Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Say Good-bye to Hollywood

Date: February 2010
Job: Neighbours Audition
Location: Casting Office

It’s day one of a new teaching job, the week before classes start, and out of the blue I get a call telling me I’ve got an audition for a well known soapie on Tuesday at 2.15. I know I can’t say no and I don’t really want to but it’s during the first week of classes at a new school and I’m worried about asking for time off. Luckily the co-ordinator is fine about it. In fact, he turns out to be very supportive as the year goes on. I think he likes the idea of associating with an actor. Not that I would describe myself as an actor. Background artiste I think I’m called.

The script is emailed to me and I learn my lines. It’s a scene about an internet date. My character is pretending to be somebody she’s not. Ooh, intrigue. A soapie within a soapie. Just like Shakespeare. I practise at home, not really knowing how they want it. Comic or mysterious? It’s hard work getting it to sound natural so I practise with my husband, who has not one acting sinew in his body, but somehow it helps. My daughter cannot understand how someone like me could get an audition. I'm not sure myself.

I go along to the audition deliberately wearing something I think the character would wear, that is, something middle aged (no idea how it got in my wardrobe). I am led into a tiny white walled room with a chair, a video camera and a computer on a small desk. Hollywood here I come. The camera checks me out like a mechanical sleaze, its single eye vertically scanning my body, right down to my fat, sweaty little toes (it’s hot, okay) and back up again. I wish I’d worn something a bit more se-I mean, attractive. I think the camera would have been impressed. I play the scene with a woman who performs both the role of the male character and the camera operator. For some reason I find it a little hard to act like we’re on a date. She gives me a bit of direction, we run through it a few times and then it’s thanks and good-bye.

I realise my chances of winning the role are slim due to my lack of experience, which is a relief because I don’t know how I will get time off work and I’m afraid people will laugh at me for being on the soapie. It’s not as if it’s an aspiration of mine. On the other hand, what a great opportunity! And after all, look at all the actors who started out in soapies and made it big in Hollywood. There’s heaps... Really.

Okay, I’ll get back to you.

Unlike the casting lady. Alas, soapie stardom will have to wait for another day.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Trial and Error

Date: June 2009
Job: The Trial
Location: City

I’d like to take you back. Back to a time when I was a mere, green, fledgling extra. Back to a time when…
Yes, that’s right. I scored what every extra hopes for-a speaking role-on my first job! How did I do it, you ask? Can they gauge one's talent from a photo on a casting website or was it just a fluke? The latter, no doubt. Here’s what happened:

I arrive at the location, the County Courthouse, ahead of the appointed time, as advised by my agent. We’re doing a docudrama on a big trial and I’m the jury forewoman. I have been reading some background notes on the case that I got from the internet, on the train. I meet a man called Rob who knows nothing about the job but has been doing extra work for years, so while we wait for the crew to set up I fill him on some background and he entertains me with stories of his extra work over the years. (I hear some of the same stories a few months later when we meet on the set of a TV commercial!) He tells me he’s nervous. So far, I’m not.
The crew is quite small and the atmosphere relaxed, which is not exactly what I expected, but suits me fine. I am given my lines, which basically consist of ‘Guilty’, ‘Not guilty’. (There are several defendants). I feel quite at home on set. I have seen lots of ‘behind the scenes’ footage of films, but still I am surprised that I am so relaxed. I try to pretend that I have done this a hundred times and realise I may have pulled this off when two of the crew tell me I look familiar. They ask me what I’ve done lately and was I on ‘Rainer’ (which, I discover later, is another docudrama). I answer with deliberate vagueness, lest they discover I am a novice, saying the last thing I did was a long time ago. (Thirty years, in fact!-I was in a short film). We film several shots from different angles and I pretend I am a jury forewoman in real life, rather than trying to act the part. This naturalistic approach seems to be what they want. In fact, when I am called back to do another half day’s filming a couple of weeks later, the director has to tell one of the actors playing a lawyer to ‘pull it back a bit.’ I use some things that I learnt in my screen acting course earlier in the year, like adding a look or something at the end of a take (which the director comments on favourably!), and giving something for the other actors to work off. So I listen attentively in the jury box as they film the lawyer (Rob) giving his spiel and he rewards me by looking at me and laughing when they film me listening to him, and I have to really control myself to keep a straight face. Thanks Rob. (But it’s okay, because they didn’t use his shots in the final cut! However, he did get paid twelve times what I did, for about four times the lines!)
It’s all quite civilised and we have lattes and yummy cakes and biscuits for afternoon tea. I chat to one of the crew, the art director, about his film making.
When I leave I feel on top of the world. I’ve just done my first professional acting job! I leave the courthouse and walk though the city streets in my high heels and smile at a strange man in a suit who smiles back. I feel good.
Na na na na na na na.

When I get called back I wonder if it’s because I stuffed up, but I am assured I ‘was fine’. This time there’s a bigger crew and more actors playing lawyers and jury members. There are even some actors who I recognise! And I’m acting alongside them! One poor man, who looks the part with his white hair and beard and lawyer’s gown, looks terribly nervous and cannot do his lines with any sort of conviction. He’s obviously an extra with no real acting ability. After all, simply signing up to be an extra is no guarantee of any skill! I feel for him, though, and try to will him to get it right, to no avail.
Later in the year I scour the Green Guide every week to see if the docudrama is screening. I am going to be on TV! With lines! But it appears I’ve missed it. Finally, months later, I discover a blog that informs me that the film screened all around Australia, but not in Victoria due to legal reasons. (I do get invited to a private screening in March however, and now have a DVD of the film.) Anyway, after six months of being an extra all I’ve seen of myself is a reflection in a window and a figure in the distance!

One day I will be seen.

PS: Update
You can find The Trial here:

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Mouths of Babes

Date: June 2010
Job: Offspring
Location: The former PANCH

We're filming a new 13 part TV show about an obstetrician. This is my third job with this production and, as I did with that independent feature film last year, I'm playing one of the 'medical staff'. Must be getting typecast. Are they underestimating my range? Hm. It's a four hour call and the last time I was here, I put on a nurse's uniform and walked across the car park a few times then went home. Okay, it's harder than it sounds. No, really. We changed positions three times, we had to time our walking and the AD was a bit grumpy.
You're right. It was pretty easy.
There is a young woman of African descent who I've met on five different sets. She walked across the car park too. She told me she's going to America to try and get work there. Good luck.
Anyway, today we are filming another caeserian scene in the operating theatre, just as I did in my first job on this show. This time we're using both fake babies and real babies! Again I'm in scrubs and tending to the newborn alongside the paediatrician played by Don Hany. Forget Dr Dreamy, this is Dishy Dr Don. He's actually lovely to work with. The first scene is quite straightforward. The next is not. We practise the procedure with the dummy. (Dummy baby, that is) Check baby's heart beat using the stethoscope, while Doc tries to revive it with the 'bag'. Share a look. It's not good news. Take over pumping oxygen bag while Dr Don administers injection into fake placenta. Baby revives. Dr Don looks meaningfully at Nina (Asher Keddie). Happy ending. Yay.
I hope to goodness I don't stuff it up.
There are lots of rehearsals and direction from the director and instructions from a midwife, the medical expert on set. It's actually quite intense, especially when they bring in the real baby (his first big break in television) and he's crying and it's hard to make it look like we're reviving him. Dishy Dr Don puts his gloved finger in the little baby's mouth and he sucks on it contentedly for a while. The baby must like the taste of latex. They cover both the fake baby and the real baby in jam and other slimy stuff. The real baby does a real poop. Fortunately it's just a little bit but the noise is pretty funny. Yeah, I know, small things... Then Dr Don makes me laugh again when the fake baby's penis falls off and he puts it in the baby's mouth like a dummy. Small things, alright! The good thing is I get to look into Dr Don's very nice eyes when we share looks of concern.
Anyway, it works out pretty well. But the takes with the real baby feel quite different from the those with the fake baby. Hope the editors do their job.

Dr Don and I certainly did ours.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Copping It Sweet

Date: March 2010.
Job: City Homicide
Location: South Melbourne

I'm at a studio in the city for a four hour 'call'. I'm playing a social worker. It's been a few hours since breakfast and I'm feeling a bit peckish. One of the regular extras, a petite and pretty 'cop' (not sure how believable that is) shows me where there's coffee and fruit. I grab a tiny apple and wait outside the set with the others (a male and female 'uniform', a male detective and an Asian female detective who looks about 19 and is so tiny the suit is just about falling off her--not sure how believable that is, either!). There's no rush. You always have to wait. I should know. I'm a professional. But then someone comes over and says, 'Can you all come with me.' I'm munching on the apple, it's yummy and I don't want to throw it in the bin. The next thing I know, I'm on set, a police interview room, and Nadine Garner comes over and introduces herself heartily. I put the apple core in my other hand and she shakes my apple juiced hand. I apologise for it. She's intense and has amazing blue eyes. They start filming. No-one's told me what to do, apart from where to sit, and I've got an apple core in my hand along with folders and a pen that they've given me. So I go with the flow. Thank goodness it's only a rehearsal. I look for a bin just outside the set but can't see one. A crew member comes in and fiddles with a wire so I ask him what to do and he takes it from me. Phew.

The scene is quite a dramatic one involving a 'minor'. Finally someone gives me some direction. I'm told to share a glance with the second detective at a particular point in the scene. On the second take I miss it altogether. Oops. I concentrate really hard so I don't miss it the next time. But I'm not sure it 'feels right.' At home I repeat the 'glance' in the mirror. No! I did it all wrong. It should have been a quick, 'It's okay' sort of glance, not a slow ponderous, 'Hm, I'm not sure about that' sort of glance. I'm kicking myself. You might actually get to see me on TV this time. Hopefully my failure is not too obvious. Did Meryl Streep ever doubt herself like this?

I resolve to do better next time.

Surviving Amateurs

Date: December 2009.
Job: Surviving Georgia
Location: Warburton

An independent feature film called Surviving Georgia is being made in our area and they're looking for local extras who are prepared to offer their services for free. My daughter and I volunteer by email and I make sure they know I have 'experience'. We turn up at the golf club for a wedding reception scene along with a heap of locals, mostly retired people because it's a week day. The young man we've brought with us is selected to be the groom because the suit doesn't fit the person they had in mind! He has to come back for another day and do the ceremony. All unpaid. Anyway, after hours of waiting around on this cold morning, a small group of us is selected to do an outdoor scene. We are told to mingle, sip wine (apple juice) and mime conversing with one another. So I 'chat' brightly with my co-extras and act like I'm the queen of the party, while Holly Valance and Shane Jacobson do their scene. We mime saying 'peas and carrots' and 'Auntie Mable's got cancer'. An old lady that I've never met and I kiss each other and act like we've known each other for years. They yell 'cut' and the DA comes over and tells me to 'tone it down a bit'! I realise I've been overacting, as if I'm on stage, and probably compensating for the fact that I can't talk. I feel a bit stupid. But fortunately I get a chance to redeem myself.

I come back to do a hospital scene. A baby is being delivered. The scrubs don't fit the person who's supposed to be the doctor so I get the part. Cool! But all I have to do, after waiting for a while trying to make conversation with extras who seem to think they know more than me, even though they are amateurs, and hearing a crew member rave on about the plight of Australian movies, is walk down a corridor, away from the camera, as Pia Miranda walks past. Hope my bum looks good in scrubs. We do a take. I've been told to walk with purpose. So I walk like I'm at work. (I'm a teacher and always in a hurry. Except when I'm on yard duty.) For the next take I'm told to start further back and walk more slowly. More slowly? This is hard to do, to find the balance between purpose and casual self assurance. This is not walking with purpose as I know it. I have to really concentrate. I think of Stanislavski and muster my acting skills.

Somehow, I manage.