Monday, 10 September 2012

I learned about movies from that

Call sheet, Day 4 of 34
I spent exactly 2 days being an extra, but it taught me a lot about making movies as a business.

I learned that movie people work very, very hard. You can joke about construction sites with one guy shoveling and 6 guys watching. Not in the movie business. There's a lot of overlap in the jobs (especially assistant directors), but everyone on set is working their buns off. Hair, makeup and wardrobe primps everyone after every take. Catering is constantly ready if someone wants to grab a snack. Set decorators are in a continuous state of motion insuring everything looks perfect. Camera dudes are setting them up, taking them down, or operating them. During breaks in the action, everyone listens to the Director(s) even if the comments are not made to them to find out what is to be tweaked for the next shot. There's very little downtime, except for the actors.

I learned that movie people work silly, long hours. Someone schedules what they have to get done that day and creates a call sheet (like the ones above and below). And the crew will stay at it until the day's shoot is completed, even if that means starting at 6 AM and finishing after midnight like it did on our second day.

I learned that while they're working silly, long hours, they eat at funny times. It's apparently union rules that lunch is 6 hours after Crew Call. On the Day 4 call sheet above, that's 8 AM, meaning breakast at 5:30 AM and lunch from 2 PM to 3 PM. On the Day 5 call sheet below, that's 8:30 AM, meaning breakfast at 6:15 AM, and lunch from 2:30 PM to 3:30 PM. 3:30 PM isn't lunchtime. There's no planned break in those 6 hours (they hope for a change in shot or location, but even that's not really a break). Dinner, by the way, is after the day is wrapped, and is up to you. You want to work in the biz, get used to 2 meals a day. No wonder Catherine O'Hara was grabbing the extra's grilled cheese sandwiches at 10 PM. 

I learned -- maybe reconfirmed -- that acting is a job, just like lighting or location work. Actors are serious about their craft, and so take seriously exactly how happy they should be if they are to act happy. They discuss with the Director (in terms they can mutually understand but were mostly Greek to me) how they are to behave, exactly what angle to hold their head at, and how big a pause to have in a sentence. It sounds pretty silly when you listen to it with an untrained ear, but it's not silly to them at all. Every nuance of what you see on screen is selected specifically for you.

I learned that looks matter more than you think. When they selected the special extras to sit near the speaking cast on Day 2 of our shoot, they unabashedly picked people with the "correct visual," the euphemistic term for "cute enough". Looks -- and how photogenic you are -- is a key criterion for being an actor. No face shows up in a movie that someone hasn't selected to be in that shot. In fact, in a movie, EVERYTHING that is in the visual frame is carefully controlled. Faces. Flowers. The way a dress hangs. The height of the candles. The colour of the walls. Trivia you don't think they care about -- believe me, someone on that set does.

I learned that wanna-be actors have a bit of an ego, but they're really nice about it. More than other folks I've met, they are eager to tell you about their acting jobs no matter how microscopic ("You could see my elbow in Superman 3!") and are proud of what they have done. They love what they do. They wish they could do it or a full-time gig, but there just isn't enough work in Calgary, so talk of moving to Vancouver or Toronto. And it was a lot of fun listening to their adventures in locally shot movies that I've seen, like RV, OPEN RANGE, THE EDGE, SNOW DOGS, MYSTERY ALASKA and others.

I learned that it's not just the extras; movie sets are full of really, really nice people. I'm certain that some people are not that nice (statistics tell me that), but I sure couldn't tell who they were. Everyone treated everyone really, really well. Everyone was worried about everyone else ("Are you warm enough?" "Are you hungry?" "Do you need a chair?"). Every extra I talked to were really nice people, as were the ADs, the hair/makeup/wardrobe people, the camera and lighting dudes, the craft services (catering) people -- well, just everybody.

I learned there are a LOT of everybodies. I counted over 150 people on the crew contact list. Plus cast, plus extras, plus accounting, plus all the folks that are in Los Angeles or Toronto working on it.

I learned why movies are expensive. Lots of everybodies plus lots of stuff for them to work with plus putting a lot of the everybodies up in hotels plus feeding them all plus shooting for 34 days plus moving them around plus plus plus plus. And I suspect our movie's budget was ~$10 million (I'll be interested to find out when it's wrapped and shows up on IMDB).

I learned why having movies come to your town is cool. Not only is it cool to see your town up on the big screen, and it's cool to see celebs hanging out where you live, but it's a $10 million shot into your economy. Let them close the streets. I swear they will leave the place better than they found it.

Being an extra was a lot of fun, and very enlightening, too.
Call sheet, Day 5 of 34

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