Thursday, September 21, 2006

Time-Space Compression On Set

How do you work six days of work over five days? Easy - Do what I did this week.

I was recalled on the regular gig today; only three union backgrounders waiting around for hours and hours. The call sheet indicated that we would be working most scenes, and the key 2nd AD told one of us, "Hope you brought a book."

But, as things happen, they changed the shooting shedule and wrapped us early, just in time to fight rush hour traffic through Los Angeles. Bleh.

And it was on the way back that I got a call from the big casting agency, "Hey, we'd like to know where you are since you are booked to be on show X at this hour." "Woah!" was my reaction, since I had been recalled for show Y that day.

A recalled background actor, you see, takes the highest precedence: If you are established in a scene, and they need to shoot an additional day, casting directors can pull you off other shows, even if booked long in advance, so as not to ruin the continuity of a scene. It's one of the golden rules of the business.

Problem is, the agency recalled on one show, but forgot to take me off the skins (i.e., background actor rosters) on the other show. Whoops! Not my mistake, thank goodness.

Since I was en route home, I said I could work this other show, even with the traffic and a wardrobe bag packed for formal clothes - not what was requested on this gig. "Perfect," he said, and so I turned around and headed back to the westside of LA.

So, I show up "technically" two hours late, but the AD informs me he heard all about it from the CD, so I'm off the hook. In fact, I'm they guy who looks good, since they didn't have to put out a rush call to fill the slot.

And what would that be? Well, it was a four-camera show, so today was rehearsal day, and I'm recalled for the live audience shoot tomorrow. Quick stuff, a simple cross, to be done on tape in front of an audience. Not even close to eight hours either today, or tomorrow.

But, according to union and non-union rules, you get your eight hours mininum in anyway.

Ergo, I'm looking at two full-day union pay vouchers for one hectic day of driving and waiting.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Late Night, Early Morning

So, the regular gig finally pays off. Worked 12 1/2 hours with wardrobe changes and meal penalties. Many reading this little corner-of-cyberspace blog would hate to work such long hours, but that's what background actors hope for: it's all about the penalties and overtime which can turn one day's work into two, or three day's pay.

Then the agency calls, "You're booked on a four-camera show tomorrow."

A different casting director who hasn't worked with me much. Nice, a good chance to get some feeback to him.

Perfect, that means a day of quick rehearsals, and one day shooting in front of a live studio audience (preceded, as some of you know, by an early-evening freebie bing at the commisary - it's tradition).

Then, a few hours later, another call, "You're recalled on XXXX, per the casting director."

OK, change is the norm in this business. But then I learn that only three backgrounders are recalled - lots of camera time, but a quick turnabout after trying to wash laundry to match clothes for two days of shoots this week.

So, the CD likes us, the 2nd 2nd AD likes us. Feel free to do so until the paychecks pan out.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Never A Quick Exit....


I had a good day on set, a lengthy drive to and from a location shot, went to the gym for a hard two hour workout, then set down to write my previous post and watch some of the premieres, including "Smith," where I worked the wedding reception scene last spring.

Then, the phone rings...

"Hi Stephen, this is xxxx Casting, your call time has been pulled by one half hour tomorrow morning - early."

Yeah, it's 10:00 PM, and that's a relatively early call, thank goodness. Typically, they'll call in the early AM, just in time to disturb you quality-time sleep.

Pushes (meaning later call times), they don't care about, but earlier times, yes. The worst are features (i.e., films) where a call time might be pushed by three to four hours. When you get that call, start driving to set, because they will inevitably ring one to two hours before the new call time with an, "Get to set ASAP!" call.

This means you rush through check-in, wardrobe, then pour yourself a nice cup of coffee because you're going to wait for three to four hours before they actually shoot. But, hey, you're still getting pay.

So, much as in the previous post, learn to be flexible in this biz, otherwise you will be a deflated tennis ball, wacked to and fro across the net.

Welcome to the movie and TV business.

Being Flexible

There are certain adages in this business which help you negotiate the craziness and keep your brain cells intact.

The first is, "you never actually watch the shows you work on, you just collect a paycheck."

How true.

You can tell a newbie backgrounder by the frisson they exhibit when walking on set, "Oh my God! I can't believe I'm working with so-and-so," etc.

They are actually excited about doing crosses behing a big A-lister.

Give me a break.

I've worked long enough now in this industry not to be impressed by that stuff. In the real world, you can tell a backgrounder vet by the following:

1. They want to to know if the crew is good.
2. They want to to know if this gig will get them loads of overtime.
3. They want to know if crafty is noteworthy.

I'm having a wacky week, so pardon the crazy post. First, I go to my season-regular gig on Monday. Wardrobe asks for two complete clothing changes (that's two pay bumps), which also means overtime. After a morning of face-on hero shots with the 1st team, we had lunch, then got the word - "you're all wrapped." Crikey! Where did the OT go?!

No matter, spent valuable time today on a stand-in gig on a yet-to-be-released show with A-listers: Four hours of work for eight hours of pay with mileage and saw a bunch of fellow stand-ins and production friends. It was a nice reunion.

Then, I get the call: You're booked on the season-regular gig for tomorrow with another wardrobe change! Go figure. I'll let you know how it turned out.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Be Careful What You Wish For...

Last week was great - a full four days with overtime on two gigs (one is a regular - I'm on almost every episode for the season, the other was new).

And being back on a soundstage was a nice bonus. See, just before the holiday weekend, I did a location shoot out near Palmdale. It was sunny, and over 100 degrees, which isn't bad in and of itself, but when you're the featured person that day, playing with kids, lifting stuff, it makes a difference.

Of course, since we were all sweltering in the dry heat, this episode takes place in Arizona, at Christmas time. Lots of heavy coats, boots, hats, etc. Everything to part you from the water you need to survive as a biological entity. One BG had a tire blow out in the heat, and my old car needed the resevoir filled when I got back home.

So, the soundstage sounded like a really nice change, until I got to the second gig of the week. Our holding was directly underneath a large, meanacing, HVAC duct, spilling out cold air on top of us. The second day, most of arrived wearing wintercoats at the studio gate, which made for a few strange looks. Late that night, some of us were noshing at crafty when one of the principals notice our out-of-season garb. "Hey? You guys cold or something?"

Yeah, another tale from a background warrior. At this rate, I'll be happy to report on an "average" temp on set

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Fox aired the premiere of Standoff last night, and I was watching, but this time, not just for myself. When we shot this back in March, I was pulled out by the technical advisor and placed near the command tent with the backgrounders portraying FBI technicians. While waiting for the next shot, one guy approached and said, "Hey Steve, remember me?"

It was one of my high school classmates, who does background work on a part-time basis.

And that's how weird the business can be at times, if not most of the time.

The other interesting factoid about Standoff (originally called Primary when filming the pilot) is the opening scene. It took place on 7th Street in downtown Los Angeles near the 110 Freeway. We shut down a whole city block and dealt with pedestrians and curious on-lookers while rolling. Such is the case for location shots.

At one point, a semi-deluded homeless man kept screaming at the crew from the next block (now, this isn't particularly strange or unusual - the homeless in downtown LA tend to scream a lot, especially at film crews). The director, Tim Story, kept looking up the block, along with the other crew members in video village. I thought he was going to send someone to quiet the guy up, but instead he told the others, "No, no... I'm just interested in what the guy is trying to say.

Recalled on one of my regular gigs for later today.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A Week in the Life

Nothing is more pathetic, or typical, of LA than an actor helping another actor move boxes when one has a truck. And that was how I spent a couple days this past week when not on set. Hence, the lack of posts to the literally dozens of you who tune into this blog from time to time.

What's a working actor's life like during the week? Well, one day I worked a nice gig on location: great crew, good PA's, excellent catering (always important). But it just so happened that I was staggered in with a bunch of non-unioners who gawked at my union voucher (the PA had to run to the truck to get mine - I was the sole one at the midday call). The result? Hours of "How did you...," "How can I...," "What recommendations can you give..." and so on.

Another day: Rushed to make a interview for a featured role with the 1st AD of the show. I arrive after battling traffic, changing shirts, and trying to make my tie look sharp in 100 degree heat. Upon arrival I heard, "Oh yeah, the interview. Umm, they changed the script on me. We don't need you this episode, but maybe....." followed by an inquisitive look. Anyone who's survived an audition (which could fill an army), know this was the moment to sell yourself. I tried, we'll see, and I'll keep you all informed.

Then, near the end of the week, had a call out in the desert. I arrived early, grabed some breakfast off the truck, and checked-in. Turns out this was a nice featured role for a popular cable show just starting the new shoots for the season* (won't say which, read disclaimer below). However, it involved a family scene with a Christmas tree, heavy parkas, and couple of lively boys portraying my kids. Try lifting kids on film for 3+ hours in 103 degree heat in a parka and you will know what dehydration feels like. Did a half-day of work, paid for a full eight hours (union rules), plus mileage and a car bump. Not too bad, given that I beat the weekend traffic back into LA.

Lastly, it's nice to turn on the tube and get a nice surpise, when it's not your face on screen. The battle over the California propositions has just started, but it's paid off for at least one fellow actor. Imagine my surprise when I turned on the tube this weekend and saw a "typical California voter" outlining reasons against one particular proposition - surprised because the last time we worked together was a recent gig as stand-ins on a yet-to-be-released pilot with a roster of A-listers. She was preping for an audition in the morning, and I was watching the hours tick away towards 3:00 AM, knowing that I had a 7:00 AM call time at another studio, and wondering if I was going to get any sleep that night (I did - two full hours). Clearly, she got the part! By the way, if you are shocked that political ads use union actors to depict voters, my recommendation is: Time to wake up, smell the coffee, grow up, and get a life!

* As a rule, I don't announce which shows I've been on until they have fully aired. There are a couple reasons. First, as a professional actor you are involved in production - story lines change and information to which you are privy might not want to be released by the studio. Once they have done so, then it's public. Two, even the choicest featured role sometimes gets left on the cutting room floor. You never really know if the footage they took will be included until the darn thing is aired on the tube, or released on screen.