Thursday, November 10, 2011

My short career in the movies

Being an extra on the set of “Parental Guidance” was a great experience.  Yes, there is a lot of downtime, and yes, I only had a few seconds of camera time (that may not make into the film), but I learned a lot.  Here are my observations:

1.        I am surprised at how much movie-making takes place in Atlanta.

2.       I was surprised at how many people showed up to be extras.  My estimate is that 200 showed up to be in the concert hall scene.

3.       Seeing an experienced actor like Billy Crystal develop his line delivery through various takes was exciting.  He became more involved in the character each time the scene was repeated.  Bette Midler was impressive in her understanding of the timing of a scene so that its flow was more realistic and funnier.

4.       Crystal and Midler have developed styles of walking through a set that keeps them from engaging extras and crew.  I can understand that easily enough.  Why would anyone want to say hello to all 300 people involved in a scene.  Of course, the crew is used to seeing the talent more than the extras are, but the self protective style of not making eye contact helps maintain their privacy.

5.       Breakfast and lunch were provided for the extras.  I thought it was decent but others complained a bit about it.  It was free, so I didn’t feel the need to be too critical.  The crew had access to a buffet throughout the day. there is no doubt that extras are at the bottom of the food chain.

6.       I am allergic to the makeup used.  I was very aware that I had something on my skin; maybe with time I will get used to it.

7.       The work day could last up to 14 hours.  Both Crystal and Midler were on set most of the day.  They didn’t retreat to a trailer.  It takes a great deal of stamina to maintain that pace.

8.       There were three child actors.  One seemed to be about five-years old.  Of course a child that age needs constant encouragement to stay focused and to tolerate the need for retakes.  It is also important to allow them to be kids.  But, this young made was told repeatedly how great he is by person after person.  He also had people taking care of his hair and his clothing.  He was hanging around with A-list celebrities and crew.  It is no wonder that some of these young people begin to overestimate their value, and when they no longer have marketability, feel cheated, angry, and unhappy.  It is easy to see why they run into problems as they age.

9.       I was surprised at how each scene has to be planned so carefully and shot multiple times because of camera angles, the substitution of stunt actors, timing, continuity, and acting, including flubbed lines.  I now look at scenes differently when watching a story, that is, I now appreciate how much went into getting it just right.

10.   The good news for film actors is that don’t have to memorize long scripts before each scene is shot.  Since each lasts at most a few minutes, it’s seems relatively easy for the actors to memorize the lines for the next few minutes of filming. 

11.   The scene I was involved with was filmed at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center in Atlanta.  A symphony orchestra was on stage, and a violin soloist had to play a few bars of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto over and over.  She had to stand for some time between takes.  I was surprised that she wasn’t offered a chair.  I have been tired of the Tchaikovsky for some time- it is over programmed in the concert hall.  The repetition for the film did not make me like it any more. 

12.   There are a large number of people on a set.  Each seems to know what to do next.  Because I don’t understand the flow of work, I was wondering how each person knew what to do next, but I know that we all learn our jobs over time and we don’t need a road map on how to do them. 

13.   I admire the steadicam operator.  According to one crew person, the camera and mount weigh about 50 pounds and seems to put a great deal of stress on the camera person’s back.  The operator didn’t seem to wince once. 

14.   The lighting of the set seemed very white.  I suppose that when it is photographed or when the film is in post-production, the light is softened.

I really enjoyed my short career as an extra.  I learned a lot, and I also met many enjoyable people.  I hope that I can land similar parts in the near future.   

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