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.

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