You’ll Never Work in this Town Again

1 Oct

So here’s an interesting episode.

Last Sunday I spent most of the morning on set supervising my choreography during shooting for Other People’s Musicals. My friend and I finished up a bit early so we could get to our matinee performance of Sweeney on time.

My friend, who’s a little more in touch with the film side of things around town, had plans to hit up some kind of casting call at North Dekalb mall, and asked if I’d like to go with her.

Now let me say that North Dekalb mall is right next to my childhood home. I’ve been there through its devolution into what it is now, which is to say, rather crummy. The kind of events they hold there are pagaents for babies with names like “Little Miss Bootilicious.” Even at much nicer malls like Perimeter the only “casting calls” I’ve seen are those fake modeling things where they try to get you to sign up and take classes.

So that’s what I was expecting. But not at all what I found. The casting people had set up shop in an annex of the mall admin offices. Although a movie theatre rope was set across the entrance as if to form a line, there wasn’t anyone in it. In fact, there were only a few people in the whole room and they were mostly running the thing. As soon as we walked in we were acosted by two genial guys whose garrelous, quipy conversations had the feel of a gag sketch. I expected to have to slate for a camera or at least take a picture, but they simply asked us our schedules for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

“This coming weekend?”
“Well, yeah. And do you have a car?”
“We need you. Thursday and Friday. And we need you Saturday. Where are you girls from?”
“London.” (my friend with the much more interesting answer jumps in first.)
“Like really England? See, we need some people with cars. We pay you for your car. Are you a good driver?”

A small sample of the conversation. Although I never at any time felt sketched out (how could I after the “films” I’ve worked on) I didn’t realize how legit it was until somebody handed me a non-equity I9 with the letterhead of a big LA casting agency at the bottom.

Keep in mind, I walked in this door spur-of-the-moment. At the time, I didn’t even know what the call was for, other than for some kind of camera work. I had been up since 6 am that morning, had on vestiges of last night’s stage makeup, and was wearing a shirt that read “I Got Backstage” in glittery letters.
During the course of our 15 minute or so discussion, I learned that the call was for extra work on a feature film with some A-lister stars attached. They needed people for an airport scene to be filmed downtown–we were even going to be paid to bring a carry on bag. This was all to take place the following Thursday and Friday, from morning to midnight. Saturday they were doing some kind of scene with cars (hence all the questions about driving.)
Earlier I had mentioned that I had a day job, but that I could potentially take vacation days. I was thinking the filming wouldn’t be until next month or so. We found out in short order what they really meant. Because of Sweeney, we rendered ourselves unavailable for Saturday. My friend had classes on Thursday which evidently took her out the running for the whole thing. I was about halfway through completing the I9 by now, and was having more and more trouble seeing how this was going to work out. Meanwhile, these two casting guys, ripped right out of an episode of Entourage, are tossing around tidbits of information interspersed with unsavory Jew jokes.

I left with absolutely no idea what was going on. They had said “see you both later,” and I hadn’t finished filling out the I9, definitely hadn’t signed it. Hadn’t signed anything. But I had filled out an information form with my email and telephone number on it. Neither of them seemed to know any information about when and where to be for the shoot itself; there was brief mention of an email but nothing solid to go on. My friend and I laughed a little about the odd experience and headed to our show.

Over the next couple of days, I did keep an eye on my email, as I always do, and nothing. In my mind, I was imagining the hordes of people that were most likely signed up to be extras on this shoot, and that a person they’d only seen for a few minutes, who hadn’t even finished filling out the forms, would get lost in the shuffle. I probably wouldn’t even be seen in the final edit anyway.

So big eyeroll this morning when I got to work and sitting in my inbox is an email with all the details, down to where to park and what food there will be, for the shoot today. This email was sent at 9pm the previous night with a 6am call time. Once again, I feel like I’m being punished for my lack of technology. Unless I had a Blackberry, I wouldn’t have gotten this message in time (Hello? Even if I wasn’t at rehearsal, which I was, who would be on the computer during prime time TV? Glee is on for crying out loud!). Forget two weeks, I couldn’t even have given work 2 hours notice–and there was no gurantee I would be paid more than a day at the office. Plus, I have rehearsal tonight.

Now I honest-to-goodness thought they would not miss me. Surely there’s a ton of people in Atlanta they can grab to stand around with a bag, especially when they don’t even have to be an actor.

Evidently I was wrong.

Right around 9 am, a full three hours after the call time, my phone rings two times in a row. I don’t answer my cell at work, because it’s unprofessional, A), and generally the only unknown numbers that call me are doctors offices and recordings from Blockbuster reminding me to bring back my DVDs. But I decided to listen to the message in case it was an emergency with Patrick. Well, I’m sure you’ve guessed who it was. Somebody from the set, not sure he even mentioned his name, saying they were wondering where I was and to call back right away. Click. No number to call, no further instructions, no name.

Oh, geez. Immediately, that feeling I used to get in elementary school when I got my name written on the board came over me. But honestly, what was I supposed to do? They were about as clear as muddy water with what was going on from the get-go, and hey, I have a steady paying job that I’m desperately trying to hang on to. I even have a work meeting today. Not as glamourous, perhaps, as standing around for 18 hours pretending to go through security, but I have responsibilities! I have animals to feed! Besides, he didn’t even leave a phone number to return his call. I would just have to chalk it up to some weird ass communication error.

About 10 minutes later the phone rang again. I ignored the call. (If I wasn’t so flipped out about it, I might find it flattering how badly they seem to want me as an extra.) No message this time. Right now I’m imagining my headshot and resume, along with my little form, being slipped into a big black file of People Who Will Never Work in Professional Film Ever Ever Because They are Unprofessional AWOLERS.

I’ve never really though I would pursue a Hollywood career, because I don’t like the LA scene–I would prefer to work in New York. But still, you don’t want to burn bridges.

I’m actually more concerned with how this whole thing reflects on Southeastern actors in general. I’d hate to think all those studio exec types to dismiss Atlanta talent as either unprofessional or stupid.

If only I could keep this from going on my permanent record.


One Response to “You’ll Never Work in this Town Again”

  1. Jerry Jobe October 1, 2009 at 1:27 pm #

    Hey, Janie. I don't think I told you about my experience with extra work. Pull up a chair…

    Way back in '78 there was a TV movie named “Summer of My German Soldier” filming in Crawfordville, east of Atlanta. I was at UGA at the time and they came to the drama department looking for extras to play POWs (this is German POWs being kept in America during the war). I was, at the time, very blond and very thin, so I was one of those chosen. I was costumed and then they cut my hair so I could look the part. Cut my hair – easier to say they shaved my head, since the stubble remaining was about a quarter of an inch long.

    The next day, I went to the set. Had a nice time speaking with the male lead, Bruce Davison, who could not have been more pleasant. Several hours of waiting later, we were called together – and paid off. Seems they weren't going to be needing us after all.

    Coda to the story: At Dragon*Con this year I had the opportunity to speak with Bruce Davison once again. He remembered the situation immediately (though not me personally – let's not get carried away). He told me how bad he felt about it, and that even the director had wanted to shoot some of our scenes, even if they did get cut.

    This whole story is to say that the use of extras is normally one of the moist unorganized parts of the movie business. There is no big book, there is no permanent record. They have a need for bodies, but that can change on a moment's notice. If you make it through, you get a credit you can put on your resume. It's a very lackadaisical system, and does not meet the standards of professionalism that you think you might have breached.

    Have a great day!

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