01 May 2008


Yesterday was my second and final day of filming on The Compleat Victrola Sessions (see 4/28/08 for my first and introductory). This time we were in The Miller Theatre, just off the glorious Columbia University main campus at 116th Street, which was something of an improvement in location over the last shoot I attended, at least in hygiene if not general character.

Some of the excitement of doing background work had worn off for me by yesterday, but it was still a little thrill to consider showing up in a silent film. Our focus was on filming audience reactions most of the day, so fifteen-odd of we few (we lucky few, we band of extras) sat in a convincing spread of seats in different arrangements, representing two different nights of a live musical performance, as well as one audience watching a movie. Thereafter, we had a good hour break, and on our return we filmed a sequence that took place just outside the dressing rooms of two of the featured characters.

The audience work was rather dull, for the most part. You can imagine. We sat and, on cue, looked intently at a particular position on stage. It would have been an interesting exercise, were it not for its complete lack of interest. Still, I tried to make the best of it, thinking to myself all the while that this must be what it's like to act with a green screen. What was most interesting about this, in fact, was the fact that our crowd included some Italians. I don't know why they in particular were there exactly; I think they were someone's friends, visiting the country. They all spoke very good English, but naturally opted for their native tongue most of the time. It was difficult for me not to try to join in, but I kept getting images of them either becoming impatient with my relative ignorance, or slowing things down to a crawl in order to accommodate me; I couldn't decide which would be worst.
I brought two outfits for the day, plus my Lloyd-esque glasses in the hopes that there'd be a chance to use them. The first outfit was my evening wear which, in spite of costing me a pretty penny, was almost as motley an assortment as The Tramp's genesis-wardrobe. That morning I realized I had forgotten to get studs for the tuxedo shirt I bought, and began frantically sewing the smallest black buttons I could find together. They were still too big, so I had to nip the ends of the surging on my outer button holes. The "waiter's jacket" I had (imagine a tailored look on top, as with tails, sans tails) just barely covered the buttons holding my suspenders to my pants. This was important, because those buttons are still miniature grinning skulls, a remnant of a costume for a show from years ago. The suspenders themselves were some clever costumer's trick, made as they were of restitched, patterned neckties. My tie was a bow tie, the real kind, and I felt confident with my Internet instructions for tying it. This effort predominated my preparations once at the location, and I never really got it right. Still and all, I was proud. Once hat, gloves and cane were added, the effect was distinct and good. Held together with scotch tape, but solid-looking.

For the movie scene, I traded the jacket for a standard black sport one, removed the tie and donned my Lloyd glasses. This prompted the director to exclaim that I was a "man of 1,000 looks" as she referenced how different I was from my bartender on day one. I'll admit I was proud of this, too, bringing to mind as it did memories of Lon Chaney (Sr.). After a little while, however, I remembered me that this was film, a medium within which most actors consider it career suicide to change their look too drastically. Gary Oldman, as always, my hat flies effortlessly from my brow to you, good sir.

Funny story: In the movie-theatre scene, my glasses will not be noticeable. Largely this is because I look to be sucking face with someone sitting next to me. I play one-half of the couple that makes the feature couple feel alternately randy and awkward. I am not, however, actually sucking face. The director favored making the process "PG-13," and so asked me to feign smooching by placing my distant hand between our mouths. Yes. She did. Ah, movie magic! I could have taken the time to explain that this was, in fact, much more awkward than making out with a stranger, but it would have taken time (the most precious commodity in film, it seems) and possibly made me out to be a perv. So the fingertips of my right hand got some serious play that day.

The day also served to demonstrate for me that a film set is far more fertile ground for personal drama and diva tactics than even a theatre (I wish I could account for opera in this scale, but I lack experience [come to think, we were in a theatre this day...maybe that added? {whatever.}]). In film, if you're on the main crew or a featured player, you are nigh-literally living with the same people day in and day out, slavishly devoting your schedule to the sake of the film itself. If you're on location, you don't even "go home" at the end of the sometimes-18-hour day. It's far more intense in this regard than theatre, even a gig that may be out of town. Never mind that much of the time is spent "doing nothing"; it's an environment of hurry-up-and-wait. It is one intense, prolonged tech day, is what it is. Amazing anything gets done, and amazing no one gets killed in the process.

My last duty within this environment was to play an adoring fan of Ms. Rebecca Cherry's character, awaiting her exit from her dressing room. It was back into the evening wear for this. I was to hand her a bunch of flowers, then remain to be crowd as other things happened. The final thing to happen was for one character to assault another and take her away. This was my moment to shine, where my expertise with all things physical would hold sway and help to pave my way into film infamy. I eagerly leapt into the discussion of choreography.

It ended up being a shove. My job was to catch the shoved one and transplant him safely to the floor, making it look like he had simply fallen into me, taking us both down. I did it about half a dozen times. But hey: I did it without yawning. And hey again: People were very impressed with the job I did. Catching a guy who was a foot away from me six times in a row without dropping him? Wow. I must work out.

I must make my own silent film.

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