NAT GERTLER WRITER
Nat Gertler vs. the Invisible Giant Monkey
It started on a weekend. Most booking of TV and movie extras take place during on the week, for the next weekday. On Friday, they handle the bookings for Saturday through Monday. However, there are sometimes "rush" calls (work the same day, rather than the next) over the weekend, when a production finds that they need more people than anticipated, or that someone has cancelled. As such, it's worth checking the phone recording on the weekend.
This time, there was no work for the weekend. However, there was a warning that there would be a rush call on Monday for a night shoot on Disney's remake of Mighty Joe Young. The information on who to call was supposed to be added on the line at 10 AM. That means that you had to be up at 10, when you were anticipating working through the night. This is not a good formula for getting rested extras.
At 10, I checked the recording. No rush call yet. I checked a few times over the next hour. Finally, a little after 11, the call was posted. They needed a fair number of people, and there wasn't any of the sort of requirements that usually rule me out from extra assignments. I call the contact number from the recording. The lady took my vital information, then hooked me to another recording with info about when and where.
The shoot was taking place on Hollywood Boulevard, along the famous stretch with Mann's Chinese Theatre on it (that's the one with the stars' footprints in the cement.) I was supposed to show up at around 6:30, and I need colorful clothing, looking either like a tourist or a club-goer. Colorful -- and me with my growing tendency to buy bland clothes in black, white, and grey. I had some nice pink pocket t-shirts that should do well for the top, but my collection of black pants would not likely complete the outfit well.
I head out to Aaardvarks, a chain store featuring used and interesting clothing. For $15, I pick up a nifty green cowboy shirt and a pair of green pants. I keep the receipt; this clothing is likely to be deductible. (And I think about buying a tux there; they aren't too expensive, and not having one has kept me out of a number of shoots.)
After catching a little sleep (though not as much as hoped), I head out to the shoot. I get there a little early, as planned. I stand in line to check in... and it turns out that I'm not on the list. Hanging out for a little bit, it turns out that everyone that Cenex had signed up today aren't on the list; the only people on the list are those who had been working this shoot previously. (Apparently, it's been shooting for several days.) They tell me to head out for a while and come back around 8.
There is a crowd outside. This is a mixture of the local street people, extras catching a smoke, and folks who showed up hoping that there would be a shortage of extras; they've been told that at 8 PM, it will be known whether extra extras are needed. I head up Hollywood Boulevard to do a little shopping while waiting; there's a large newsstand and a memorabilia store that I like to visit when I'm in the area. I head back to the extras location... and security won't let me in the door, because they think I'm one of the extra would-be-extras rather than someone whose supposed to be on the list. Checking with one of the on-the-list extras who is outside feeding his nicotine habit, I learn that today's list has finally shown up, so I make a concerted effort to get past security, and succeed.
Once inside, I get my voucher (or at least what appears to be mine; the last name is mangled), and I get the inside of my wrist stamped so that they can identify me as one of their people. I then head into one of two rooms with tables and chairs to wait. I sit by three attractive young ladies (and if you think that happened by accident, you don't know me very well!) who are playing cards with a male fourth. I pull out a crossword puzzle book and set to work on it; extra work tends to involve a lot of waiting.
Outside, they're setting up the shoot. They've arranged for the street to be closed to traffic from 8 PM through 6 AM. They set up what they can ahead of time, with the current movie billboards on the Mann's theatre being replaced with billboards for Armegeddon, another Disney film slated for '98. The smaller movie posters have been replaced with posters for films with monkey-related titles: 12 Monkeys, Monkey Trouble, Jungle Fever. After that, they start filling the street with cars. Soon, they're ready to shoot.
The extras are being dragged in groups to wardrobe, where their clothes are checked for acceptibility. The pink shirt and green pants pass inspection.
8 o'clock passes. There is no work for the would-be extra extras. If anything, they've overbooked extras for tonight, wtih several hundred on-hand. Apparently, they've overbooked on past nights as well. Extras who have been working this shoot for a few days (or worked on some other Mighty Joe Young crowd scenes) are complaining about the production being very disorganized. A group of us are taken down to a side street. Mighty Joe Young is a film about a giant gorilla (not as big as King Kong, but bigger than real simians). In the shot they're working on now, the 18-wheeler carrying the ape has just fallen on its side. Those of us on the side street have various reactions... rushing forward to help the people in the cab, rushing away from the accident, or just plain ignoring it all and going on with our business. Suddenly, the ape breaks out of the truck, which grabs everyone's attention.
There's a Land Rover-type vehicle on the side street, with apparently major characters inside. Something about this vehicle looked fake to me. Listening to some of the production people talking, I learn what it was--the vehicle is clearly new, but it doesn't have the sheen of a new auto. It (and other vehicles being used) have been sprayed with something to dull the finish, for lighting reasons. We are positioned and given direction. Other people wander onto the set; it is quickly realized that these are "civilians", genuine tourists who are either just trying to see what's going on or are trying to become part of a movie shoot. These people are generally easy to identify, however; they're filming the scene with their video cameras, or they're standing in all the wrong places, or their clothes are wrong (one couple, for example, got quickly snagged because they had t-shirts that said "San Diego", something that would never be allowed on a scene that's supposed to be in L.A.)
Then they change their mind, reposition many of us, and give us different directions. Then they look at the scene, realize it's too crowded, and send about 1/3 of us away, myself included. Apparently, this has been standard operating procedure on the Hollywood Boulevard shoot. It's back to the waiting area for me, where I grab some munchies, then start talking with the card players. One lady is an airline hostess based in Arizona; she takes advantage of her free flights to work on establishing her acting career in Hollywood. Another is a regular at this work, and is taking acting classes to try to get into real acting as well. The third, a young Asian lady named New, doesn't speak much, but laughs often and well. Some of them are dragged out for a different scene, and I end up playing cards with the student, although we're never quite sure of the rules to that game we're playing, and don't keep score. It's her deck, and the backs have a picture of a naked lady sunning herself on a rock.
Eventually, we get dragged out for another scene. They have us hanging around the cement footprints outside Mann's. The acting student has never been here before, and she's thrilled by it. She doesn't recognize most of the names, so when she asks, I explain who they were, to the best of my knowledge (a few elude me.) It becomes important to her that she find John Wayne's footprints, because of her favorite I Love Lucy episode, in which Lucy steals the footprints. We find the footprints in the last corner we check. She's elated.
She asks me if the movie theater is any good. It is; I've been there before, and it is the best theater I know of (not counting Imax or other special-system theaters.) The decor is beautiful, the seats are comfortable, the screens are large, and the sound system is wonderful. She wonders if it's ultra expensive, but I point to the ticket booth; prices are roughly normal for an in-the-city theater, with bargain matinees to bring the price down further. She wnts to go there sometime. I offer to treat her. She doesn't seem interested in going to the theater with me. Ah, well. It was worth a try.
The scene is set up. The ape is trashing a car. The crew shows us what is going on using this full-size inflatable ape stand-in. It doesn't have any features, but it has a full ape shape. I dub it "the inflatable love monkey." The i.l.m. jumps up and down on an expensive new Mercedes. Well, it looks like an ordinary new Mercedes, but it's had $100,000 worth of customization done. The interiors have been fitted with a hydraulic system to pull parts of the car from the inside, making it look as though it's been smashed from the outside. They only have one of these cars, so this is a one-shot deal. We film the scene, and it's kind of cool to watch the car destroy itself. The metal buckles, the glass smashes. One of the steps of destruction doesn't work quite right, though, and crewmen end up having to smash the car with tools. They'll probably touch this up when they add the ape in post-production.
In most of the scenes, the ape will be entirely animated via computer. In some scenes, however, they've used a fancy electric ape puppet for facial close-ups. I never get to see the puppet.
More waiting. More card playing. More talking. "Lunchtime" comes; for night shoots, we can get breakfast foods to eat before shooting starts, and then lunch is an hour, usually starting around midnight. The food isn't great, in this case, but as it is free, I partake heavily.
One of the crew comes through looking for people who have not been "visible"--i.e., who haven't been close enough to the camera to be identifiable. I'm among those picked. They're doing the end of the smashing-the-car scene. The ape gives it one last slam, walks away, and the car's owner comes out of the restaurant to find his new vehicle in ruins. On the way to the shooting spot, I get to talking with a lady named Rae. She appears to be in her late fifties, but an energetic and upbeat lady, and we take to joking around.
Rae and I get positioned as a couple on the sidewalk. The ape crunches the car, we recoil against the wall. Then the ape walks away, and we move toward the car for a look as the owner comes up.
We practice the shot. When we head against the wall, I shield her with my arm. She grabs on to it, pulling it to her chest in fear (or the need to be felt up; I can't be sure which.) When we head in for a view, we end up well-positioned near the car owner. Then we shoot the scene a few times. The last step of the car-crush is fairly undoable, so they can repeat it. Each time we shoot it, Rae and I get closer and more in-frame, so the odds are quite good that I'll be visible.
They always shoot scenes multiple times. Even if it seems to go perfect the first time, it's a lot cheaper to get the extra take now, rather than to discover later that something wasn't quite right, and try to put the scene back together again.
During this scene, we start to see the first signs that the sun is rising. The shoot will have to end soon, since it is a night scene. Besides, the Boulevard has to be open at 6 AM. Off in the background, they are using some special equipment to right the tipped-over truck.
The scene is finished, and that ends shooting for the day. There is a long line turning in their vouchers. We are told that our "out" time is 6:12 AM; which strikes people as an odd figure. I was working under the assumption that we would get paid overtime in units of full hours; when I get my check a couple weeks later, I discover that they've been rounding to the 10th of the hour, so this time makes more sense. they tell me my "call" time was 7, when it was really 6:30, but I don't feel like hassling over the half hour, particularly since I ended up with shopping time. Minus an hour for dinner, that's 10.2 hours total for the day.
We're given the option of coming back for the next day or not. I choose to. Many choose not to, which is just as well because they were so overloaded with extras. Even so, there is a rush call for fresh meat the next day.
During the day in-between, I do some Web research on the film. The director is Ron Underwood. He's the shortest guy on the set. You could tell he was the director, not only because he was walking with confidence, but because he didn't have a headset or even a walkie-talkie, as the rest of the crew does. I find a list of the stars. Bill Paxton is at the top of the list; I mistakenly confuse him with the currently more successful Bill Pullman. I won't realize my mistake for over a week. The only other actor name I recognize is David Paymer, an immensely talented actor , but hardly a marquee name. (You might remember him as the brother/manager in the Billy Crystal film Mr. Saturday Night.) Night 2 was much the same as Night 1. The card players were all back, so I hung with them for a while.
I showed up wearing the green cowboy shirt. One of the folks pointed out that you should always come wearing the same clothes you wore the night before. I have the t-shirt (actually, a second identical one), and he convinces me to put it on. No sooner to I get back from the bathroom where I changed where they announced that everyone should be wearing different clothes than they had the night before, and I go change back. I also pull my hair back into a pony tail; if I'm wearing different clothes, then I'm supposed to be a different person, and should look different.
We shoot a crowd scene, watching the monkey climb Mann's. For the first time, we see a different stand-in monkey: it's a picture of an ape head on a wooden pole, a "lolli-ape" if you will. This lets us know where we should be looking when we see the ape, but is only useful for a short bit, as the monkey climbs where the pole cannot. The head is used only for rehearsal in this scene; we cannot have the aparatus visible on the shot itself. as such, we all have to gawk at or run from an invisible giant monkey.
While this scene is setting up, they are working at laying the truck back down again. Another extra, who is there for his first night, looks at it, shakes his head, and says that they will never been able to tip that truck like that. I laugh, and explain that they've been laying that truck down for about 4 nights now. It amy not look like it'll work, but it will work. (Because of the repetition, the can't just knock the truck over; it would be damaged additionally each time, and thus not look consistant.)
This shot takes a fair number of rehearsals and a lot of rearranging and replanning. Again, it looks like this production is simply not as organized as it ought to be.
Then came lunch. After lunch, I leave the card players and headed over to another room where Rae was playing cards--the same game, and again with a lack of full rules. I take to flirting with her and a blonde friend of hers who is simlar age. They enjoy it (I don't think they get flirted with as often as people should be), and a good time is had by all.
Then we all get dragged out for the last scene of the night. It's going back to when the ape first emerges from the truck. (Scenes for film are shot in order of convenience, not in order of occurence.) This time, we're on the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard, instead of the side street. Many of us approach the overturned truck, until the beast emerges, at which point we flee, while looking back regularly. I start in the middle of the group, which is spread out over half of a long block. I walk at my normal quick pace, and by the time the beast emerges, I'm actually closest to the truck on most takes, out of 50-100 extras. By the time the fleeing part is over, I'm the furthest from the truck. My childhood may not have prepared me for many things, but I became a world-class fleer.
The shoot was over. I had performed in a number of scenes. As an actor, I had looked into the soul of my character to find my motivation in each case, and it was always the same: "Big monkey!"
We skeedadled. I didn't realize how tired I was until I was trying to drive home. Navigating the narrow twisty channel known as the 110 freeway with low sleep and long hours is neither the easiest nor wisest thing I have ever done.
Then there's a gap of a week and a half, when nothing monkey-related occured. This was the time of my Cybil non-adventure, which will be posted later.
Then, this past Thursday, I called the Cenex recording. They were getting ready for a big freeway scene on the movie, which means about 100 cars and drivers.
Now if you or I needed a lot of cars moving around, we'd probably rent a bunch of cars and hire people to drive them. This is Hollywood, and you should not expect anything to be done in a normal manner. When Hollywood needs a hundred cars, they hire 100 actors, and say "hey, bring your car along". You see, we're not really driving cars, we're just actors playing the parts of people driving the cars. Even if you can't see the person. Ah, the joy of thespianship.
I had wanted to try one of these car acting roles. For one thing, it's a new experience. For another, there's an extra $15 (a "bump", which is what they call any pay addition except overtime) for use of the car. So I called in, signed up, and got the location info. It was to be a two-night gig, starting at 7 PM on Friday. Since we're just to be driving, we're told not to worry about our wardrobe. The only thing we have to worry about is color of the car; no red, white, or black cars allowed (a standard limitation, due to how these colors photograph.)
I try to start shifting my sleep schedule the night before. I stayed up until 4 AM, trying to build up a good head of tiredness for a long sleep (and besides, there was a semi-interesting movie on TV. Well, it had Jennifer Tilly in it; that's interesting enough for me.) But this trick never works. I wake up at 8, with only four hours sleep. I managed to force an hour of napping later, but even so, it will be a long night.
I leave for the location at 6 PM. Normally, the trip should take uner half an hour, but I'm worried about the extended L.A. rush hour. As it turns out, traffic is light (most of the trip is in the into-L.A. direction, while most commuters are coming out of L.A.) along the path of 110 south to 5 south to 10 east to 710 north. I drive to the end of the 710, take a couple turns, and wind up in a CalState parking lot. The crew is set up there--lots of specialty trucks, including dressing rooms, catering, trucks full of props and special effects items, mobile offices, etc. I'm a little early, so I mellow out in the extra's area, a roped-off section of tables.
Eventually, they start checking names and issuing vouchers. After a while waiting in line, I give them my name, they find my voucher (well, "Matt Gertler"--close enough), and ask for information about my car. It's a 1985 Ford LTD that I bought off of Anita when we broke up. It's dark blue, but I just described it as blue when I called in, to keep them from thinking that it was black-ish. They write down the info and told me I'm in the "overpass group". This comes as no surprise to me; as a Jew, I've been celebrating Overpass every year. I hate the matzoh, though.
Then, I get taken to wardrobe. It turns out that the information on the Cenex recording was wrong. We may be getting out of the cars to stare at the Invisible Giant Monkey, so our clothes need to be appropriate. Mine are fine. Other people have problems, since they wore shirts with corporate logos. Wardrobe lends them shirts, but holds their vouchers. They can't get their vouchers back until they return the shirts, and they can't get paid without the voucher.
I grab a sandwich from the catering truck; they're made to order, from a short list of options. The usual breakfast spread is also available. All in all, the food is better than it was at the Hollywood shoot.
The Overpass Group is called together. There're 24 of us. We go line up our cars in one part of the parking lot. a guy comes around and sprays our headlights with white coating; the lights will still look on, but they won't give off much light, so they won't interfere with the lighting of the scene, and they won't flash in the camera. We get split into two groups, two head in two different directions along the overpass. I'm the second car headed in one direction, so I line up on the overpass itself. We run the scene a few times. For the drivers, all this entails is driving forward about a block. When we get to the end, we turn around, drive all the way across the overpass, turn around again, and head back into position. Basically, it's like we're in a slow auto race, without any passing. We do this all with our windows rolled down, so it's easy to hear any commands given us.
Some locals are on the overpass, watching all this movie-making. Sure, they've seen cars drive across this overpass before, but those are real cars, while these are MOVIE cars. Besides, there's all these lights and equipment around. I understand the fascination; I've watched shoots myself. A couple of kids start asking me questions, trying to find out if I'm anybody interesting. I'm not, but they don't know that. We talk for a while. One of the kids ends up asking me for my autograph. Later he goes to Bill Paxton and gets his autograph on the same piece of paper.
A few more laps around, and the overpass shoot is over. We head back into the parking lot. Getting back to the extras tables, everyone else is still there. While we were working, they were reading, chatting, whatever. I think that perhaps we will not be picked for the next scene because we were in the last one, but no such luck--the rest of the night, everybody works. But not just yet, because it's lunchtime.
I spend some time chatting with a young lady who had gotten pulled into this at the last moment. She was a local, and they got permission to set up some of the equipment for the overpass shoot on her father's lawn. She's an easy laugher, and the conversation is fun. Even though she's not a likely candidate, I start thinking that I should be looking at this shoots as a good chance to meet women, something that I should be learning to do again (not that I had much hang of it before.)
They had closed off the last segment of the 710 freeway for the shoot. This shouldn't have interfered with many people's plans; the freeway is lightly used by that point, and there was an easy route around. All of the Overpass Group are made part of the Southbound Group. We turn our hazard lights on, and form a caravan around to the freeway. A CHiP officer is there to pull aside the cones and let us onto the closed on-ramp. (The Northbound group gets to drive down an off-ramp. Cool!
When we get down to the freeway, we make an interesting discovery: we have one more car than we started with. Some civilian saw our line of cars with blinking lights, figured something important was on, and joined the line. From now on, the CHiP officer will actually ask each driver on the line what he was doing there.
There are four big lighting cranes around, spreading a copious amount of light on the area. These are major, serious lights, and great to annoy the neighbors with.
A while is spent arranging the cars, getting everyone into the right place. Then they change their mind on what the right place is. Several times. We keep driving back and forth, adjusting the amount of space between. There are big breaks waiting for things to happen, so we shut our cars down, climb out, and chat.
Finally, it looks like they'd be spaced on a reasonably busy highway at night. Then it's time to start the shot. We've been taught a number of signals for when to go, when to stop, when to shut down the cars... but really, the only thing that ends up working is to do whatever the folks ahead of you are doing. The time comes to start up. We drive about a half mile up, to the end of the cordoned-off area, and then the real fun begins: it's time to back into place. Until you've tried to back up half a mile, amidst dozens of others trying to do the same thing, in a tight three-lane space, along a curved stretch of road, you have no idea what "eek!" means. We do this a number of times; it doesn't get mcuh easier. I'm lucky, though, since I'm toward the back of the pack, and I don't have a lot of people behind me complicating things. We repeat this all a number of times. Waiting and repetition, that's the lot of the extra... or just about anyone else on a shoot.
Around 3 AM, a dozen of us get culled from the Southbound group. For upcoming shots, they need more Northbounders and fewer Southbounders. The invisible giant monkey has jumped down on the Northbound side, so that's where the attention is focused. Sam The Production Assistant leads us up the off ramp, hazard lights ablaze (ablink?), to caravan around to the other side.
At least that's the plan. But something seems to be wrong. The path he's taking makes no sense to me, and it seems to be getting further and further from the shoot. At some point, he pulls us all over to the side of the road. Then he announces that we're all making a u-turn. We do, and go for a while longer taking various turns, and pull over again. Time to make another u-turn. One of the other drivers gives him directions to where we're supposed to be going. We head along. Sam takes an on-ramp in what even I recognize as the wrong direction. We follow him. The guy who gave directions zooms up from the middle of the pack, and takes control of the caravan.
Eventually, we reach the shoot. It's 3:45. What was to have been a quick change of direction turned into a 15 mile tour of surrounding neighborhoods. To me, it was an adventure, but some of the others do not view it so kindly, and gripe throughout the rest of the night.
The driving is done, except for some rearranging. For the rest of the night, Northbound is standing still, having braked for the monkey. They're using the lolli-ape again For the first set of shoots, selected people are suppose to get out of their cars to get a better look. I'm not one of the selected people, so I'm just to sit in my car and watch the gorilla, not that anyone would be able to see me.
Then an idea hits me. Sure, I'm in the car, but I want to see the gorilla. I unbuckle, and stick my head out the window.
But while I'm doing that, I find I've got a bad angle, behind a somewhat taller car. So I do what comes naturally. I grab onto the roof and pull myself up, so my torso is half out the window. We repeat the takes, and I find myself repeating this, pulling my way up higher, until I'm basically sitting on the window frame, my legs still inside the car. One of the PAs points to me. I'm afraid he's going to yell at me for improvising. Instead, he says "great flair!" I'm happy. It's not something big enough to try to get a bump out of (particularly good and useful performances can get out bumped from a non-union voucher to a union voucher, which doubles pay and helps towards joining the union), but I still have the pleasure of a job well-done. I actually acted, and the motivation "big monkey" served me well.
One more rearranging of cars, and the last scene for the night is shot. It's getting late. We start shooting about 5:10. This time, I am to get out of the car. The PA (a different one from the last) gives me a full set of motions--get out of the car, move to the rear left of the car ahead of me, then to the front left, then the front right, watching the lolli-ape. We do a take. Then they spend some time fine tuning things. Do it again. Suddenly it's 5:20, and they start running takes like mad--no stop between, just do the motions, wait for the cut, get back in the car, and start again. When we hit 5:30, we stop. The PAs tell us "that's a wrap!"
We drive back to the parking lot, park, then stand in line to turn in our vouchers. The "great flair" PA tells us that those of us who went on "the adventure with Sam" should mention that when passing in the voucher. When I reach the front of the line, I admit to being in Sam's Mighty Marching Society, and they add a little note to the voucher "+15 miles". It's a milage bump; about 30 cents a mile to make up for the extra gas usage and such. There is a rumor that we may end up getting a $10 car wash bump, to make up for having our headlights gunked.
I drive home. I choose not to wipe the gunk off of the headlights; the back route I take home is largely well-lit, and when there aren't other cars showing the way, I can use the high-beams, which are not gunked up. I get home and get about 6.5 hours of sleep.
I decide not to leave early for the set the next day, choosing to catch the latest episode of Remember WENN instead. Driving in proves to be slightly problematic, because they've shut down the end of the 710 early for the shoot. I lose a few minutes, but still get there just in time. Not that that's a problem, since things don't really start happening for a half hour. I grab my voucher (no trip to wardrobe), and settle in.
I'm Southbound again today. We start of trying to do something instead of the long backup. Everyone pulls into the right lane, then we the lead car u-turns into the left lane, and we all follow him on a big circuit. At least, that's the plan, and doing a u-turn on the freeway has some minor thrill to it. Unfortunately, despite having been repeatedly lectured NOT to pull out of the line when they get to their spot going the other way, people pull out of line, and this messes everything up. After a couple stabs this way, we spend the rest of the night on long backups--and since I'm towards the front of the pack, it's even more of a pain.
Some combination of the heat of the idling engine, the humidity in the air (L.A.'s been bad lately), and the cool of the evening is causing my windshield to fog in spots. It's minor, though, so it shouldn't be a problem.
We break for lunch. I see an attractive lady that was part of an eye-grabbing group the day before. Might as well sit near her; odds are against anything happening, but the odds of anything happening if I don't take any steps are even worse. I'm not forward enough to sit directly across from her, despite the fact that that seat is open. Instead, I sit across from the guy sitting next to her, with whom I'd been chatting earlier. Attractive lady points to the open chair next to me and says "help me save that for" and then she gives an interesting name. "She's my friend, and she's feeling kind of ill."
The young local lass sits down on my other side. She makes friendly fun of me. I make fun of her. I suggest that her starting college is a good time to reinvent herself. "Maybe you should talk to everyone with an English accent." She doesn't think that will work, because she's Asian--but there have to be Asians in England, right? She just gives me a stare.
After a while, Interesting Name shows up. She's feeling much better. She's also incredibly cute, with an upturned nose which was either an incredible gift from god or proof of Dr. Fishbein's competence... and she proves well-spoken. The conversation turns to relationships; both she and her friend are in bad live-in relationships. Interesting Name's boyfriend is a real jerk, who not only failed to help her while she was ill, but did things which made matters worse. Her friend's boyfriend is an internationally-renowned acrobat, in the country on a visa, who has accused her of giving blowjobs to people on the extra shoots. Both ladies are trying to find ways out of their relationships, and neither is eager for a new serious relationship.
I say some things about how horrible it was that they even got into relationships with people who made breaking up so ugly. I make reference to my live-in relationship, which ended this year in an extremely civil and caring manner. They seem a little surprised that we even broke up in such an instance. The conversation continues, but they seem to be paying a bit more attention to me. I suppose I came across as sensitive--you know, just the sort of guy women want when they're breaking up with a jerk and need a brief respite before going out with Real Men again.
The time comes to head back to the cars. Interesting Name and I walk together. I make some mention of my recent Ben Franklin role. She talks about being a big Ben Franklin fan, something I've always been. She says that she learned about Ben from her grampa, who used stamps to teach her US history. My grampa was also heavily into philately. The conversation is going, frankly, quite nicely. It's not long enough for me to look into us getting together at some point (assuming her living arrangements change in the near future, and it sounds as if they might.) However, I figure that when we come back at the end of the shoot, we'll have plenty of time waiting in line to chat. I'm not going to make the assumption that just because she's attractive, she won't be interested. I'm pumped for this.
The night shoot starts with a few more rounds of driving back and forth. Then they decide they have a few people more Southbound than they need; 3 or 4 of us are told to pull off to the side of the road and turn our lights off. We're there for about an hour. It's quiet, and it's boring. I sit there trying to remember all the words to "Memphis, Tennessee"; the George Thoroughgood cover of that is one of the few songs sure to bring me to tears. (Yup, sensitive, not a Real Man.)
There's a lot of time when nothing appears to be moving. It's all slow. The PA who had given me the ape-watching orders the night before takes the time to tell me that he thought I did an excellent job of it. A while later, he asks me if I want to work. I say sure; anything to get me going. At the moment, nothing's moved for a while, and everyone's engine and lights are off. The cars all have their lights off. He tells me to back up to a few car lengths ahead of the front spot in the center lane as quick as I can; for some reason, the existing center lane front car is quite a bit behind those in the other two lanes. I zoom to the center lane, and then start backing up...
...and almost ram into a car in the left lane. With the lights off, it's hard to see anything, and my rear window has fogged badly. Luckily, the PA catches me just before I do this. We wipe the window clean using one of my sweatshirts, and I get into position.
There's a long wait until anything else happens. So much for the rush. I take to talking to a lady extra. She's been doing this a fair while. Her real goal is real acting. She has the vouchers to join the union, but not the dues. She starts to talk about how she's finally "figured it out", that the reason she has problems with "all the PAs" is that they're jealous of her talent. I nod quietly; it's no use arguing with the paranoid. She starts standing closer than casual conversation calls for. Perhaps she's finding my quietness a tacit support of her paranoia, and finds that attractive. Or maybe she's just a close-stander.
They end up pulling everyone back as far as possible, then release the cars one at a time. Apparently, they're shooting through the traffic toward the northbound lane, and want just enough traffic to make it clear that things are going. We shoot like this until about 4:30, and then are told to stop where we are. The filming is done, but we're not heading back to the parking lot. Instead, they're collecting the vouchers right here, and going to have us just drive down to the open portion of the 710 to leave.
Dagnabbit. This means that I don't get to talk to Interesting Name again. Ah, making plans is about as pointless as making pineapple-inside-out cake. I wipe the gunk off of the headlights, helped a few other people with theirs, and drove home. Alone again, of course.
--Nat Gertler, September 7th, 1997