Extras Gig #4: The Office, Part 2

(Go to Part 1)

Wow. I never noticed how nice his eyes are. Funny how the camera can miss so much. He has really pretty eyes. Really pretty eyes that are… waiting. Maybe I should say something.

“Hello.” I replied. He smiled in return.

Steve Carell and I spent what felt like an hour locked in an awkward, courteous gaze. Both of us smiled and nodded.

“So…” He said, trailing off and looking around.

Oh! He’s as embarrassed as I am. Heh. He’s blushing. I probably am too. This is cool! We’re both blushing and confused! Wait. Actually it’s just incredibly awkward. I should say something nice to end this.

“I’m… waiting for the bathroom.” Brilliant. That will leave a lasting impression.

“Oh! Oh, I’m sorry! I thought… They said…” Just then, the 2nd AD rounded the corner.

Second ADs hate extras. We are constantly over-complicating things. Many of us are either vying for that extra little bit of screen time, trying to get a celebrity autograph (or worse), desperate to “prove” how much we “know” about their job, or begging for a SAG voucher. I’ve had that job. I can seriously relate. I’m sure this didn’t look good.

“Sorry, Mr. Carell,” he said. “Hair and makeup is through here.” He gently guided Steve into the next room. Steve gave me a shrug and a smile, the 2nd AD gave me the “I’ll deal with you later” look. He never did. I didn’t get a SAG voucher, either. Steve didn’t even say goodbye. After all we shared.

A woman left the bathroom right as the commotion was winding down. She looked into the room and then back at me with the “was a celebrity just here?” look. It’s a great look. For a moment, you are elevated to celebrity status by proximity. I call it proxi-lebrity status. Or maybe celemity status? Vote in the comments below.

A bit of Hollywood advice: if you achieve proxi-lebrity status, try to keep a level head about it. “I saw Johnny Depp in line at Starbucks” is interesting blog fodder (and awesome), but it’s not an appropriate answer to “how’s that entertainment career coming along?” Geek out about it, for sure. I’ll geek out with you. Just remember you still have work to do. Occupying the same space as another person is not actually an accomplishment. Unless you are literally occupying the same space as another person. That might get you a Nobel Prize. Though even that could just be an accidental slip into another dimension or a transporter malfunction. I digress. A lot.

After that excitement, they finally called the pool experts to the set. As I walked down the winding staircase, I couldn’t help but notice a noise that sounded like a large fan. I am presenting it like was a minor thing, but it was actually deafening. It sounded like a wind tunnel. It only came on between takes. Obviously, I had to ask what it was.

“It’s an indoor skydiving thing.” Some PA at the base of the stairs was responsible for communicating between the set and the noise. That answer raised more questions than it answered, so I asked if I could take a look.

What sounded like a wind tunnel was actually a wind tunnel. A giant fan blew people up, suspending them in midair while giving the illusion that they were falling. So yeah. Guess what I did for my birthday later that year?

Yeah, baby!
Indoor Skydiving Thing!

The PAs paraded us through the crowd of very tired half annoyed/half intrigued extras. We took our spots and were given the rundown. The first thing we were told was that the balls were fake. Since actual pool balls make noise, only the stars were allowed to hit them. We had to play with racquet balls lacquered with pool-ball-colored paint.

The actual pool experts were at a total loss and understandably disappointed. Rubber balls flew everywhere for the first several efforts. I just laughed. I went back to the message on the casting hotline. No one doing this job would need to sink shots, do tricks or even make contact with the balls. In fact, the fakers had a much easier time than the experts.

Once we were in place, they brought in the stars.

I have to confess something here: at this point in time, I didn’t actually watch The Office. I had seen an episode or two and knew the general storyline and the major characters, but I just couldn’t get into the show. I wasn’t in love with my job when the show first came out and the last thing I wanted to do was to go home from my real-life awkward office world and watch a fake awkward office world.

I fixed that after this job. I had so much fun on this set! Actually, I probably had a little more fun than I should have…

Extras Gig #4: The Office, Part 1

Part 1? Yeah. I’ve done this before- broken a long narrative into multiple posts. People appreciate shorter blog posts, or so the blog gurus/content optimization experts say. I’m also really good at cliffhangers.

 

 

That didn’t count.

Moving on. I’ve chronicled my “career” as an extra in a few other posts spanning several years. Want to catch up? First, I explain the process of becoming an extra. Then, my first gig on 100 Questions. (The first of those questions being, “is that an actual show?”) After that, I moved on to a chilly night on the set of Cold Case. From there, I had a sadly un-Fillion experience on Castle. I wasn’t exactly excited about doing these things anymore. Especially after having been passed as an “Avatar fangirl.”

 

courtney hoskins avatar freak
Come on! This took forever to wash off!

I was about to give up on it entirely. Until…

One day, I hit the extras jackpot. It wasn’t all luck, mind you. Like all big breaks in Hollywood, it took skill, determination, persistence, and a fair amount of lying.

A random call to the casting hotline surprised me when I heard they needed people for The Office. I didn’t hold my breath. Popular shows fill up fast. This was a four day shoot, to boot. That’s about as long-term as one can get as a TV extra. I actually skipped past the general call, fairly certain all the spots would be filled. I paused, however, when I got to a message asking for extras with a specialized skill set.

Having an unusual skill can get you a featured extra role or a coveted SAG voucher. Alas, I have no facial tattoos, cannot ride a unicycle and my car at the time was the useless color of black (they don’t use black cars for background because they distract the eye). I can, however, play pool.

“We need males and females who are pool experts. Please don’t submit for this role unless you can sink shots and do tricks.” I immediately submitted.

Before you send me a message challenging me to a game, you should know that technically I can do neither of those things. I CAN sink shots. Sometimes. And I can do really neat tricks where balls jump over other balls. Accidentally. This was my best chance at getting on the show, though, so I submitted anyway. I knew that they were not going to get a lot of female applicants. I also knew that they did not actually require pool experts. All I would really need to do was make my blurry shape look like it knew roughly what to do at a pool table.

baby-playing-pool
This, right?

 

Of course, this didn’t stop me from worrying about it. What if they DID need me to do trick shots? Do I actually hold a cue the right way? Do I lean over the table with the proper form? And then there was the guilt. What if I just took a job away from someone whose ONLY skill set was “pool expert” and here I am, a talentless hack, raking in the fame and money? Oh, right. This is Hollywood.

I was accepted on the spot.

The set was “on location” at Universal Citywalk. My Winter-in-Scranton sweater and the 90 degree “location” weren’t the best match. Luckily, all of our scenes were indoors and they had the air conditioning cranked up to “Arctic Front.”

Climate control wasn’t the only luxury. I meandered over to crafty. Unlike my previous experiences, crafty was not a folding table with a box of assorted chips and a Costco-sized tub of pretzels. The set of The Office was fully catered. I had my choice of drip coffee, tea, espresso or freshly-squeezed orange juice. For food, I could choose from fresh Belgian waffles, made-to-order omelets, granola, yogurt, (gluten free, of course) toasts with jams or peanut butter, bagels with real cream cheese or a variety of fruits. The good ones. This wasn’t just soggy melon balls and grapes! This was mango, papaya, kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and ALSO melon balls and grapes!

It didn’t take me long to realize that the “pool experts” were the royalty of extras. (Yes, that’s tough to envision when everyone is making minimum wage, but… work with me.) We got to laze around between pool shots because they couldn’t risk reusing us in the background. It might destroy the continuity. It also didn’t take me long to realize that almost all of us lied about being “pool experts.”

All of this made my job a little boring. After several hours of reading and not a single moment on the set, I got a little restless. I wandered over to the restroom. Thwarted by a locked door, I leaned against the wall, stretched my back and started wondering what I would read once I finished my book.

That was when Steve Carell said hello.

Extras Gig #2: Cold Case

(Picking up on my extras stories…)

The second extras assignment I got was for the show “Cold Case.” Fittingly, the thing I remember most about this experience was that it was freezing. It was also wet and muddy- sometimes dangerously so (lights and their power generators and cables don’t mix well with “wet”). How a Los Angeles set manages to seem freezing and wet to a native Colorado ski bunny is beyond me. I played a 1970’s-ish circus goer who witnesses an “accident” on the aerial silks (the show aired months ago, so if this is a spoiler, I’m sorry, but you need to catch up). I was married with kids. The pressures of the set split our happy family up, though. My husband and I separated. I lost custody halfway through. So did he. Sigh. I miss little… kid.

Not only was it freezing, but the costumes were ridiculously uncomfortable. I still don’t quite understand how women could wear polyester, pantyhose and high heels. Simultaneously.

Part of the props also included balloons. Anyone who has known me long enough or who regularly reads this blog understands that this is a pretty serious problem.

I am globophobic (afraid of balloons and yes, it is a real thing and yes, you can shut up). They make me tense up and act like an imbecile. I will leave a grocery store if I can hear them being blown up. When I see a balloon animal artist (or as I view them: terrorist) on my side of the street, I will make an effort to cross to the other side or feign sudden interest in whatever the storefront closest to me has to offer. The situation to the left, for example, in which my “daughter” is mercilessly beating me with a balloon flower, was torture. It’s a strange phobia and does not solicit the same sympathy as, say, a fear of heights or a fear of spiders. I usually just keep my mouth shut about it and hope I don’t reveal too much to the person walking with me. (note: I recently tried to overcome this fear by participating in/orchestrating a photo shoot. The results of this test are on my facebook page.)

Of course, “my kids” wanted balloons and balloon animals more than they wanted sugar (which on that set, was saying something). They also insisted on attacking both me and my camera with them. I wore a brave face throughout it all. Three balloons were detonated in front of me. People kept thrusting them into my hands. Honestly, I should get a freaking Oscar for the photo at the bottom of this post. Or an Emmy, this being television. Do they give out Emmy’s for stills?

Anyway, it was two days of either standing in the mud or sitting on metallic bleachers and being told to “shush” every three seconds. The popcorn was fake- actually, it was real, but ancient. I am SO glad none of the children eating it plus copious amounts of cotton candy were mine. Seriously. Whose idea was that? “We have a bunch of kids that we need to keep still between shoots on a circus-like set filled with clowns, balloons, and live snakes (I don’t think the snakes made the final cut). How do we keep them manageable? I know! Let’s give them stale salty popcorn and colored clouds of sugar!”

Turned out they had to cut many of my scenes because the guy in front of me was wearing earrings and they didn’t catch it until AFTER the last shot. The result? You can see approximately half of my head for less than a second. I vowed to never again do it, but then, I hit the jackpot of extras gigs…

Stargazing

You know that you are living in the land of celebrities when the local Whole Foods has a sign that says that you are not allowed to photograph people in the store. I’ve tried to train myself to notice the stars, but I only seem to notice them when someone is beside me and says, “hey, isn’t that so-and-so from such-and-such?” I also notice them on the set, if I happen to be working on their show or movie. Sometimes…

I have been mistaken for a celebrity on a few occasions and it has really piqued my curiosity. I’d like to know who people think I am so that I know how to sign the napkin and ask for my “famous person” discount. Regardless, it is kind of fun to play with it. One year at the Cannes film festival, I put on my celebrity disguise (black t-shirt and jeans with a black baseball cap and sunglasses… not that this departs greatly from my usual attire) and had my friend take pictures of me as I was walking down the street, acting indignant. That turned a few heads.

Still, even as a non-celebrity, it’s a bit strange to think that there are actually people watching you as you go about your business. Just to say they saw you, say, at the local Pinkberry after their yoga class… Ohai, Fran Kranz. You were awesome in Dollhouse, luvyakbai! It does make life in LA-LA land kind of fun, though. I hope I don’t tarnish the reputations of Jennifer Connelly, Jenna Fischer, Michelle Williams, Christina Ricci and other random celebrities whom I have been told (and don’t believe) I resemble by walking down Rodeo Drive with my fizzy hair while eating copious amounts of chocolate and enjoying the company of a guy none of those women is reportedly dating (I’m talking to you, shirt-wearing Matthew McConaughey lookalike).

And yes, I can confirm that so-and-so is hot, that such-and-such is probably going to be canceled and that celebrity-couple-portmanteau will probably be breaking into their own pronouns soon, especially with the arrival/adoption of the baby. No one really thought it would last, anyway.

The Waiting Game

So, I thought I would give my blog readers a little glimpse of what I have been going through over the past few weeks (and offering up yet another excuse for blog slacking). Last week, I applied for an apprenticeship at Rhythm & Hues Studios in Los Angeles. It would be an amazing opportunity to get some experience on the professional “industry” side of filmmaking (uncharted territory for me), and potentially continue on to more industry projects. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved working on indie projects and my own work (which falls into the realm of “avant-garde”), but a girl’s got to pay the rent. I’d also like more of my challenges to be creative and collaborative- “doing things” rather than “finding work outside of my day job,” which seems to be my big challenge after leaving New York. In fact, I’d say that is the greatest challenge when it comes to independent filmmaking, no matter what your role: finding work, finding money, finding talent, finding locations, finding time, finding finding finding… it’s miraculous that DIY films can even get finished, let alone end up “good.”

This apprenticeship is specifically geared toward texture painting, which an obsessive, observant person like myself actually loves doing (for example: though I love the stories and the animation of both Ratatouille and WALL*E, I just couldn’t get over how cool the tiled kitchen floors and blocks of trash looked). It would also be perfect timing, as the apprenticeship starts the day after Comic-Con ends, giving me plenty of time to drive straight from San Diego to Los Angeles without flying back to Denver. I pumped up my demo reel to (hopefully) highlight my texture painting abilities. I offer the new, improved version below. Sorry about the bad censor box. I don’t want the world to have my phone number, though. :)

It took me a couple of solid weeks of work to get my demo reel, application, resume and cover letter all in order. I dropped it in the mailbox last Monday and waited. And waited. And I’m still waiting. I leave for Comic-Con tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM and I still don’t know if I should be packing for three days or three weeks! The frustrating part is that it’s not as simple as “you haven’t heard yet, just assume it’s not happening, kid.” The postmark deadline for the application was only a week ago, meaning applications might still even be trickling in! They’ve really only had a few days to look at all of the submissions. Cutting it close…

But still, until my flight leaves tomorrow or I hear back from the studio, I’m holding on to that slight possibility of getting my foot in that oft-closed door that is the film industry.

(edit: posted later. Not sure why it didn’t post the day I wrote it)

Day Six- Second Wind…

…though none of it is hitting my sails. I’m just not impressed anymore.

Now I’m beginning the major marketing campaign for LOOP- Walking through the palais and scoping out potentials, standing around, passing out postcards to whomever will take them, much like the tour bus drivers. And like the tour bus drivers, I can promise a ride, albeit an artistic and intellectual one, but a ride nonetheless. Unlike the tour bus drivers, I believe in this ride. I’m not looking for fare, I want to share!

I think LOOP is fantastic. I think it’s amazing that Pericles has put this together in two years with zero budget and massive amounts of love. THAT is what makes a great film, in my opinion. I worked on this project not because it was presented to me as “it will make you big” or “it’s the next ‘Blair Witch Project'” or any other such bullshit, but because the director was straightforward with me and asked me to help, appreciated my vision and gave me the freedom to really cut loose and let my imagination run wild. I can’t say enough good about it.

And unfortunately, it does not have the representation it deserves here in Cannes! I’m no good at this marketing and self selling crap.

In fact, although the red carpet is glamorous and it is exciting to be a part of all of this, to see the stars and all that, I must say this: the Cannes Film Festival is the oil slick of Hollywood! All of the schmoozing, lying, gawking, “fakiness,” standing around and hoping to be accepted… I know it’s a part of the industry, but it is not a part my mind plays well with.

I do best with the panel discussions, where working professionals talk about what they do. The parties are making me ill. As is this infected wound on my heel (because I don’t usually wear heels)…

So this entry was my diatribe against the Wall Street end of filmmaking as well as my love letter to LOOP. Not much festival news. I ran into some interview with some… star, but I’ve given up on trying to identify them.

Oh… and Rachel Leigh Cook was who I thought was Kirsten Dunst. I suck at this form of star gazing! And you can’t even see the ones in the sky from here!

Day Four

No pictures today. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an unarmored place to pull over on Mulholland Drive to take a picture of the spectacular view of Los Angeles! I was surprised by how beautiful it was. California has an interesting topography. I got a little lost on the winding road, which concerned me. It didn’t go well for the woman in the David Lynch movie, so I just hoped I’d be okay!

Obviously, I am. I did waste most of my Expo time being lost today while trying to “take in the sites”. I nearly accidentally ran into the (former) set for “That 70’s Show,” though, so that was fun. When I wasn’t lost, I was stuck in traffic. “If you are thinking about heading out right now,” said the voice on the radio, “think again.” “Sig” alerts everywhere. Traffic backed up on all of the highways (especially the 405, which was the one I needed). I tried to be “clever” and take alternate routes using the sun to navigate (an interesting note: being from Colorado, where “West” is determined by looking for the mountains, it is VERY confusing to be in California where the mountains are to the East). Alas, traffic was bad everywhere- every little neighborhood street and side street! Eventually, I managed to find Sepulveda Boulevard, which pretty much runs parallel to the 405 (but was moving much faster). I got back THREE HOURS later than I had planned!

As for the Expo, I started out with my million dollar cup of coffee and attended a panel about women in the film industry. While I admit that we have been underrepresented and undersupported, I’m getting kind of sick of dwelling on it. I really don’t consider myself a “woman filmmaker.” I try to just think of myself as a filmmaker, period. True, I haven’t had a lot of role models that “look like me,” but the second I think of myself as belonging to any sort of a minority group, it changes my thinking (see my post below about grandpa’s comment). Sometimes it was a little rough being the only woman in the film lab. Once I established my expertise, though, I was just another lab technician (minus the sex jokes). Still, I do think that we need some support of the “encouragement” kind. It’s true that I know many men who have been dragged through the film mud just as mercilessly as my women friends, but I think the biggest problem is that girls are never told that they have the option in the first place. Come on! We have every right to grow up and be equally brutally rejected and stabbed in the back!

Anyway, the other Expo activity that I participated in today was the “Screenwriters’ Open.” You have 1.5 hours to write a 6-minute scene. My parameters were: “your protagonist, their love interest and a third character of your choosing are stuck in a dark place. The protagonist is injured and loosing blood and one of them holds a secret that, if revealed, could save them all, but would put their relationship with the others at risk.” Most of my time was spent thinking of these characters.

Finally, I chose to write about a Chihuahha and two sibling Siamese cats. The dog had convinced the other two that he was really a cat because he was in love with the sister. When the brother cat dares them all to jump in the trunk of a car, the Chihuahua can’t quite make it (because White Dogs Can’t Jump) and gets his tail caught in the door of the trunk (injured and losing blood). The brother picks up on this uncat-like behavior. The Chihuahua knows he can save the day because, as a dog, he can sniff the trail back home, but he doesn’t want to offer this for fear of losing the sister cat’s friendship. By the end of the scene, the brother cat forces him to reveal his secret. It had everything- racial tensions, cats and dogs, a car chase (kind of)! I’m sure to win the $5,000 prize!

Now to celebrate with a $5 cup of wine. That’s right. A cup of wine. A plastic cup of wine. Hey, this joint is classy!