Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Glamourous World of Hollywood Movie-making

On Sunday, I served as an extra on a movie filming in Boston called The Surrogates. Now, those that know my history probably know that I declared I would never do that again after my horribly boring experience in The Great Debators. However, my friend Brom was also going to do this one, and he convinced me that it may be fun. plus, after seeing myself for a split-second onscreen in The Great Debators, I thought, "What the Hell?" Oh, and I'm broke. I know that seems like an odd reason for a film major to want to do a movie, but seriously, that's pretty much why I do anything.

Anyway, in order to fully illustrate the whole experience, I need to take you through the events step-by-step:

* - Several weeks ago, Brom suggested we go on this casting call for this Bruce Willis they'll be filming in Boston this summer. While there, we were told the premise of the film; in the future, everyone has a robot surrogate (played by us) who does everything for them, while the people sit around, presumably getting fat. At one point, all of the robots get turned off, so our job as extras was to pretend to fall as if we had been turned off. It was actually kind of fun, especially when one of the female surrogates who was wearing a rather short dress was turned off, and we all learned that apparently surrogates don't wear undergarments. Anyway, we were told that we fell well, and we would be contacted for shooting on June 29th.

* - On June 26th, we received an e-mail saying that filming was on. Nothing like giving us some notice. Brom texted me to say that I needed to respond quickly because it is first come, first served. However, I know a little about the film business, and I interpreted the e-mail more like this: "PLEASE COME! PLEASE HELP US! PLEASE!" We were told in the e-mail that we would receive another e-mail on Saturday evening with the call time and location. Yeah, because I live for this and have nothing better to do. We were also told to wear business/casual dress.

* - The ungodly call time was 6:30 a.m. and the location was down by South Station. Brom picked me up down there and then we drove to what we thought was the set. We were given knee and elbow pads and (when necessary) business attire. Apparently, this time we would be falling on actual cement. Glad I wore my nice jacket. We were also given a number according to their notes on how good we fell. Brom and I received "1's," which was apparently only second to an "X." I thought that boded well for us. I was wrong.

* - We then stood in line for awhile for hair & make-up. As is usually the case, the longer this line is, the more they weed out people who really don't need hair & make-up done. A lady walked through the line and on her second pass, tells me I look good and to go sit in extras holding. Damn straight. We were then bussed to the actual set in Liberty Square, and told to wait in holding, unattended, in a bar called Central 37. Holding was in a bar. I found this interesting, except for the fact that it was still about 8:00 in the morning and I'm not that much of an alcoholic.

* - Around 9:00 or so, they called us together to give us very little information. We were then given different designations (A, B or C) according to where we happened to be standing at the time. The 1's and X's suddenly meant nothing. Oh, no. My dreams of stardom dashed.

* - Finally, around 9:30, we were brought to set. Brom and I were given empty briefcases so we could look like we were heading to work, and told to stand against a wall while they place everyone. While there, we were both actually crapped on by a bird. I admittedly overreacted to this as I screamed to the heavens, "Sons-of-bitches!" I was half-joking, but I was honestly kind of afraid that nobody would bother doing anything about it because we were just extras. I don't think the crew got the joke, because they were trying to calm me down while we waited for some help. Eventually, a nice wardrobe guy came over to wipe the shit off. He was very pleasant and rather gay and when I remarked at what a crappy job this must be, he said he's seen worse, having washed extras' underwear. The glamorous world of Hollywood movie-making. (At this point, I remembered my experience of making that movie in Indiana, where one of my tasks was wiping birdshit off of a tombstone for a shot. I seriously wanted credit for that one.)

* - For the next several hours, until lunch, we squatted for rehearsals and actually pretended to fall for actual shots. I really wished I had stolen a beer at that point. During one fall, Brom fell backwards and landed on my briefcase, and we started laughing uncontrollably. I wonder if in the final cut you'll be able to see two dots in the background laughing.

* - After lunch (which wasn't bad), I sat around holding and socialized with several fellow extras (Brom is much better at this than I am, which is probably why he had a better time than I did.) I even did sneak a quick nip of Bass into a coffee cup before the actual employees of the bar showed up and made sure people weren't doing that. I found this part of the day quite extraordinary, actually. You meet so many people who are aspiring actors, models, filmmakers. You rarely meet people like me, who just need a little easy cash. I know if you try you may meet someone who can introduce you to someone who knows someone who might actually give you a break one day, but I can't help thinking that being an extra in a movie is about as far away from actual film making as you can get. It's sort of like me saying I'm a professor just because I work at a university. There's something sort of inspiring about it, however, to see these young-ins trying to make it in the fucked-up Hollywood system, despite living 3,000 miles from Hollywood.

* - As the hours wore on, my interest started to wane. Around 6:00 or so, the skies opened, and I thought that would finally be it. Surely they won't film in the rain. Well, in fact, they waited it out, and asked anyone who was completely in clothes that belonged to the production company to hang out and fall some more. At this point, I lost all interest, and even when the ground pretty much dried and they called out my group, I declined. Instead, I ventured to the bar across the street (still wearing knee and elbow pads) and had a quick beer. As I announced my destination, a few extras who were out front smoking asked, "Is that allowed?" I told them I didn't care, and a few minutes after I got there, I they entered. Seriously, for these movie people to assume that they can keep 200 people standing around for 15 hours and we would never leave for a few minutes for a quick libation is just ridiculous.

(I actually have heard that this is a problem in LA with extras, where they apparently show up, sign in, go to the easily accessible beach and sleep for awhile, and then go back and sign-out at the end and get paid for a day's work. Honestly, if it wasn't for the stupid elbow pads, I would have done it. No wonder these movies are all over-budget.)

* - Finally, sometime after 8:00 p.m., we wrapped and were very slowly bussed (and vanned) back to wardrobe to turn in our crap and sign out. This, of course, takes forever, because while they stagger the call times in the morning, they let everyone go at the same time at night, so 200 people are all trying to get their pay vouchers signed at once. Also, they apparently are required by law to feed us every 8 hours, so they broke for the day at around the 7:45 mark and let us go without feeding us. Other than a few crackers, basically nobody ate from the 1:00 lunch break until they let us go. My voucher reads that signed in at 6:30 and signed out at 9:30, with an hour taken out for lunch. Cheapskates.

I'm not really sure how I feel about all this. I want to hate it and say that I'll never do it again, but there are worse ways to make money. As a would-be filmmaker, however, it makes me a little sad. I look back on almost every movie experience I've ever had, and some of them make great stories, but what does it amount except a pile of unhappy memories? Hours, even days, of sitting around, waiting for something to happen, and then when something happens, usually nothing happens. At least if you're on the crew, you have some idea when something may actually happen and when you can sit back and relax (although, most of them seem like the least relaxed people I've ever seen.) I guess it's that sheer disappointment that film making is not nearly as cool as I thought it would that taints the whole experience. Brom had fun because he enjoys the people and it's something new and different. All I get is a little depressed that this what I went to school for and wanted to do with my life and I always find it incredibly disorganized and boring. I wish it were different, but it's not and so now I plug in laptops all day long.

Honestly, I think Dursin came out ahead on this one.

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