Friday, July 16, 2010

Agony and Ecstasy

Date: July 2010
Job: None
Location: Nowhere

May and June turned out to be a busy time for the world of film and TV in Victoria. I had seven days’ work in seven weeks. I had to turn down five jobs in one week because I couldn’t take time off work. (A bit different from the one and a half days’ work in my first six months) And now, nothing. It’s been four weeks since my last call and I’m going through withdrawal.

I repeatedly check my phone and my emails for my next fix. In the meantime I write this blog and apply for unpaid speaking roles in student films. So far I’ve got three auditions. Seems there’s a lot of ‘mum’ roles. Could be good experience. Anyway, I’ll let you know what happens. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Horses' Mouths

Date: June 2010
Job: The Cup
Location: Flemington Race Course

I recently spent spent two days shooting a film about the Melbourne Cup, manoeuvring into the front row of the crowd at the mounting yard and strategically positioning myself in the grandstand in direct relation to the camera and the leads. I have become quite adept at ‘being seen’. I’ve also become a superficial, self-absorbed, competitive attention seeker. I am truly ashamed.

Okay. Now, I’ll tell you how I got my face in The Age! Yes, that’s right! There’s an article with some photos of filming in progress, including Stephen Curry just before he got thrown off the substandard nag they have cast in the lead horse role. In fact many of the horses look mangy and second class. But back to me. There’s a large photo of the crowd in their Cup splendour (had to go shopping again) and I’m right in the front row behind the fake roses. Okay, my dad had trouble picking me out but it’s me alright and I look fabulous in my hat, if I do say so myself. Never mind that I was FREEZING. It’s mid winter (not the warm spring day it’s mean to be) and all the women’s heels are sinking into the water logged lawn. Oh, those poor young things in their strappy dresses and strappy shoes and bare legs! The day pretty much goes like this: ‘Coats off!’, wait shivering until we hear ‘Background!’, then smile, chat, applaud, sip fake champagne then, ‘Cut!’, hastily throw coats back on. As the shoot progresses and the women realise no-one can see their feet they exchange their super stilettos for ug boots, which adds an interesting touch to their ensembles.

There are about three hundred of us and the queues at arrival, lunch and leaving are a pain (I earn an extra twenty dollars standing in line for an hour waiting to sign out, though). Once again the camaraderie helps while the day away and I pick up lots of useful tips on the industry. I meet a theatre critic, a would-be film maker and lots of would-be actors as well some people off the street. One of these is Peter, who looks like a fair dinkum punter in his tweed trilby and moustache. Turns out he is. He was helping a mate paint the logos on the mounting yard lawn the day before and he and his young offsider were ‘spotted’. We couple up from time to time. He’s a retired principal so we have a bit in common but in schools the word ‘extra’ has a much more negative connotation, let me tell you! Then there’s the young girl who never stops telling everyone how much she knows about horses (this goes on for two days) and a short, elderly Italian woman who pushes into the front of the crowd when filming and tries to push in front of me in the coffee queue but I stand my ground. She seems to think she’s an endearing, eccentric character. She’s not. Peter and I watch with amusement as the short, elderly Italian woman and a short, elderly Russian woman have an argument. The Russian has also committed the extra mortal sin (that’s ‘extra’ mortal, not extra-mortal) by asking Stephen Curry to sign an autograph and pose for a photo. Tsk, tsk.

After lunch on the second day we all change into black and white for ‘Darby Day’. Filming continues til dark when they bring in lights and a large reflective screen. I head home worn out from the early starts and long days of standing around!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Training Reels

Date: May 2010
Job: Training Video
Location: Suburban office

I’ve heard other extras talking about doing ‘training videos’ and now it’s my turn. I arrive at the office and meet the crew of two. The director says, ‘So you’re an actor, right?’ Not wanting to disappoint or lie to him, I mumble something about 'doing bits and pieces'. I feel like an impostor. Which is a bit like an actor, right?

I’m playing an OHS officer who’s using a DVD on workplace safety. So it’s a training video about a training video. I have to fiddle with the computer and pretend to have a telephone conversation. Easy peasy.

Except that I can’t seem to lower the fancy office chair. But neither can they, so they bring in another one. I find it hard to 'show warmth' towards a workplace safety video (now I know how actors in TV commercials feel) and in each take I have trouble closing the DVD case. Then when they do a close up of me operating the mouse my hand gets stage fright. It becomes completely unco and my middle finger dances a random solo with every click.

We move into the ‘board room’. The director’s assistant sticks on a hard hat and they rope in a guy from the warehouse and a female employee. I have to improvise running a meeting with staff. Fortunately I rock at this (it’s just like teaching, only without the abuse) and really show those amateurs how it’s done. After all, I am the professional actor here.

I change out of my suit in the ladies’ toilets, wedged between the basin, the hand-dryer and the cubicle door. I’ll have to have a word to them about a caravan.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Swinging in the 70's

Date: May 2010
Job: Eye of the Storm
Location: City

Seven weeks after the ad I do a film set in the 1970s so costume and make-up are provided, which is kind of fun. At the unit base I dress in a tent (no, I don’t wear a tent, that was late 70s, this is early 70s) and later I’m called into another tent to have my hair and make-up done. Of course the stars, like Geoffrey Rush, have a caravan. Sigh. One day.

Eventually a mini bus ferries us to the location, a posh Italian restaurant a few blocks away. We extras sit out on the street chatting, a habit we've all developed to pass the time. Should I be offended that they’ve married me to a grey-haired man in his late 50s when I’m… much younger? Not to worry, he’s a handsome, articulate man, and a good conversationalist. Once inside I am a little disappointed to find we are placed in a booth right at the back of the restaurant. Then they have the audacity to take my husband away and give me another! We find out later my second husband’s modern crew cut is the reason for his demotion from a table near the leads to one right up the back with me. There are lots of riotous jokes about wife swapping. Hubby #2 and I are left to our own devices as we realise, despite what the agitated AD tells us, we are not even in shot. The huge, and I mean huge, vase of flowers between us and the camera is a dead give away. So much for ‘being seen.’ And the trouble they went to dress me in this lovely orange knitted suit with gold trim and matching gold handbag and shoes and jewellery, not to mention my flicked back hair! So we sit there with our plates of cold pasta and glasses of grape juice playing ‘Pass the pepper. Which pepper? Oh, that pepper.’ (I’ll have to show you one day. Hours of fun.) and exchanging personal trivia in hushed tones.

Later I am given some herb cigarettes to smoke and my spouse and I work out a routine involving lighting my smoke with a candle, as we are thrilled to find his face and the back of my head will be blurs in the distance! Moving up in the world. The trouble is the cigarettes will not butt out and I have to keep replacing them and after several takes I realise I’ve smoked a whole pack. And I don’t even smoke! I try to hold the cigarette elegantly like I’ve seen in movies when it was considered cool, but I end up spilling ash everywhere. By the time we are finished there is a plate of pasta smothered in pepper, a mountain of cigarette butts in the ash tray and a table cloth mysteriously littered with grey filth and candle wax.

At lunch the extras are the last to eat, as industry propriety decrees, and I struggle to find things that satisfy. Against my better judgement, I eat a corn cob and have bits stuck in my teeth for the rest of the afternoon. Not that it matters. I could smear tomato sauce all over my face and it wouldn’t be seen.

During an afternoon break I see ‘The Rush’ sitting alone and decide to say hello. After all, we met just a few weeks before, at which time he chatted amiably with my daughter. I ask whether he remembers. He does. Then I stupidly tell him he looks tired. ‘Oh, we’ve been filming here today.’ ‘I know,’ I answer, ‘I’m one of the extras.’ I don't usually dress like this, you know.

The wardrobe people arrive and give us new outfits. We are re-arranged at the other end of the restaurant so that the camera can film the same scene from a different angle. I end up with an elderly gentleman. This time I’m facing the camera and actually within view of the leads! (Glad I didn’t go with the tomato sauce idea after all.) An AD tells me I’m a PA out to lunch with my boss. His ‘wife’ is now sitting at another table. More jokes about naughty goings on. ‘The boss’ and I chat between takes but when they yell ‘background!’ he will not make eye contact and, given we are miming, it’s impossible to co-ordinate our ‘talking’ and ‘listening’. So I give up and do my own thing.

It’s well after 7 pm by the time we get out of there. I whip off my costume and head off to a private screening of the docudrama I was in (see The Trial and Error, June), which is coincidentally showing at a nearby restaurant. I am wearing my 70s hair and make up but it’s not til much later that I realise I am also wearing a gold necklace that I have inadvertently stolen from wardrobe. Pity it wasn't the suit. That would have been something.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Being Seen

Date: March 2010
Location: Point Nepean.

There are two hundred extras on set, pretending to watch a cycling race. We’ve been here since 7.30 am, (after meeting at Springvale Station at 5.15!) and won’t leave until after 5 pm. Most are young things and there are quite a few hotties of both genders. And then there are the cyclists in their lycra. We have to cheer them on. And on. All day. Up to ten times in one position. We’ve all got the same thing in mind. Be seen. So I observe extras of all ages grabbing their spot by the barricades and guarding them fiercely. Some move in on others’ territory. I hang back with Rob, who I met on the set of The Trial (see The Trial and Error, June). But he’s tall. If I’m going to be seen I’ve got to get into the gap between two shortish pretty girls. So I cheer and clap and jump up and down as the cyclists and the camera on the back of a quad bike go whizzing past and lose my balance and fall forward onto the pretty young thing in front. I apologise, but in the next take she’s gone. More room for me. But then another pretty young thing slips in and I’m back in the second row with Rob. It seems the front row is getting more full with every take. Everyone has the same idea. But who are we trying to kid? All we will see when the ad hits the screen is a blur of faces or a split second glimpse of ourselves as we say to anyone who will listen, ‘There I am!’

So that's what it's all about. Being seen. I’ve been doing extra work for twelve months now and I’m yet to see myself on screen. The Trial has been banned in Victoria and in Rush you'd have to play it in slow-motion on a super HD wide screen with ultra zoom to see me! In the bank ad - you know, the cycling race I've just been talking about (you mean you didn‘t get the connection??)- you see about a quarter of the extras who were there and they’re just a blur, as I expected. In the first job I did on Offspring (see The Mouths of Babes, June) I thought, ooh, this is good. There's only four extras and three leads in a relatively intimate scene. Then they give me a cap to wear. And a surgical mask. Great. Then in the third job the medical expert says I don’t need to wear a mask and I think ‘woohoo!’ (or was it ‘yippee’?) but they stick one on me anyway simply because Dr Don is wearing one. I mean, it's not for me to question their artistic decisions, but whatever happened to authenticity? Really.

Now I don't want you getting the wrong idea. It's not like being seen is my main aim in life, but it would be nice. Of course, much of the work I’ve done recently is still in some stage of production and in some of it, hey, I’m not even wearing a mask, so fingers crossed.