Friday, April 27, 2007

The Mysterious Upgrade

I think some medieval scribes wrote more often on vellum with ink than I do online, of course, the fact that I write while doing laundry doesn't help any. Screaming kids and arguing parents don't make the process any easier.

Anyway, pilot season is basically over, but hiatus won't be that long this year. Last Tuesday the LA Times reported that production is up in Los Angeles in anticipation of a possible writers strike by the WGA before the end of October. As a result, shows which usually began production in July are doing so in May, when backgrounders like me are looking to features (i.e., films) to put food on the table.

One of the questions I often get asked is, "Have you got any lines yet?" Yeah, but not on anything that pays SAG dayplayer scale. However, "upgrades" happen all the time on set, and under the rules of the contract all union BG have the right to audition for the spot before it can go to a non-SAG actor. And I've worked with lots of people who have three, four, sometimes six or more upgrades.

And when it happens, it's quick and unexpected.

Case in point, last week I worked a TV series as a lawyer in a courtroom. The lead character has won his case in front of the judge, and is unsure about whether to leave as the next case is called. Another BG "lawyer" was directed to wait impatiently behind him, hurrying him along as best she could.

After a take the director approached and said to the other lawyer, "Ask him to please move along." Aha! If you say just one word, it is an instant upgrade from the Background to Theatrical SAG contract. So, naturally, the 1st AD runs over and emphatically interjects, "She's just pantomiming, yes?" (Read: I don't want to get chewed out by the UPM for an on set upgrade which would put us over budget.) Director: "Uh, yeah, I guess so."

So close. But even with an upgrade, the types of lines you are likely to get aren't the best to show off your talent. Typical upgrade lines are:

"Mister Jones on Line two."


"Table for two, please."

"Fourth floor."

"Excuse me, but your backpack is ticking."

Remember that last one? It's from "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." And it was an on-set upgrade, the guy was hired that days as a regular union BG.

But, my personal favorite isn't really an upgrade, it was a throw-away line from a dayplayer that wasn't dropped into the trash icon in Avid in postproduction:

"Agent Tulley, get in here!" (From this season's "24")

It's always nice to play yourself on TV.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Recovery mode

Yeah, the all-nighter went all-night, but I didn't get booked for the morning, so I was actually able to sleep.

But, just like I said in my last post, you have to be flexible, and sometimes you're the right person for the job, and sometimes not.

On the all-nighter one of the stand-ins fails to show up, so the 2nd ran around holding looking for a suitable stand in, which turned out to be me. Fine, I do semi-regular SI work on a couple shows, so I know how do it. The DP, though, was a real stickler, and wanted the same height, hair color, and skin tone; I fit two of those criteria, which was good enough. So it was a nice bump in pay, plus a long night, and I did work for it. The steadicam op wanted us to go through the lines, which means instant memorization (try that for a "cold read") so he could see the light on our eyes as we did some long hallway shots. At one point the 1st joked, "Hey, nice job, huh? You could be sleeping down in holding with the BG, but instead you're working." Yep, that was was about it. BG got wrapped at 4AM, and I went home around 7AM, close to thirteen hours on that gig.

But I didn't get to sleep too long. While on set I got a call from my serivce, "Can you make it to a photo double interview tomorrow?" Sure, why not, it's only sleep, or lack thereof. After a somewhat restful four hours, I worked my way through Friday traffic to Hollywood (there was a big fire in Griffith Park that afternoon, which complicated matters), and waited around for more than two hours before being shuttled to set to meet with the director.

This time, I was close, but not just "right" for the job. Turns out production wanted body doubles, not just photo doubles. There were six of us interviewing for three different cast members, and none of us were the same sizes as our matching cast member. The casting director knows that, we know that, so it was a waste of time for production, and us, but it was a nice half-day pay (they exceeded the two-hour time window) plus mileage.

Pilot season. Booked for Monday, spent the weekend sleeping and doing chores. That's what working actors do.