Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Memory and strings

"Tie a string around your finger."
This is an old-fashioned memory prompt from before when memos started arriving via PDAs, computer calendars and smartphones -- you tie a string around your finger to help you remember that you're supposed to remember something. It doesn't tell you what you're supposed to remember, mind you, but at least you'll be aware of the need. Sooner or later, it will chafe, or you'll just happen to notice it, and maybe at that point, you'll be able to buy milk on the way home, or otherwise accomplish whatever deed you could only remind yourself about before.

In the modern era, of course, strings have another meaning related to memory. A string is a linear artifact with a beginning and an end; in computer coding, a string is a sequence of characters. A character string generally stands for something; it can represent a variable or a constant, and you (or your computer code) can manipulate it or compare it with other strings in order to make a decision.

One type of character string that many people use daily is a password. You must enter all the password's characters in their correct sequence, like the numbers for a combination lock, except that here you're matching a data string instead of clicking tumblers.

I was thinking a few days ago about the character strings I hold in my own memory. I used to remember a lot of telephone numbers, for my office, my home, my parents, and several other relatives and a few friends. Now I know only two full telephone numbers -- my home and my cell -- and four-digit office extensions for myself and two other people. Everything else is stored in my cell or written down somewhere.

However, there's a lot else I have to remember: My work terminal password, my work software ID and password, my work email password, and a few other strings that I use daily for work; at home, I have a couple more e-mail accounts, four social media accounts, and several more log-ons that I use often enough to hold in my memory, all with different IDs and passwords, plus my Social Security number, PIN, and some more identifiers.

So even though I feel a little silly sometimes because I don't know anybody's phone number anymore, I need to remember that actually I'm giving my memory a pretty good workout most days. I'm counting 32 strings, although I may have forgotten one or two!

How about you? Can you count up how many character strings you use often enough to carry around in your head? Tell me! If you don't have time to tally them up right now, well, maybe you can just tie a string around your finger.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Compale (a portmanteau)

I was in a meeting Tuesday and the guy next to me stumbled over his words, saying something would "compale -- I mean, pale in comparison to" something else. I knew what he meant by "compale" before he went on to correct himself; it seemed perfectly obvious to me.
I rather like the idea of "compale" being a word of its own -- it's a little more efficient than the parent phrase, and I can't think of any other single word that already exists to fit this niche.  Although its spelling is nearly identical to "compile," the pronunciation is quite different, so I don't think it would be too confusing.
I am going to look for an opportunity to use this in conversation sometime, and see what kind of reaction I get.
I'm thinking of it as an intransitive verb, used with the preposition "to" -- e.g., Jean Grey's Marvel Girl compales to her incarnation as The Phoenix, at least as far as power is concerned. If I used it as a transitive verb, which takes and acts on a direct object, that would seem too active, as if I should be using it the other way around (The Phoenix compales Marvel Girl). I want to keep the subject as the weaker, more faded counterpart, as in the original phrase, so I'll make the verb intransitive, not transitive.
Compale would be an example of a portmanteau word, a new word created by combining parts of two or more words to make a new one that also fuses their meanings. This is a little different from a contraction, which uses an apostrophe to signal that two words that normally go in sequence are being compressed into one, or a compound word, which simply runs two words together, with or without a hyphen.
A portmanteau is similar to an elision, which omits sounds within a word or phrase for laziness, to fit a poetic meter, or simply because the speaker thinks it sounds better that way. However, eliding a word or phrase doesn't change the meaning, whereas a portmanteau often tweaks the meaning of the parent words so that the definition is also slightly different, although related. For instance, "spork" is a portmanteau word combined from spoon and fork, but it's a little different from each.
What do you think of my plan to try putting "compale" into usage? Do you have a favorite portmanteau word you'd like to share with me?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Holding Pattern: A Villanelle

Now that "Iron Man 3" is out, I can finally admit that I was an extra! They made us sign fierce nondisclosure agreements, so I wasn't able to talk about it before. I'm still not going to say much, to avoid spoilers, but I wanted to share at least a little bit. As for what it was like being an extra, the two previous posts ("Ready for my close-up, Mr. Wells?" and "I Am (Not) A Camera") talk a lot about my experience in a previous production, except that one wasn't so secretive (no NDA).
I didn't keep an exhaustive log for this production, but I did write a poem. I chose the villanelle form because the back-and-forth weaving and repetition of the refrain lines seemed to capture the mood of the extras as we went from Holding to the set to Holding to the set to Holding again so many times. Back in August 2012, I could only share it within a secret, closed group on Facebook for the IM3 extras. I hope my readers here like it as much as they did.

Holding Pattern: A Villanelle
by Patricia E. Matson

Hope is hovering in our hearts:
Some screen time, and a check, our goals.
We want so much to play our parts.

We speculate on Casting’s charts
And wonder how we’ll fill their holes;
Hope is hovering in our hearts.

Some are here for love of the arts;
A few might even sell their souls,
They long so much for bumped-up parts.

We move on set; star-watching starts --
We see HIM!  Crew says, “Back, you proles!”
But hope still hovers in our hearts.

Off at Holding, the wait restarts;
Food, cards, songs, dance, all have their roles.
We wait our turns to play our parts.

The magic nighttime rush departs.
Nine, then midnight, 3 a.m. tolls
While hope still hovers in our hearts;
We want so much to play our parts.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

I Am (Not) A Camera

As promised, here is Part 2 of my description of working as an extra for the untitled medical drama pilot produced by John Wells in 2010. I originally posted this on Facebook on April 2, 2010, for my friends there, but I have decided to make it public here. As mentioned in Part 1, I was not asked to sign any nondisclosure agreement for that work, nor did they warn us on set to keep things confidential (IIRC, they basically just warned us about not going up and bugging the stars). I mostly talked about my experience, anyway; I did briefly talk about one plot point, below, but I didn't say who it happened to, and since the show sadly never made it on the air, and everyone has gone on to other projects, I don't see any harm in sharing this with a wider audience.

As recounted in my previous note and last status report, I've been working as an extra on the CBS pilot for its untitled medical drama. This week, Monday through Thursday, I put in four 12-hour-plus days. I'm glad to have done it, but I'm really glad to be off this weekend. The days were all starting to run together, and I was having some breathing issues.
Best part of the experience: the people. Worst: never-ending Scene 57 and its smoke machine.
Monday at 8:30 a.m. I had been cold Friday night, so I wore the wool lining in my parka shell that day, which I regretted once it heated up. After sign-in, makeup (not for me), hair (conditioner to make my hair look unwashed, much nicer than the grease they used last week), props (none for me) and breakfast, we started off with a lot of time in the hospital tent. I was part of a group of patients following a nurse around the floor until we finally got seated. A half-dozen other streams of doctors, patients and nurses were moving around at the same time. As we kept repeating our motions, it started to feel as though we were doing a large pattern dance, like a reel or contra hay. Big lunch around 1 (forgettable entree but yummy ratatouille). Monday afternoon, we were in the holding area a lot. I made the acquaintance of Karen, Karen, Sue and Michael. I listened to lots of jokes, although I don't remember contributing any. That evening, barricade work. Sue and I were pulled off to be overnight patients. They set us up in hospital beds, but then sent everyone off to hide in cars and buses because of lightning. They gave up and sent us all home at 9:30. Laundry (since we wore the same clothes every day), and bed.
Tuesday at 8 a.m. After breakfast, much more barricade work. I believe we first heard it called Scene 57 this day. There were other barricade scenes, but they kept shooting us here and there, morning, noon, and night, with that awful smoke machine that left us all coughing and blowing black phlegm, so they all became Scene 57. After a big lunch (catfish and black-eyed peas, mmm) at 3, when I joined my new acquaintances, they left us in the holding area for quite a while. One of the Karens offered some little kids a buck for their deck of cards, which they refused. Rosella and John from another table heard us, came over and pulled out cards. We played rummy and spades. Then everyone went into the hospital tent again. I sat in the third row back, which left me wistful as Skeet Ulrich came up and talked with people in the first two rows between takes, but softly so that I could catch only a few phrases. I will say that he has a very expressive face, mobile and interested. He flashed a couple of great-looking grins, too. I hope that the show makes use of his charm and humor, although all the scenes I saw him in just had him looking intense.
I asked one of the Hoggard alums I had met last week what they had discussed, and he said Skeet had talked about his return to Wilmington and how the area had changed, and also talked with an EMT guy about rugby. He also talked to a couple of girls but I didn't find out about those topics.
Then they staged a spectacular fight scene, again and again and again. I was loving it. Skeet and Janeane Garofalo broke up the fight between the two guys I didn't recognize. I admired the guy who took a chest-high flip-fall half a dozen times or so, without complaint and apparently without injury (at least, he kept saying he was fine when the crew and other actors kept asking him). They kept changing the angle and shooting the lead-up and aftermath, maybe 20 times in all. They sent us home around 9:45. Laundry again.
Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. After breakfast, more card games in the holding area. More barricade work; the Karens and I discussed love and marriage, and Mike chipped in occasionally. We also talked about our career prospects (all in temporary/in-between states now). The big lunch (flank steak, Tex-Mex side dishes, mmm) was around 4:30. After that, we did a lot more barricade scenes. Earlier this week, I had been trying to stay forward, but I was starting to hang back, worried about continuity, although they grabbed me and moved me forward several times anyway. Karen, Karen and I, and a guy calling himself Thunderbird, amused ourselves by singing fragments of songs from the 80s, mostly, but some from other areas. Finally Sue and I got called back for our overnight patient scenes. I had to pretend to be asleep, so I didn't see anything, but I heard a couple of medical personnel (I think Janeane and Rachelle Lefevre) arguing about treatment options. We got sent home around midnight, so I skipped laundry.
Thursday sign-in was at 10 a.m. We started with hospital waiting area scenes. A guy next to me got pulled up front and left his Civil War hardback (Marvel superhero series) on his chair, so I read about half of it (okay, but I don't believe Peter Parker would ever come out as a super) before they chased us out to keep it quiet for dialogue-heavy scenes.
I talked with K, K, M for a while, but I was feeling tired and burned out, so I found a patch of shade with some breezes and just listened to my audiobook (Antony and Cleopatra, Colleen McCullough) and dozed for a couple of hours. Around 4, they brought out pizza, but only let the actors playing medics go up (I snatched a slice before this class differentiation was firmly established, however).
I rejoined KKM. More barricade scenes, all still in our winter coats for continuity, although it was over 80 degrees. Bonanza Productions had been telling us to take them off between takes, and sending people around with cups of water, along with pizza slivers, plus the ever-present snack/water/lemonade stand. I heard that one woman fainted from the heat, although I didn't see it.
Then they moved us to the parking lot and shot us walking toward the hospital tent several times (moving the smoke machine so we couldn't escape). Finally, around 7, they broke for "lunch" (sweet and sour chicken, big drop in quality, and the rice tasted like smoke machine). Rosella came over and sang a few songs, and I sang a few songs. Finally, they pulled 10 patient extras (including me again, despite making absolutely no effort to be noticed), to form background for another hospital tent scene. They sent us home around 11:30.
They will continue filming on Monday, but I told them I couldn't make it then or Tuesday because of my other job. If I'm feeling fully recovered by Tuesday, I may call and see if they need anybody for Wednesday, although they're supposed to have finished by then.

End note: No, I didn't get called back again, so this was the end of that experience. By the way, when they first called and asked me to be an extra and I accepted, they said nothing about needing me for a specific block of time, just asked whether I could come in the next day. They never did ask for commitments; it was always, "We'll tell you all at the end of the day how many of you we want to come back tomorrow, and what time." So it's not as though they were relying on me and I let them down. I just wanted to make that clear.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Ready for my close-up, Mr. Wells?

So many ideas, so little time to write them up. I'm still working on balancing my job and everything else.
Meanwhile, I'm resurrecting a Note that I posted to Facebook on March 24, 2010. Only my FB friends can read that, but there's really no reason not to make it public here. I'll put up Part 2 tomorrow.

I can now add "Acting" to my resume, under Professional Experience. Thanks, Catherine, for pointing out the article about an open casting call in Wilmington for extras for The Untitled Medical Drama pilot. As a result, I have now conversed briefly with Janeane Garofalo, felt the wind of Skeet Ulrich's passage as he strode along a corridor, been filmed in several scenes (one seems likely to be aired) and earned a check. I did not see Sissy Spacek yet, but I may go back for more opportunities later.
The CBS show, which so far lacks even a working title, is a John Wells production. He's responsible for my current favorite, SouthLAnd, which started on NBC and is now a TNT show (fits in well with the “Characters Welcome” campaign). This one is about some kind of mobile medical team that travels the U.S. to help with crises. (Whatever title they pick, it can hardly be worse than Medical Investigation, which was a 2004-2005 show about a CDC-style team that investigated mysterious outbreaks around the country. Hmmm…)
After seeing that story, I showed up for an open casting call two Sundays ago. They didn't hold auditions, just had hundreds of people fill out information cards and get pictures taken. More than 600 people applied that Saturday; I don’t know that Sunday’s total. Last Thursday, I got voicemail that my photo had been lost, so I e-mailed my FB icon and my DragonCon scrubs-costume picture to them. Monday night at 11, I got a phone call asking if I could be at Winnabow Airport at 6 a.m. Tuesday to be an extra, portraying a patient. I assembled several casual outfits, as requested, but could not get to sleep for a while since I had unfortunately taken a nap earlier.
I dragged myself out of bed around 4:45 and arrived on time (yay, Sarah’s GPS!), checked in at the registration/food tent and was told to wait for a voucher form before going to Wardrobe or Makeup. I ignored the continental breakfast, since it was way before my usual breakfast time. Some guys in the National Guard section of extras called out to me, “Hey, did you go to Hoggard? Class of ’84?” So I had a nice little chat with them, including Tony Ross (didn’t catch the others’ names).
It turned out that Bonanza Productions hadn’t printed enough vouchers for the 300-plus extras (portraying patients, medical personnel, volunteers and National Guards), so eventually the unvouchered “patient” extras had our outfits checked by someone from Wardrobe. I didn’t end up changing outfits, though, and received no makeup; I think only people with “injuries” got anything applied. Then we all streamed over to the hospital tent, which was huge. It was compartmentalized into several successive waiting areas, reception/triage, and a treatment room with several specialized areas.
I was excited to get to the front row right before triage, since I thought that would improve my chances of appearing on the show. I practiced ad-lib and pantomime dialogue with my neighbors; they had us make a lot of noise for background first, and then had us be mute while the actual actors spoke lines.
Then they had several people stand up in front of the triage desks, blocking me. However, I subsequently had the amusement of watching Janeane Garofalo (Mystery Men, 24, The West Wing, etc.) yell “Cuff, I need a cuff!” about 10 times or so. She is a tiny woman, but intense and energetic.
By the way, if you’ve ever read anything about TV or filmmaking, you’ll have heard that it involves hours of waiting and repetition to make clips that last just a few seconds. I can tell you that this is true, based on my extensive sample of two experiences as an extra. ;-)
I never realized that sitting and standing around for a day could be so exhausting.
While Janeane (none of the production crew called her Ms. Garofalo) waited for her forays, she made friends with Larkin, a service dog for a “patient” extra who was using a wheelchair (real, not a prop/role). I think she checked with Larkin’s owner (you’re not supposed to interfere with service dogs that are “working”), but anyway the owner didn’t seem to mind the petting and sweet-talking that Larkin received.
My conversation with Janeane (pronounced Jeh-NEEN) consisted of her asking me later whether the lady with the dog was still here, and my saying I thought she was, back in the waiting area, and gesturing toward that side. That is all. Janeane sneaked back to pet Larkin several more times during the day and one last time on her way out, receiving enthusiastic welcomes from the dog. I commented to the owner that this appeared to be stress relief for both Janeane and Larkin.
After the last “Cuff, I need a cuff!” iteration, they had the extras take a break so they could do some rearrangements inside. We stood around in the sunshine and warmed up. Some of us, including me, stood in front of a big (warm) outdoor floodlight as well. We joked about getting sunburnt by it, but when I got home and looked in a mirror, I realized that it had happened to me. Aloe time!
I had a nice conversation with Casey (K.C.?), an aspiring actor who has been an extra for One Tree Hill and is also in some plays. He urged me to consider creative writing as a career, since I mentioned the woes of the journalism industry.
After the break, I got tapped to move into the treatment area. I sat in a chair while Ken (whose medical nametag said Mike) pretended to take my pulse and tried to make me laugh with his whispered/pantomimed dialogue. I resisted as best I could, hissing, “This is not a joke! Don’t patronize me, Doctor, I need help!” Our little contest was rather fun, albeit risky.
Then (1 p.m.) everybody broke for lunch, with a choice of herbed chicken or salmon chimmichurro (yum!), salad, potatoes, broccoli and brownies. Another film/TV rumor I can “confirm” is the ample food on set. All day, they had tables of snacks set up, in addition to the catered breakfast and lunch. (Even at Fiddler’s Creek Production’s zombie commercial shooting this winter, where I volunteered as an extra, pizza, chips and candy bars were plenteous.) During lunch, Bonanza finally got the voucher forms to everyone.
After lunch, we moved back to our places. I got moved from my patient/pulse role to stand behind a long table with some other patient/lookie-loos as we were filmed all agog watching Skeet Ulrich’s big scene (multiple times). There were plenty of other people in the scene, including Janeane and Twilight actress Rachelle Lefevre, but he was the center of that scene. Ulrich (Jericho, Scream; incidentally, the nephew of retired NASCAR driver Ricky Rudd) looks very tall rushing through a doorway and shouting, but fairly average-sized when standing quietly. He must just have a command presence that acts as a size multiplier.
I won’t say what was happening in this crucial scene, although the production company didn’t make us sign nondisclosure agreements. I think my little tidbits here about the production process are harmless, but I just don’t feel it would be fair for me to give plot spoilers.
They had us break again after that. I wasn’t in the background this time, but I stood as close to the treatment area as I could, so I could go on watching. Then they told the back half of the room full of extras that they could go home. I felt lucky to stay.
I sat and talked with Larkin’s owner. Someone else said she heard a rumor that Sissy Spacek had been spotted in Wilmington and was joining this show. I said that was really unlikely, since it would have been all over the news if she had.
Then the crew came back and picked some more people, including me, for background. I hope they cut the other clips that have me, for continuity, but keep this one! They had extras watching the big scene again, but this time we formed a sort of corridor. We reacted as the scene progressed. At the end, Skeet Ulrich strode along between us, passing just inches from me.
Then they had the extras sit down again while they shot more close-ups of the scene. Finally, they ended filming for the night, and started processing the extras’ paperwork. They asked us all to come back. I got out of there at 8:30.
Sadly, I have real work on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons (as opposed to play-work on set), so I couldn’t commit to either of those days. However, they told me to call on Thursday to see if I can go again on Friday, and maybe next week.
Once I got home, I checked online and discovered that yes, Sissy Spacek is indeed joining the cast. Yay for the show’s visibility! Maybe SouthLAnd’s critical raves helped convince her to sign up for this.
If entertainment chatter bores you, I hope you stopped reading long ago. I enjoyed the day quite a bit, and I hope some of my friends and relatives appreciate this one-day immersion in the Wilmington TV experience.