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.

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