Rizzoli & Isles

I’ve hit a slow spot in the background acting biz… but I spent yesterday on the set of Rizzoli & Isles. Yes, all the things you’ve heard about acting to a non-existent scene (prime example: something happening on a green screen that will be put in later) is true; yesterday I had to act scared by a bad guy who wasn’t there and it was not easy. Often a show will put an assistant director (AD) in the spot and have them read lines or act menacing (few things will frighten a background actor more than a menacing AD 😉 ) but yesterday nothing was there but a pile of unused props. Still, my fellow actors and I seemed to acquit ourselves well.

New Hollywood Species Spotted

OK, I was wrong.

I thought that the Common Non-Union Background was the lowest form of life in Hollywood. But a new, and even more lowly species has been spotted.

I refer to the Promo Background.

Promo extras work, not for money, but for the privilege of maybe getting to see a celebrity and a bit of cheap promotional litter (hence “promo”). The State of California views them as “volunteer labor” and will not let the production companies use them for more than eight hours a day. The Union no doubt has restrictions on how many may be used in a production compared to paid performers.

They were used in a production that needed (or wanted) to have a large auditorium completely filled for just a few shots. It is the first time I have worked alongside unpaid volunteers. Needless to say, all we paid (albeit poorly) performers felt rather threatened by these fan boys and girls. After all, were it not for them, more of our colleagues might have been hired. Not to mention that they were rude, not knowing or not caring about on-set courtesies like not moving another extra’s luggage.

Bleah. Oh well, this was the first such incident in six months working.  I can hope that it’s a rare occurrence.

Night of the Zombie Casting Director

This was a quite negative experience, so I am changing names and dates to protect the guilty.  You need not try to figure out which production this was, as I will scrub it thoroughly for identifying detail.

9:57 PM 10/28/12 – A call for a booking with car. This is actually a good gig, as I will be paid a nominal rent for the car in addition to my usual day rate. The call came in 3 minutes before my cutoff time, to work the next day. (after 10 pm I have asked my agents not to call me for bookings. If a job arrives after 10pm, well, I don’t want to work that badly. Even if I do.) No tape recorded details yet — the film is still shooting. Call back after 11 pm.

11:25 PM 10/28/12 – Still no details. I dare not go to sleep until I know my call time and the location.

11:45 PM 10/28/12 – Still no details. This is ridiculous. I am stuck. If I back out, it will be a “cancellation” and my agents will put me on probation. Grrr. I decide to set an alarm for 12:45 AM so I can get a little rest.

12:45 AM 10/29/12 – Still no details. Set alarm for 1:45 AM.

1:45 AM \
2:45 AM. |
3:45 AM. | Rinse and repeat.
4:45 AM /

5:45 AM 10/29/12 – OMG. I am due at Hellandgone Airport at 7 AM. This is an hour or more from my home in the San Fernando Valley, and I must dress, put on makeup, and put together wardrobe options.

6:15 AM. With the help of my husband, I am in my car and driving like a maniac. Thank God, no cops.
7:10 AM. On set. Am not tagged as late because no one is yet being checked in.  Most unusual; generally the PA (production assistant) is checking in extras on the dot so that no time is lost.
8:36 AM. Checked in, through wardrobe and makeup check. Nearly a hundred extras on this call, and most are late due to inadequate notification.  Production changes the scene shooting order.  Not clear if this due to extras’ lateness or other causes.

This, I think, is the time to explain the peculiar organization of the background industry. I have agent(s), although for background work they are called “calling services”. They find work for me with casting agencies. The casting agencies, in turn are hired by production companies to provide background actors. After much debate, the guilt for eighty-plus extras not being notified until 5 AM has been traced to the casting agency.

I am going to inform my agents that I do not want to work with this casting agency. Ever.

9:58 AM. Sitting in my car. My job is to drive around the airport on cue, making a non-busy airport look busy. I have already done one lap. I call my agents and make sure that Clueless Casting Agency will never work in my town again.

4:00 PM. We break for lunch.  This is the first meal since 7:30 AM.  The crew are suffering as much as the extras.  No wonder Clueless Casting Agency was hired; the management of this production is just generally disorganized, so how would they notice? I want to make clear that there was no rudeness shown by the crew; but lack of communication is rampant on this set. No one knows what is happening next.

8:00 PM.  I am sitting in my car by the curb, waiting to be called up to drive, when I notice that the outdoor lights are being taken down.  Yes, we eight in cars had not been told that production was wrapped (ended) for the day.  I had to run down to the last few crew persons striking set, to get official word sent to us (extras cannot leave the set until released, at least not if they would like to be paid.)

8:30 PM.  I shake the dust of this production off my boots.  Will keep a watch on the main director; may choose not to work for him again, either.

Paranormal Activity 4

This was an interesting call. The call time was for 4:30 PM, very late. I was number 131 of 300 women to arrive a local high school from which I was bussed to the residential neighborhood location. Background holding was in a massive tent in someone’s backyard; the set proper was across the street in another backyard.

All background were asked to wear solid black attire, also a very unusual request. Generally, background are asked to wear what I think of as “mud colors”; no black, white, red, or very bright colors that might distort on-camera. Not knowing what to expect, I packed every stitch of black I owned, which turned out to be a wise decision.

We went to set for rehearsal before sunset, where I learned that actual shooting would be done after dark with a hand-held infrared camera. Rehearsal before dark was essential, since we would have no lights save moonlight for the actual shoot.

Part of the footage was shot with an actor-held camera! I had never before seen the technique. As with many shoots with a large number of extras, it went long hours. My experience is also that hand-held shoots tend to go long, as well; it seems to be difficult to predict in advance exactly how footage will look, and on-set experimentation is needed. It was after 2AM before I was released from set.

Memorable incidents: I was quite a popular person. Few other background had any extra clothing, and late nights in the inland suburbs of Los Angeles can get cold, even in August. I wore my own extra blazer, and two other women took turns borrowing my sweater.

When we were released from set, one woman was so anxious to have her voucher (time card) signed and get home that she tripped on a hole in the lawn in the dark and briefly knocked herself out cold.

Despite being repeatedly warned, my fellow actors would not shut up. Considering the fact that it was the wee hours of the morning in a residential area, and there were 300 of us, it was not an unreasonable request. Nonetheless, we were finally yelled at by production, always an unpleasant experience. Me, I was reading an ebook on my iPad and being mouselike.

On the Glamorous Life of a Hollywood Extra

Know this now and forever: an extra (Background Actor, Background Artist, et freaking cetera) is the lowest form of life in Hollywood. Everyone on the set, from the director to the caterer, to the guys who clean up the debris on location to make sure that the production can rent the location again, EVERYONE has more status than an extra. If you, Hollywood Denizen, are not an extra and you think I am exaggerating, think again.

[Pauses for response. Hears crickets chirping.] That’s what I thought.

Most extras bitch about this. Extensively. Most of what goes on in that dank corner of the set designated as Extras Holding is kvetch, kvetch, kvetch.

The truth: By our behavior, we extras deserve some of the [lack of] respect we receive. The rest can be explained simply by Paragraph #1 above. This simple principle, which I learned shortly after I stopped being a student (never mind how long ago) and started earning a living can be expressed simply: Crap Rolls Downhill.

As a non-union extra, I am the lowest of the low. Even my agents, whom I HIRE to find work for me, treat me as not very bright and exceedingly flaky, with threats to stop representing me (or my fellow extras, in a broadcast email) if I (we) don’t stop being stupid and unreliable.

I am neither stupid nor flaky, but I know why this reputation exists. The bar is not very high for extra-hood. One has simply to be breathing, show up on time, wear/bring the appropriate costume, and walk where one is told to walk. Low as this bar is, not all my would-be colleagues can clear it.

So why do I bother? I like being on a movie/TV set. I like it a lot more than I ever did being in an office or a lab. There is always something happening, and I get to watch a lot of it. I am delighted with all the antlike activity of numerous persons, and even more delighted as I discern its purpose.

So, I do not seek an equally lucrative position in my local coffeehouse or grocery store, nor yet do I look to get back into engineering/computer science/IT. Instead, I hustle, hire more agents, call in to make myself available for “rush” calls, and in general present myself as someone who wants to work, shows up on time, follows directions, and listens carefully to recorded instructions the night before a call.

After NaNoWriMo, I will start blogging my on-set experiences. I will NOT publish anything before a film is released, or episode aired. Nor need you expect celebrity gossip — I observe precious little about celebrities, and bluntly care less. No, what you will read is the experience of the lowliest cog in the entertainment industry, as it churns out its product.

Good times.

On set again Friday…

…so I may fall further behind, even as I sit and try to catch up this evening. I have personal obligations I can’t avoid next weekend, so I may be playing catch-up for a while. Another long day on set will really kick my word count down. Darn it, I wanted to keep up this year.

I haven’t given up though. This may be a short day, after all (it will start at 6:30 AM, and more than half my calls end before six hours are gone) and I will have a five-day stint in the Sierras over Thanksgiving that may yet be my noveling salvation.

I am looking over what I just read, and I can’t believe I’m actually complaining about getting too much acting work. Please forget that, Universe! I am grateful for every gig. I WILL learn how to do that, and write as well.

Fallen behind…

On the minus side: I fell behind in my NaNoWriMo word count yesterday 😦

On the plus side: overtime and inconvenience comps meant yesterday was quite lucrative, as non-union background gigs go. While breakfast on the set was a bust, lunch was a win, with several yummy and Paleo-friendly dishes; curried carrots (I have got to try cooking that one myself), grilled beef and grilled mahi-mahi. And at my next NaNoWriMo write-in I will get to claim a sticker for writing in an exotic locale — a live movie set!

Working Today…

Got a call last night at 8:10 to be on set today at 6 am so must hustle my behind down to Downtown Los Angeles with luggage in tow. No, I can’t tell you details of the project, nor can I blog from the set, nor yet again can I post any pictures, so don’t ask.

I hope there’s something to eat that isn’t either vegan or smothered in cheese or breaded.