Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Pesky Questions on Set

Wow! Where did that time go?

I feel like I’ve been running around like crazy for over two weeks, with not much to show for it on this blog.

Let see:

  1. Worked for nine days in a row, five of those on the same episode, so every night was “wash your shirt to drip dry” for continuity, and the morning commute.

  1. Was working on a non-acting project under a deadline in the other hours, when not on set or traveling back and forth to the studio du jour.

  1. Argued one afternoon with an accounting department over a paycheck.

  1. Filed a grievance with SAG for a paycheck on a booking which turned out “not” to be a booking after the 6pm deadline (which they will take up with production – thank goodness for the union!).

  1. Oh yeah, got sick for about five or six days while enduring the aforementioned. That was fun.

  1. Finally, am dealing with police and insurance today, as my car was broken into last night – and hoping to make it to set later on. (PS – It’s raining today in Los Angeles, which makes it all the more special for those of who park outside and have shattered windows.)

Temporary insanity in daily life is, naturally, a given, but made more aggravating when confronted with what I like to call, “askies.”

Askies don’t like to use their eyes, hands, or higher cognitive functions. Why flex the gray matter when you can simply ask someone standing right next to you?

And you find them on set all the damn time.

This week, I got cornered by an askie at 20th Century Fox as we were wrapped and walking towards the shuttle back to the parking lot.

“Is that the shuttle?”

“It sure looks like the one we took this morning.

“Is it full? Are there any seats left?” (This from about forty yards away.)

“Don’t know. You’re in the same position as me to peer inside.”

Askies typically reveal themselves at lunch, usually when waiting in line – a long line – for catering.

“What’s on the menu today? What were they grilling?”

“Don’t know. I’ve been inside working for the last two hours.”

“But did you see anything?”

“We were seated at the same table for those last two scenes….”

Got one of those two weeks ago. As we got closer to the steam tables, she shifted gears and became a “commentariate.”

“Oh look at the chicken. Looks good today, doesn’t it?”

“It’s not chicken – it’s mahi mahi.

“What’s that sauce.”

“It’s not chicken – it’s mahi mahi!”

“Are these the same people who cater House? What’s their name? This chicken looks a bit strange.”

“That’s because it’s not chicken – it’s fish!

[Evil look from the askie/commentariate.]

“Well, sorry to disturb your day.”

Friday, January 12, 2007

Creativity on set

I just spent a couple very long days on a popular television drama this week, so my blog entries have been kept to zilch at night (sorry to those of you who checked in). However, the shoot was a great opportunity to see some A-list actors and an Emmy-award winning director work out scenes on the fly.

You might think that a lot of shoots are thought out ahead of time in story boards before the camera rolls, but often they aren't. There is a great deal of last-minute creativity on the set, and if you're lucky enough to be standing around for twelve hours, you'll get a taste for it.

Now in my case this was because I was featured backgrounder matching a shot we had done outdoors on location last month - this was the inside shoot on a stage recreating the inside of a house. There's always a nice feeling when you walk onto the stage and look around for other backgrounders, only to be told, "Oh yeah, the other guy is coming this afternoon. It's just you until lunch."

(BTW, at this point, you are not really so much of a backgrounder as a voiceless actor - cast and crew will introduce themselves to you, chat with you between takes, and so on. The experience of working with only a handful of background in a scene is very different than what BG are usually called upon to do - "busy" the scene with crosses and stationary people. And, of course, the AD's actually expect you to ACT in the scene.)

So, in one take, the lead actress needed to do some highly emotional reaction shots to another actor who had been injured. While setting up the shot, the A camera op kept asking, "Are you going to standing up, kneeling down by him, or what?" Answer, "I don't know. I'll just do it." He asked the same question and got the same answer repeatedly; it was the clash of two cultural frames on set. As camera op, he needed to know what action was going to transpire so he could capture it, but the A-list actress wanted to let the "moment" dictate what her emotions were going to be. Eventually, it took some planning a head of time, and then several takes before we worked it all out (including crosses for shadow effects, people in the corner of the room, etc.)

At another point in the day, as the crew was setting up a shot, the director said, "You know, I once saw this in a movie - it was really neat" and proceeded to move props around himself, making a bit of a mess to show the aftermaths of a lot action. "Yeah, more of that...No, less of that" and so on.

Imagine this kind of banter and give-and-take on set all hours of the day, between all the different departments on the call sheet, and you'll get a better appreciation of the organized chaos that generally characterizes working on set.

Got a busy day of errands, then off to two days of a weekend shoot.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

T of R Escapes Yet Again

There are an awful bunch of us who think that the Tournament of Roses made some nefarious pact with the underworld decades ago – they never seem to get bad weather on parade day.

This year was no different. For the past couple days, the Los Angeles basin has been experiencing high-volume winds which have been toppling trees and taking out power lines. That would have made for some interesting floats (or, in this case, kites?) on Colorado Blvd. last week.

Hiatus is officially over for me. I’m booked for most of next week, plus the weekend, if shooting schedules remain the same. And most of the other backgrounders I keep in touch with will be working come Monday morning, or have already done some gigs this week. One friend called last night on his way to set – a night call! As he said, “The things we do to pay the rent.”

Thursday night, I switched on the opening of Criminal Minds, and thought production was playing some type of cruel joke on the viewing public. It was a courtroom scene and the defense attorney was portrayed by Alan Rosenberg, current President of the Screen Actors Guild. The prosecuting attorney was none other than Anne-Marie Johnson, who also sits on the SAG Board, and until a couple months ago, was 1st VP, making her the head of the Hollywood Division. (She was replaced by Kent McCord.)

Two attorneys going at it head-to-head must have made that scene look familiar to a SAG Board meeting.

Monday, January 01, 2007

T of R: The Day in Pictures

These probably aren't the typical T of R pics you're used to seeing, but they are what locals are used to.

First, there are crowds milling around, waiting for some big USAF bomber to fly over to signal the start of the parade - or, hoping that it will continue east and take out Pomona.

And, of course, we had the nerds of the world uniting under rainbow flags on Colorado Blvd.

Sometimes, you can see the open door of a float driver (see below).

Finally, there is the convoy of broken down floats, and general towing equipment at the end, along with the inevitable trash.