Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Puffy Actor, Puffy Crust

     Call me, Puff Daddy: I went to a combo casting call/cooking audition in Newton last Sunday. It was another interesting queue: different I think, from the usual cast of characters.
     The call was for a new reality cooking show from the folks who brought you "Hell's Kitchen" with fire-breathing chef Gordon Ramsay. It was a bit less heated though, than Hell's Kitchen. In fact it was damn cold outside the audition site on Winchester Road (Create-A-Cook).
     In some ways it was humorous: hundreds of people jumping up and down, clapping their hands together, trying to keep both their feet - and their entrees warm. And what delicacies! Well, to be honest, there were some obvious duds. Clearly there were actor-wannabees stretching the truth a bit, trying to pass as cooks. And there were cooks, all dolled up but clearly uncomfortable trying to pass as actors.
     I wonder, what was more difficult: an actor trying to cook, or a cook trying to act?
     I wonder, what was more difficult: a cook trying - once inside, to bring their creation back to life in time for the experts to taste it, or an actor - after two hours in the cold, trying to resuscitate their lips in time to produce a winning 'personality'.
     I think I was right in the middle: my Beef Wellington was perfectly pink in the center, but cold as a witches' kiss. And my subtly provocative personality was -after the long, cold wait, ruddy cheeked, but hard to warm up to.
     At least, I suppose, someone tasted the Wellington. The culinary experts were not inclined to kiss me on the cheek.
     We ate well that night. Besides the Wellington, I had made a small batch of my famous (to a very small circle of friends) corn chowder - spruced up for its Hollywood debut with the addition of scallions and squash. They may not be impressed with my acting 'licks', but they won't bite the hand that feeds them.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Star gazing

I was writing a draft of a story for the Old Colony, laptop on my lap, with the Patriots floundering in the background..  I looked up long enough to note the score, find the remote and absentmindedly flip through a few channels, ending up at the scene, the wet gulch where Alfonso Bedoya and two other bedraggled ‘banditos’ accost Humphrey Bogart.

You’re forgiven if the name Alfonso Bedoya doesn’t ring a bell, but one of his lines in the classic film that I had happened upon - The Treasure of the Sierra Madres,  is as well known as famous phrases like ‘We’re going to need a bigger boat’ (from Jaws), or ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’ (from Gone with the Wind). The phrase Bedoya made famous is “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges”. But it’s not the line, it’s the delivery - the acting that is truly memorable. In his few short scenes Bedoya paints a portrait of evil that is the equal of any created by any film actor before or since. Bedoya’s is a portrait of the banality of evil, the indifference of evil, the solidity of evil. And Huston (Director John) doesn’t try to embellish this evil, but simply lets it stand on its own, alongside depictions of fear, greed, and the majesty of the natural world. The Treasure of the Sierra Madres is often said to be a study of greed, but that is a major oversimplification. Say instead that it is a study of humanity, in all its shades: a study that is at times as heated as a bug under a magnifying glass, and at other times as cool and abstracted as a view of a crowded city from a great height.

But I’m babbling on here, when I meant to simply comment on a momentary distraction. It was as if I had gotten out of the car on a cool, dry night and was suddenly distracted by starlight. I looked up at the sky - or in this case, the bright screen on the other side of the room, and was transported.  The stars were aligned in a way that, even someone sleepwalking through their life would find it hard to ignore.

I looked up from the keyboard and saw Bogart confronting death, in the guise of three banditos. You know he is doomed. And when he is dispatched you accept it with the same shifting of your eyes that allows you to glide pass the carcass of an animal that has been tossed to the side of the road. And yet repeated viewings reveal how carefully Huston composed this scene. Bedoya confronts Bogart, a smiling vulture moving slowly in for the kill - while about the dying man's feet the two other bandits scurry, eyeing his boots, trying on his hat, fondling his possessions. When death comes - from a few brutal machete blows, Huston doesn’t show us the flesh being rendered, or even a painful expression.  No special effects or surfeit of blood are needed.

But I continue to babble. I mean simply to talk about how bright, how disconcerting these stars are. And how wonderful to stumble upon them, in one place, on one night.  Bogart and Bedoya, the two Hustons: great acting, great films of this sort are like constellations - especially bright, recognizable, points of light to steer by. And on this night - on this channel, Anthony Hopkins co-hosting a viewing of a few of his favorite films. So after The Treasure, The Grapes of Wrath. John Ford and Henry Fonda in Steinbeck’s classic.

At least I am not a snob, not completely. I find films of this quality the equal to great literature: comparable in terms of depth, allusion, and certainly characterization.

So I should have gone to bed. The Patriots had long since dropped their tray tables, pushed their seats back and were trying to sleep on the flight home. But there I sat, transfixed by Ford’s unblinking examination of the evaporation of the American Dream. Hard to turn away.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Wow. Or should I say, 'ow'.

We don't usually get the Sunday Globe, but this weekend we did. It sat on the freezer over the weekend, and this morning I retrieved it and took it down into my basement office. I had noticed the front-page story about Plymouth Rock Studios when Mary brought the paper in with the groceries, Sunday, but as I was already aware of the collapse of the financing agreement, I wasn't too concerned.


The front page was bad enough - as it cast the project and its nominal head, David Fitzpatrick, in unflattering terms. But from there it gets worse, far worse.

I won't rehash it here - if you haven't read it, here's a link. I have to say that the Globe story underscores what I had been saying from the beginning, that certain proponents of this project have been far too glib, and town officials far too gullible. Despite my natural cynicism I too had come to believe in this project. I was especially impressed with the talented people who were attracted by the opportunity, and were willing to do what they could, to make it happen.

But now it may be too late.

It's a Mickey Rooney moment, boys and girls.. that point in the film when we decide to do this on our own.. And the first thing we have to do.. Well actually, in the Rooney-Garland films they just did it all, on their own: raised the tents, wrote the musical, sold the tickets and put on the show. I don't think that's going to work here. If a thousand 'fans' of Hollywood East each gave a thousand dollars, we'd be short about 499 million. But perhaps what needs to be done - what can be done, is that the focus is narrowed: that PRS find some way to achieve some tangible success (buy the property, produce a more elaborate and financially rewarding feature?).

You can't tell a Hollywood executive to put their money where their mouth is, because that's what they do all the time: they believe in, well, 'make-believe' (and you can't blame them). But instead, now, they really need to put their money into the ground: they need to plant something, build something, produce something real, convince the hard-asses that lend the big money, that this remains viable.

The best thing about dreams is that we wake up from them  - inspired.

But if you spend the whole day talking about your dream, the next thing you know its time to go to sleep again.

Wake up PRS: time to get to work.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Withdrawal, Snobbery, and 'The Road'

In late August and September I experienced a flurry of acting activity - beginning with extra work on films in Lowell and the North Shore, punctuated by Zombie work for Rock Media's Longwalls Zombie video, and brought to a fever pitch by six weeks of Kevin Lasit's advanced acting lab. The inevitable crash probably would have come earlier, but anticipation of the premiere of the video kept me from realizing that for the first time in over ninety days there was nothing on the horizon.. Not that I don't have other things to do, but the demands and disciplines of acting are stimulating, and prolonged exposure can be addicting.

So that's what I am feeling now, withdrawal. I check the various casting agencies daily. Boston Casting has put out several appeals for a variety of roles - but none have been a good fit (of course I have applied anyway, but was never asked to come in). In the back of my mind is a vague desire to create - with the aid of some of the talented people I have come to know, a black box experience: theatrical dramas stripped down to their essentials.. I am, to be blunt, somewhat snobbish about local theatre in general. I think that almost invariably these productions try for too much, and so sacrifice all.

I am also anxious - if that's the right word, to see what Austrailian film director John Hillcoat has done to Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'. This is fiction (that reads like a prose poem) that is completely unsuited to film. It is a dark, grieving meditation on futility. It is not post-apocalypic - as some early reviews have stated, because McCarthy takes you into the very heart of an apocalypse in progress - a human apocalypse. This is a book to read aloud over the grave of Edgar Allan Poe. But there are no scenes, to speak of in its pages: instead there is a smouldering fire that you feel is always just about to re-ignite. There are no gratuitous scenes of familiar landmarks laid to waste. There is wasteland, and through it a dieing father and his son scurry like cockroaches. Every page you expect the boot to come down. I am anxious because I feel protective of this book: it is a crushed and crumbling flower within the pages of the Book of the Dead and I worry that putting it on film will be like adding rouge to the cheeks of a corpse.

'The Road' I think, would make a wonderfully brutal play. "O-u-t-c-a-s-t.. outcast!' is the memorable refrain from Dicken's Nicholas Nickelby. We are all outcasts, McCarthy says. Life sucks, and then you die.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

also starring, in barfabetical order..

Yes I know, I'm not a 'featured extra' in the Zombies rock video that premiered at the Independence Mall this week (where else but a Mall!) .. but I'm a 'creatured extra'. How many extras get to do drooling close-ups? How many extras get to bite the bass player? How many extras get invited to the grand premiere?

So okay, you have to be quick - watch closely, or you probably won't notice me at all. But if you don't blink, there I am: drooling against the glass, then again - more drool, then rising up out of the bushes to take The Longwall's bass player down (tongue out, fast-food look in my riveting blue eyes).

I may not be able to add this to my acting resume - but when your 24-year old son is green with envy, you know you must be doing something right.

So spread the news (pass the link around), and let everyone get a look at this, the first full-length rock video from the Wunderkinds (Lou Janetty, Josh Bethoney, Steven Madden, et al) at Rock Media (Plymouth Rock Studios)

Thanks to everyone involved for a good time, especially The Longwalls themselves) - and please think of me if you need to cast a thoughtful, sympathetic, seems as if he could almost talk, middle-aged zombie in your next film.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Heard any good poetry lately?

We often come to a story, a play, or even a script, cold. That is, the words we hear most everyday are words with a yoke about the neck, words chained to a desk, words that are often in a real sense ‘enslaved’ to commercial purposes. Hearing these words so often, our sense of hearing atrophies. It often takes a special effort to free ourselves from those other lesser associations, before we can even begin to hear words for what they have at least the potential to be: pathways to honest expression and communication.

For the actor this is a serious concern – or, to put that in a more positive light, a serious challenge. Going from listening to hobbled words and hamstrung expressions, to having to evoke the inner struggles of a character that uses these same words, is on its own a daunting task. In my second week of an advanced acting class with Kevin Lasit I had ten minutes to create a convincing portrait of a potential pedophile confronted by a nun (a scene from the play and recent film, “Doubt”). There are certainly other ‘tricks’ that an actor can employ to achieve the desired result, but it would help if he or she could quickly see through the everyday associations of words, to their root meanings or their potential to do more than sell a product.

I was in Lowell this past weekend, attending the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. I could have driven home at the end the night on both days, but I didn’t want to treat the experience casually. I wanted total immersion. I wanted to wash and rinse and repeat, to clean my brain of as much useless information as possible. I wanted – to use a modern expression, to free up some disk space. I wanted to be ready to hear what was actually being said.

What I am saying – put more directly, is that poetry is a wonderful antidote to the infected language we are all exposed to, night and day, week in and week out. It is in a sense, a tuning fork for language: allowing us to begin to hear what others are saying, or to begin to express ourselves  - with words that are already ‘in tune’. Poetry is actually as much about hearing, I believe, as it is about reciting words. And when we can hear the words – we might actually be able to respond in an authentic, effective manner. Maybe.

Postscript: This year in Lowell I 'discovered' several new poets (new to me) that I was moved by, among them Jill McDonnough (whose recent collection of 50 sonnets, Habeus Corpus, chronicles 50 executions in the United States, beginning with the first, James Kendall - in Jamestown, Virginia, sometime in 1608, through Michael Ross, in Somers, Connecticut in 2005), and Michael Casey - who first came to prominence with a collection of poems entitled "Obscenities", which first gave voice to those who served in the military in Vietnam (Casey, a native of the Lowell area, was an MP in Vietnam). For a real exposure to McDonough, there is a 38 minute recording of her reading at the Boston Athaneum (where she did much of the research for Habeus Corpus) HERE. To purchase Habeus Corpus or Casey's Obscenities, use the yellow links in the right column under Partners in Rhyme.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dramatic Monologue (crawling to Kampuchea?)

I offered to fill for a vacationing staffer and cover the Planning Board for the Old Colony last night - yikes: a 4 1/2 hour meeting, and at 11:30 the chairman started talking about the ramifications of possible changes in the Endangered Species act.. At that point I threw myself down on the floor and asked them to endanger my species. And yet - 'a devilishly simple principle of science had revealed itself to me and through my quivering quill I present it to you thus...(1)' - if it weren't for the Town Meeting form of government these people would have no place to go, and they'd wander the streets with placards predicting the end of the world. Honestly: while the rest of us are on Facebook, or viewing pornography (or watching television, which considering that every other show is a CSI-clone, is pornography) these smart people are debating the nuances of cluster zoning, looking at aerial topogprahical maps, and making sure that all of our catch basins have an equal opportunity to catch basins.. I was so tired when I got home last night that I couldnt write the news stories, so I had to get up at 5 a.m. to get them to the paper on time for the mid-week addition and, to be blunt, even with four hours of sleep I had a hard time expressing myself clearly.. Hey, waddaya want for $9 an hour. So this is in the way of an apology if it turns out I got the developers of that automotive center off Cherry Street mixed up with those irate homeowners on Brown Bear Circle, and reported that the Eastern Box Turtle received a permit to build a single family home on Crescent Street. As someone once said, it doesnt matter what they write as long as they spell my name right. Then again, if I can't spell my own name, what business do I have telling you what the Planning Board did last night?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Water Line

Kevin Lasit uses the metaphor of the iceberg in his acting classes. That is, the personna of the individuals you may be asked to portray in a film or on stage are submerged, like an iceberg, beneath the water. Your task, as an actor, is to find a way to allow the audience to see that hidden portion, to take them beneath the water line or, at a minimum, to hint at what lies beneath.

Then of course, there is the problem of the audition. Though the producers are ostensibly looking for an actor who can best portray the totality of the character, human nature is such that the casting agent, producer, or director that views your audition may be more influenced by an audition that displays your range, as by one that accurately depicts the characters'.

Somehow you need to strike a balance between the two.

For my first scene in Kevin's Advanced Acting Lab, I was given 'sides' from the Richard Gere film, "Nights of Rodanthe". In this particular scene Gere is confronted by Diane Lanes' character, after he meets with a man who blames Gere for the death of his wife. Gere is guarded, defensive, and at the same time quietly defiant. He goes from defending himself against the suggestion that he is afraid of dealing with his emotions, to accusing Lane of the same sort of emotional cowardice. My sense is that Gere's character (Paul) is too controlled to go either too far below, or too far above his 'water line': that perhaps the key to his personality is control. For that reason I have been rehearing his lines, with an emphasis on slow, measured responses. I was reminded of a scene of another 'control freak' in a recent film, that of  Helen Mirren's portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II. The only time Mirren dipped beneath her water line in this film, I thought, was in the scene where she she comes across a magnificent Stag while walking alone on her Scottish estate. Empathizing with this majestic creatures' plight, she surprises everyone (including herself) by beginning to cry. She doesn't break down. She doesn't - as in the romantic tradition, have an epiphany and forever change her ways. The important purpose this scene serves in the film is to reassure the audience that, yes, she is human, after all - which allows the film to be both satire and - almost, documentary in tone (Mocumentary?). So I don't see Gere's character - especially in this scene, becoming too emotional in any way. Instead of dipping beneath the water line, I think he tries moving side to side. I imagine his character full of little, subtle 'tells': hand clenching, grinding of teeth, excessive sighing, long pauses.. And yet I wonder if - for the purposes of an audition, a more histrionic display might be in order?

Just sharing a few thoughts on the process, out loud..

Thursday, September 24, 2009

HOT: African American Family Call

BOSTON CASTING is seeking AFRICAN AMERICAN FAMILIES for a photo shoot for a computer company on Martha's Vineyard on October 13 and 14th. If cast, the pay rate will pay $700 per day for each family member.  Hotel accommodations will be provided, and gas expenses will be reimbursed.

Age Ranges:   Women 30-50 and 60-75; Men 30-50, and 60-75, and Children 5-9.

Email 1 photo by noon on Thursday, September 24 to:

They will also accept photos of single moms and dads with  their children and grandparents with grandchildren.

If chosen, you will be contacted with more information.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's Getting Hot in Wichita!

Demand for extras and background actors is heating up on Tom Cruise's new film - Wichita, which has been filming around Eastern Massachusetts for the last two weeks or so. Now Boston Casting is  looking for people  to portray Firemen or EMT's. The shoots takes place Thursday and Friday nights so you must be available to start in the afternoon or early evening and work into the night or early morning and must be available both nights.

They are looking for union or non union people, preferably with experience as firefighters or EMTs. 

If you are interested and available, email  You must include your full name, the best number to reach you at, and a recent photograph.  Also, please indicate your sizes as best you know them, particularly suit sizes, and indicate whether you have experience in these positions possess any gear that you could bring to the set.  

They are stressing that you do not call the Boston Casting office.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Zombies Need Not Apply?

Boston Casting is seeking NONUNION audience members for the show "Deal or No Deal." The job shoots in Waterford , Conn. ( about a 2 hour drive from Boston ) tomorrow(Tuesday, Sept 22nd) through Thursday, the 24th. They are looking for people 18-45 years old with High Energy (Zombies need not apply). Please email a photo and phone number to

You know though... I wonder what a show like that would pay for a cast of Zombies? That is, if we could promise them 50 Zombies for say, a show meant to be shown on Halloween or for a special event, would they be interested. Right now, if you signed up to be an audience member you'd get the standard 8 for 8 (I guess): that is, $8 an hour for eight hours, time and a half after that. These kinds of TV shoots usually keep to their budgets, so you might get six hours of work and earn $48 before taxes. That's not a lot - especially considering the two hour drive to Connecticut. But for Zombies delivered to their door, maybe they would pay twice that.. Any thoughts? Otherwise, for the standard pay, and the limited experience, I wouldn't suggest anyone who isnt already a devotee of Howie Mandel to bother. (By the way, that's Howie in the pic above, playing a sort of Zombie, with Fred Savage in the film "Little Monsters".)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Zombies: condensed, cannned, cream of..

Condensed: The band -The Longwalls, creating a video to go with their song entitled, 'Zombies', from their CD "Field Guide for the Zombie Survivalist", teamed up with Plymouth Rock Studios in Plymouth, Massachusetts ( and wunderkind Louis Janetty (director) over three days (Sept 11-13), filming in an abandoned Walmart (now that was scary), and the former home of the local cable access TV production studios (mold, rot, moist carpeting and weeds aplenty).

Canned: The script called for the creation of a post-zombie-apocalyptic reality (Welcome to Walmart!) where concerts were few and far between and required armed security. In this environment fans had to be, well, fanatical, to go out at all, since there was a high probability of close encounters with the recently deceased. Sure enough, before the first song is completed there's a commotion at the back of the hall and - you guessed it, Zombies have sniffed out the show and scalped - ironic justice, the scalpers. The band escapes but, not before the first few rows of fans are treated to... or that is, are feasted upon. Interspersed between the concert footage are scenes of the band relaxing at home - so to speak: nailing up boards, and taking other standard precautions to keep neighbors from looking in on them. Before they can secure their house completely though, zombies surround it and the band has to make a dash for it. Lead singer and songwriter Alan Wuorinen manages to break through - first smashing the head of a particularly slow and slow-witted zombie (Sam Bourne), but the other band members are waylaid by a horde of fleshy fiends. Drummer Kurt Von Stetten manages to impale one winsome lass (Vicky Dauphinais) with a drumstick through the eye but he, guitarist Brandon Comstock, and bass player Dan London are last seen being eaten by a motley crew of assorted mutants. Alan breaks free - but a moment later comes face to face with what is obviously a never ending supply of perambulating putrefescence and - though the film leaves his ultimate fate in doubt, he looks as if he has lost the will to carry on.
Cream of: From a professional 'Extras' perspective, this was as good as it gets. Zombies not only get a good amount of time on camera, they are in a real sense, the featured players in productions of this sort. On this production there were many special moments:  the transition (that moment when a valiant human succumbs and is reborn a zombie) of Rock Education's own Kevin Lasit; the green meatball projection vomit scene (Megan Dupes?), Vickey Dauphinais'

drumstick through the eyeball; and the penultimate, orgiastic, musical necks contest at the end of the concert (kind of like a Zombie Animal House Food Fight).. Kudos to the band members too. Normally the stars of a production are whisked in when they are needed, and whisked back to the Ritz when they are not. But the members of The Longwalls were not only on the set the entire time, their scenes often required them to be chased, attacked, mauled, bitten, and killed. No, I take that back: all their scenes required them to be either chased, attacked, mauled or bitten. I myself knocked the bass player down into waist-high weeds  - several times, and then chewed on his neck.

Link: The Longwalls music can be downloaded from The finished video - accompanying a lengthier, enhanced version of "Zombies", is expected to be available just before Halloween, both from, and also off the site (home of Plymouth Rock Studios). I am available to play zombies, mutants, accountants or just self-absorbed suburban poet-cowboys right now.

Pics: From the top, that's obviously The Longwalls - off - from left to right: Dan, Curt, Alan, and Brandon; Followed by a group shot of most of the Zombies on the last day; Kevin Lasit being made-up for his 'transition' scene; me; and a shot of the crew preparing the Walmart for the concert scenes. None of the hundreds of pics taken on these three days would have been as.. 'appealing', if it werent for the work of special effects make-up artists Dave 'The Clown' Ellsworth, Mary 'Stunts' Narciso, and 'Gory Cori' Erickson: all three can be reached through

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Zombie Pilgrims

Day three of the production of a rock video for the band, The Long Walls, and I have decided to go for the casual zombie look. On Day One I was dressed - allegedly, as a concert-goer, but was selected to be zombified before the music started. On Day two I donned a Goodwill suit (hideous green with a snakes-eye-tie to match), and the make-up artist (Corinne 'Gorey Corey' Erickson) matched my suit with a dark, Frankenstein-style demeanor. But after two long days mainly standing around waiting (the usual routine for extras in films big and small) I decided that on this last day of the shoot I would simply wear an old gray 'Colby' T-shirt, and tattered jeans. I'll write more of my first zombie film adventure in the coming days, but right now I have to do a few loads of wash, have breakfast (entrails, liver, and an assortment of chicken parts), and get down to the set. (pictured: Zombies Bob Maffeo and Mike Rydberg, pondering what to have for lunch)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Zombies, Deal or No Dealers, Wichita in Worcester..

When does the season end? You might assume that - given our normal weather, movie shoots in Massachusetts would begin to fade away, after Labor Day. But, this year at least, that doesn't seem to be the case. I don't spend the day scouring the web for news of flicks filming (and other on-camera opportunities) in this state, but without much of an effort I have come across a half-dozen.

Ben Affleck is directing and starring - I think, in a film that the nightly news is showing in production in Charlestown. Tom Cruise is the lead in a film called Wichita (apparently no relation to a film by the same name made some 50 years ago) filming in Worcester, at the moment. Deal or No Deal - the game show with Howie Mandel, a chorus line of attache-wielding runway models, and an anonymous Wall Street banker sitting high up in the rafters, is now filming in (of all places) Waterbury, Connecticut, and regularly needs contestants and audience members. And locally, Plymouth Rock Studios seems to be gearing up their marketing efforts - because for some reason they just put out a call for Zombies (sorry, they already have more dead than they can use).

And this comes on the heels of several major motion pictures which have only recently concluded their Massachusetts productions - including the Mark Wahlberg/Christian Bale boxing as life film, The Fighter (on which I am proud to say I made several Franklins).

It really is becoming - for me at least, a problem, a good problem. There are actually times when I have to choose between productions - because it is normal for casting agencies to ask you to commit several days ahead of time. Luckily for me, my 'day job' is writer - something I can do from just about anywhere, at any time. The choice though, isn't as simple as dollars and cents (though, that would be nice and easy if it was). At this point in my acting 'career' I still place a high value on the experience, on getting footage for a personal reel to use for auditions and on casting sights, and making friends in the business and the like. I expect I will be playing a zombie for the local folks - and while it is a 'freebie', I hope to be able to get to know the local producers and technicians during the two or three days of shooting that are planned - which could prove invaluable if/when Plymouth Rock Studios becomes operational. I passed though, on a paying job - being an audience member for the game show in Connecticut, because I didn't think the experience would add to my knowledge sufficiently, and because the four-plus hour round trip would probably cost more in gas and wear and tear on my car, than the $40 they offered for five hours of work. But I gave a committment (in advance of an offer) for work on Wichita, though it is also a four hour round trip and pays the same, standard $8/hr (though the days will likely be 10-12 hours long).

What am I saying? I guess I am just trying to get my hands around the fact that there actually is work for extras in this area, already. If you're persistent, plugged in (to all local casting agencies), and have some flexibility, you can still get valuable experience and a little folding money even now, as we approach autumn. And as Massachusett's film industry may be on the cusp of great changes - and rapid growth, now is the time to make the effort to gain those experiences.

And please, if you can - contact me and I'll set you up so you can share your experiences here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bogey at 12 O'Clock

"So", the chief assistant production assistant known affectionately to the extras as, 'Ming the Merciless', said to me, "when you hear 'background' drive into the intersection, take note of the prostitute, drive around her (don't hit anyone), go through the intersection as far as the van, and stop. Think you can handle that?" I probably should have just nodded, humbly, or maybe kissed his ring - but instead I actually said, 'Sure, no problem' and that was a big problem. Despite my growing awareness that the chances of an extra actually being on camera, in focus, closer than 100 yards from the action being filmed was about one in a hundred thousand, I thought it was actually going to happen. I was waiting, engine running, about 20 yards back from the intersection in question, at 3:30 a.m., watching the assistant director blocking out the scene with the silver Volvo and the prostitute. No problem meant - to their ears, that this odd-looking older man (anyone 30 or over is older than about 90% of the production assistants)in the maroon Camry was about to lose his mind with excitement, speed through intersection and take out, at a minimum, the prostitute, two PA's, and the Kraft table. Most of the other, younger extras would have probably either said nothing, or babbled incoherently - and they liked that. So, after 6 hours of waiting in the bottom of a Unitarian Church, and another two hours parked on a side street in one of the more interesting areas of Lowell, and 20 minutes spent idling at an intersection while preparations were made to record about 20 seconds of film, I was told, 'hold on' (mysterious messages coming non-stop into the earbuds of the production assistant) and then, 'pull over to the site and turn off your lights', and then - most disappointing of all, 'okay, they're just going to have you park it."

At least the Camry was in the shot - maybe: parked about 25 yards from the intersection. Later, a junked out Ford (the undercover cop's car, I think) was parked just in front of the Camry, and close-ups of a short scene with Christian Bale were filmed (though probably the Camry was not visible at all).

They called it quits on this night, just before 5 a.m. So what did I learn, from my first overnight shoot? That - though older than most on the set, I can handle it. In fact I enjoyed the late night setting, the odd people it attracts - the kind of rock and roll spirit to this particular and probably most movie production sets (though movie sets are necessarily today a nerd's paradise as well, with the majority of the workers electro-mechanically inclined, flat screen monitors everywhere, all of the PAs wearing headsets and using 2-way radios, smoke machines, cranes, generators, banks of light). I thought during, and afterwards that I should have brought my saxophone, and practiced on the streets of Lowell. I wish I had a laptop with me, and a wireless card - because I would have liked to have offered some live blog action. (but then, you have to be careful that you don't risk losing these items to thieves - when you are called upon to do your part. I did 'Tweet' with my cell phone, but I don't think I have that down yet: and I was overly concerned with the length of those messages and erred on the side of shorter. Mostly I tweeted about the food (again), and boredom, waiting, and.. the time.

(Money Note:) Don't expect to make much more than minimum wage as an extra on a movie shoot. 'The Fighter' paid a standard $64 for eight hours, and as you generally went 10-12 hours, you could make about $100 for the day, supplemented by payments for your car ($20 if they lured you in with the promise of extra work, more if they really wanted your car). Diane's silver Volvo - which was used all through this long night, on several scenes (including, I was told, a scene in which Christian Bale's character attempts to have sex with a prostitute in the front seat) earned her close to $600 for the night's work []. She said their term for a car to be used by the actors in a scene, was a 'picture car'. Diane herself was not interested in Extra work, and spent the night with her gadgets (Kindle, Blackberry, etc.)

But what practical things did I learn? Honestly, I learned that like everything in life, its often who you know, not what. I would seriously suggest that, when you're on set, that you make an effort to figure out who you need to know and then try to get to know them: schmooze a little, kiss up a little, hang out a little because despite their low pay and low status on set, at certain points those PAs (production assistants) are going to get to choose who goes where and does what. I think having been on set for a few days before the overnight gave me just enough familiarity with the head wrangler so that, consciously or not, he chose me to have a chance for that 'drive-thru'. I think that the final decision though, was not his - and I note that in the end the three cars chosen to go through the intersection during the Volvo/prostitute scene, were all driven by young women. Was this poor continuity? Did it make sense for three young women to be driving, by themselves, in the wee hours, through a tough neighborhood in Lowell? Wouldn't it have been more likely that a homely middle-aged man like myself, would have been prowling those streets? Maybe it was a moot point, in that the drivers of whatever vehicles were chosen, would not have been visible. I'm not sure. I don't know. There is so much that goes on on a movie set that is, from the outside, arcane, mysterious, or just hidden from view.

-Pictures: #1. Food, of course. Look closely, that's our menu for tonight's lunch (served from 12:30-1:30am. Shrimp, roasted chicken, Prime Rib, Tortellini, Strawberry Shortcake.. were just some of the offerings. #2. That's Go-Go Gadget Diane, whose silver Volvo was the star of the evening. #3. Will Sasso is in the house! Well no, but someone who looked a bit and sounded a lot like the MADtv actor. (sorry Will, it was a long night and I didn't write your name down). 'Will' was one of the driver/extras, and he had a 1981 Mercedes Diesel that - though it sounded like it was gasping for air as it idled, was really in very good shape (25 mpg!).

Oh, I almost forgot. For me one of the more memorable events of this overnight occurred around 11:30 or so when I decided to walk down to the set (about 3 blocks) away, to see if I could see what was going on. There were various 'check points' to pass through where real police were diverting traffic, and PAs were keeping out anyone not part of the production. But having been on set for several days, I had become familiar with many of the PAs and I had no problem getting down on to the Street (Warren Ct) and close to the action (It was an exciting scene where Christian Bale's character, Dickie Ecklund, is arrested by undercover police after being caught - in the act, with another prostitute in the silver Volvo. There were screeching tires, police sirens, dialogue that included "put the gun down Dickie", etc.) So I watched a few takes, and then headed back to the church basement. I knew I wasn't going to miss out on anything, because we wouldn't be used until they moved on to the next scene. On the way out I ran into our 'handler' - who we affectionately referred to as 'Nero', and I remarked to him that it was an interesting scene. "What are you doing down here?" he asked. "Oh, I just came out for some air, and to see what was going on," I said, un-apologetically. He fumed and flustered a little, then said I should not have left the church because if I had been gone when they had needed me I wouldn't be able to work. I told my fellow extras what had transpired and predicted, "Just watch: when he comes back he'll single me out as a bad boy". Sure enough, just before 'lunch' was served, Nero returned, remarked that he had missed us all and then, seeing me, said "Oh, here's my little Lookie-Loo". A few minutes later he left the church again, and I said loudly, 'Oh my God, did you hear what he called me. I am now the lowest of the low. There is only one rung lower than extra," I said, "the Lookie Loo". "Not true," one of the film crew (a 'set dresser') who was waiting in the church, interjected, "there is one thing lower than a Lookie-Loo. A Bogey!" It was the first time I had heard that term used, but it was self explanatory. A 'Bogey' in its original usage, was an unidentified plane that appeared on the screen of an air traffic controller. Likely an enemy aircraft. On a film set a 'Bogey' is someone who wanders into the film and ruins a shot.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Around and round and round and.. oh my my

The title is a quote from the Stone's 'Let's Spend the Night Together': the full line is something like, 'we can have fun just foolin around and round and round and.. oh my my'. It's what you would call, in this case, ironic juxtaposition, in that my experience yesterday (Aug 20, 2009) as a driver/extra on the set of the Mark Wahlberg/Christian Bale film "The Fighter" was anything but 'oh my my'. It was, certainly, round and round and round.

But let's stay positive. For inexperienced would-be actors such as myself, there is always something to learn, 'on-set', even its learning that you never want to do 'that' again.

From the beginning then... This was about the fourth time that I had received a request from Boston Casting to use my old car - a low-mileage, 86 maroon Camry, on the "The Fighter'. On the first occasion they were considering it for a 'leading role': that is, they were selecting the cars that would be utilized throughout the film for the lead actors. They brought in ten cars and the Camry didn't make it but - they paid me $150 for three hours of my time. Later, as filming progressed, they asked me two other times to bring the car in for 'extra work', as it fit the period, but both times they canceled (never telling me until the morning of the shoot) because its color - I learned, was too close to that of that car chosen for Mark Wahlberg (who plays the lead, fighter Lowell-born 'Irish' Mickey Ward) This fourth time however, no one raised that issue, I did receive confirmation ahead of time, and I reported to the designated marshaling site on West 6th Street in Lowell, at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.

(Lesson #1: always have a cell phone number for someone involved in the actual filming process - not a casting director, because as happened here, all the cars showed up to the right address, but the address was wrong)

Eventually we made it (about a half mile away) to the right location, where we parked and went inside for orientation. Soon, as I noted elsewhere, you begin to see why movies cost so much - and why, tangentially, the food is so good. To film a simple scene inside a donut shop you need not only the actors, directors, camera operators, lighting specialists, sound specialists, wardrobe people, makeup artists and - those damn extras. But you also need people to wet down the street, fog the windows of cars in the scene (eliminating glare), street washing trucks, detail cops.. Okay, I'll stop there and speak to only what was required to have about a dozen cars driving endlessly by the donut shop while filming went on within. There is a guy telling you where to park, at first. And a guy going around replacing your license plates with ones that fit the period, and several more people in the street directing traffic, and several more at various locations to tell you to turn around and go back, or wait. You also need to arrange with the city to have the streets blocked off in all directions at certain times. Meanwhile, while all this is going on, the drivers literally cooked. It was 90 plus that day, and given the age of our cars most didn't risk running the AC (if they had it), as all the starts and stops and short runs seemed a perfect recipe for overheating. So it was only the drivers who overheated. I drank at least ten bottles of water, which just seemed to feed my sweat glands. I poured water down my back, and over my head, and splashed it in my face and drove round and round and round from - at the Top Donut, about 11-4 (it took them about two hours to get everything set up to be able to film us going round and round).

(Lesson #2: Driver and Extra?) One of the ways they lure you in - to get your car (which they really need), is to promise that when you bring your car in you will also function as an extra. Even if you are totally star-struck ,the idea of sitting in your car all day while, just a few feet away (usually inside, with the AC on, and gophers bringing around silver trays laden with crumpets, tea, cocaine, and issues of Popular Science. just kidding) the real acting is taking place. After all, you're doing this for the experience mainly, right? You want to learn the trade, get a chance to hone your skills, maybe even get to say a few words, like 'That'll be $1.99 for the donuts, and $1.20 for the coffee.." BUT the truth is that most of the driver/extras don't do anything but drive. Some get a little lucky, but don't count on it. So if you are looking for your big break and think that a twelve hour day sitting in your cousin's junker is it, think again!

Meanwhile, back on the set.. making the drivers feel like we were not at the lowest rung - crowds of onlookers stood - in designated areas, watching Top Donut. What was there to see? An occasional flash of an actor - usually as they transported them in big black SUVs, or the fancy star trailers that carried (I think) the Director around to the various locations. They certainly weren't there to see my vintage Camry going through its paces.

Did I mention the food. When we finally made it to the right location for the orientation earlier that morning, and after the wardrobe people had either approved what we were wearing, or re-dressed us, we had breakfast from a mobile cantina out back. Three kinds of eggs, several kinds of sausage, hash browns, fresh fruit, bagels, muffins, juices, coffee.. It was great, but I was reminded of an island in Lake Ontario, some 35 years earlier, where - as part of a kind of Peace Corp orientation six of us had gone to find a place to volunteer our labor. We found a family wheat farm, in need of harvesting (the oldest boy had broken his leg) and they told us to show up the next morning at 9. I was surprised by the late start, assuming they would want us there at the break of dawn. When we did arrive that next morning the farm owners laid on us the biggest, heaviest, whitest breakfast I had ever been confronted with: freshly milked milk in large, chipped off-white, perspiring pitchers; beige pancakes glazed with molasses; white-washed mashed potatoes; white sausage, diced and lightly fried potatoes the color of old lace. We ate and ate, and ate and as we did we slowly came to the realization that we were being fattened up for the slaughter. We were being fueled for a day unlike any other we had experienced. As soon as we had stuffed the last bit of pancake down the work began. Working until the sun was boiling in Lake Ontario we harvested field after field after field of wheat. Following closely behind the immense machine that cut and bailed the bundles, several of us would toss those bundles onto a trailer on which others from our group worked stacking the wheat. When it was stacked high enough, we'd take it to the barn and transfer it and then had back out again. The farmer's weren't task masters, but neither were they about to look a gift horse in the mouth. We could have stopped it at any time, but after the breakfast that had been served us, we knew what was expected of us.

Come to to think of it, that really was very similar to my day as a driver on "The Fighter" - I just didn't see it coming this time: I was blinded by the light, the klieg lights.

(Lesson #2: Be Prepared). Regardless of what you are asked to do, as an extra, or gopher - expect a long, grueling, boring day. I had brought a fold-out chair, a few books, a notebook and pens, a camera (careful, they are touchy about cameras on a closed set), Tylenol, reading glasses etc. All that and I was still unprepared for the heat. I should have used the old mommy's trick of a wet washcloth in plastic bag in a cooler. How sweet that would have been to be able to pull out a cold, wet washcloth and swab my face and neck. They were very good about getting us water, but even if my inner self was well watered, my outer self was suffering.

Did I mention the catering crews? Besides the specialists who provide fabulous meals at some point during the day, there are dozens of people on set who make sure that there is plenty of cold water, snacks, fruit, and more - all during the day. These people work as hard, and as long as anyone on set - and there isn't even the illusion that they have something to do with making movies.

[Pictures, from top to bottom: 1)Note the antique plate affixed over my actual plate. Wardrobe was responsible for giving all the cars their vintage green Mass plates. I ended up driving around Lowell with mine on.. 2)My view of the 'set' for most of the morning consisted of the Top Donut marquee seen through my moon roof. 3)That's Mr. Shogay, whose daughter graduated from Colby (as did my son Bob). A nice man and a practicing Carnegaist (making friends and influencing people). He owns an ice cream truck, a snow plow, and this classic, no frills pick-up. 4) That's about a third of the crew I worked with on Wednesday, standing before the real star - my 86 Camry. I was remiss in not getting everyone's names (on paper). If you're in the picture leave a comment with your name so I can be sure to get them right. 5) That last shot is poor me, after about 5 hours of stops and starts in brutal heat.]

To be continued...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Now Casting: The Spachelor

I don't qualify, but you may. Boston Casting is looking of unattached men and women for a new reality television show called "The Spachelor" (silly pun on spatula and bachelor?). Here are the details and, while you're at it, why not sign up (for free) for Boston Casting or any of the other casting agencies in this area (links on this site).

Special Instructions:
We are CHECKING AVAILABILITY for single men who like to cook and beautiful single women who would like to have dinner cooked for them for an exciting new reality show THE SPACHELOR. Non-Union Only.
You need to be available on Friday, July 31 as well as 3 days either the week of August 11 or August 18.
Shoot takes place in the guy’s home, so we will need photos of the kitchen, and dining room or living room.
Please sign up only if you are available during this time period. If chosen, someone will be in contact with more details. (617 254-1001)

Monday, July 20, 2009

'Frenchy' Chevalier

The movie "The Fighter", starring Mark Wahlberg as former Welterweight champion Micky Ward, has moved on to shoot scenes from Ward's early days when he trained at Arthur Ramalho's West End Gym on Lawrence Street in Lowell, Massachusetts - which is still operating (though the old mill building it is located in is in rough shape). Standing on Lawrence Street you can see some of the sophisticated technical equipment required to produce even a realistic fight film: massive, mobile air exchange systems circulating the air around the old mill's crumbling timbers, racks of powerful outdoor lights, filters, and reflectors to provide ample 'natural' light, and dozens of support people in constant motion as they try to provide the crew and cast with everything -and anything they might require (including the best 'porto-potties' money can buy). For the training scenes at the West End Gym a full complement of extras was required to create the illusion of a crowded training facility: boxers young and old, trainers, hangers-on, and the cops who knew Micky and his brother all too well in those early days. There is still a lively boxing scene in Lowell, so the producers didn't have to look too far to find skilled pugilists: in fact many roles went to trainers and boxers who knew Ward intimately, or who are fixtures in the Lowell boxing scene today. One such individual is the well-known Master class boxer, Frankie 'Frenchy' Chevalier, (pictured above) who has trained at West End for many years. Of course the question then arises: is it better to have authentic characters with no acting skills or interest, or to use trained actors for these small but important roles? Frenchy readily admits he's doing it for the excitement of being in a movie - and doesn't care that he's passing up a potentially lucrative few days of extra pay. While all around him are people making a living from what they do on the set: camera operators, makeup artists, production assistants, food service workers, van drivers, truck drivers, electricians, mechanics, security guards and others. A film set is an unusual mixture of well-paid blue-collar craftsmen, highly paid actors, barely paid extras, and 'camp followers'. It is likely that many of the electricians and 'gaffers' on the set were, at one time, drawn to the work by their interest in the movies. But clearly, the demands of the work don't leave much time for gawking at the 'stars'. It is unlikely that any of the 'camp followers' will find themselves with a role to play - but then they seem content with their lot. And then there are the rest, dancing on the edge of respectability, looking to leverage an appearance as background into a walk-on with a few lines, into...

Dealing with Rejection..

Yes, you've faded a bit: that lustrous, deep maroon exterior has taken on a ruddy, mature tone. And no, the old pipes aren't what they used to be: there's a rattle to your 'voice', and a rumbling from somewhere deep within. But they must have seen something, otherwise they wouldn't have asked you to audition. There are still appealing aspects to your overall construction: your interior is in surprisingly good shape, your veneers as appealing as ever. So what that they chose another... vehicle.

Don't let it get you down. You're a year or two from antique status: you can proudly call yourself a classic. Your original owner doesn't drive anymore, but the son-in-law that inherited you isn't embarrassed to take you out for a spin.

You didn't get the part, but that's probably because you looked too good for your age. Did you notice 'who' they chose? That old, rusted K-car with the stuffing come out of the upholstery and the strange smell emanating from the trunk. They weren't looking for good looks, they were looking for a car that makes the star look good by comparison. You were technically the right age, but you just look too good to be 23!

Remember: the movie is called The Fighter, so they needed a car that looks like somebody gave it a good beating.

(My 1986 Toyota Camry had a tryout for the Mark Wahlberg film, The Fighter, which has been filming in Lowell, Massachusetts for the past two weeks or so. It came down to nine vintage vehicles, but my maroon beauty didn't make the final cut)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Space of Loaf

One of the acting life's greatest joys is the discovery that you will rarely, if ever, do the same thing twice. Not for you the daily 9 to 5, soulless regimen of repetitive drudgery! Why do you think our trade newspaper is called Variety? The clever actor will find ways to enhance and even expand upon this career advantage. Here are some tips on

How to Make Sure You'll Never Work Anywhere More Than Once

1. Preparation, schmeparation:
"A good night's rest," before a job, is overrated. Instead, celebrate your good fortune in finally securing a film role by drinking heavily with your friends the night before. This will "relax" you for the coming day's work, and give you that sexy "just tumbled out of bed" look that you see really big stars sporting on talk shows. In the morning, dress with no particular care -- that's what the "wardrobe" crew is for! Just wear whatever you slept in, if you've slept at all.

If you're lucky enough to have "lines," remember that these are just suggestions as to what you might actually say on camera. By no means bother to memorize them! All writers are hacks, anyway. Directors know this, and will be much more impressed by your ability to "paraphrase" and "improvise." You will be expected to "improve" upon your lines, anyway, which leads to our second tip,

2. Drawing attention to yourself: Your first task upon appearing on the set is to establish the extraordinarily high nature of your own worth. Here's where all those self-esteem lessons you learned in middle school come in handy! Arrive late, or barely in time -- having to wait for you will excite anticipation and make your entrance much more dramatic and noteworthy.

There's a reason you and other actors are collectively referred to as "Talent" -- you may assume, by implication, that everyone else involved in the project is not. Complain loudly and frequently about delays caused by crew set-ups, lighting and sound logistics, props problems, etc. Denigrating the competence of everyone else on set makes you seem smart by comparison, and assures everyone of your high standards.

Shortly before it seems the shot will actually begin, elbow your way to the director and pepper him with arcane questions about your walk-on, two line character. You will impress him by your meticulous devotion to your "craft." This is also a good time to suggest "improvements" to your lines.

3. Etiquette: The behavior that marks you as a seasoned pro may seem counter-intuitive to the novice. For example, when "QUIET ON THE SET!" is barked over the manager's megaphone, by all means finish the conversation you were having with that fellow actor or cute script girl. It's considered rude to leave someone "hanging" in the midst of relating one of your fascinating insights or stories merely because shooting has begun.

Speaking of relating to fellow artists -- many modern films include scenes in which actors are called to be in various states of deshabille. As a bonus, these cast members usually are extraordinarily attractive. Most will, in fact, have spent considerable recent time in the gym, preparing for this very moment! True, they have been put in such position solely for professional reasons to do with the demands of the script, but that's no reason for you not to interpret their displays of firm, supple flesh as invitations to hit on them. If they didn't want you to try to have sex with them, why in hell did they show up so damned good-looking? It's not your job to observe the same polite deference shown them by the crew. Walk right over and compliment them suggestively on their physical attributes, perhaps making imaginatively graphic offers of what you'd like to do to them. They might be flattered! If not, everyone is still sure to admire your opportunistic devotion to self-gratification while ignoring others' sensibilities -- a quality every actor needs to succeed in this highly competitive business -- as well as the creativity of your suggestions.

4. Lunchtime! Again, your chance to "shine." Shove your way to the front of the catering-truck queue, even if you've worked only five minutes and others have been toiling since dawn. Pile as much on your tray as it will hold, then stuff as much more as you can in your pockets (a baggy coat is useful for this -- sometimes I'll bring an empty bass viol case). Everyone knows about "starving actors" -- others will admire your foresight and thrift.

5. Hail Fellow Well Met: Humor is important in breaking the tedium of a shoot. With the tension caused by trying to make optimal use of every second of time while millions of dollars are gushing through the production pipeline, any "comic relief" will be welcome. Let those wisecracks fly as soon as they occur to you, no matter what else is going on! Most actors began as "class clowns," we know.

Plus, hilarious stories of your best "pranks" are perfect for your inevitable appearances on "Letterman." One of my favorites: scream "CUT!" just before it seems the director is about to at the conclusion of a long, involved continuous shot. Another: make a point of picking up and playing with other actors' props, especially firearms, especially moments before they are needed. Be sure to replace them -- somewhere other than where you found them! Your hijinks will be remembered for years to come.

If you follow these hints, you are assured of enjoying a rich "Variety" of jobs, without the constraints of repetition or boredom. It's true, you may get fired each time -- so what? List the credit on your resume anyway! In fact, you are expected to lie profusely concerning your credits. So what if you didn't actually "co-star with Russell Crowe in Gladiator?" Who's to find out? It's not like any of the people working or hiring in this business actually know each other.