Sunday, June 29, 2008

Radford Teacher #2

I've previously mentioned my experience working in film, which is fairly limited. A few day player parts, and more than a handful of "background" gigs, had prepped me for what was in store for me with My One and Only: a lot of Hurry Up And Wait. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised that I escaped this routine.

This experience with film was the easiest I have ever encountered. At around 3 PM, I arrived in the dicey neighborhood of East Baltimore which had been taken over by the film crew. Massive trucks and trailers lined a full city block. Crew members meandered hither and yon (everybody was Union, so nobody rushed). Shooting had begun many hours earlier, inside an old Catholic school which had been commandeered for today's filming. (Several times I passed by a front office populated by some confused but fascinated nuns.)

As a "principal player," I naturally had my own trailer. Well, not all my own. I shared it with a young girl playing a student in my scene, and a woman playing "the old lady" in a scene to be shot later in the day, and Kevin Bacon.

That's right, I shared a trailer with Kevin Bacon.

Well, that sounds much more exciting than it was. These trailers are long monstrosities with individual cubicles into which can be stuffed as many as half a dozen actors, all with their own bathroom. I have a strong hunch Kevin's was much larger than mine, as I was in a cubbyhole about the size of a walk-in closet. But it had a place to sit, a place to pee, and a place to keep cool. The weather outside was a humid 90 degrees.

Soon my "wardrobe" arrived (the blazer, slacks, dress shirt, tie, shoes, and socks which had been chosen for me the day before). When I was at my fitting on Tuesday, my dresser mentioned that she could always tell when she was working with a stage actor: he always hung up his clothes after trying them on. I guess film actors just chuck them anywhere, knowing that some poor schnook will put them in their proper place. Here's another difference between stage and screen: onstage, actors wear costumes. On film, they are in "wardrobe."

Though I was disappointed that my trailer buddy Kevin Bacon had already wrapped for the day (more movie talk: It means he finished and went back to the hotel), I was still excited to be on what was clearly a big budget project. Soon, I was hustled to Hair and Make-up, which inhabited one of the long trailers, where the circles were removed from my eyes, and the grey was removed from my roots.

I had been on the clock only an hour when the dinner break was announced. I was warned that my scene would be shot directly after the meal, so I was not able to really enjoy the grilled chicken and fish which were being served (crews on location are treated to extravagant meals and snacks, as opposed to actors in live theatre, who are treated to a cup of coffee and a cookie if you are lucky).

True to their plan, I had only about 10 minutes back in my swanky trailer before I was called to the set. Of course, actors are not expected to get to the set on their own. It's at least 100 yards away. Each and every actor who has a speaking role must be escorted to and from the set by a production assistant. I have wondered about this practice in previous film endeavors; it has always seemed a waste of somebody's time to walk me to the set. I guess in Hollywood, actors tend to get lost along the way.

The scene was set in the afore-mentioned Catholic school. I was ushered into a fiendishly hot classroom full of lights, two cameras, dozens of crew members, 6 or 7 children already seated in their seats, and my stand-in. Yep, Radford Teacher #2 had his own stand-in, who had spent all afternoon standing motionless in this sweatbox, while I lounged comfortably in my trailer, thinking about my character.

My role, though large enough to warrant a stand-in (he actually looked like me!), was too small to have required a callback audition, so this was the first time I was introduced to my director, Richard Loncraine, the Brit who had cast me from the videotape of my audition in the casting director's office a month ago. He was a charming chap who paid almost no attention to me, as the focus of the scene was on one of his leading men, a boy of about 14. Logan Lerman, who has apparently been acting throughout his youth, was playing a young George Hamilton (yep, this movie is about a year in the life of George Hamilton). The scene was clearly about him, not his teacher.

In the scene, "young George" relates all the experiences he and his mother (Renee Zellweger) had had the past year, in a monologue which was alternately funny and poignant. The kid had no trouble with the speech the first few takes we filmed, but when the cameras were rearranged to point directly at him, to catch all the close-up nuances and such, he fell apart. The words stopped coming, and his youth and lack of focus began to show. I felt quite sorry for the kid, who was under a lot of pressure to perform.

As for me, I delivered my line perfectly. That is, after the first three or four takes. Inexplicably, my nerves took over, and the line came out of my mouth in different variations over and over. The director didn't even notice, and surely didn't care (the writing in films has a very low level of importance to moviemakers), but I certainly knew (and so did the script supervisor, who shot me many a wicked glance). I have a hunch the take they will finally use is one in which I did indeed say the words as written, but we'll have to wait and see.

I hope the scene remains in the film, if only so everyone can be impressed with the physical move I added to the piece: walking backwards. One doesn't often see people walking backwards in everyday life, but Radford Teacher #2 did it with panache.

As for poor young Logan, he was fussed over and cajoled, even as the clock was ticking on his work day (as a kid, child labor laws were in effect, and they had to get this shot, and another, before his time was up for the day. Talk about pressure!). The kid actually wasn't bad, and though he maintains that he doesn't even want to be an actor (he wants to be a lawyer), that'll surely change as Hollywood gets a load of his Jonas Brothers-type look.

I was released from the shoot at 8 PM, and made it home before nightfall.

I have a hunch now that my scene will remain in the movie, though I doubt anyone will pay any attention to me. It was fun to be in a film which will surely have a high-profile, whenever it's released.

And I'm happy. I'm now one degree of separation from Kevin Bacon.