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.

1 comment:

kat said...

Just found your blog - it's interesting to hear an LA take on background work.

I'll be visiting again!!! :)