Yesterday I had my first of two days' filming on The Compleat Victrola Sessions, a really, really cool project that I'm feeling very lucky to be involved with (albeit in an unpaid, catch-as-catch-can sort of involvement). The project is to create a silent film, which will be accompanied in performance by the musician who is also starring in it, one Ms. Rebecca Cherry. It's directed by Winsome Brown, and the directory of photography is Jennifer Reeves, who is filming the whole thing in 16mm. Yes: 16mm. As in, film. The black-and-white, silent kind, on which you can only get 44 seconds of shot-time at a go. The only way it could be more authentic is if it were a hand-cranked camera. (Here's a taste of what the cinematography may look like: The Unfolding Opium Poppy.) Needless to say (unless, of course, this is your first time on ma' 'blog [in which case: Hi! You should know I can't get enough silent film. Wait. Where are you going...?]) I could hardly be more psyched to sit in on this process, much less act a (very) little in it.
I arrived horribly bloody late at yesterday's shoot location: a quite run-down loft-cum-performance space in Brooklyn off the JMZ. In a slight panic, I dashed up the stairs -- which are probably not exactly compliant with housing standards, but I was afraid I was already fired from my non-paying job -- and burst into a large room in which several people were . . . milling about. Looking quasi-purposeful. A couple were women in 1920s' dress, and they had the same expression of expectancy that I would be wearing for about the next hour thereafter. Here we are. What do we do?
Eventually all was made clear, but not before I went through a good period of feeling oddly awkward and guilty, standing there, in suspenders and vest (AND pants, you ruffians), reading my NYPL-loaned play, wondering if I had dressed up enough, if I should be doing something, if I was creeping people out by not making nervous conversation with anyone. Eventually, the room was set up to resemble a "speakeasy" (I so wanted to tell them it was more a "blind pig," but for promising myself not to geek out too much through the day) and the director finished working in another room and found her way to clear a few things up for we wandering extras. Between her needs and our costumes, she allotted us roles and, owing largely to my shirt sleeves and vest I'm sure, I was cast as the bartender.
It ended up being a great day, when all was said and done. It was intimidating at first because A) I didn't know a single person there, and B) the general atmosphere of the building could not be helped but to remind one of a disused crack den. I soon discovered, however, that everyone there was not only excited to be there but generally interesting and friendly. The leads were even psyched to have extras there, I think, for having new folks to talk to. It is true for film in general, I believe, that a lot of the time spent "working" is, for the actors, time spent waiting. Particularly true for a silent film that can only be shot for seconds at a time, with one camera. As a background player, the most taxing thing I had to do all day was to stand for a prolonged period of time. Which, as Friend Patrick has attested, ain't exactly easy. So it's good to converse with your fellow man as much as possible. Most professional movie actors have perfected the art of taking interest in what you have to say, I'd wager.
As to the film itself, it's hard to get a whole picture of it (so to speak) from my perspective as a relative hanger-on. I'll tell you one thing: It ain't a comedy. Our heroine gets addicted to . . . opium, for one thing (heroin not yet being in vogue), and for another, it would be a real SOB to film a comedy in this format. The which presents some interesting considerations for Yours Truly, and I wish I had more hats to take off to all the silent comedians of days gone by. At any rate, be it 16 or 24 fps, I was of course a little disappointed not to find a pratfall anywhere in the room. I had even brought a pair of Lloyd-like glasses with me in case a little visual homage were in order, but it was clear from the start that such was not the objective of this particular moving picture. So I wiped the bar down, and I made chit-chat with actors when their mark was nearby. A pleasant day. And hey: Free Thai food!
I return to shoot in a couple of different settings this Wednesday. One of these settings is a concert hall, and occasioned the purchase of a gray top hat. Why do you need a gray top hat? I don't. Not really. BUT NOW I HAVE ONE! Ahh. It really is the little things in life. There is also something of a possibility that more of my individual talents may be brought into play. When I originally sent my information to Winsome, expressing interest in the project, I highlighted my movement experience, which of course includes some stage combat. Apparently there is to be a scrap filmed on Wednesday, and she suggested I may be useful for that. I don't know if that means I'd be involved on film, or advising about movement, or what. We shall see. Whatever the outcome, it's exciting just knowing that I get to return to that world.
I'm in a silent film. God, I love my job.