beat of silence as she pondered how best to phrase her response.

"Yes, well, that's the other thing.  They need you at 8:30."

'8:30?  8:30?!?' I thought to myself.   'As in fifty minutes from now?  Jesus!'

"Uh, okay," is what I heard myself say.  "I'll try and get there as soon as I can but I'll be relying on the bus.  I can tell you right now: I'm not going to get there by 8:30."

"Okay," she conceded.  "I'll call the A.D. and let them know that you're on your way."

After thanking her profusely I hung up and then scrambled around my apartment like a decapitated chicken.  I'd just gotten up so I proceeded to inhale an english muffin and chug down about a gallon of tea.  I also powered through the Three S's and hastily packed a bag which included a note pad, a bottle of water and a banana.  I then dressed up in my intended monkey suit and stuffed my entire ugly tie collection into a plastic bag.

Just before I ran out the door I gave my contact at Ballyhoo a call back to verify my destination.

"Hello?" she answered tentatively.
"Hi!  It's David Pretty calling you back..."
"Oh," came the mournful reply.

The connotation was obvious: 'You're calling me back to cancel, aren't you?'

"I just had two quick questions," I said.
"Oh!" she replied, her tone brightening.  "Yes, certainly, David.  Shoot..."
"Do you know the name of the church?"
"Ah, yes, yes I do.  I think it's called the 'Our Lady of Perpetual'...something or other.  Hold on, I don't want to give you the wrong...A-ha!  Here it''s called 'Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel'.  Wow, how appropriate..."
"Okay, great, I got it.  And just one last thing: what's the name of the production?"
"It's Bag of Bones," she returned, as if I should have already known the answer.

I was aware the production was in town, having already witnessed star Pierce Brosnan nearly cause an inadvertent fender-bender at Bishop's Landing courtesy of a camera-phone wielding, star-struck driver.

After I bid adieu to the rep at Ballyhoo I hung up the phone and shouted out a spirited "YOO!" followed up (logically) with an equally boisterous "HOO!"  Without further delay, I grabbed by meagre belongings and shot out the door.  Mercifully, fortune favored me.  A bus, which I believed would take me close to the set, was already parked at the stop across the street.

As I successfully flagged down the bus driver, I couldn't help but ponder the authoritative power of formal wear.  I swear: if I'd been wearing my usual garb (wise ass t-shirt, worn shorts, ratty Chucks) that driver wouldn't have thought twice about pulling away from the curb.  For some reason, if you're wearing a sports jacket, formal pants and dress shoes, people just assume that if you don't get where you're going in a hurry then civilization is probably going to unravel.

If my previous experiences on set have taught me anything it's that background performers aren't really actors at all.  They're merely human set dressing.  In my first couple of jobs, having to get to a set properly attired in under an hour by bus would have had me on the verge of a conniption.  But, given my aforementioned knowledge, I was pretty confident about two things:
  1. Even if I was a bit late, they'd find a place for me later on in the shoot.  Besides, I was replacing someone who'd cancelled at the last minute!  I was doing them a favor!  
  2. If I wasn't dressed properly, they'd have an entire wardrobe truck close by to outfit me better
As such, I was feeling as cool as a cucumber, which was good considering how hot it was that day.  I was also pleased that the bus dropped me off very close to the location.  I hustled down South Street and soon my keen deductive senses told me that I was in the right place thanks to the MASSIVE FILM  TRAILERS parked on the side of the street.

Here's the view inside the cemetery as I walked past the wrought-iron gates:

Pretty cool, huh?

I stopped a few head-set equipped crew-members to ask them where the holding area was for extras.  I was soon directed to where one of the A.D's was waving at me, airplane run-way style at the crest of a small hillock.  He was standing next to a small, weather-beaten church with peeling white paint.      

As I hoofed my way up the summit I had a look at the cemetery, which was probably over a hundred and fifty years old.  It had a decidedly "Boot Hill"-like vibe to it; like a massive burial mound just swelling to capacity.  Even in the harsh, antiseptic glare of the late-summer morning sun I half-expected to see desiccated limbs protruding out of the ground amongst the century-old grave-markers.

En route I recognized a few familiar faces, including a chap named Gary whom I'd met on the set of Rollertown.  After retirement from a storied military career, Gary indulged in some wish fulfillment and got involved in the local film scene.  Ever since he's been keeping busy with background work, speaking parts and even trying his hand at directing a few short films.  We had a chance to catch up briefly, discussing news about a mutual acquaintance before I ventured into the church to fill out my paperwork.

(As more Vigilant Viewers will note, these photos were actually taken a week after I was on-set.  I'm not sure if the film production sponsored this, but they've since begun the process of repainting the outside of the church.)
It was actually warmer inside the little parish then it was outside.  A series of rigid-looking pews lined the room, providing the sort of unique discomfort that can only be found in a place where the occupants are constantly threatened with narcolepsy.  In front of the modest altar, cordoned off by a rudimentary wooden railing, was a makeshift table where a few crew-members were helping to blaze the requisite paper trail.  

Ignoring the decidedly sacrilicious vibe, I filled out all my non-unionized documents (to ensure I gets paid, yo) and then found a reasonably isolated spot where I might write in peace.  I soon found myself muttering a few poopidy-do's and fiddle-de-dee's for having to run off so quickly.  I would love to have brought along a camera to take a few snaps of my fellow mourners, the two burly dudes dressed as orderlies and the inside the church.  I also wished that I'd had the chance to IMDB'd the production just to see who else was attached.  

Initially there was nothing provided to eat or drink so I dipped into my supplies, quickly horking down my 'nanner and also taking care to keep hydrated.  During this time I quickly took stock of my fellow extras.  I'd been a bit concerned about how close my "navy" blazer was to black, which can sometimes be an on-camera no-no.  I was relieved to see that a lot of other folks were dressed in even darker shades.  Besides, I reasoned, it was a friggin' funeral scene!  What other color were we supposed to be wearing?  Puce?

My fears were soon completely allayed when the makeup and wardrobe gals came by.  After my "dewy" complexion had to be powdered down, I showed the wardrobe assistant my options for ties.  Her initial choice was soon vetoed by the costume supervisor who provided me with a flat grey tie, since my other ones were deemed "too reflective".  Now having received official clearance to proceed, I waited patiently for my call.      

It didn't take very long for the A.D. to materialize and give us a quick rundown of set etiquette.  He also  read our scene out loud right from the script, which was quite helpful in giving us all some context.   We were then asked to sit down again as the crew put the finishing touches on their first set up.  Moments later one of the production assistants showed up, corralled all of the ACTRA union folks and then led them down to the set.  Moments later he returned for half of our remaining numbers.

To be perfectly honest I'm not even sure if I was supposed to be included in that second group but I went with them anyways.  I've done this enough now to know that it doesn't pay to be the last one called to the set, especially if you're an attention whore like myself.  As it turns out, my instincts were right.    

As we were led back down the hill I quickly took inventory of everything.  A gunmetal gray casket sat atop a fake lowering device, surrounded by several large swatches of green astroturf.  To the left of this stood an appropriately gnarled, spooky-looking tree.

Further back behind a phalanx of headstones were two perpendicular dolly tacks which were positively a-swarm with cameramen and technicians. 

Off to the far right was a makeshift shelter being filled up with director's and (I suppose) actor's chairs.  Just as I'd hoped, the production assistant led us right down to the foot of the casket, just to the left of the creepy tree.  I did my best to weasel my way as close as I could to the very genuine-looking prop, all the while trying my damnedest to remain in the shade.  In addition to more practical concerns, I got the impression that this was the most likely place for the principal actors to stand.  

In fact, one of them was already on their mark.  He looked eerily familiar to me but I couldn't recall a name.  He was dressed like a priest, standing at the head of the coffin, bible in hand, obviously getting ready to deliver a stirring sermon.  Already he was clowning around with the ACTRA people, performing a mock eulogy which involved the unconventional use of farm animals.  Instantly he had me in stitches while most of my decidedly more calcified fellow mourners remained stone-faced.

Then I recognized the first familiar face amongst the crew: the director.  He was rake thin, dressed in a bomber jacket, green t-shirt, and jeans.  He was wearing impenetrable, dark aviator shades, complimenting a dramatic shock of gray hair.  I quickly realized that I've been watching this dude's movies for years and I'd seen him appear in a slew of documentaries as an informed voice in the genre.

"Holy crap!" I muttered under my breath, then turned to a small clutch of female extras standing next to me.  "Do you guys recognize the director?"

All I got in response were shrugs, downturned faces and blank stares.  I stopped the A.D. as he passed by to confirm my suspicions.

"Um, the director," I ventured.  "Is that Mick Garris?"

"Yup," he replied, suddenly fingering the dials on his walkie-talkie.  He looked as if he might be preparing to call for re-enforcements, perhaps anticipating an Amber-threat-level horror film fan spazz-out.

Mick's been making films since 1986 and is a long-time Stephen King collaborator.  He directed the theatrical release of Sleepwalkers (1992) and televised adaptations of The Stand (1994), The Shining (1997) and Desperation (2006).  He's the engineer behind the horror anthology program Masters of Horror, plus he wrote an episode of Amazing Stories for Steven friggin' Spielberg.    

Goes to show you how much of a horror film geek I am when I'm more star truck by the director then the actors.

  • The mystery priest's cameo doubles as a headliner's slot at "Yuk Yuks".  
  • Mick Garris: human dynamo.
  • I try and solve the mystery: who the f#@$ are all these people?
  • My encounter with Bond.  James Bond.  
EPIC  Here's Mick discussing giallo horror maestro Dario Argento:

FAIL  As much as I love Mick's overall body of work, his casting of chipmunk-cheeked urchin Courtland Mead as Danny in the television version of The Shining effectively ruined the experience for me.