Bum Day

Today I played a bum in movie you will never see.

I regret not getting a still shot of me fully bummed out. The makeup lady went to town on me — I think she was tired of just covering up blotches and blemishes on the other actors and was happy to have someone for whom her job was exactly the opposite. In the end my skin looked filthy (not just dirty, but that ground-in grime that extends several millimeters below the surface), I had a nasty-looking sore on my lip, and I had a black eye. Some vegetable oil for the hair, and I looked truly awful. Given time, I think she would have continued to add deformities and lesions, but this is the movie business, and there’s never enough time.

It was raining lightly when we made our way from the makeup room onto the streets of Prague. I shouldn’t have looked in the mirror after the makeup was done; I felt a bit self-conscious walking down the street. Doubly so when the first thing we did upon meeting up with the rest of the crew was duck into a little cafeteria-style restaurant for lunch. I did not look like the kind of guy you want in front you in the chow line. (Did I mention the big ketchup stain I put on my chest?)

Lunch finished, it was time to start acting. We made our way to a nearby park and selected a bench. They had forgotten the classic bottle-in-the-paper-bag prop, and so I was handed a plastic bottle of wine (if you take a bottle into most wine stores here, they will fill it for you). The wine was pretty good. We did a few takes. “I think you’ve found your calling,” Little John said. He meant it as a compliment. Actually, I might have been overdoing it a wee bit, but the crew was laughing (later in the day a shot was blown when the crew laughed as I scratched my ass), and I was in touch with my inner bum. I took a few lessons from the Miguel Martinez face book, moved with that careful deliberation that drunks use, and when I moved to the next park bench I sat very heavily.

The temperature was dropping. It was not just meandering in a downward direction, it had a heartfelt need to explore the basement. [As I write this, it is snowing.] We did the scene several times, using the camera from different angles, while I slowly emptied the bottle. For the off-the-tripod shots, the cameraman said he wasn’t able to hold the camera completely steadily after a while. But we carried on, for the art. I blew a couple of decent shots by saying “I could be you!” instead of “You could be me!” Technicalities. I had a lot more lines than I had been told about, and none of them stuck that well.

The rain continued. My shoes leak.

A woman passed by, then stopped on the corner and made a phone call. “Think she’s calling the cops?” one of the crew asked. Apparently this little venture had dispensed with some of the formalities. “Nah, she’s smilin'” another said. Our next location was right around the corner from the police station. There were cops everywhere, but none paid any attention to us at all. I didn’t think about it, I just continued to ply my craft.

That’s what actors say, right? “Ply my craft”? Because, well, I really don’t know crap about that stuff. Or about acting, for that matter. But being a bum on a park bench, that I can do. Being a guy who appears to be a bum wandering the street who is actually not a bum at all, I managed to pull off well enough to make them happy.

“You should have asked for more,” the assistant said as he paid me. Next time, I will.

The Accidental Actor

As some of you are already aware, not long ago I happened to be in the same room as Soup Boy when a message came in from a casting agent he knows. “Hey,” Soup Boy said to me, “you want to be in James Bond?” “Sure,” said I. Now, because of a simple accident of logistics, you will quite possibly see my mug on the silver screen, while interesting things happen behind me.

Recently friends of friends offered me cash money to sit in a bar drinking and being American for some direct-to-DVD movie of questionable pedigree. Drinking in bars happens to be something I’m well-qualified to do, so I agreed. I spent the morning drinking Bernard (yummy), flirting with a woman who may have been the bar’s owner (wasted), and listening while the czech actress struggled with her lines in English (awkward). The writer had tried for a literary tone for the dialog, and the vocabulary was completely out of her range. But I digress.

At one point that morning, the writer/lead actor looked at me and said, “How’d you like to play the bum?” (I must confess, when you look at me, you’re more likely to think “bum” than “Bond”.) Just like that I was cast in a speaking role in a movie that I will do my level best never to be associated with, beyond this post.

As a result of the James Bond thing, I have an agent now. I got a message from Athena last week inviting me to a casting for a commercial. What the heck, it’s only a few minutes out of my day. The waiting room was full when I got there; all around me were distractingly beautiful women and guys talking about the terrifically minor acting jobs they’d had lately. These were people who had taken up acting as a career — “Four years of acting school and now I’m auditioning for this,” lamented one. I tried to read but I couldn’t help but listen in. I recognized the game; the guys were sorting out the out-of-work actor cred pecking order. One or two of them would land roles in this commercial and perhaps move incrementally up the chain.

“I like the beard,” Athena said when it was my turn. “It makes you look like a scientist.” Better than bum, especially when the role is “Lab Assistant”. I posed for my still shots, holding a card with a number on it so they could sort us all out later. Lucky number thirteen for me, and we laughed about my credibility as a scientist when she had to tell me to hold the number right-side up. A couple of still shots, some video of me pretending to count washing machines and becoming puzzled when something doesn’t come out right, then I’m back out into the city — no blood, no foul. I had a very pleasant walk through the city center and after a few miles found a place to eat and write. A good use of a Prague morning.

I didn’t think much more about it until I got the call from Athena. “You got the role of Lab Assistant,” she said, and may have been surprised when I laughed. The Accidental Actor. I’ll be a bum on Monday, a lab assistant Wednesday and Thursday, and rent is covered for April, with beer money to spare.

A Night of Dark and Light

Let’s go backwards tonight. We’ll start with now, and see if I can move backward faster than time moves forward. If it’s a tie, you will be stuck reading about the same moment until my fingers fail.

Now: Listening to a cover of “I’m in Love with a German Film Star” by Linoleum at volumes that may not be healthy. This is good. Got the nice headphones on, so the neighbors are safe. I went looking for the original, a spacy, ethereal bit from around 1980, but this cover does justice.

Just as it was starting, Soup Boy withdrew his head and closed the door to my room. He had just come back from a quest to a bar/archery range. Yes, you read that right. Alcohol and deadly weapons. Of course it is not their policy to put the bows and arrows into the hands of dangerously drunk people. (I wasn’t there, mind you, but someone I knew once went there, and while they were going through the formalities he sat down and missed the chair, and after reassurances from his comrades the manager put a lethal weapon in his hands. Tonight, however, Soup Boy reported that the archery range was closed (hours are notoriously erratic there), so they were shooting pool instead.

I got a response back from fuego – he was home. We fired up Skype and discovered our favorite three words. He sent me a really cool tune called “Belladonna”. We unraveled bits of life and poked the decaying corpse of civilization with a stick. Or maybe I just complained that someone had consumed 2/3 of my hard-earned beers.

Soup Boy’s phone chimed on the sofa where it lay, to indicate it had received a text message. I unpacked my computer, plugged it in, and checked up on the ol’ media empire.

When I got home tonight, the place was empty. I wondered where everyone had gone, so I sent a message to Soup Boy and fuego.

I got off the metro just a little after midnight, and knowing that my beer supply at home was severely compromised, I turned to a haven I have not sought in a long time – Hanka’s Herna Snack Bar. The door was locked. It seems the place closes at midnight on Sundays. There were still people inside, and I might be mistaken, but the bartender may even have seen me and headed for the door as I turned my feet up the street. It’s hard to see into the place. I tromped toward home; the only other bar I knew was open between me and the domocile was a glitzy sports bar that is not the kind of place you sit alone with only your pivo for company and mutter to yourself in a vaguely insane manner. I decided to head home.

After Belladonna got off the metro at JzP and the doors to the train slid shut, I wondered if I should have offered to walk her home. Prague is a pretty safe town, but she had definitely wanted me to ride with her on the metro.

The three of us retired to a nearby café/club to discuss the movie and to just hang out. It was a pleasant time; the caffeine from the tea I drank combining well with the beer to make me jolly and chatty. Belladonna continued to try to hide the hole in her sweater, but I never did get the chance to suggest duct tape. Neither was in a position to stay out late, which was OK by me, although the conversation was pleasant. We spent a lot of time comparing cultures, and I would smile and nod as they discussed various med school classes. I was disappointed to learn that Firenze intended to return to El Salvador – Europe’s just not for her. I tried to talk her into running away to Shanghai with me. I don’t think she thought I was serious. I got a message from fuego saying he was at my place and had drunk some of my beer.

We got out of the movie and spent a moment looking at each other, wondering, what the hell was that?. I think the reasons we disliked the movie were not all the same, but the overall we agreed. Hostel blows. The movie starts with breasts and moves on to dismemberment; it is a movie that you would expect a group of fourteen-year-olds to write as they sit around a table at the pizzeria whacked out on Mountain Dew, each one trying to outdo the others: “You know what would be really, really sick…” All would laugh at the fingers-on-the-floor gag and then move on to the next shock-for-shock’s sake schlock. The writing was bad, the acting was poor, the editing was shit. There were points where the dancing and the music were so disconnected that the audience laughed. Continuity was a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t disaster.

One bit player put in a very good performance.

We settled into our seats while the ever-longer sequence of advertisements played. I am not exaggerating to say that movies here start twenty minutes after the projectors roll. Belladonna smelled good. I thought about the garlic soup and wondered if maybe I didn’t. She was fiddling with her sweater to conceal a hole in a not-too-embarassing area on her upper chest. I began to compose a duct-tape joke about it.

Firenze showed up and we bid farewell to Sophie. I gave Sophie a hard time because each time I’ve met her she’s left almost immediately.

I put away Kundera’s essays on the art of the novel when Belladonna and Sophie arrived. They sat down and I finished my Pilsner as we waited for Firenze. We talked about this and that, nothing earth-shattering. I reflected on my good fortune to be there, then, in a movie theatre lobby, sipping a beer, sharing conversation with two pretty and intelligent girls.

I think that is where I will begin the story for tonight.


Day two as an extra

NOTE: You should read day one, below, first.

Soup Boy and I arrived at the location (Florida) on a morning slightly warmer than the previous had been (freezing rain rather than snow) and breezed through wardrobe and makeup to arrive on set at 6:45 am. Almost immediately we were hauled down the stairs to where the shooting was to take place. We were waiting in the wings while most of the other extras took up the positions they had held at the end of the previous day. Since we hadn’t been in the shot the day before we just stayed out of the way and watched the proceedings.

All at once, while Soup Boy was using his camera to take an (illegal) picture, one of the AD’s pointed at him and gestured. The Boy was hauled into the scene to stand reading a plaque.

And stand. And stand. It seemed that every shot had that plaque in the background, so it was not until after noon that he was liberated from that spot.

I, however, had different fortunes. I wasn’t in that shot at all, but the next shot required several people to pass between the camera and the main action. (Extras who are behind the action are called background, while those in front are foreground.) A pretty czech assistant named Marta (but not really) tapped me and a few other people to be her elite foreground team for the morning, so that shots of the same action would have (at least vaguely) some continuity as far as who is in front of it. The final edit will be composed of slices so small that evan though I’m walking right past a fight to the death between good and evil, I might not show up on the screen.

“If anyone tries to use you, tell them you’re with me,” Marta said. She was pretty cool, and even when other nerves were getting frayed with the complexity of the foreground action she kept on smiling. She liked the fact I’d do what I was told, when told, and that I didn’t talk. That got me into positions where I was close to the actors and directors, because it was easy for them to pretend I wasn’t there.

So the star of this here show, James of James and the Giant Explosive Device, for all the controversy that surrounded his selection, is a pretty good guy. Easygoing, friendly, and competent. He hit his marks and apologized when he made a mistake. The guy who played the Bad Guy was also a character. Overall, despite some frustration (at one point the entire shot had to be reconfigured because the track for the camera didn’t leave room for the foreground extras, and at other times extras would simply not shut up when asked), the vibe on set was positive and professional.

Once they moved to a different angle, I was released from Marta’s Elite Foreground Team, and she tapped Soup Boy to become part of her new Elite Background Team, and he was finally able to at least walk while the action was taking place. Finally I was finished in the background, walking back to the same object I had first been shot near the day before, this time escorting a pretty girl who had also mastered the art of shutting up on set. We hardly spoke a word, but she kept going too slow and messing up the crossing patterns of all the carefully orchestrated extras, which got me chided.

Soup Boy’s feet were recruited for another shot, and we were done for the day. We sat about until released (overtime, baby!), but the extras wranglers passed us over, looking for less used-up faces. Our agent came out to the location and paid us cash money on the spot.

The day was long, and tiring, and cold, but in the end I had fun. I took the computer in on day two, and the day ended with Soup Boy and I sitting next to each other in the big extra staging hall, Apple logos glowing, The Boy editing video while I wrote. Zoltan the Bald Serbian (I actually called him ‘Zoltan’ to his face once – oops!) thought it was great. We definitely stood out, I’ll tell you that.

After all that, I sent Belladonna a message (I mentioned her, right? She missed the second day because she had an exam—in neurosurgery) saying that I would be too tired to go out, so how about tomorrow night? The answer: Yes.

A trip to wardrobe

Now that I’ve been called in to save the production of Casino Royale, I’ve got a lot on my plate. Today, it was a trip out to the studio to visit the costuming department. “Bring any Florida clothes you might have,” the casting agent said in a much more confusing fashion. Soup Boy and I packed up a bunch of stuff (Pretty much all the clothes I brought from San Diego), and after an hour and half commute to the studio, twenty minutes trying to find the right place, and fifteen minutes with very appreciative wardrobe people who very much appreciated all the stuff we had brought, I was wearing pretty much what I wore every day for fifteen years in San Diego, except with shoes.

An hour and half back home, and the work day was done. Whew!

Call me Bond. James Bond.

It all started innocently a few hours ago. I had returned from the Internet store, where Otakar and I had accomplished almost (but not quite) nothing. I was telling Soup Boy that the bowling alley (our Internet lifeline) was closed today. It turns out it’s the owner’s names day. Sure, what the heck, close the place when I haven’t read email in three days.

So Soup Boy had hoisted his trusty mobile phone to find out just whose names day it was, thinking if it was a common one it might explain why Český Telecom was also closed for business, more or less. Can’t fight the names days. Shouldn’t try.

Before his fingers did their nimble dance over his phone, however, he got a message. He read it, chuckled, and asked me, “You want to be an extra in the James Bond movie?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Then right now send a message to this number,” he said.

Having no time to think, I could not stop myself from acting. I sent the message. In a couple of minutes I got a response. “Can you come in for photos soon? Now?”

My best is none too good, and I was not looking my best. I bought two hours to do what I could for my appearance. Soup Boy gave me directions, and off I went. I found the place thanks to Soup Boy’s unerring directions (remind me to tell you some day about how directions are given in this town), and I was early. The agent… Hmm… let’s call her Athena… was in a state. My being early didn’t help, but I sat quietly and opened my book. There was another guy there for the same reason, and when she realized she had two birds to kill she gave us some paperwork and took us in to be photographed.

The other guy went first. He was taller, more fit, and had screen experience, but we weren’t competing. No, Athena just needed every breathing soul she could round up, photograph, and send to the producer. She took a few shots of the other guy, giving him direction like “OK, now turn to the side, look this way, and give me an impish smile.” As I filled out my paperwork I practiced a few impish smiles.

Then it was my turn. I stood up straight and looked into the camera, wishing I had the same latitude as on my previous modeling gig. “Take off your glasses,” Athena said. “Smile a bit. Lean forward a little. Now look mean.” Mean? Mean? I started to adjust myself into a mean attitude but I was far from finished when she said, “Great. Lemme see what I’ve got.” I could tell she didn’t think she had much, but wasn’t hoping to get any more. (Or at least, didn’t think it was worth the time to try.)

I left, confident that Dr. No would never have to face me down, but what the hell. “We’ll tell you in the next forty-eight hours,” Athena said.

A few minutes ago, I got a message. I’m needed to meet with wardrobe tomorrow. I should bring clothes that look like I’m from Florida if I have them. The list started with silk suits (uh, yeah, right) but got down into my range, but my Rusty’s Surf Shop shirt won’t play. (No logos).

Two day’s work, rent covered for the month. Not bad. And if I see Dr. No, I’m gonna wax his ass.