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.
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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.

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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.

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