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.

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