On Monday I worked as an extra in a movie called Boulevard H which is supposed to come out next year. The most official synopsis I’ve been able to find is “a group of wannabe actors who collectively follow an eccentric and volatile acting coach. The students are held back by autism, old age, dwarfism, paralysis, egotism, and delusions of grandeur.”
I got the email confirming my booking five hours before the call time so I only slept three hours. If I hadn’t been getting three hours or less of sleep the last three nights, that wouldn’t have been a memorable detail for me.
The email only told men to wear “semi-formal” which is the most vague wardrobe description possible. I threw on the suit I wore at my show last Saturday, shoved a tie in my pocket (just in case) and went to the shoot.
We’re playing audience members at the play the characters put on. I’m sitting in the third row at the far right. The actors are running their lines on the stage and it’s legitimately a very funny scene, leading me to believe that the movie must not have a very large budget (it doesn’t). One of the lead actors is also the director / writer. A mammoth headache begins to roll in as I realize I should have eaten a lot more for breakfast than a handful of pretzel sticks. The director’s assistant is pointing at me and telling me to move to the front row, rightmost seat, then later moves me again two seats to the left. He later thanks the front row extras for dressing properly. Okay, so that’s what “semi-formal” means.
After three hours of positioning and rehearsal, the crew is finally ready to start rolling cameras. Loud booming chords of music play from the other side of the ballroom doors. We’re all confused, nobody mentioned this.
“Mood, you think?” the girl to my left asks me. She’s a very pretty college student who told me earlier this is her sixth film she’s done background work on and that she’s excited because it’s the first project that she hasn’t been cast as “student” in.
“That, or maybe the fanfare before the play?” I say.
“Doesn’t the old lady play the fanfares on the trumpet?” she says. And she’s right, that’s one of the funniest parts of the whole scene.
“That’s true — say, why do the director and crew look as confused as the rest of us?” I ask.
“You think there’s something else going on out there?” she asks.
It was a conversation of questions, one of many going on between the cast, crew and 100 extras. Finally I hear the assistant director, a big important looking man with a white beard, talking over the radio and relaying it to the director who is currently wearing chainmail.
“It’s a children’s Christmas concert. The hotel said it’s been planned for a long time. We’ll have to wait until they’re done.” It feels kind of good to know that it doesn’t just happen to my movie, it happens to the bigger deals too.
After an hour of slightly off-key Christmas songs, shooting begins and we’ve all memorized every characters’ lines by the time lunch comes. Five hours later the girl on my left will find out she’s been asked to come back tomorrow to play one of “ten youthful classroom extras” in a different scene.
“So you’re a stu-”
“Shut up. I’m a youthful classroom extra.”
Much later I’m home and looking up articles about background work to see if the experience on this set was an average one or not. I find a particularly lively one and start reading.
It’s an article so long that I end up glancing at the scrollbar to see if I’m as far down as I think I should be by this point. (I’m not. I’m only halfway through.) It’s a phenomenon you may be familiar with. I scroll up to see the post date and I begin to wonder if the author wrote this in one sitting and if not, how many sittings it took. I start thinking about the way I look at articles and realize it extends to any collection of words and, really, anything at all that’s published in any kind of way.
“That Frog Dell’s Junkyard book was certainly a book,” someone says about my book. “When did it come out?”
“It came out in November 2010,” someone else will answer them. And suddenly that book is now locked into that very specific reference point, even though I wrote it in little shreds and giant marathons at various points of time between 1999 and its release in 2010.
“So, this is a November 2010 kind of book then, huh?” said nobody ever. Even still, that’s the kind of referential tint that’s thrown on those sorts of things, at least in my mind. And it’s incorrect.
You are reading this whenever right now is, and you can glance at the header to see that it was published on December 11th 2012 at 4:01 in the afternoon.
This part of this post is being written in a restroom which is in a restaurant I’m really not supposed to be in right now because it’s closed. It’s December 8th 2012 at 1:14 in the morning right now, and I just finished playing a Jak Locke Rock Show at The Boxer & The Barrel next door. I may have drank — a LOT — leading up to the point of me clumsily typing this on an iPhone that doesn’t register half of my keypresses because my fingertips are too calloused.
It is dark in here, and I can hear cymbal crashes, snare drums and throbbing bass guitar notes coming through two walls. Every now and then I can hear Don Puebla saying things, probably mean things, on the microphone to the audience, because that’s what he does. I can’t hear what he’s saying. Mostly I’m waiting to see what my stomach’s next move is going to be after the abuse I’ve put it through today between bad food, cheap beer and twisting my body around for forty-five minutes.
So far I’ve just been standing and leaning against the stall wall, wishing I could peek ahead to see how this ends, because right now there’s definitely a war going on somewhere between my esophagus and my lower intestine, and I’m having a hard time figuring out which direction the front line is advancing.
Almost every nightclub and bar I’ve been to has bathrooms with no doors on the stalls. In situations like this, I like a bathroom that has doors. Just in case.
The pain and nausea eventually pass with no incident. It’s cool and dark in here though and so I spend a few more minutes just enjoying the relative quiet.
After the show’s over, I go to Pepper’s to get some pizza with Israel and find out that everyone else in town apparently had the same idea. It’s getting really late now and I wonder if they’re really going to be able to serve all these people before they have to close in like fifteen minutes.
“Excuse me, are you taking orders?” I ask a girl wearing a black Pepper’s shirt.
“No,” she says. Israel and I notice that there are a couple of people with menus, some even in the process of ordering. The girl keeps staring at us like we just asked her to drive us to the moon.
“Can I take your order?” another girl wearing a red Pepper’s shirt says.
I’m hesitant to answer that. Israel looks at me as if I’d have any explanation. I’m not sure why that annoys me, just that it does.
“She just said you aren’t taking orders,” I tell her, pointing to the first girl.
“*I’m* not taking orders because *I* don’t work *here*,” the first girl says with a proud and disdainful sneer, in a way that suggested working at Pepper’s were the tenth circle of hell Dante couldn’t bear to write about. The second girl, Israel and I all look at her shirt at the same time. She looks down and her face turns red so quick it’s almost creepy. “…oh.”
“I work here,” the second girl beamed. “Can I take your order?”
“Let’s get a pizza,” Israel started to say.
She sucks in some air between her teeth and cringes slightly. “Ooh,” she says. I don’t like the sound of this. “Yeah, we’re going to close in fifteen minutes so we won’t have time to make that.”
I’m looking at the menu and wondering just what can be made and consumed in fifteen minutes. I’m not seeing any candidates.
“Breadsticks?” Israel asks.
“Sorry,” she says, and I really believe her. She really does look sorry about it.
“Sorry,” she says just like before, and I realize it’s just a very very well rehearsed sorry.
Israel just starts going down the menu listing foods he’s heard of. The “sorry” gets more and more humorous to hear as the situation becomes more and more like an early draft of a Monty Python sketch.
We end up getting a bowl of cold banana peppers, a fantastic idea after what my stomach’s been through already. I notice for the first time that except for a handful of tables, everyone else is eating the same thing we are. We’re able to finish three each before they start kicking people out to close.
Did you notice the point where I stopped typing and just pasted the bottom half of a Livejournal entry of mine from 2001?
Good stuff coming, like the EP that I’m totally working on right now instead of typing this. Next time, a post that doesn’t mention pizza at all, which means that only pizza-related things will probably happen to me over the next week or so.