If Daniel Craig were an Athlete, he’d Play Hockey

I just saw an ad for a movie that featured Daniel Craig, and it took me back to my time on the set of Casino Royale. Though the action was theoretically in Miami, we were in Prague in February.

Daniel Craig was a total pro. Easygoing, just another member of the cast, doing his best.

There’s a lot of time between shots in a project like this, and during a break Craig was sparring with his coach (or was it his on-screen adversary? facts are skitterish). Maybe he was working to keep warm, maybe to make the fight scene better.

He hurt his wrist. Not a big injury, not the sort of thing that slows down a pro. When he reported the setback he seemed a little embarrassed about the attention his discomfort brought. I wasn’t in his head at that moment, but I think he might have regretted bringing it up at all. But he’s a pro, and a pro tells his director if there might be a weakness in his game.

Which is totally the opposite of soccer, which I presume through national profiling is Craig’s sport of choice. Can you imagine what a soccer (football, according to Craig’s people) player would do with a minor wrist injury? Lie on the field and cry like a baby, that’s what. Aaaaah! how can I kick a ball with this terrible pain in my wrist?

Note to proponents of the game: get up off the grass and play and maybe you’ll convince me.

There are sports where the ability to shrug off a minor tweak is still valued, but when it comes down to being embarrassed about being hurt, about not wanting to make a deal of it at all except how it might affect your team, then we’re talking hockey. That’s where Craig was that day on set. He was a hockey actor.

Filming Murder, Sincerely

It was a gray Saturday morning in Los Angeles, with the occasional misty rain. My costar and I were running a bit late for our breakfast meet-up with the director, a delay caused largely by my inability to get out of the hotel room with everything I needed. We were both groggy, having not slept well despite a comfortable bed at the Hilton (a hotel whose motto should be “we charge extra for that”). Chalk it up to anticipation for the events of the day.

Yours Truly stretching his acting ability to the limits by putting on shoes

Yours Truly stretching his acting ability to the limits by putting on shoes

Breakfast was nonetheless pleasant. Eggs over-easy (flipped too soon) and decent pancakes at a place called Twain’s on Ventura Boulevard. fuego, Harlean, and I managed to communicate while blessed caffeine worked its magic. fuego told us stories from the previous days of shooting. I’m really looking forward to seeing the other episodes — especially the one I wrote. Eventually fuego had to go pick up our Director of Photography and a bunch of gear. He left us with a map to the day’s location and an hour to kill.

Getting a shot of the prop script over my shoulder

Getting a shot of the prop script over my shoulder

The location was a beautiful house overlooking Universal City. (The sound guy later pointed out the set for ‘Desperate Housewives’ below us.) The crew set to work and they all seemed competent as far as I could tell. While this was not nearly the size of production as “Moonlight Sonata” there was still plenty of stuff to set up. Once again we were shooting on a Red, although the lens kit and lighting package were more modest. The sound guy and his assistant were on the ball. While that was going on my costar/make-up tech went to work on my face. Soon we were ready to shoot.

fuego frames the shot of the producer coming up the stairs

fuego frames the shot of the producer coming up the stairs

The first few shots had no dialog, which was good. It gave me a chance to get comfortable and get in the flow of things. At the same time, I haven’t the slightest idea how my facial expressions work onscreen. Too much? Not enough? I guess I’ll know soon. In the end there were quite a few shots to put the action together, getting me from reading a screenplay up the stairs with an extension cord and into the bathroom where my wife was bathing.

There was a rather long break while the crew put gels over the windows in the bathroom to adjust the light color. Meanwhile Harlean took care of her own makeup and we went over our newly-redrafted lines. (The original lines were overtaken by events, particularly the time of day we could shoot.) Finally everything was ready, the special effects guy and his helper showed up and went to work, and we broke for lunch. At that point I was ready to just get going with the dialog, but the ribs were delicious.

Tinting the bathroom windows.

Tinting the bathroom windows.

The afternoon went smoothly, as far as I could tell. Nobody complained about my acting to my face; and Harlean did a great job — such a good job we added a line to let her exercise her pissed-off/sarcastic vocal tone (the one that will make her all the rage in Hollywood). A blow-dryer took a bath, sparks flew, breakers popped, and I said the line “This is awkward” about a dozen different ways over the course of the shooting.

One thing I can say as an actor, I’m not the sort of guy who complains about doing another take. There’s always something I want to fix about the last performance. In fact, as I sit here now, I think I’d like one more go at the speech that leads up to the blow-dryer toss. I think I could have been a lot more expressive, with more expansive gestures. Generally more mood-swingy, edging toward euphoria.

Preparing the bathtub

Preparing the bathtub

Next time.

The day ended with director, DP, and the two actors enjoying a beer in a Studio City living room, watching the sun set over Universal City. It felt good, having it behind me, having a general feeling that I didn’t mess things up too badly. Over dinner that night we made plans to get back together when a rough edit is done. I wonder what I’ll see.

Note: You can see a bunch more pictures at my gallery.


Return of the Accidental Actor

I haven’t heard from my agent in a while, and I took that to mean that there would be no more random acting gigs for yours truly. Then last night while trying to figure out how to use a particular restaurant for one of the scenes in “Moonlight”, my phone chirped and there was a message from Maya. I had not been purged from her database entirely, though it’s still possible I am in the “emergencies only” bin. Hard to say. They need several people who look American, and I’m one of those.

So word went out last night, and the casting was today. Callbacks are tomorrow, and the commercial will be shot on Saturday. Not long afterwards the ad will hit the American airwaves, and demand for French’s Mustard will skyrocket. fuego and I were speculating why they were in a big hurry, why they had not been able to plan ahead a little better, but in the end there’s no way to tell. Maybe they moved the production to Prague at the last moment. In any case, fuego and I decided to go try out for the commercial, and any money we made we’d plug back into “Moonlight Sonata”. It could make a big difference.

Far too early this morning I woke up, showered, tidied up the beard a bit, and pondered what to wear. Nothing more American than a baseball jersey, but I went with a more versatile black turtleneck, kind of shooting for a professorial look. It’s one I can do pretty well, what with the graying beard and all, so I thought it might help distance me from the crowd. Plus, after getting the casting message last night, fuego and I came up with our own mustard-selling script that featured the two of us, with fuego playing a bum and me playing a 1950’s-style scientist. That reinforced my wardrobe decision this morning.

When we found the casting place, we ran into people we knew, who had got there early (we had planned to get there early, but our definition of that elusive term seems a bit different. So guys we knew were leaving when we got there. “It’s at a baseball game,” they told us. Shoulda gone with the other shirt.

The casting agency was crammed with people, and there were kids everywhere. fuego recognized several of the kids’ mothers as well-known czech actresses. They didn’t really look like American sports fans, but the mustard folks want a family feel for the ad, and it’s not like cheering is that different the world around (with the exception of whistling). Finally we were ushered into the studio area with three other guys and we stood for the camera and then cheered together and slapped high fives and generally acted like American sports fans. The casting folks seemed satisfied without any further requests and we were on our way again.

Later this afternoon we will find out if either of us has been called back. I don’t know if they will need to see more of the crowd-fillers though, so I don’t expect to hear back until later, when it is decided whether or not they will pay me Saturday to sit in a stadium and cheer. I feel good about my chances, but you never really know. I’ll be sure to let you know how things develop.

Wish me luck!

About Last Thursday…

I was interrupted as I began to chronicle the day, and as a consequence there is now much more story to tell. As days pass the immediacy of the events is lost, which may be a good thing — the details swiftly forgotten are probably the ones that would only have cluttered the narrative anyway. When last we broke off in this narrative, the Cute Little Red-Haired Girl was smiling at me, and bringing me tea. That in itself is enough to make for a fine day, but this day things were just getting rolling. Sitting in Café Fuzzy I had no idea about the twists and turns awaiting me that day.

As I had my American Breakfast (bagel with bacon and egg, hold the ketchup), I struggled with my NaNoWroMo offering for the year until blood was seeping from the corners of my eyes. As I was writing Yet Another Political Discussion rather than action or characterization, my phone chimed. I checked and it was a message from Graybeard. “Casting today, US commercial, period piece.” Just which period was not specified. The message included a very large number for the compensation. Literally a year’s rent. Certainly worth checking out. Graybeard and I worked out that we would get there at the beginning of the casting period and hang out in the bar attached to the casting agency.

My condition at that moment could charitably be called ‘scruffy’. Some work was going to be required before I presented myself for the camera. (You can leave your sarcastic comments below. Jerks.) Thus, a mere couple of hours later, I was scraped clean and gussied up, heading out on the town. Not wanting to waste the effort on a casting that would almost certainly prove to be a waste of time, I dropped a line to Don Diego, telling him that I would be out and about. Things happen around Don Diego.

I got to Jam Café a bit early, and sat and had the official One Too Many. Tea, that is. I was a little twitchy from the steady stream of Earl Gray provided by the Cute Little Red-Haired Girl, and as I sat at the café I told myself, “No caffeine. Whatever you do, no caffeine. You’re twitchy enough already. It’ll show on the tape. No caffeine. No caffeine.” “What are you having?” the waitress asked. “Black tea,” I answered.

I was, it turns out, making two big mistakes at the same time. (Generally I’m not that good at multitasking, but sometimes I manage.) I was making myself unnaturally twitchy before going into an inherently nervous situation, and I was doing so while not signing in and getting a place early in the afternoon. I dropped Graybeard a line to discover that he had decided not to come out until later. When the official start time of the casting rolled round I signed in and was assigned number 70. Dang. I sent a message to Don Diego saying I would be a little later than expected.

Time and memory are a peculiar couple — when memorable events are happening quickly the experience of the moment seems to flash by, but in retrospect memory, which is partitioned by events rather than by the ticks of a clock, will represent that whirlwind of experience as a longer period. On the other hand, when nothing is happening at all, the subjective time is endless, but the memory is just a blink. My next hour is now just a forgettable moment. I had a book, but it was boring. I put it away and put my brain in neutral.

Time crawled by. I was going to be even even later. I sent Don Diego another message. “Wanna be in a commercial?” “Why not?” was the reply. I was happy that I would at least have someone to stand around with. He arrived and signed in, and was given number 140. As we waited, a tall blonde girl arrived. For convenience we’ll call her 147.

Not too long after the arrival of Don Diego (recognizing the time-accelerating effect of having an interesting person around), it was my turn. With a whole bunch of people I was herded into the studio. We were lined up by number and were photographed in turn (I concentrated on my face and let my posture go slack, which is not good – modeling is actually pretty complicated). Then it was time to talk to the video camera, and in my group I was easily the best. Hands down, far and away the best. Only one other person in the group spoke English well. Then he asked for a couple more facial expressions, including “a little smile.” My little smile was about the most forced and unnatural expression imaginable, stiff and strained, and while I was working on that I lost my focus on the camera. (Note to self – it’s video – you can move!)

“How’d you do?” asked Don Diego. “I’m not changing my travel plans,” I answered. Now it was time to wait for his turn. “I’m going to flirt with her,” he said, referring to 147. He did. Across the space of five meters he focussed on her. She smiled, blushed, looked away, and was beautifully charming. Don Diego decided to escalate. “Do you think I should sing to her? I’m going to sing to her.” he walked over and sang to her. Not just any song, but “Some Velvet Morning”, which is a really odd song to start with. For a moment (though 147 later denied this) she had a look of abject fear in her eyes, which quickly gave way to a mighty blush.

I won’t go into all the details, but later as the three of us conversed, she asked him, “aren’t you going to ask for my phone number?”

They never auditioned. She was minutes away from going in but had to catch a bus home to Brno.


This seems to be the episode that will never be written. Another day has passed since I wrote the above, a period in which more beers were sacrificed to the gods of conviviality, a night in which I was mocked by a pretty girl for the way I said Záplatím (I said it more like Záplatim) only moments after she has chastised me for not using my Czech enough, and a night in which the Little Café Near Home did not close at the posted hour.

My only hope now is to finish the description of the first part of my day, and leave the second part alluded to in my previous post to your imaginations. Perhaps it will show up in some fiction some day.


They never auditioned. She was minutes away from going in but had to catch a bus home to Brno. She left to catch her bus back home, Don Diego followed. I got a text from him later thanking me for my excellent wing-man support, though I don’t think I did much.

Meanwhile, Graybeard had arrived with two other folks; one was student of his, and the other was the daughter of another student. I joined them in the café section of the casting agency and ordered a beer. Graybeard had tipped them off about the audition as well, and the more the merrier. They were numbered in the 240’s, so they still had quite a wait in front of them. We chatted, I had another beer. I coached the two rookies about what to expect inside, and about the mistakes I made, so perhaps some good would have come of the adventure. It turns out that Miss 241 lives near where I do; she likes to go bowling at B&B. Maybe I’ll run into her there sometime.

Finally Graybeard and 241 were called in for their moment before the camera. 248 and I chatted for a bit, and then another face I recognized came in. Prague is definitely a small town. The new arrival was Lucien, a good guy and a poet to boot. (Lucien is his real name; and he has written some poems I like very much. If you run into him, be sure to buy his latest effort.) He joined us, the others left, and the two of us hung out chatting about writing and stuff until his number came up. I could have waited for him, but by then I was feeling the effects of my hang-out-a-thon and made excuses.

I decided to walk home, but spontaneously dropped into a place called fuego to write about my day. As long as I was at fuego:the bar, I decided to drop a line to fuego:the brother and see if he wanted to join me. He did, and his arrival at fuego:the bar is what interrupted my previous episode. We had a beer or two and discussed the writer’s strike and how to best exploit it.

To abbreviate the night, more people I knew arrived, completely by coincidence. Eventually I was with a boisterous group of Americans, a loud bunch made all the louder by the hot acoustics of the room we were in. This is why I prefer my Americans in small groups. The female of the species was underrepresented, but there was Delilah. fuego:the brother was about the only guy there not to hit on her. She was worried about getting home, so I promised that I would walk her to the train station before it was too late.

Suddenly it was time for her to go. I tossed fuego:the brother some cash so he could pay the tab (which was going to be complicated with all the table-shifting going on — sorry about that, bro, but trains wait for no one, not even pretty girls). At last I was going to be in a setting where we could talk quietly, and I cold be myself (whatever that means). Only… one of my own buddies, I guy I’ve known for some time, pulled the complete anti-wingman move of tagging along, bringing his large, energetic (and rather loud) personality into the mix. Bird-dogged by a buddy!

In fairness, he was probably unaware that I was interested in Delilah, as my main goal while in fuego:the bar was to not be an asshole like everyone else there hitting on her. The thing was, it was working. In all likelihood nothing would have come of the walk to the train station, but chances like that are, for me, ridiculously rare. When we reached the metro station I decided to walk home rather than stick with them. I was rather annoyed by then, and that’s not the way to be around people.

So, guys, when you’re hanging out having a few brews and the quiet, unassuming guy manages to get some quiet time with the belle of the ball, let him have his moment. In Top Gun terms, when the wing man has a target, the lead plane should get out of the way or planes will crash and lives will be lost.

The brisk walk home was pleasant, and calmed my nerves a bit. (It is not the walk through Prague of the previous episode; that happened the next night.)

Delilah doesn’t know it yet, but since then she has saved my life. That, however, is another story.

The Perfect Excuse

Tonight I walked into the Little Café Near Home with no beard. My beard rarely comes off but I have been in this place with a naked face before. Franta, who sports an ill-kempt gray beard himself, gave me a hard time about it. I said something not provably false: It’s because of a woman. (Secretly I suspected that this whole audition for the role of a butler was a plot by sister in law and mother of sister in law to get me to shave. It turns out I underestimated them and their conniving ways. I am a) shaven b) family looked out for, and c) a potential coup with the client, anticipating his needs before he does.

I’m good with that.

So tonight I’m clean-shaven, though not terribly respectable, and I can honestly (though deceptively) blame a woman. It was the perfect, unassailable explanation. A woman. Men have done far stupider things than shave for a woman, and they always will. Rather than harsh on me, the guys at the bar thought, man, he got off light. When I said the beard would be back soon, they nodded in understanding.

I had typed that the dumbest things men do, they do to impress women, but the counterexamples came flooding into my head. Genocide, and shit like that. Honestly, now that I think about it, the best things men do are to impress women. Leave him to himself and man is an idiot.

The New Bond movie – 10 seconds too short

Those of you who have seen the new James Bond movie, “Casino Royale”, probably already know what I’m talking about. There is a sequence where 007 pops over to Miami, follows a Bad Guy into an exhibit called BodyWorld, violence ensues, and then our hero is off again to the airport to drive a tanker truck remarkable for it’s spryness while loaded with aviation fuel and which is also a convenient exception from “Bond’s Law”: anything that can explode will, if a bullet comes within ten meters.

Whew! As most of the critics have pointed out, that sequence was just too much for too long. What they needed was a little break in there. One critic (I forget which) went so far as to say, “what that scene really needs is a shot of a couple of guys looking at the plasticized dead people.”

But there is no such shot. It’s quite possible that I’m in that scene somewhere, but my featured “guy looking at things” foreground role now lies on the cutting-room floor. While I’m disappointed, I imagine that the actors with speaking roles in that scene are far more disappointed. I think the original intent was to really take advantage of the plasticized dead people for atmosphere, and so they filmed a lot of stuff to give a good feel for the weirdness of the exhibition. Actors portraying a local news team were interviewing the creator of the plastic people as he walked through the exhibit, and things like that. (You can still hear a bit of Gunter’s voice in the background.)

In the end, in an already long Bond movie, there just wasn’t time for all that. In the middle of a long Point A -> Point B -> Point C -> ad infinitum sequence, there just wasn’t time to stop and smell the latex.

As a side note, in the airport scene there is gunplay and terrorism going on on the runways — police cars with flashing lights, etc, and apparently the tower controllers didn’t notice, as planes were still taking off and landing. The last time airport personnel were so incredibly stupid was in one of those Die Hard movies, but at least here it was just to pull off a moment of cheap drama. The Die Hard flick’s plot depended on hundreds of people in responsible positions being mind-bogglingly stupid. No, thousands. In fact, every pilot on the east coast, every person in the FAA both past and present, and every member of every security agency must have had the IQ of a rutabaga. That movie sucked.

Breathe, Jerry. Think happy thoughts. The bad movie is gone, now.

I enjoyed “Casino Royale” quite a bit, actually, once I got over the ridiculous opening title animation. It is grittier than previous Bonds, more modern, and cinematographically more adventurous. There were a couple of long sparring conversations between Bond and Vesper that could have been shorter; eventually they wore that subject pretty thin. Bravo for putting meaningful dialog in a Bond movie, but it was undermined by the urge to beat it over our heads (“Hey! Look! We put meaningful dialog in a Bond flick!”). Giving Bond a scrap of emotion is good, but trying to make a tuxedo out of a scrap doesn’t benefit anyone. (This was not helped by the British pronunciation of “Vesper”, which made me think of an Italian scooter, and then Princess Vespa in “Spaceballs”.)

If only they could have trimmed those cat-fights a little bit more, so they could have put in that ten seconds where it was really needed.

Don’t get mad, get Glad!

I had an audition today for another commercial. I really, really, don’t think I’ll get this one, but it would be nice if I did. Why? Because this ad would play nationwide in the good ol’ US-of-A, that’s why. I’d never see it, but anyone over on that side of the puddle who watched daytime TV would get to see me robbing a bank in order to sell plastic bags. For the same reason, the gig would also pay a lot. One day of work would pay the rent for half a year, minimum.

Alas, this gig will not come to me. We auditioned in pairs, and while I was not particularly sparkling, my partner was particularly flat. Now, in hindsight, I know exactly what I should have done to make the situation work, but that’s what hindsight is all about.

Many of you will see this commercial, and I will not be in it. Oh, well.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

For the past couple of days my acting career has been on the upswing. This time I am a cowboy in another movie you will likely never see. In fact, I will probably never see it.

The movie is supposed to be a comedy, and part of the humor (if I may be so bold) comes from the fact that most of the cowboys and cowgirls speak little or no English and learned their lines phonetically. Comprehensible is all they’re trying for, and usually they achieve that. Every once in a while they even get enough behind the lines to be convincing. It seems that only one of the czech actors bothered to study the script ahead of time, so in between scenes the writer/assistant director has to drill them on their lines, explain the meanings, and try to help them get a little emotion behind the words. I imagine he is getting frustrated, especially when one actor said, “I know not to study, because they will just change everything anyway.”

The story might even be funny if the lines were delivered well, but pretty girls is what the movie is really about, and the quality of the dialog will only be a footnote. My performance will be even less than that.

That’s not to say the movie won’t be successful. The budget is practically zero, and the ranch where we’re filming is very pretty, nestled up in the hills in a rural part of the Czech republic. Horses frolic in the pastures, and as far as I can tell the sun is always shining here. The real reason the film will succeed, however, is that is has lots of very pretty women in it, and they spend a lot of the time not wearing very much (always somehow when I’m not in the scene — when I’m around it’s all about riding horses and poorly-delivered dialog).

Friday, my first day on the set, was all about hurry up and wait. It didn’t start well; I spent an hour and a half at the train station waiting to be picked up, thinking about the casting for a commercial I was missing. Things got better when I reached the set, as I was able to set up the computer and work on my own stuff while waiting. I spent the entire day here, and “worked” for about fifteen minutes. Work involved standing and waving; then I was asked to ad lib something as the riders passed. Woo hoo! I put on a bit of Texan, spoke my piece, then headed back to the ranch house. A few hours later I was told I wasn’t needed any more that day.

Yesterday, Monday, was a different story. This was the day they shot most of the scenes that were called the “comedy” scenes, and I was in many of them. I had a few more lines, and once more I was asked to ad-lib to stretch out my part. “We need more blah-blah-blah,” was how the director put it. I blah-blah-blah’d to the satisfaction of those present and earned my pay. Little John (who had hooked me up for this job) was here also, and as always it was fun to hang out with him when we had breaks. It was a fun day.

Today is more like the first day. Once more I am needed to open a gate and make a comment to riders as they pass through. then I’m done. Transit time from Prague to the set and back is likely to be longer than the time I spend here (although they are running behind today). One other important event today is that I get paid.

Then I return home, cowboy no longer, and wait for the next little character role to happen my way.

…except even the best-laid plans sometimes don’t pan out. One of the other scenes went long, and I happened to be on hand while the director and writer tried to juggle things. Thus it came to pass that I told them I could come back tomorrow if it would help. It would, so I will. So, a pleasant-but-slow train ride to Beroun, lunch, and pay for a half-day, and in return I did… nothing. It’s a fair exchange, I think.


Well, at long last I’ve been paid for my rousing Soap-Selling adventure. I got the message from my agent yesterday that they had my money, and bickety-bam I was down at the office to pick up my sweet lucre. Even after a chunk of it was withheld to keep the Czech government running in top form [Insert image of Indiana Jones here… Jones: “What form?” Official: “Top. Form.”] There was still a tidy little sum for two day’s “work”. Athena wrote me a check.

A check! I’d not seen one in this country, except the one I had to mail back to the US to deposit. They just don’t do checks here. Then Athena explained to me that I have to go to the right branch of the right bank, and take along plenty of identification, and expect to wait a while. That will be my adventure for today. It’s a good day for it, seeing as rent’s due.

I haven’t done any extra-ing since then, unfortunately. This must be what people in the biz call a “dry spell”. With my acting career in the dumper, I don’t have a safety net anymore. Better get writing.

Summertime Fun!

An offhand comment elsewhere about another topic altogether made me realize today that (provided I’m not lying on the cutting-room floor) now I, too, can claim connectedness with Kevin Bacon. But how many degrees separate us?

In my case the cutting-room floor outcome is pretty likely (I can imagine the dispute. “The scene’s timing is off; this part has to go.” “You can’t do that. We have to keep the guy looking at the thing.” “Scene’s too long. It’s an action movie. Gotta make it snappier.” “But the guy — the thing…” “Besides, look at him. The way he looks at the thing. Nobody’s even going to notice the action, they’ll all be watching him.” “Yeah, you’re right. Maybe I’ll do a documentary next, about people looking at things.”), so I thought it best not to wait for the movie before playing this little game.

Although, actually, I probably won’t be very good at it. I don’t watch that many movies, and even when I do I forget who was in the cast, so I’m pretty much out of luck here. I’m not even sure who’s in the cast of Casino Royale (for all I know Kevin bacon is in it).

I suppose, since I won’t be in the movie credits (those would be long credits before “1st guy looking at thing when the dude came down the stairs” was included), this is not in the spirit of the “real” game, but screw that. From Jerry Seeger in Casino Royale to Kevin Bacon in the fewest steps. Anyone want to take a shot?


Another Day in Casting

I didn’t move the writing career forward today, but I still have acting to fall back on. I went to a cattle-call today for a small film that will be in production for a couple of months later this summer. This casting is different than any of the others I’ve been to – this one’s for an actual role in the film and I would be working a couple of weeks or more, rather than days. I was applicant 99, to give you an idea of what the odds are. There were four male roles possible, but I was clearly unqualified for two of them, and it would be a reach for one of the remainders. The last role, however, ex-pat retired war photographer hanging out in Prague, I think I have a good look for. I’ll be interesting to see if I get called back to read. In the end, they’ll probably want someone with more experience, but heck, you never know.

Surprisingly, one thing I did pull off well was the chit-chat. Even after the video camera was turned off I hung out and shot the breeze with the director, talking about life in San Diego and Mexico, travel, and bars in Montana. As we were walking back to the waiting room he said, “We’re a low-budget production, you realize.” “That’s fine,” I replied, “I’m a low-budget guy!” I may be reading too much into it, but I took that as a hopeful sign.

Which marks another difference this time around. Each of the other casting calls I dropped by, thinking “ah, what the heck, it’ll only take a few minutes, no big deal.” Each time I thought afterwards that I would not get a call. This time I find myself actually caring whether I get the gig or not. That can’t be good.

It was Graybeard who tipped me off to the opportunity, and after we were done with the casting I hung out with him and one of his bevy of ridiculously beautiful young lady friends. Gotta hand it to the old boy, he is a charmer and he’s not afraid to use it. We found a nearby café with a very nice atmosphere and settled in for a while, discussing this and that. With Graybeard the conversation never stays in the same place very long; you need mental springs and you just have to expect that few topics — or even sentences on your part — will be completed. Beautiful Lady Friend got bored and for a while I was in smile-and-nod mode, but things got interesting again when Graybeard started telling stories from his past.

It’s not my place to give too many details here, but I think it’s OK for me to mention that he has been to prison a time or three, sometimes for long stretches, and you don’t want to piss him off. I made a mental note not to hit on Beautiful Lady Friend (hence no worries about a more appropriate nickname), even after Graybeard mentioned she had no boyfriend. He wants that honor.

Which made it even more complicated when BLF left and Isolde arrived. (I have probably mentioned her before with a different nickname, but it would too much work to go look it up now.) Isolde used to date Graybeard, and they are still close enough to spend their time sniping at each other, just like old times. Isolde wanted to go to a movie, French with Czech subtitles. Graybeard did not want to see it as he knows no French or Czech, but out of sheer nobility I agreed to go to the movies with a pretty girl. The sacrifices I make. I missed some of the subtle elements of the plot, like what people said to each other, but still enjoyed the flick — despite the lack of scruffy, gray-bearded actors.

Selling Soap – Life On Set

Ah, the glamor, the heady days of wine, women and song! Ah, the grinding tedium and long hours.

My life as a fake lab assistant began in the inky black long before dawn. I wasn’t sure how frequent the metro was that early in the morning, so I gave myself plenty of time to wait for the train and to make my connection. As a result, I was at the designated meeting point long before I needed to be. Better early than late, I figure, proving that I am not Czech. It was raining, so I stood in the shelter of the metro station entrance and waited to be collected.

More folks arrived, and then a production assistant showed up to gather us in. There were perhaps ten or so of us there, and the assistant had with her a list of the people she was expecting. My name was not on the list. “Great,” I thought, “I can go back to sleep.” No such luck; apparently I was a special extra, and those on the list were mere garden-variety extras. Even now I’m not sure what the distinction is, except I probably got paid more than those on the list. It’s good to be special.

At 6:15 we marched over to the empty factory building that housed the set, and shortly I was sent to wardrobe, where I was given slacks to wear instead of jeans, while the other guy in there was given jeans to wear instead of slacks. I was given a different sweater and warned that it would be cold on set. Over to makeup where they did a quick paint job on my face but left my beard scruffy, then breakfast. One thing I’ll say about this production, they had good grub, and plenty of it.

The production manager filled me in on what was going on. “You will be working in a funny mad scientist’s laboratory.” The lab-coated extras huddled in a knot and we were eventually deployed around a large set filled with old electronics and lots and lots of chemistry equipment, dish washers, and various permutations of the dishwasher detergent we were selling. All around were flasks filled with brightly-colored liquids, but as I watched, all but the blue ones were emptied into a bucket. And so began a long, slow pattern. They would set things up according to the plan. The gaffers would set up the lighting, the extras would be given their assignments, and the directior would decide he didn’t like it. An unplanned hour would pass as they redid everything, and then we would go through a series of rehersals to make sure the lab would appear uniformly busy.

The second shot of the day took especially long. The accident-prone scientist is walking through the lab and everyone is avoiding him. I was given a tray of glasses and was quite relieved when a PA taped them down. I was the last one the scientist encountered in the sequence, so my timing was dependent on how all the other encounters went.

“More glasses on the tray,” the director said, “and don’t stick them down.” So now I’m holding a tray full of glasses and dodging the main guy while going down stairs. We did lots and lots of takes, first to get the timing right and then to get isolated shots of the individuals in the sequence. It is a small miracle that I got through the scene without glassware destruction, and I came very, very close a couple of times, but finally we were done. I set down the tray with a sigh of relief. It was about 12:45, and we had about 7 seconds of the commercial in the can. (It was actually a set of similar commercials for a range of the company’s products; I estimate the total time of all the pieces needed was about two minutes.)

After that, is was much like my first day on the James and the Giant Explosive Device shoot. I had been prominently featured moving away from the action, so I wasn’t going to be much use for a while. Sure enough, that was it for me that day. My only tasks for the rest of the day were keeping warm (not easy), reading, and visiting the food tables from time to time. Had it been warmer, it would have been a good way to spend an afternoon, and a guaranteed disaster for any diet. At 8:15 p.m. I was released. Fourteen hours of action-packed fun!

Because of my specialness a van picked me up the next morning, allowing me to sleep another half hour. Special or not, I spent almost no time at all on the set for the sixteen hours I was there. I was released at 11 p.m. The shoot was running late, and they had desperately wanted to not have shots with extras slip into the next day. (Not desperate enough that they didn’t completely redo the set three times for one shot.) They still had some shots with extras for the next day, but I didn’t have to go back.

It is unlikely I will ever see the final result, but for those of you in Europe (and America too, for all I know), if you see an ad for Sun dishwashing detergent, look for a lab assistant with a scruffy beard going to gray. That’s me!

Selling Soap – This is How Stupid I Am

Apparently, the director for this commercial is slower than most. On day two of shooting, a van came and picked me up at my house and got me to the set at 7:15. At 3:30 I still had yet to be used. I sat and read near the little space heater in the room where the food was.

Sitting near me was a pretty woman, bundled up and sitting directly in front of the heater, reading a worn, cloth-bound book. It looked like literature. As other people were called onto the set occasionally, she never budged. She wasn’t wearing a lab coat, so I figured she wasn’t in the cast, but she didn’t appear to be part of the crew, either. After a while I figured out that she was the set medic. She didn’t speak much English, and she seemed a little shy when people came to ask for cold medicine or whatnot. Occasionally something amusing would happen nearby and we would exchange a chuckle. I tried to think of some way to broach a conversation with her, when we had so few words in common.

Eventually my name was called and I limped out onto the set. My shoes had given me a blister on my heel the day before. False alarm; I limped back to the waiting room. She looked up from her book and I shrugged and rolled my eyes and she smiled. I returned to my book, wondering what I could say to her. A while later the call came again, I limped back out, false alarm, and back I went. Smiles exchanged, back to the books.

Some of you, by now, may have already caught on. Let’s review the salient points:

  • There was a pretty woman sitting a few feet away from me for hours and hours
  • She reads old books
  • I wanted to talk to her
  • She was bored
  • She was a nurse
  • I was injured
  • It is her job to help injured people

You see it? The subtle opportunity I missed? To not only talk to her, but to get some relief for my heel as it bled into my sock?

Man, I’m stupid. I wonder, now, if I would have thought to ask for help if the nurse had been a toothless old man.

Selling Soap – The Books I Read

I knew I’d have a lot of time on my hands on set, so with bleary eyes I surveyed the small stack of books awaiting my attention. On this first day of shooting More Booze Than Blood by Sean Meagher joined The Art of the Novel, a collection of essays by Milan Kundera, in my backpack.

On the metro I slowly digested some of Kundera’s “Sixty-three Words”. That essay is dedicated to defining some of the words he uses and the particular meaning they have in the context of his work; it was inspired by horrific experiences Kundera has had when The Joke was translated from the original Czech. To quote Kundera directly: “In France, the translator rewrote the novel by ornamenting my style. In England, the publisher cut out all the reflective passages, eliminated the musicological chapters, changed the order of the parts, recomposed the novel.” Subsequent translations were based on one of these two, not the original Czech. It reminded me of my eariler episode in which I mention the copy editor for “Memory of a Thing that Never Was.” That was a very clean manuscript, but only if you accept my rambling style. A good translator has to have the courage to defy the traditions of the language to be stylistically faithful to the original work. To paraphrase Kundera: Critic: “That’s not how we say it in our language!” Kundera: “That’s not how we say it in Czech, either!”

I’ll discuss the substance of Kundera’s essays elsewhere, I think, or just practice dropping them into conversations when I’m playing the ex-pat writer game.

Once on location, dressed, and painted, I settled into “hurry up and wait” mode. I pulled out More Booze than Blood. I really, really liked this book. Meagher writes with balls, giving us a cast of characters broken, flawed, and unlikeable in every way, and makes us like them. We cringe and hope and want to smack them and say “Just stop it!” As the reader you see the waste, the futility, as everything slides towards violence, and they see it too. What unites these people is a sense that life is futile, stupid, insane, but there’s no sense worrying about it, because it’s not going to change no matter what you do. I was dog-tired on the metro home that night, but I knew I wasn’t going to go to bed until I finished the book. I almost missed my metro stop, I was so wrapped up. (Note that this book contains some sex, some violence, and a lot of profanity.)

Having said that, the subject of a copy editor comes up again. This book is self-published, and could really have benefitted from a good edit. Many times I got bumped out of the narrative by a distracting grammatical error. (Lay and lie are pretty much backwards throughout.) It’s a pity, but with a little attention from a friendly editor this book would be deserving of a lot of notice. If you like writing with balls, go out and buy lots of copies of this book so the next one can get the support it needs. If errors like that will prevent you from enjoying the work, buy lots of copies, don’t read them, and hope for a reprint later.

Day two of the shoot I didn’t pack the laptop, so I knew I would need even more reading material. I had no idea how right I was, as the day stretched on and on. I packed two more titles from my birthday plunder, Something Grand by John Flynn and Into the Forest by Jean Hegelund. I finished the Kundera on the van to the location, but there are parts of that I will need to go over again.

Something Grand is not in the style of Chandler, as I previously asserted. It is a series of shorts stories, most revolving around the theme of the hardships of the working poor, the impossibility of getting ahead and the passing of demons from one generation to the next. Many of the stories are very good, a couple of them hauntingly so, but others sag under the weight of too much imagery and metaphor — too much salad and not enough meat. I think there’s a school of thought these days that, much like you can’t overhop a beer, you can’t use too much imagery. There’s something for me to learn in that. There is a time for rich imagery and grand metaphor, but at some point you have to climb down into the muck with the poor SOB’s you’ve forced unwillingly into existence and make them work.

Into the Forest is, as I mentioned in a previous episode (after reading only the first paragraph), one of those books where you read the first paragraph and know you are in good hands. It is a very hopeful book about the end of western civilization, an eloquent back-to-nature piece that brings you to the mystical reconnection of mankind and nature gradually, and along the way touches on all that makes humanity grand and frail. I must confess there were parts that got too sentimental for me, but I’m not really a sentimental guy, you know? There are characters in my own writing who are far more sentimental than I am, but if there weren’t, my stories would be bleak, indeed.

Finally, having exhausted all the words I had at my disposal, I accepted from another extra a series of essays by James Baldwin, and read an interesting piece on his relationship with Norman Mailer. When he talked about his reaction when Mailer announced he was going to run for the mayor of New York, it had a strange echo with something Kundera said to me just that morning — that any public life the writer exposes undermines the work, and doing that is irresponsible to the art. Neither of them quite said it that way, and Baldwin might accuse me of putting words in his mouth, but in any case it is something for a blogger/writer to consider.

Consider, consider, consider… OK, done! On with the blog! Baldwin and Kundera would both consider me a hack anyway, though I prefer “storyteller”. (We’ll have to see if The Fish can change that.)

So, what have you read lately? There has been some of this theme stirring in the comments lately, but now I want to hear what you’ve finished reading lately and what you thought of it. What do you plan to read next and why? Am I being too shameless pandering for comments?

NOTE: If you use the above Amazon link to buy the book I get a kickback. It really was a good story.

Be right back…

I’ve spent the last couple of days extra-ing for a fairly silly detergent commercial. I just got off a 16-hour day, and now I’m too tired even to have a beer before I go to sleep, let alone write about my adventures. I’ll get a real episode out tomorrow, when I reflect back on my meteoric rise to stardom and the, uh, meteoric plunge through the atmosphere in a fiery blaze of self-destruction that followed.

Oh, and happy Drop Everything and Read Day! I read two books today, then borrowed another. All while on the clock!