Extras Gig #4: The Office, Part 3

“What’s up, Avatar?”

“Not much, Craig Robinson, good friend! How are you today?”*

*imaginary response, actual response was a stupid grin and probably my face turning a million shades of red.

The coolest thing about working on this set was getting a nickname from Craig Robinson. He’s a really good pool player. I think hearing that there were “pool experts” around intrigued him. He kept challenging us to play. The ADs scolded him (gently- extras get yelled at for breaking the cast/extras boundary, cast members get a gentle reminder that such intermingling is less than ideal).

I ignored the requests from Craig anyway, being the pool playing fraud that I was. So why did he call me Avatar? Well, as I have said before, being an extra is 10% fun and 90% boring as hell. It’s important to bring things to do. At the time, I was kind of into Avatar (which is also the link to click if you have no idea what I am talking about right now and would like to read part 1 of this story). I was working on a sketch while he was playing pool:

5213311793_c7d7265d9c_o

He stopped his game to compliment the drawing, talk sci-fi, and suddenly I had a nickname. Gush.

The pool expert thing intrigued the whole cast, actually. John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer finally broke down on the third day and just flat out asked, “are you guys really pool experts? It says on our call sheets that you are. It seems crazy that you aren’t actually playing pool and they just have you standing around all day.” It was nice to joke and chat with them. Then we had to shoot again and we went back to being invisible, despite standing next to one another. Hollywood is weird. This whole experience really underscored that.

Take, for example, lunch. Lunch on this set was even more amazing than breakfast. Food was custom-made. Want steak? No problem. Vegan? There are actual options for you. Dessert? How about bananas foster, flambéd before your very eyes. Anything you want, it’s yours. Just don’t sit at the wrong table. Which I did.

Being a bit of an introvert, I picked the table that had the fewest people. There were even a couple of kids there. I said hi to one of them. She was sweet. Her mother gave me a look of derision coupled with an awkward and confused smile. A lot of people were giving me a similar look. I felt like a jerk for being nice, so I just focused on my meal and went back to my Avatar sketch.

Later, I found out that “mom” was Angela Kinsey and I was sitting at the table reserved for the cast. Oops. That’s what I get for not being a regular watcher of the show. I was also told that some of the confusion might have been due to the fact that with blondish hair (which I had at the time), I look a bit like Jenna Fischer. Maybe someone thought I was a distant relative visiting the set? Of course, if someone had just told me that the table was reserved for the cast, much awkwardness could have been avoided…

You Can't Sit With Us!

For this reason, Craig’s no-bullshit acknowledgements that we were actually people in the actual world made him super cool in my eyes.

Despite the awkward moments, I had so much fun on this set. My fellow pool expert extras were all really interesting people. There was a perfect balance of quiet time to read, draw, reflect, explore, etc. and active time to talk and play. Between takes, I chatted with the tech crew (always a little more accessible and willing to talk than the cast). They shot on three cameras simultaneously and did about a million different takes to give the cast (particularly Steve Carell) the chance to improvise a little. I learned a lot.

And also pitied the poor editors who had to go through all of that footage. Yikes.

When it was time to wrap everything up, I actually got a little emotional. Couldn’t I just make a livable wage doing this for like a year or something? Later, I wrote a short story about a girl who lived on a studio lot. She dressed from the costume department, grabbed food from the crafty tables, slept on the stunt mats and because she was “no one,” she went completely unnoticed and got to be involved in a cool mystery. Sometimes it’s good being no one…

a-girl-is-no-one
A girl is no one. A girl will get free espresso.

 

Maybe I will post the story here some day.

I ended up being on screen a lot from that shoot. Good food, good people, funny stories, fun work, fun show, fun episode, my face on TV, memories… really, I didn’t see how I could top this, given my previous “background actor” experiences. I decided to hang up my background acting hat and do things that made money (part of my fantasy story above was influenced by the insane cost of living in Los Angeles) and was on a more appropriate path to my career goals.

Look at that expert form!
Look at that expert form! (Photo chosen for maximum awkwardness)

 

Yes, I was done with extra work. An interesting time in my life, to be sure. I would be happy not being part of that world ever again.

 

Then a year later, Central Casting called me and asked if I would be willing to work on Mad Men…

It’s an Awesome Day When I Must Juggle Robots vs Aliens in the News

A friend of mine sent me a story this morning with the following headline (image will link to story):

Toy robot detours traffic near Coors Field

Another sent me this one (again, image links to story):

NASA Finds New Life

Wow. Not EXTRATERRESTRIALS, sure, but it opens to doors to what we should be looking for.

8-inch Killer Robots and Arsenic-based life forms.  Finally, the Universe is reading my screenplays.  And producing them!

Thanks to Carl and Pericles for sending me these stories!  You have made my day.

Extra! Extra!

Ah, yes. It’s about time I got around to writing about this! It’s been, without a doubt, the activity my friends and family are most interested in hearing about. I had a bit of cash saved up before I moved out here, so I was able to play a little bit before “buckling down” and finding a “real job.” I decided to skip on down to Central Casting and sign on to be an extra- sorry, “background actor.”

That’s right; I just basically implied that being an extra is not a “real job.” Also, I used a semicolon. Read on THAT!

Granted, some people have managed to make it such, and I applaud their success (and wonder how much Top Ramen they must eat), but it is NOT for the faint of heart. Often times referred to as “dots” or “blurs,” extras are treated with absolutely zero respect. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect respect (soon to be a new hit song), but here I am referring to such an extreme lack of respect that you don’t even feel like a human being. The props are quite literally treated better than you are. As a non-union extra, you make $8 an hour to stand on your feet all day, often in uncomfortable attire, and to be shushed like a five year old every time you yawn, sneeze, or say “hi” to your fellow extras. But if it’s worth it to you to have a little bit of yourself attached to a project or to see that star you always wanted to meet, read on:

Here’s how it works: you go down to “Central” at the most inconvenient time on a weekday morning. You listen to their spiel. You stand in a long-ass line with dozens of other Hollywood hopefuls. You register with them (SSN, DLN, W-2, height, measurements, dress size, special talents, car type, “how far will you go,” the works). You stand in another long-ass line. You stand in front of a camera (about as sophisticated as the DMV) and get a picture taken. One. You do not get to see said picture. They hand you a packet of papers and give you a phone number to call. You call said phone number. Again. And again. MANY times per day. You listen to pre-recorded job postings and hope to hear one that sounds like something you match and that is something you might actually like to do. You listen to the WHOLE THING because often they only want your car, or your specific breed of dog, or they want you to jump into a swimming pool with all of your clothes on (repeatedly) or shave your head or be a professional soccer coach or a biker or stripper or something (yes, I’ve heard all of these) and they seem to want to put this critical information last. You call another number to talk to the agent that posted this call. This number will be busy. Always. (I guess a lot of people fit “non-union woman between the ages of 21 to 71.”) You call again and again and again (because you have nothing better to do) or you pay $75 a month to have someone else do it for you (keeping in mind that you will still only make $8/hour when they find you work). IF you get the gig, they will give you almost NO information about where it is or what you will be doing or how long it will take because again, you have nothing better to do and can put everything else on hold. If you don’t get the gig (after all of that), you spend the next several hours worrying that you sneezed or a bug landed on your face in that headshot you never got to see. They give you yet another number to call the night before your job. You call that number (note: get a phone plan with unlimited minutes). They pre-scold you for being late and/or not having everything you need. They tell you to bring your own clothes and often something you would never own and will need to buy (i.e. pantyhose). You try to sleep the night before because your call time is often early in the morning (6:15AM) or late at night (10PM), running until early in the morning. You fight traffic to get to set on time. You fail. You park as far away as possible from the set. You arrive and check in with the 2nd AD or a PA who will either ignore you or call you sweetheart. You go sit in “holding” which is often a tent with a bunch of metal folding chairs in it. You talk to some cool people and a couple of crazy folks. They tell you to be quiet. They tell you to go to costume, hair and makeup, all three of which will tell you to go away because no one is really going to see you and they don’t want to waste their time. You swallow sadness and immerse yourself in a good book. You get called to set. They tell you to be quiet. A lot. Even if the crew is making all of the noise, they will blame the “background talent” for the hammering. You do your thirty seconds of bad “casual conversation” pantomime. You feel good because you SWEAR the camera is, like, totally right on you the whole time! They feed you (usually). You finish your “day.” You go home and tell all of your family and friends to tune into whatever show at whatever time. A week later, you get a paycheck for approximately $80 for ten+ hours of work. Your episode airs or your film is released. Two people report possibly seeing the back of your head for half a second. One of them is your mother. It turns out that it was not your head, but you don’t tell anyone that. You swear you are never going to do it again. Two weeks later, you call the pre-recorded line and start the process all over again. This time you just know you’re going to get that SAG voucher!*

However, like all experiences, crappy or otherwise, being an extra expands my library of fun stories to tell, and I shall share them here- with pictures (where possible)! You know, someone should make a television show based on their experiences as an extra. It might be really funny! They could get awesome actors to guest star. Ooh, ooh! I’d love to see Ian McKellan do something on a show like that…

(*You need to get three vouchers before you can join the Screen Actor’s Guild, which is every non-union extra’s dream. Once you have your vouchers, you pay SAG a large sum of money and then you can actually begin making a more livable wage from doing “background” work.)

Lost Spoilers and Pop Culture Overload

Warning: this post contains spoilers no spoilers, actually. At least not to Lost. At least… not that I know…

So, I’m about ready to sink into a deep, dark depression.  In case you have been living in a hole for six years or just refuse to partake in all things wholesome and good, I’ll get you up to speed.

There’s this little show called Lost.  It was created by some guy named J.J. Abrams and then handed over to these guys named Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof.  It’s about some folks who crash on an island and then some stuff happens over six seasons.  Compelling protagonists.  Complex antagonists.  Mystery, intrigue, romance, drama, sci-fi and general mythology ensue and then it ends today.

That’s right.

It ends today.

In some ways, this makes me incredibly happy.  I like endings.  I don’t like shows that stretch out for years based only on ratings and then suddenly come to an abrupt end when the sponsor gives up on it.1,2 In other ways, it makes me incredibly sad.  I’ve really become attached to these characters.  Quite a few things have ended recently.  No more Harry and Hermione.  No more Starbuck and the cylons.  1No more Hiro and Claire Bennett.  2No more Flash Forward.  And now, no more Jack and Kate.  Sigh.  Comic-Con had better deliver me something geeky to obsess over this year or I might have to leave my house more often (or at least when Fringe is not on).

Since it is all over the internets and has become something of a pop-culture meme, I offer here my own Top Ten Lost Series Finale Spoilers:

  1. It’s all just a dream.  Vincent’s dream.
  2. John Locke is Keyser Soze.
  3. The Island sees dead people, and it’s YOU who has been dead the whole time!
  4. Turns out the whole thing is about Shannon, Boone, Nikki and Paolo.
  5. The hatch was actually a worm hole that connected to the Large Hadron Collider.  And they blew it up!  Those maniacs!  Damn them.  God damn them all to hell.
  6. Claire is Jack’s sister!  His mother!  His sister!  His mother!  She’s his sister AND his mother!!!
  7. There is no Island, only Zuul!
  8. Kate is actually a man.  But it works out because Sawyer is actually a woman.  So…
  9. “Dharma” is the name of his sled.  It’s also made of people.  No, seriously.  They wear jumpsuits and stuff.
  10. It’s an alternate universe run by aliens who live in a black hole at the center of hell, can travel through time, have x-ray vision, and also everyone is dead and it’s all about the Bible or some junk, but it’s okay because it’s all just Hurley’s schizophrenic delusion.

Thanks for the ride, guys. I will forever carry my Dharma Initiative card in my wallet and the stories in my heart.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Oscars

Okay, the Oscars were over a week ago.  Yes, I knew Avatar wasn’t going to win.  Sci-Fi only really wins in VFX, makeup, sound mixing and the like*  Yes, I’m ECSTATIC that a female won for best director for a very worthy film.  It was weird to think they were taking place 20 minutes from my house (approximately 3.8 days with traffic) and that I had actually seen many of the winners in real life (most of them by grace of the awesome Jeff Goldsmith who hosts podcasts for Creative Screenwriting magazine, but also the crew of “The Cove” who actually debuted that film in Boulder, Colorado before I moved away).

I wanted to post this before the awards, but here it is.  A funny little anecdote:

So an experimental film friend of mine works at the Academy Archives.  I’d heard him mention this before, but I always just thought of the job: archivist.  I’d never once considered the place: The Academy.  Probably some… like… military school or university or something?  Didn’t matter to me.  He works at an archive.  I worked in preservation at a film lab.  We spoke the same language and that was enough.

He invited me and my friend to explore some of cultural Los Angeles and catch a movie (which was followed by pie at Apple Pan– YUM, YUM and DOUBLE YUM).

We followed the directions.  As we approached the building my companion said, “wait.  Your friend works at the ACADEMY archives?”

Uh, yeah.  Should I know what this means?  I’m new to L.A., so probably not.

It wasn’t until after I entered the lobby, having gotten through a couple of security checkpoints and passing several displays housing Oscars, that I realized that the “Academy” was not referring to West Point.  The Academy was referring to The Academy.  The AMPAS.  The one you would like to thank (along with your agent, significant other and hardworking crew).   Oscars.

Double Face Palm

I tried to hide my embarrassment at my naïveté.  What?  The Academy Awards.  So?  I knew that.  Like I care.  Like… what?  Like I host a party every year, glue myself to the E! channel and write my acceptance speech out in my head every time I finish a project?  Pshaw!  As if!

(*practices acceptance wave*)

It didn’t take long for me to completely geek out after that.  We got a tour of the storage facilities and some of the screening rooms.  It was pretty damn cool.  Glamour aside, it was just cool from a technical standpoint.  And it was cool from a temperature standpoint, it being a film storage facility and all that.  (Ba-dum tish!)  And *I* probably seemed pretty damn cool for appearing not to give a f&*% about it.  Then again, I just blew that cool by divulging the truth here on this blog.

Me= clueless geek.

*interesting that Avatar won for best cinematography… I’ve already explained why that’s cool to people who say “but it wasn’t ‘filmed.'”  It was, actually- remember that there were also real actors and real sets on that film and that the lighting and camera on those sets needed to match exactly what was happening digitally.  Not to mention that you still have to fuss over depth of field and all of that on the computer side AND make it match what you shot in reality… Discuss!