Sunday, April 06, 2014

For a few EXTRA dollars....

There has been quite a bit of movie and tv filming around Charleston.

Reminded me of my time working for Universal Studios in Los Angeles, back in the 1970s. There I could roam the giant and diverse Back Lot.

Now I am living in a large setting for productions.

Last year I signed up on the local website to be a part of this Silver Screening Activity: An Atmosphere person. A Backgrounder. A paid Extra.
But, nothing happened. No calls from Lifetime's Army Wives during its 7 years of tours in Charleston.

Didn't hear back from casting for sultry Reckless on CBS.

Or that other one, on Bravo, Southern Charm, with Mr. Ravenel. (Has he been shown yet driving over THAT bridge?)
Finally I was asked to be way in the background on Identity,
a pilot being shot by CBS for possible pickup later this summer.

Apparently my name and photo had been passed around to various productions and - finally - an old retired guy with white hair was needed.

I had a 3:30 pm call Wednesday at the old Naval Hospital on Rivers Avenue.

I was to be part of a background crowd of assorted doctors, nurses, interns, orderlies, and EMS first-responders.

Oh yes, AND some patients.

I also had been told I might be used as a family member in civvies, visiting the hospital but - lucky me - I was handed a white wife-beater shirt and an open-in-the-back hospital gown.

So I went to the dressing room trailer, one of many bright white vehicles parked inside the barb-wire topped fence by the entrance to the long-closed hospital.

I had been told to bring lounging pants/sweatpants and slippers. My butt was not going to be visible. And, no draft.

I now was about to learn how to be a patient patient.

The instructions were to NOT wear primary colors (they hate RED) and my pair of grey checked pajama bottoms were rejected because "it might cause problems for the camera."

Well I knew I didn't want to be a trouble-maker on the set with bothersome pjs drawing the attention of the cameraman or director.

We went "on the clock" at 3:30 and lounged around in a large room that I guess used to be the main lobby. The 10-story building had opened in 1973, started slowing down in 1993 and closed in 2007.

We costumed extras ate snacks, read or used tablets, Smartphones and iPods, wandered down to the crafts food truck for bottled water and found where the Porta-Potties were placed.

One "nurse" commented she had three children and had attended many "boo-boos" so was comfortable portraying a medical person.

A doctor nearby munched on a healthy red apple and I gave him  a "thumbs up." Two other doctors gave conflicting views on smoking.

I had left my camera in my car, thinking surely it would not be allowed, but noted most had a cell phone and were taking snapshots.

We were still waiting for other scenes ahead of us to be filmed (or taped) and my rumbling stomach was pleased when the crew came streaming past us for the 6:30 pm "lunch break."

We were invited to join the crew by the P.A. (Production Assistant) who herded us to the craft food tent nearby.

Parked at the curb was the mobile kitchen I assume was used to prepare the delicious meals.

Naturally, as a blogger, I used my phone-cam to show my tasty fried chicken plate. Catfish and BBQ ribs were the other protein choices.

After the meal, the P.A. had staff issue us the props we would use in our two hospital scenes.

While others now were wearing ID badges and stethoscopes, the EMS duo strapped on thick Batman-like black belts with their pouches and equipment.

Authentic-looking shiny metal badges were pinned to their white shirts.

We patients now wore fake hospital wrist bands. Hmmm. Mine said I was one of the Smith girls. 

Should I ask for a another one, a male bracelet? Well, it was very tiny type.

I'm sure the fictitious Doc Kevin Miller was a fine chap. 

Probably an OB-GYN though.

A wheel chair appeared and another fellow was given crutches. He later would have a fake cast applied to his left lower leg.

I was to be the "old patient pushing an IV bottle on a wheeled stand."

A medical technical expert examined how each patient looked, made suggestions and said they now could tape my IV to the back of my right hand.

No needle means no pain.

I liked my prop but was a little jealous of the young man who would have a GSW* and be rolled into the ER on a bloody gurney

*Everybody else called it a gun shot wound but I had heard the initials on a tv crime show. And I have a daughter who's a detective in Oakland so I had heard the term.

Close to 8 pm, we carried our props (I rolled mine) and moved two rooms closer to the working set.

Now we had to be very quiet and absolutely silent between hearing  "Rolling" and "Cut."

There was some whispering as we were briefed and assumed our assigned positions in the hallway leading to the ER entrance.

Every hospital scene has people moving around in the background in a busy flurry of orchestrated activity.

Now I had a start point and, on hearing "Background," I would shuffle my way through the moving crowd, pushing my IV bottle along, with a sad but ever hopeful expression, turn right just at the ER doors and step out of view and wait to hear "Cut." 

This would be followed by a bellowed "Re-Set," and all the extras would quickly scramble back to the start position. Actually 10 or so crew members were hustling in and around us, adjusting lights, carrying tubing and strange shaped metal supports until the last second when they darted out of sight. 

We did this 17 times.

Then we returned to the nearby Quiet Zone waiting area.

Two hours later, we were assigned new start positions on a different hallway, the filming began and ended, was reset and done over with slight changes in camera angles. About 15 - 20  times.

At 12:45 am, we turned in our props and costumes, I grabbed one last chocolate chip cookie and nodded to the new crew of extras who had been waiting for their 10:00 pm call.

We had been told to NOT talk to the actors so I was quiet when the show's star Ahna O'Reilly took a break, sipping bottled water, in a room opposite me as I stood on my second late night start spot.

I drove home knowing I had made $58.00 but - maybe more importantly - was now on a short list of dependable extras who had committed, shown up on time and would (hopefully) be called again.

Oh yeah, after 8 hours, the pay jumps to time and a half!

(Click on the photos for more behind-the-scenes detail.)

I worked all day in sweatpants and slippers.

And nobody had snickered "ICU."

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At Sun Apr 06, 09:54:00 PM , Blogger Charlestonjoan said...

How fun! It's always neat to get the behind the scene view on how these program work.

At Sun Apr 06, 09:59:00 PM , Blogger chuckography said...

I know you have appeared in tv commercials for the hospital. You were the "talent" while others moved around in the background!LOL

At Tue Apr 08, 10:23:00 AM , Blogger Rick said...

Thanks for the day on the set. Sounds like it was a lot of fun even though the hours were long.


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