Thursday, May 25, 2006

Musings (Talk About Lame)

"You said you'd be comin' back this way again, baby.
Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh baby."


You ever have an unlikely friend, or gain a friend under laughable circumstances?

I recently got the special edition of TOMMY BOY on DVD, and started writing this the night I watched it. There's one moment in that flick that was played on the first day of my Introduction To Film class. It's the scene where Chris Farley and David Spade are driving along and the song Superstar by The Carpenters comes on.

FARLEY: Talk about lame.

SPADE: Tell me about it.

FARLEY: You wanna change it?

SPADE: I'm okay with it if you are.

Then suddenly, both are belting out the song with all their might, weeping at the power of this sappy, stupid song.*

Our professor, having talked to us about the great hundred-year legacy of film and its ability to teach, enlighten, shock, and stir us, had just played a clip from TOMMY BOY. Amid the hisses of the intellectuals, and the boos of the mature, not to mention the angry whispers of the religious zealots, our teacher explained the clip.

"People are different," he said. "They have different upbringings, different tastes, different mentalities and senses of humour. But sometimes through art, people can be brought together. Bridges . . . seemingly uncrossable chasms . . . can be crossed and people can look at another--a roommate, a fellow student, a teacher, even a stranger--and see themselves there. When art is good, it transcends racial, age, cultural, and religious boundries, and can touch us in the same way, reducing us from all the artificial isolations we have built up, and bringing us to the same level as human beings. You may find that someone who has nothing in common with you, not even nationality or gender, feels exactly the same about a song, book, or movie that you do. And when you discover that, you have found a brother* you didn't know you had. Someone who is like yourself. Someone who helps you understand yourself. And the world becomes a smaller place. A better place."

I didn't necessarily like the professor of my Intro To Film class. He hated STAR WARS with a burning passion, and ripped on it (and indeed, many of my favourite films) nearly every lecture. He was Canadian and adored Documentary film.

But I love that teacher now. And I wish I had been a better student.

In saying goodbye to Los Angeles, I have to think about how certain items of pop culture have brought me together with some of my closest friends (my pal Dennis and I became lifelong cronies after finding out we both loved RETURN OF THE JEDI***; my buddy Matthew and I realised we had a soul in common when he saw me at a Stan Lee signing promoting SPIDER-MAN; I have had countless conversations with people who became my friends because I liked "Star Trek" or "E.R." or Transformers or Stephen King or Sting or "Saturday Night Live;" and my good friend Jeff never tires of telling how he saw me wearing a Wolverine t-shirt when I was sixteen years old and decided I was somebody he just HAD to talk to).

My website partner tyranist and I have remained dubiously close over the last decade due, in part, to our love of horror movies, that most reviled of movie genres. Our website, the Horror Film Compendium, though not flashy and far from professionally done, has kept us in contact with each other, and with many fans who are passionate about Horror. While many friends have come and gone, never to return, I talk to tyranist (almost without fail) every single day.

Stupider things have brought people together, I guess. Though that makes me question if they're still stupid things.

"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we're uncool."

Those words, from Cameron Crowe's ALMOST FAMOUS, really struck me when I first heard them. And they continue to strike me today. It's hard to connect--really connect--with another person, and maybe the people who are constantly winning, constantly rushing to effortlessly hurtle the next obstacle, constantly in the lead, constantly screwing, etc. don't get to make connections like that. I guess I'm lucky, in a way.

I'm not cool, folks. I don't know that I've ever been cool. I have made far more wrong decisions than right ones, more bad decisions than good, and failed many more times than succeeded. My life can be hard, and often empty.

But sharing moments of connection with other people, has made it more fufilling. I don't consider myself important, but THAT'S important. Friendship is a powerful, vital thing, in the life of a human being, and I'm grateful for the little things that planted the seed of friendship for me.

And maybe they AREN'T little things.

Rish "Cogito Ergo Sum" Outfield

*It's such a good scene that when it was ripped off in HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE, it was still funny.

**Or a sister, though he didn't feel it necessary to compromise his lecture in the spirit of Political Correctness.

***Which reminds me, I once had a little statuette of a TIE Fighter hanging from my rear-view mirror, and one day, I had parked my car at Barnes & Noble Booksellers. When I came out, there was a note on my windshield. I thought, Oh no, not again, but it turned out not to be a ticket, but a note from a stranger. "I saw the TIE Fighter on your dashboard. I think that's really cool. May the Force be with you." Now, while that will never measure up to a hot chick leaving butt-prints on my hood, it made me smile and feel like the world was a little less empty than before.

Monday, May 01, 2006

So, You Want To Be An Extra?

Recently I got an email from a lady who wanted to try her hand at extra work. She asked me how to go about it and how the union worked. I thought I’d pass the information along, just in case somebody out there wanted to take up where I left off, filling the monstrous void I left behind.

Several years ago, there was a union for just extras, called the Screen Extras Guild. It apparently treated its members really well, and an extra who belonged to it could make a living if he/she worked regularly.

But a few years back, that union was absorbed by SAG, the Screen Actors Guild that all your favourite stars belong to. All the SEG members doing Extra work at the time were given the opportunity to join SAG. If you already meet SAG’s requirements from the work you did in the past, you may be able to forgo the hoops the rest of us jump through and simply pay the fee to join (currently around $1495.00).

Currently, there are three ways you can work: Union SAG, Union AFTRA, and Non-Union. If you’re not SAG eligible, then you’re back at square one with the rest of us. The crazy Chutes & Ladders game we have to play is to start out working Non-Union and try and become eligible to join SAG.

You do this by accumulating three SAG vouchers and then going down to the Guild, filling out the forms, and paying your fifteen hundred dollars. But herein lies the rub: how do you get your three union vouchers? Well, any number of ways, all involving being in the right place at the right time. You could replace a union extra at the last minute, or impress a director or A.D. and be given an upgrade, you could switch vouchers with a union guy, you could ask for a voucher and have pity taken upon you, you could be called to do reshoots and demand union pay for it, you could receive a SAG voucher by mistake, or the most common way, you could make friends with someone in a production and have them give you one, two, or all three.

It's irritating, but practically everybody gets SAG vouchers if they work at it long enough. In fact, some folks get upgrades and even lines of dialogue (which pays one heckuva a lot more than real work, let alone extra work). And, as I've said before, if you're pretty, you'll succeed quickly. And what are you doing in Little Rock anyway, with a face like yours?

You don't have to be beautiful to be an extra, though. If you have an unusual look, or are very tall or very thin or very ugly or are albino or are twenty-three but look thirteen, then you will probably get lots of work. Long hair, short hair, dark skin, light skin, beardless or facially hairy, there are casting agents looking for your look. The people who get the most work, in my opinion, are average-looking young adults that can pass for teenagers (since, as Wes Craven pointed out, there are no real teenagers in Hollywood).

I’d be the last to tell someone not to do extra work. I’ve been making my living that way for the past few months and have enjoyed it a great deal. Sure, sometimes the conditions aren't perfect, and often I've gotten up earlier than I would've preferred, and yes, you'll find pretentious, irritating and/or evil people out there, but that sort of stuff happens in most jobs, and you may make friends, obtain a cool story or two, and get to shake Dick Van Dyke's hand in this business. I'd probably do it indefinitely if I hadn’t made mistakes and enemies in the past and burned some bridges. Oh, and I plan to eat in the summer too, otherwise I’d still be doing it.

But if you know what you’re in for and want to go ahead, I’d advise you to get a calling service. They’ll book you on jobs (for a fee that usually amounts to one or two days of work) so you don’t have to do it yourself, and have contacts the average person doesn’t, to get you commercials and the like. If I could go back to the first day I tried extra work, I would have used a calling service from the very beginning. It would’ve saved me a lot of headaches and worry, as well as many empty wallets.

Otherwise, get yourself down to Central Casting, at 220 S. Flower Street, Burbank, CA 91502. They’ll take your picture, get your stats (height, weight, shoe size, inseam, hair colour, eye colour, texture and size of last bowel movement, hat size, jacket size, girth, etc.), and get you in their computer. After that, you can work as soon as the next day (I seem to remember that I actually booked myself the day I registered, on “The X-Files”). There are many, many casting companies, but Central is the biggest and baddest, and if you're not using a calling service, they're the one to hit.

Hope that helps,

Rish "The Human Database" Outfield

Coming up next: So You Want To Be An Adult Film Janitorial Staffer!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Korean show

April 23rd/24th, 2006

Today may well be my last day doing extra work. And it's a unique one.

My pal Matthew told me that Koreans are supposed to be the most attractive Asians. I don't know where he obtained his knowledge--tentacle porn is my guess--but I hadn't heard that before, and made a note of it.

Today, I've been working on my first non-English-speaking project as an extra. It's a Korean TV pilot according to some, a Korean miniseries according to others (and a movie according to one). But it IS Korean, that's for sure. The majority of the crew speaks a few words of English, but when they tell me to do something, I have to ask them to repeat it so many times they usually just fetch the Korean-American P.A. to translate.

At lunch, if you can believe it, I actually had a conversation with a few of the Korean crewmembers . . . in Spanish. Seems one of them had married a Bolivian woman and the other two were his children. That was surreal, but they explained a bit about the production and told me it was called "The Beast and the Witch." At least that's English translated from Spanish translated from Korean.

Today is Sunday and I'm very tired. For the last while, I haven't been doing extra jobs, but instead working with the U.S. Marines in the desert at the Twentynine Palms military base. Every morning, I got up between 3:30 and 4:00, and I just got home last night. When I heard I had to be here--in the city of San Fernando--at 6:30am, I groaned, but remembered that it's an hour later than I'd have gotten up yesterday.

We're shooting in a warehouse where there's a mockup of an airplane and an airport. I was here once before, on an episode of "Malcolm in the Middle," before I started my blog. That day we shot in the airport side of the warehouse, and I chatted with Bryan Cranston about a horror flick he did called TERROR TRACT. Today we're shooting in the plane set, so it's mostly been sitting quietly (some have actually managed to sleep in these seats, but I've not been so lucky).

I actually got moved up to First Class at one point, sitting across from the principles, but that wasn't a big deal because I don't know who they are and will assuredly never see this programme air. I don't speak a bloody word of Korean, so I've been pretty lost and wide-eyed about the goings-on. I have noticed that they went from saying something that sounded like "Queue!" to "Action!" and say "Cut!" or "Okay!" at the end of each take. They are fast and efficient (about, say, one thousand eight hundred times more than an American production), but they're shooting on video and a heck of a lot more by the seat of their pants than we do.

For example, the lighting guys tend to just hold the lights in their hands, rather than doing lengthy setups, or hold varying scrims or bounce boards in front of lights. Also unusual is that they simply grab us (the extras) and bodily move us when they went to make a change, and have had us say oddly fragmented dialogue (such as "I am happy you are back") at the spur of the moment. Of course, a U.S. (i.e. Union) production couldn't do that, as they'd have to pay heavily for a line like "I am happy you are back."*

The young stars of the show are unfamiliar to me--but are apparently real sensations back on their home turf. I didn't get the guy's name, but the girl is almost ridiculously beautiful, and gets more so as the hours pass. Matthew may have been talking about her when he gave me his Korean info.

Oh, I got her name, Bo something, but I've forgotten it. I'll ask again before I go.**

I know less than nothing about Asian culture, only that theirs is very different from ours. The Korean acting technique certainly was unique; I actually had to look away a time or two. I have seen more subtlety in Saturday morning cartoons from the Seventies.

The Sunday shoot was pretty long, but they fed us and didn't make us wait for paychecks, and that made the hurt go away. It was to my shock that I discovered they shot fourteen pages today. Wow.

They asked who wanted to come back the next day, and I volunteered for some reason (in retrospect, I was glad). The Monday shoot was at LAX, subbing for LAX and Las Vegas airport.

We hung out in one of the terminals, sleeping or reading or talking (a guy who called himself Johnny Laos brought a guitar and entertained us with Johnny Cash and Elvis songs), and crazily, they gave us a per diem to buy lunch with (that had never happened to me before).

There weren't a lot of us, so we got used a lot, occasionally in the same scene. From time to time, I'd be moved because I had been too visible in another shot, but most of the time, I assume they just think we all look as alike as many of us think they look alike.

They also depended on us to help them communicate with the non-Korean-speakers in the airport, asking them not to look at the camera or to stand in a certain place, and that made us feel more important than we usually do.

These guys really know how to hustle and they pay in cash (they were generous, too, in a town that never is). And something else, for a couple of shots, they brought out the Steadicam, and shot their scenes so fast, that sweat was running down the camera operator's face. I've NEVER seen an American Steadicam operator sweat, and since I'm writin' this little account, neither have you.

It was like guerilla filmmaking, but with permits. I worked on a super-cheap American production a few weeks ago that was the complete opposite of this in pretty much every way. The Koreans were all polite, all seemed friendly, and got their work done quick. It was a cool experience, tired as I was.

I'm in a fairly good mood today. Days and days in the desert sun gave me a slightly healthier pallour, and listening to three of my squad members tell me I'm too hard on myself and need to believe in my own abilities has given me a more healthy glow. I'm about as handsome today as I'm ever gonna be (right now, I'm just itchin to say something like "that's like a zombie saying he's as alive as he'll ever be," but that kind of thing bugged the crap out of Mark when I did it, so I'm trying to cut back), and I'm glad to be back in my apartment for a couple more days. My life, folks, is never going to smell like roses, but I'm struggling to avoid the thorns. How's that for a senseless metaphor?

I'm going to try to be positive in the next few days. So, positive comment #1: I'm ahead of the game financially for the first time this year. I'm almost back to the point where I look for people to give things to again.

#2: Yesterday I got an email from the girl of my Nineties dreams, just writing to say hello. It don't mean nothin', but it is the first time she's written since 1994. I still care a torch for her, and I guess I always will. No biggie, though.

#3: I lived in constant fear of returning home to find that the parasitic thieves of my neighbourhood would've broken into my apartment for the fifth--count 'em FIFTH--time while I was away. I was almost disappointed, in some sick way, to find everything perfectly fine when I opened my door last night. I went from corner to corner, sure I had missed something, that it was too good to be true, like the X-MEN 3 trailer.

#4 I gotta say, I'm glad I'm not a Marine. To be shouted at for hours all day when I was uncomfortable and tired is not really my definition of a swell time, despite the hefty paycheck.

And I've really had a ball being a professional extra (or "unprofessional," as a few have said) these last few months. This could well be my last blog post about extra work, so I had to say something. I've met good people, like my mom said I would, and gotten up early, like my dad would've wanted.

But really, it's been a vacation, as I learned at Twentynine Palms. To get on set and get (mostly) free food, sit around and read or write, watch babes like Elisha Cuthbert and Rebecca Romijn and Miss USA and Beyonce Knowles and Callie Fredericks and Paul Walker (whoops, did that one slip out again?), doze and dream . . . Well, it ain't been the most trying work.

And if you've gotten a smile or a nod out of it, then it's been even better.

Rish "Mister Brightside" Outfield

* That reminds me, one of the extras near me was given the line "I am going to the bathroom," and said it for two takes, then boasted about the pay raise he was going to get during lunch. I'm not sure what his reaction was when he found he was getting no extra pay for delivering dialogue in the movie/show.

** It was Lee Bo Young, actually. Her male co-star, whose name I've misplaced, was all over the IMDB, and the next day, Korean travelers constantly asked him for his autograph, so he must've been the real deal.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Him and Her and Me (and Us)

March 29/30, 2006

This week I was booked for work on a Disney TV production called "Him and Us," a concert scene shooting over at the Staples Center. Concerts and sporting events are often irritating, because although they book hundreds of us and we're crammed in tight together with no room to breathe, there's never enough of us to fill a stadium, and we invariably have to move from section to section to make it look like a packed house. I know some extras who refuse to go to gigs of more than a hundred people.

One thing I ain't gonna miss too much about living in Los Angeles is that it doesn't rain for three months, and when it does, it pours down. They call it torrential rain, and it fills the streets and crashes down mud and million dollar homes. Well, due to some of this typically torrential rain, they moved locations on us, and made us drive to Disney in Burbank.

I'd never been to the Disney studios before, and enjoyed seeing murals and displays of the classic characters in windows and on the sides of buildings. Our holding was in a big stage next to the one where they had (hurriedly) built the concert venue. Cooly, an underwater set and the interior of the Black Pearl set from PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 3 were housed in our holding stage. I wonder what becomes of those sets once the shoots are done.

Elton John is the producer of "Him and Us," though he wasn't there, as far as we knew. 97% of the jobs that we get, we are instructed to bring a certain kind of wardrobe, and 75% of jobs, we are supposed to bring more than one option for the wardrobe people to choose from. In this case, though, we never had to go through Wardrobe, and got to wear what we wanted. I saw John the Ladykiller--or rather, he saw me, coming over as I started to read my book. He chided me for always shuffling off by myself to read (or hide, as he called it), and told me my antisocial ways were one of the reasons no woman liked me. Also, apparently my clothes, shoes, and haircut are what my Irish friend would refer to as shite.

Also on hand was the small, attractive lass we hung out with on "The 12th Man" last week. She shot toward John like a Scud missile, but because I was by his side, we became instant friends. I found out her name was Tiffany, and once again drawn to her. Maybe it was her light Oklahoma accent, maybe it was her sense of humour, maybe it was her girl-next-door good looks, I don't rightly know.

John, hearing about my unfortunate need to give up this whole extra thing, told me not to leave, to be strong, and not to be a pussy. I don't think it's really about that, but his words did strike me pretty hard. He asked me what I moved to L.A. for and why I was giving up. He then said, "If you want to make movies, just do it. Mark and Jonathan and Bryan and LesbianJanet and Pogo and Klaatu and I will all be in them. We'll help you out." That also gave me pause. Even though PHANTOM MENACE was lame and the way Jake Lloyd delivered the line was even lamer, "the biggest problem in the universe is that no one helps each other" is a pretty big truth.

Well, after but a moment, we moved through the rain to the next stage, where we'd be watching the concert. We sat down where they told us, but John wanted to sit on the end for some reason (later, I would find out why). Somehow, due to this, Tiffany and I ended up sitting next to each other, and one of the A.D.s immediately pointed at her, wanting to take her away from it all. He paused, "You're not WITH anybody, are you?" Without thinking, I shot out my arm and put it around her. The A.D. shrugged and said, "Okay, you too." He marched us over to the section on the right, pretty close to the stage, and John followed. "Not you," the A.D. said, in a less-than-polite tone. Poor Ladykiller John had to head back to his seat in the middle.

I felt a bit sad about that, and later in the night, we got the row to scoot down one seat so John could rejoin us. Tiffany had this cute little way of talking, and referred to what we did for John as "ganking" him a seat. He joined us, but didn't enjoy himself so much, and snuck out to smoke cigarettes after every setup.

Once the concert started, it pretty much didn't end. The performer, Maxx Flash, was energetic, middle-aged, and very British. Tiffany laughed when she realised who it was: the man who played Giles in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." There were two songs performed, over and over and over. One song was fast and sounded like "The Bitch Is Back" (it was called "Without a Fight") and the other was slow, ending the concert, and sounded a bit like "Crocodile Rock." Our job was to stand up, cheer, and dance around. Because they played the tracks so many times, the girl and I actually did learn the choruses of the songs and creeped the people around us out by singing along with Maxx.

So, we broke for lunch not long after. It was what is called a Walkaway Lunch, which, as the name implies, means the extras are dismissed for an hour to find lunch where they can. Because we were on a studio lot, it was pouring rain, and was night, there weren't a lot of places we could walk to, so we went to the studio commissary. I thought John was with us, but he either stopped off to smoke or went back to get a jacket, because we didn't see him the whole hour. Tiffany and I (I really should come up with a nickname for her rather than using her real name, don't you think?) discovered a Panda Express there, and both loaded up on Chinese food, then found a table. After a while, the woman from DARK STREETS that called Bijou Phillips a bitch saw me and sat down next to us. A friend of hers joined us, so suddenly, it was me and three ladies at a table. Who's the Ladykiller now, Johnny?

Tiffany was excited because she got a gig on "American Idol" being the stand-in for that really hot blonde girl with the southern accent (my sister was living with me for a while and she made me watch it . . . SHE MADE ME!!!). That is pretty exciting, even for a non-fan like me.

We went back to holding and found John there, pouting or something. Tiffany assured him we hadn't ditched him, and that I had told her I saw him heading toward the commissary (turns out it was some other underwear model-looking guy).

Practically immediately, it was time to go back to set. They were going to get their money's worth on this one. I found a couple of seats right by the stage, and Tiffany sat with me. John didn't want to sit there, though, as it would make his duck-outs more difficult.

So, for ten hours, including lunch, I sat next to this girl. I thought it was . . . well, everything my life has not been. I was funny, she was cool and friendly, John kept ditching out to smoke cigarettes and not work. It was fun, even though people were tired and it was raining outside. We went until late. John got twitchy and headachy. She got sleepy and sullen. I got, I don't know what, grouchy maybe.

They gave us roses for the last number, which they'd then take away, distribute again, take away, then redistribute. I didn't really understand that. Why not just do the first song until they were done with it, then do the second? The only guess I had would be to keep it interesting for us, but that shouldn't be a factor--it never has before.

Tiffany and I got along really well (I thought so, anyway). We found out we both like Elton John songs and sang a couple together. Then she went to sleep while I sang "Your Song." She said nothing, but the girl in the row in front of me complimented me on the song. I felt good.

At one point, the thought occurred to me that literally ANYBODY else would have put the moves on this girl to some degree or another. An inner voice said, "At least put your arm around her, man." I battled with this inner voice, that often tells me to do way more than I am doing, driving me to distraction. But finally, I thought, "Look, your whole life, you never lean in to kiss the girl or take her hand or put your arm around her unless she instigates it, because you're afraid she'll react badly like ole what's-her-name did back in, what, the Cretaceous Period? If the worst that could happen is that she recoils in horror (like Jurassic What's-her-name), who cares? Chances are she won't do that, and if she does, you can always kill yourself." Encouraged by this inner voice, I did as he asked.

You gotta understand that to me, a successful night at the club is having a few laughs with friends and maybe TALKING TO, or, if I'm lucky, DANCING WITH a pretty girl. If John spent a weeknight (let alone a Friday evening) that way, he'd eat the barrel of a shotgun.

Toward the very end of the night, Kim Cattrell came onstage and did the Rock & Rock version of “The Actor’s Nightmare.” It was strange that the people around me did not know who she was. Tiffany told them she played Samantha on “Sex & the City.” I told them she was the MANNEQUIN. At one point, Cattrell sang the chorus to “Toucha-Toucha-Touch Me” from ROCKY HORROR. Found out that Tiffany and I sang the rest of the song together. If there was a match made in Heaven (for me, Hell for her), it would appear to be us.

At 12:45 or so, I went on John's smoke break with him. I don't smoke (perhaps the only thing I like less than someone yammering away on their cellphone), but he just seems to enjoy sneaking away so much that I had to join him at least once. The second we got out in the rain, John laid into me (or at least that's how I took it) for being a dick to him and a . . . I don't know what--to the girl. "Stop with the kissing jokes, will you? Jesus!" he said, where I thought I was the charmingest ever. "Why do you keep mentioning my girlfriend?" he asked, and except for once, when I asked him if she wanted to see V FOR VENDETTA with us tomorrow, I didn't think I had. He said I had brought her up about six times during the night. Well, it really pissed me off. I was surprised by the level of anger I felt, perhaps reacting to his words as negatively as possible. I glowered for a few minutes, really angry and he knew it, actually having to take a walk through the rain to clear my head. But John is only trying to help me. I guess. "Let them come to you," he said, though I'm leaving in a few days, and there's no chance for her to come to me.

If I've not mentioned it before John is rather smooth with the ladies. I've seen it time and time again, and this time, with Lil Tiffany, he kept touching her ear and she'd bat his hand away, then he'd do it again. He claimed her ear was an errogenous zone--whether just for her or for all women, I have no idea--and if she really had wanted him to stop, she would've made it clear. Not to slight someone I considered a friend, but I think I now understand why he didn't want me mentioning his girlfriend.

I went back inside, soaked and surly, and sat down next to Tiffany, who still slept (she had spread herself over the three seats I had reserved for us). To keep people happy (fat chance, though, extras are almost as complainy as . . . well, actors), the production had ordered about a hundred pizzas, and I had a couple of slices. John poked his head in for a moment, scooped up one or two that was left, then was gone again.

That was the swan song, though, for the production called it a night after the pizza was gone. The line to check out was massive, but somehow I got there ahead of most people and was back on the freeway before the last person checked out. Everything is subjective, I know, but I choose to remember the positive about my evening on "Him and Us." For me, this was a fun, enjoyable, and worthwhile night, even if I was angry for an hour of it and tired when I got home.

Rish Casanova Outfield

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Curtain Call of Sorts

March 22nd, 2006

My father had some home-spun wisdom he would repeat ad nauseum, chief among it was "Any fool can stay up all night, but it takes a real man to get up early in the morning." My Mom always used to say, "No matter where you go, you'll find good people, people you'll need and love."

Both those sayings came back to me today. My father's because I had to get up before the sun to work on a pilot. My mom's words come back to me at the end of this sometimes fun, sometimes lonely, sometimes dull, but usually interesting road of being an extra. I'm writing this, sitting in my Comfy Chair at seven-thirty in the morning, working on something called "The 12th Man" at the L.A. Colosseum, and it's sort of like the end of THE WIZARD OF OZ or "The Inner Light" here as I find nearly everyone who made an impact on me during my few months doing background is here today.

There's Mark, my bald friend, who talked for hours with me about "Saturday Night Live" and the STAR WARS TRILOGY, befriending me better than people I've known for years. There's the mop-headed loudmouth I first saw on "House" and has plagued me ever since. There's John the Ladykiller, sleeping in a sitting position with his mouth half open, and still managing to look handsomer than me by far. Next to me is the old man who I sat next to all night when I first started and worked on "Big Love," giving me advice and telling about his life of adventure. There's James, the chain-smoking extra who got doused with soot like me in Oliver Stone's 9/11 movie and, like me, didn't get paid for it (the difference is, he eventually got a check and I didn't). In line to get breakfast, I saw the girl who called Bijou Phillips a bitch on DARK STREETS (we were all thinking it). There's the General, a middle-aged guy with red hair who played the French commanding officer in THE GOOD GERMAN. There's Javier, who worked with me on my very first commercial, for Ford, which paid so much I thought I'd be doing this forever. Also from that show is the soldier who marched behind me and made me paranoid by telling me I was doing it wrong. And there's that kid from THE GOOD GERMAN holding tent who still remembered his boyhood when Jimmy Fallon was on "Saturday Night Live," and told me Spielberg's WAR OF THE WORLDS was the best movie he'd ever seen. I just said "Hi" to that Christian guy who got offended when I used the word "chingaso" and took my part on "Charmed" when I had to shave my beard off. Walking by is the bald black guy who got a line ("Is she alive?") on THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES. Wow, there's Guido from the SEPTEMBER set, who was really just trying to get ahead in life, like everybody else.

There's supposed to be three hundred of us here today, playing fans at a basketball game. Chances are, I'll see more familiar faces, here to send me off as my time as an extra comes to a close.

One of my first days as a "background actor,", years ago, was on "Boston Public," playing a student watching a talent show. One of the extras had brought a guitar and he strummed oldies while we waited to go on set. Unable to get into the book I was reading--it was "The Fellowship of the Ring," the first time I tried (unsuccessfully) to read it--and after a while, I went over and sang Beatles songs with the guy and the backgrounders who had gathered around him.

Off in the corner, a new guy has brought his guitar (heck, he may even be that same dude--I'd never know it) and has been playing Elton John, Simon & Garfunkel, and yes, the Beatles, for the last half hour. Could it be that six years have not gone by, that it's the fabled year 2000 again, and I'm just starting all this, instead of leaving it behind?

I doubt it, though the sentiment sure is nice.

***

This was a long day, consisting of us sitting and pretending to cheer, then being moved to a new area. They were shooting several games' worth of crowd shots, so we rearranged and changed the colours we had on (or waved). The heat wasn't on and a lot of people complained about the cold, but because the show was set in a non-California setting, we had our coats with us.

I feel lucky that I got to sit with Mark and Ladykiller John and Brian, a red-haired due I'd worked with a dozen times and never once talked to. They were funny and friendly enough to laugh at my jokes and let me hang out with them. They were all as tired as me, and more so, since John had been up all night drinking and whoring, and complained about the show, which, I believe was a pilot for Fox.

I didn’t recognise anybody in the cast, except Jodi-Lynn O’Keefe, who my little sister met years ago in Salt Lake City, Utah, and doesn’t seem to even qualify as a celebrity anymore. "The 12th Man" was a Comedy about guys who never get to play in the games, but just sit on the bench all the time, as far as I could tell. No idea if it will go anywhere.

It was Brian the Red-Head's last day as an extra--apparently, he'd gotten himself an agent and was going to go out for real acting from this point on. He had brought his head shots (you know what those are, right?) and resume, and we all chuckled at the pics of him decked out like some kind of ninja.

Besides the fake basketball players, there were some shapely dancing cheerleader-type girls we ogled for a little while, but even that gets boring after a while. For some reason, the guys were restless, and kept trying to ditch out for cigarette breaks, to take naps in their cars, or to raid the craft service cart. Regardless of the little weasel I apparently come across as from this blog (don't get me started), I try to be quiet, easy-going, and obedient on TV and movie sets. Today, though, I felt rebellious, and joined them in one of their jaunts. We emerged in the light of day, feeling much like we were John Hughes characters skipping out on school or detention, and ditching the security people armed with deadly walkie talkies. I found that to be a lot more fun than I can explain.

There were others up to no good as well (apparently, when it's a huge cattle call like this one, there's a lot more opportunity for mischief), and we witnessed a very high-schooly pissing contest between a frowning stud-faced punk and a big Afro-wearing black guy. The big Afro-wearing black guy had apparently befriended the world's most obnoxious extra (Moptop) and was repeating the words "Nutter Butter" again and again. Frowning stud-faced punk finally got sick of it and asked him to please shut up. Afro-wearing black guy told him to mind his own f#$*ing business, and Stud-face told him what he could do with his business and Nutter Butters. The Afro-wearing black guy had friends (they always do, right?), whereas Stud-face had none, but Stud-face wanted to fight. Afro-wearin’ told him to take a swing, but Stud-face didn’t. It got pretty escalated, and Stud-face even told Mark to shut the eff up when Mark said Nutter Butter wasn’t worth getting mad over (I sort of disagree). Later, P.A.s were told of the little altercation, and I did feel bad when they warned Afro-wearing black guy that there better not be trouble, but nothing to frowning stud-face punk. That didn't seem right.

I’m not sure why I went on and on about that, since it’s surely not all that interesting, but hey, I write what I write.

At one point, alcohol was even produced (Brian might have been celebrating, I don't know), and a couple of blondes came to sit in the area, both attractive and one a huge Monty Python fan. She looked like that little girl that showed up at the end of the "Buffy" series and was in EUROTRIP, only with light hair and seems like a real keeper, if I'd even gotten her name.

I wonder sometimes*. I really do.

***

It was not an eventful shoot--we cheered, or pantomimed cheering, and pretended there was actually a game going on. At one point, someone started a rumour that they were on the last shot, and about fifty of us ran out to line up to sign out (the lines can be interminable, especially when you've got a group as huge as this was, so if you can get in line early, it saves a lot of grey hairs). We stood there for ten minutes, being joined by more and more, before we found out it wasn't the last shot at all, and we had to go sit down again.

By the time all the above had been written, we had been there more than twelve hours. I'll admit that the company (and all the screwin' around) made the time go much faster. On their last water and cigarettes break, I stayed in my seat to write in my notebook and ended up being selected to join a little group away from the rest of the main throng.

They were shooting a scene where, after the game, the team is marching toward the locker room, and our little group were fans hanging around the exit. We only did two takes and then everybody else (that wasn't in our little group of maybe thirty people) was wrapped (which, if I've never mentioned, means they get to hand in their vouchers and go home). The rest of us, nicely enough, got to go to craft services and eat pizza. I had a couple of pieces of Canadian bacon and pineapple (my favourite). Then, without us having worked again, all but fifteen were wrapped, split down the middle. Once again, I was among those that stayed.

We shot a scene where the team is heading to the showers and get complimented/chewed out by the coach and the team's owner. The extras in our group played obnoxious lookie-loos, waving and trying to get the attention of the players while security held us behind velvet rope. After they got all of those shots, they made the extras who were standing in the back go to the front and the ones standing in front . . . got to go home. There were now six extras left, and I was one of them. Pretty cool (or terrible, depending on your attitude).

We did a couple more takes of the same thing (it was supposed to be after another game--though why the coach and owner would be dressed exactly the same way and standing in the exact same spot must be part of the comedy), then all were wrapped. It was the longest day I've had this year, I believe (from 6:30am to 10:30pm, though they wrote down 10:15 on our vouchers**), and after this month of practically no work, it was welcome.

This didn't turn out to be my last day--I got a call around two to do two more days on DREAMGIRLS--but with so many familiar faces, it would've made a perfect one.

Rish "The 13th Man" Outfield

*That is, about myself and why I continue to exist.

**Which they ain't supposed to do, since we had to walk all the way back to our cars to leave (they're supposed to take into account the time it will take us to get on our ways). But ah well, I got paid plenty just to sit around.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Sing It, Gladys

"L.A. grew too much for the man;
(too much for the man, he couldn't make it)
So he's leaving the life he's come to know.
(he said he's goin')
He said he's goin' back to find;
(goin' back to find)
Oooh, what's left of his world,
The world he left behind . . . not so long ago."


This, of course, is from Gladys Knight and the Pips's hit song "Midnight Train To Georgia." Its lyrics are about as apt as you can get. But more on that in a moment.

A little out of it right now. I had my first all-night shoot with DREAMGIRLS last night/this morning, and got in around 8:30. Traffic was annoying, but not as bad as it was the last time I did this, coming home exhausted from shooting "The X-Files" and having to endure the 405 Freeway at its worst.

Seriously, there was no one I recognised on set. I knew the costuming women and the A.D.s, but as for the extras, I don't know what happened. It was like there was a two year gap from the last time I did this, and everybody I knew had moved on.

One guy, a very nice man in his forties with Reed Richards-style grey on his temples, recognised me, and rightly told me where we had worked together. I didn't remember him at all, though.

I hadn't worn a tuxedo in I don't know how long. I'm trying to remember if I wore one in a previous extras gig. None are coming to mind right now.

I have to admit that most of the night, I just sat and read. I'm not complaining, it was a very good book.

It was in the same stage where we shot the first couple days of DREAMGIRLS, doing something very similar . . . watching our three ladies do their thing. Or perhaps, more appropriately, their thang.

I apologise for using that word.

In the end, I got to see Beyonce one . . . last . . . time.

Okay, so "Midnight Train To Georgia." As Ms. Knight sang later in the song, "He's goin' back to a simpler place and time."

The song itself I was not familiar with--nor indeed many Motown songs (you see, I grew up in a village so hick and whitebread that when the miniseries "Roots" aired, they retitled it "The Good Old Days")--until I was on the set of "Boston Public" a few years ago. Loretta Divine taught it to us in a fake class and I never forgot it.

Only hearing it again a couple of days ago did the lyrics sink in. Except for the bit about selling my old car and having a Gladys Knight who'd rather live in my world than live without me in hers, that song could be about yours truly.

Yep, I'm packing it in.

All of us have enemies--or less dramatic, obstacles--that prevent us from doing what we want and being where we want. In my case*, chief of these enemies/obstacles is me myself. So, due to that pesky, nefarious character, my time as a professional extra in the great city of Los Angeles (well, great weatherwise, anyway) is drawing to a close.

I came here to be a screenwriter, not an actor. But I guess I should have specified PROFESSIONAL screenwriter, or PRODUCED screenwriter, 'cause I have written several photoplays, as they used to call them, but done little with them. I started out doing Extra work as a lark in between jobs, and last year sometime, that became my full-time job.

Even in extra-work, I had my dreams. I wanted enough SAG vouchers to join the union, I wanted to play a zombie or monster, and I wanted to work on "Star Trek." Alas, these three dreams will not come true.

Yet.

I keep telling myself I will return, head held high, when I've saved up enough money (and dreams) to get back for a second go-round. Those around me, though, don't think that I will. They seem to think I'm giving up, putting away childish things, and slinking back like a whipped dog.

And maybe, in a way, that is true. But who knows what is around the bend, who knows where my destiny lies, and can I really afford to pay $3.19 a gallon for gasoline?

"He kept dreamin'
(dreamin')
oooh, that someday he'd be a star;
(a superstar, but he didn't get far)
But he sure found out the hard way,
That dreams don't always come true."


Rish "The Enemy Within" Outfield

*Though there certainly have arisen some from the outside; perhaps more on that later.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Back To (Day) One

"Back to One!" is the command an assistant director shouts at the end of every take, telling the extras to return to their starting point for another go. I didn't always know that, however, and am reminded of my first day as an extra here in Los Angeles.
(rubs long white beard)
Seems like it was just yesterday . . .

August 21, 2000

I’ve always been a problem sleeper. Maybe not all my life, but ever since childhood, when my mom would wake me up to go to school and then come back a half an hour later to find me still sleeping, with no recollection of her waking me, my sleeping habits have gotten me in trouble.

Take lately, for example. This week, through a tiny bout of courage and determination, I enrolled myself in Central Casting, and managed to book myself on "The X-Files." The only bad thing was, the call time was at 6:30am, meaning I’d have to go to sleep around 9:30 to get myself eight hours of sleep.

But I couldn’t seem to get tired. So 10 o’clock rolled around, then eleven, then twelve. Finally, I told myself I had to go to sleep or I’d be suffering like my soon-to-be-damned soul in the morning. 12:45am arrived, and I tried desperately to sleep. I couldn’t even yawn. One o’clock. One-fifteen. One-thirty. I was in trouble. My mind wandered to a thousand different subjects, and though I kept reminding myself that I had to sleep, I couldn’t get comfortable, and worse, I couldn’t get tired. 1:45am arrived, meaning I had been at it for over an hour. What the hell was wrong with me? Two o’clock came, and with each fifteen minute interval, I’d do the math in my head, exactly how much sleep I was going to get. Even worse, I thought, if I don’t fall asleep soon, my alarm’s gonna go off at 5:40, and I’m going to simply shut it off without thinking. A terrible thought since I knew my penchant for doing that very thing.

It was close to two-thirty when I thought about just getting up and going to Ralph’s to buy toilet paper and some razors. If I wasn’t sleeping, I might as well make myself useful and buy groceries, right? I couldn’t bring myself to do it, though, hoping that any minute now, I’d drift off to sleep. Again, my thoughts were everywhere. I was thinking of things and people and songs and phrases and stories and ideas that never would’ve been worth my time during the day, and were only making me miserable in the wee small hours. I tried to clear my mind of all thoughts. I tried lying perfectly still. Heck, I even tried self-hypnosis. But I was awake.

I got up and went to the bathroom. The light was blinding. My face looked pale and haggard (but hey, don’t it always?), and when I went back to bed, I saw that it was 3:15am. I didn’t even want to do the math. I was dead meat.

That’s the last time I remember looking at the clock before my alarm went off, so I must have fallen asleep after that.

I got up. I didn’t even push Snooze. I showered, dressed, and got out of here. Luckily, the location was even closer than I had anticipated, so I got there early. I was among the first to be given my wardrobe: the uniform of a Baltimore Police Officer. I didn’t know how I’d look, considering I think I barely pass for an adult, but the uniform fit well and was really cool. I got to carry a gun, pepper spray, a badge, a CB radio, and two ammo clips for my pistol. I even got ushered into the makeup trailer and got my hair cut.

Actor Joe Morton was guest-starring in this episode, and I talked to him a minute about his death scene in TERMINATOR 2 (he had been in a car accident and tried to recreate the experience of having a crushed lung). I should’ve talked to him longer, but I always feel uncomfortable about that sort of thing. Also on hand as a guest-star was Danny Trejo, who plays this episode’s villain, Cesar Campo, the Spiderman. I talked to him for a minute about always playing a villain.

Most of the shoot, I just sat around. I read probably a hundred pages in two books and had a sleep-deprived stomach-ache for a while. All around me were other extras, playing cops like me, detectives, prison guards, perps, or prisoners. Some of them got involved in a poker game, which I watched with awe (depressed and feeling like an outsider), especially since they were playing with real money (maybe I just felt like a depressed outsider). When I finally got my moment to shine, it was one of those shots where I’m not going to be seen, so it makes me wonder what they even needed me for. A couple of hours later, I got to sit at a desk in the precinct, but again, it’s doubtful that I was visible.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were elsewhere, so today’s lead actor was Robert Patrick, the scary dude with evil blue eyes, who was also in TERMINATOR 2. We also had a conversation, but it consisted of: “How you doin’?” “Just great, how about you?” “Have you seen this boy?”

The workday ended and it was time for people to go home, but the assistant director asked if any of us wanted to stick around to play other parts. Knowing this was the first work I’d had in what seems like years, I asked if I could (and frankly, I love doing film and TV work so much, I would've done it for free). They were happy with my volunteering, and I suddenly found myself no longer a police officer, but one of the lowly prisoners. Stripped of all my props and uniform, I put on a bright orange jumpsuit and a pair of Keds.

A couple of hours still had to pass before we got escorted to the set (herded like a bunch of convicts, I might add), and by this time, my lack of sleep was wearing on me. The set was a two-level prison, with about eight cells on each floor. All was made up extraordinarily realistically, and it was only on close inspection that I realized that the cinder blocks were painted on, the toilets were fake, and the metal bars were made of wood. I was escorted to my cell, where I sat on my bed, waiting for them to finish rehearsing and setting up the shot.

Sometime later, I heard a snoring sound from the cell next to mine. The convict beside me had fallen asleep, but nobody really noticed because all the action took place on the floor below us. When it was time for us to go back to the rest area (they called it "holding"), I woke him, but he just stayed there. We came back twice more, but never was any of the action focused on our level of the prison. The lights were hot and bright, and I leaned back in the hard little bunk (is that what they call the beds in a jail cell?), listening to the directions and line readings. My eyes closed, opened again, closed . . .

I awoke with a start. I opened my eyes (it had gotten darker), sat up, and checked the cell next to me for the snoring man. He was gone. All the prisoners were gone, as a matter of fact. Down below was just a scattering of people, taking down lights and carrying equipment. Embarrassed, I made my way past the crew and out of the studio to the background holding section. There too, everyone was gone--the chairs, the cards, even the food. It was like one of those bad dreams, the kind you have during a good night’s sleep.

I found one of the assistant directors at a table, doing paperwork. She glanced up and asked what I was doing still dressed in my jumpsuit. I didn’t know what to say, so I just said "Sorry" and ran to the changing truck. I changed as fast as I could and traded everything back in. I felt like I had been caught doing something indecent by my mother or religious fanatic aunt, and was afraid of what would happen when I returned to the A.D. (which is illogical, after all, I had put in fourteen hours of exemplary extra work, what could they do?).

When I finally checked in, I said, "This is gonna sound stupid, but . . ." and explained it to her. She laughed and said, "You’re right, that was stupid," and told one of her buddies about it. But no censures came and that was pretty much all she said. I was sent on my way, still feeling tired and ashamed, and stopped at Ralph’s before I came back home.

So, that was my first day as a full-time extra. I’m going to sleep now. I hope it causes me no further problems.

Rish "Blast From the Past" Outfield

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

March 3rd, 2006

Most of the time, it's not too hard to be an extra. Free food, lots of downtime, interesting people, no manual labour involved. There are a couple of downsides, such as the low pay and long hours, and the occasional time when you work into the night and have to be up early the next morning. That happened with me this week. I didn't get home from WIZARD OF GORE until past midnight, then had to be in Hollywood for "Commander In Chief" at 5:18 the next morning. I love sleep a great deal, but going without for one night didn't kill me.

We were supposed to be in and out by ten that morning, but things went a little long, as they always do. I was a bookstore patron in a little scene with only eight extras and three actors, shot in a real bookstore (but with phony books, oddly enough). At the craft service table, I saw Geena Davis for the first time. I know this is the pot calling the kettle something dark, but she looked strange.

It was an easy day, and had I not been sleepy, I might have called in for more work in the afternoon if some came available. Also working with me in the scene was the girl Ladykiller John asked about setting me up with--the one who was all over him like suck on a Pauly Shore film. She was pretty friendly with me, talking about who she hated on the set, and choosing to sit next to me and eat, so I started thinking about the second-to-the-last time I worked on "House," and how the guy used the line, "Hey, you wanna make out sometime?" and how I vowed to use it someday. This girl, while not pretty per se, had something . . . something intangible about her, that was alluring and attractive. I don't know, maybe it was her busoms, but I actually considered laying the line on her. The worst she could say was, "You're a goblin-esque little man with bad breath and spindly arms, and no one will ever love you."

And she probably wouldn't say that. In fact, she'd almost certainly think I was joking.

So, on the shuttle back to set, I patted the seat next to me and had her join me. But literally the SECOND she sat down, as if she had some kind of telepathic knowledge of what I planned to do, she began talking about her boyfriend, and how well they got along, and how they live together but don't see each other as much this month as last. "Boyfriend?" I said, almost adding, "Guess I won't ask you to make out with me now," instead saying, "Great," in my least-enthusiastic tone. She praddled on about how they liked to go hiking. I had already mentally checked out, wondering if my sick turtles will regain their sight, and if my sister and niece would be living with me another week, and how long I'd had that video I forgot to take back, and why Indian people always have the last name Patel, and whether I would be working the next week.*

The next day, I was working on a film called FRACTURE, ostensibly with Sir Anthony Hopkins.

I was playing a party guest, wearing my tired old black suit over an Armani shirt and tie Wardrobe lent me. They actually gave me the choice between shaving off my pathetic excuse for a beard or having them colour it in so it looked darker. I see-sawed, and finally, the makeup woman took black mascara and painted it for me. It looked strange to my eyes, having always had light facial hair ever since I started growing it. Which, I believe, was at twenty-two, you smug Chewbaccas.

We were in Downtown L.A., shooting our scenes--once the sun went down--on the roof of the Standard Hotel. We had to take the elevator to the top, then get out and go up a flight of stairs to reach the roof, and a fairly-impressive view of the city. The bottom level was a bar, and many of the guys were tempted to sneak down there and down a bottle or two. I don't know, 'cause I'm unprofessional, but I imagine one could get in trouble for that. On the roof was some kind of lounge area, complete with swimming pool, bar, bright red lounge chairs and big enclosed balls with waterbeds in them (like an adult version of a McDonalds Playland), and garbage cans in the shape of hippopotomuses. Once again, something I'd never ever get into if I weren't being paid to be there.


Our group was fairly large--maybe sixty people--and I recognised only one or two among them. For the first take, I hung around an easy-going black girl from Boston, as we were both supposed to exit the bathroom around the same time. The bathrooms were strange in that we both shared the same sink and mirror, and if you looked under the mirror, you could see the womens' stalls and the men at the urinals. I'll never really understand stuff like that.

After a while, we were joined by a dude--who claimed he was normally a Stand-In but was slumming it that night as an Extra--who was one of those people who knows absolutely everything. He had read tons of books by the author of my book, he knew people on the crew by name, he knew the ins and outs of the writing business, and he spoiled the ending of Stephen King's new book when I told him I'd just picked it up.

Luckily, I was only around him for an hour or so, for in the next setup, the A.D. gave me a seat at a table down near the principals. I was given directions, we rehearsed it, then had those directions changed, so all I was expected to do was sit and pretend to drink. The guy sitting across from me was actually quite cool, and told me all I could ever want to know about the TV show "Firefly."

FRACTURE stars (sans Hopkins) Ryan Gosling and Rosamund Pike, and both were working atop the building with us. The scene was simple: they meet, share drinks, then go to the edge of the building and talk, then separate. I never know why scenes like that take all night to shoot, but they invariably do.

Though the thermometer atop a near building constantly mocked us with its statement of how nice the night was, a cold, sharp wind was blowing the whole time, and even with heaters set up all around us, it was uncomfortably cold.

In between each take, the actors would be given coats, while the extras would quickly huddle under the nearest heater. As the night progressed, people got in the habit of getting up and going to the heater as soon as the camera moved off of them. All the while, the thermometer claimed it was in the mid-fifties outside.

My good friend tyranist often says "you bastard," when I do or see something he wants to do or see (we've a loving relationship). As he's the biggest Rosamund Pike fan I know, my working with her might be one of those times. In fact, I got to sit in her seat. Or, she sat in mine, I guess. Sometimes I'd have to wait for her to leave it before I could plop myself down again.

Very attractive and very British, I was an admirerer of hers in both PRIDE & PREJUDICE and (the awful) DIE ANOTHER DAY. Up close, she didn't strike me as all that gorgeous, though.

If I saw her in a mall, sure, I'd check her out, but my eyes would probably keep on moving. I don't know what it was, really, and I'm curious to see how she appears in the finished film.

After lunch, which was at ten p.m., conditions got a little better, as they turned on the bar heaters and provided all the hot chocolate and/or coffee you could drink (and when that ran out, all the hot water you cared to pour sugar into). We were all prepared to go until sunup, as the crew told us they'd be shooting until five or six, and we at least hoped we wouldn't hit morning traffic. Luckily, however, they canceled the last setup of the night and we were released at three-thirty.

Unluckily, I didn't get any more work after that. Basically, my whole Thursday was screwed because I'd stayed up all night and didn't want to work in the morning. No excuse for Friday, though. Or Saturday. Or Sunday. Or Monday, etc..

Turns out this may be my last post for a while. It came as a surprise to me, and I've enjoyed the work and writing about it in these pages. I wish I had a big, exciting tale, full of glitz and glamour, laughs and fun, to tell you about if this is the last time I tell you about my day.

All things considered, I can't say being an extra wasn't fun while it lasted.

Rish Outfield

*If you'd care to know the answers to those ruminations, they are: by mid-March they would be fine, one more week, I had it two days but the rental was for three, I really don't know, and unfortunately not.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Outfield of Gore

February 28, 2006

A year or so back, I went to see a no-budget horror film called THE WIZARD OF GORE for my horror website. It was really bad (I described it then as "as dull as an economics lecture in a language you do not speak"), but even more cheap, directed by famed shlockmeister Hershel Gordon Lewis. I wasn't born in the era of drive-ins, so I don't really understand the tolerance people had in the Seventies for really, really bad movies, but then, I still paid to go see WIZARD OF GORE and you didn't.

Well, they're remaking it--since it's a little-known California law that ALL horror films made between 1969 and 1981 must be remade before 2009 or the lower half of the state will revert to Mexico--and on Monday, I got to work a day on it. I had been out of town over the weekend, so I only heard that we were shooting at a club and that we weren't to wear black, red, or white. With the little experience I have at clubbing (baby seals don't count), I dressed in nice slacks, a button-up shirt, and a tie.

When I got to set, I realised with horror, that I was the only one so dressed. Everyone else had shredded jeans, fishnet shirts and stockings, dresses with blood on them, patchy army jackets, faded t-shirts written over with marker, rainslickers with hoods, studs in their ears, noses, lips and anuses, grey flannel underwear with shorts over them, black MATRIX-style trenchcoats (even though we weren't to wear black), leather jackets and pants, fake furs, and the like. One girl even had a torn up Batman costume on over lingerie!

We were supposed to be at a secret underground club ("the first rule of Gore Club is . . .") where young people gather to see Montog the Magician's revolting illusions (or "illusions," if you've already seen the first film). Well, I stood out among the extras like real breasts on a "Deal or No Deal" model, and while they should have sent me home (after all, what was I thinking wearing a tie?), they didn't. Josh, the A.D. on DARK STREETS, was cool then and cool now and told me I'd be alright with Wardrobe. The wardrobe guy told me to loosen my tie and that was it. I was mocked quite a bit, with the most kind remark I received being that I looked like I just got off work.

We shot it at the Plaza Park Hotel, a huge, ornate structure built by corrupt, cigar-smoking men's clubbers in the Forties. It was impressive to me, as all buildings seem to be, having grown up on a farm in a town the size of a postage stamp. The hotel was decorated with lots of marble, mini-posters of the movies that had been shot there (most notably, THE MASK), and tons of Greek and Roman designs, murals, and sculpture, as well as astrological signs (were the Zodiac signs Greek? Or were they also invented by the Sumerians, along with the written word, the concept of hours and minutes, geometry, human sacrifice, astronomy, surgery, and boy bands?) covered the walls and ceilings. It also had a smell that reminded me of my grandparents' house.

We were playing two different nights' worth of clubgoers, who are disgusted when a geek eats maggots, cockroaches, and bites the head off a rat, and then are even more appalled when Montog slaughters a volunteer from the audience before our eyes (one with a broomstick and one with swords), only to have them turn out okay when the lights come up. An unusual number of the extras were African-American, and I asked a group of them, "Would black guys really go to something like this? This strikes me as more of a white guy thing." They laughed at that.

Also working was my pal John the Ladykiller. And sure enough, the hottest of the extras, a svelte, chain-smoking blonde, gravitated right toward him, spending the entire day and night by his side. Amazing. He didn't even try.

Interestingly, he asked me what I thought of the girl at "Deal or No Deal," the one that was hugging and leaning on him. He asked if I wanted him to set me up with her. I suppose that's the sort of thing that happens to real people, but not me.

The big, cold meeting hall was where we were shooting the club scenes. It had been decorated with crates, garbage, bottles, plastic sheets and graffiti, as well as severed mannequin limbs and torsos. It was pretty impressive, though the entire 1970 film could have been made on what they spent on just that one day of shooting, no joke.

The film stars Jeffrey Combs, Kip Pardue, and the always delightful Bijou Phillips (who I complained in this blog about last month). The lead actor of the film, playing the evil Montog the Magnificent (how I remember that, I'll never know) is Crispin Glover, who they say is the most eccentric actor in the business. He was wearing a white tuxedo that looked more like a fencing outfit, along with an over the top Ace Ventura pompadour and an even more over the top baseball mitt-sized bulge in the crotch of his costume. I mean, you could lose an eye, kids.

Apparently, Brad Douriff is also in the film. Hearing that, I took along my BRIDE OF CHUCKY DVD in case I ran into him. My niece--being (sadly) related to me and (even more sadly) having red hair--is obsessed with Chucky, and it would have been cool to tell her I met the man behind the murderous doll, but he wasn't working that day.*

We've all heard the Crispin Glover stories--how he is certifiably insane, how he screwed himself out of the BACK TO THE FUTURE sequels, how he tends to believe he's his characters, how he bites and murders crewmembers on the films he does, etc. And yes, he was strange, but not unprofessionally so. I said hello to him, but that was it. I wanted to have him sign my BTTF poster, but the vibe was wrong and I didn't ask.

Jeffrey Combs was 97% unrecognisable in his role as the Geek (is "geek" capitalised when it's an occupation?), complete with dirty, raggedy clothes, long grey dreadlocks, and a Gandalf-length beard. As a Horror/Sci-Fi fan, I have a tremendous respect for Combs. His "Star Trek" work alone is incomparable, and I've never seen him deliver a bad performance (even in bad movies), and called him "Mister Combs" when I spoke to him. He said to call him Jeff and shook my hand.**

At the end of the shoot, I sat down toward the front (on Night One, I was in the back and on Night Two, we were told to switch), beside a friendly girl I met on the set of "Boston Legal." She calls me Mushu, for some reason, he being the dragon in MULAN. To make me feel a little less out of place in my improper clothes, she put lipstick on me (not that it helped me look less dorky, but who was I to refuse?). Many of the dudes there had makeup, but on me, it only looked weird. We probably should've put tons on. At one point, she held up her mp3 player and said, "Guess what group I just discovered?" I shrugged and said, "Electric Light Orchestra?" since that was the one I most recently liked. And, of all bands in the world, that was the one she had just discovered. She freaked out at my psychic powers.

A few minutes later, after the stand-ins got up, I found myself sitting next to Bijou Phillips. By pure chance, I suppose. I'm sort of what you would call the opposite of a fan of hers. She's got a high, squeeeky voice, an evil temper, and is seldom quiet for long. "What do you call a blonde with two brain cells?" Phillips asked. "Pregnant," was the response, though she sort of screwed up the punchline.

In the scene, the evil Montog calls Bijou up as a "volunteer," using his hypnotic mind powers to get her to go up, then proceeds to skewer her before our shocked eyes. I've seen some directors who yelled--not a lot, though--but I've only ever seen an actor yell at the director or crew. That was Bijou Phillips, and she did it on DARK STREETS as well as on WIZARD OF GORE. Apparently, she doesn't like having a director tell her how to say her lines. The poor dear.

The shoot didn't go too late--we were wrapped around eleven-thirty--and though it had been raining all day and all night, I made it home before midnight. February, besides being the shortest month, has also been my least profitable. I'd better work extra hard (no pun intended) in March to make up for it.

Speaking of March, I should be starting out the new month working on an Anthony Hopkins picture. Not too shabby.

Rish "The Warlock of Gore" Outfield

*Did you know that in Latin America, CHILD'S PLAY is known as CHUCKY: EL MUñECO DIABOLICO?

**He may also have signed my RE-ANIMATOR and written "You're next!" on it. I'll never tell.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Feb. 23, 2006

Worked "CSI: New York" today in Downtown L.A.. I arose with no work at all, then decided to be proactive for once (for twice, actually) and submit myself for available roles instead of just waiting for my booking service to not call me. Nicely, I only made one call, and when I didn't get it returned, figured I'd spend the day killing small animals in my underwear as usual.* Around noon, though, my phone rang, and I had gotten the gig. If I'm to get ahead in life, I need to do that sort of thing more often. I drove over and wasn't as late as I usually am (someone should've told my parents that cousins maybe shouldn't marry).

We shot until two a.m. (I'm actually typing this at 2:38a.m.). I started out playing a businessman in a hotel bar (wore the same old black suit . . . that sucker has easily paid for itself this year alone), then switched over to NYPD (the uniform was welcome, since it got fairly cold tonight), and later switched back to businessman. They also used my car, which gets even non-union extras a small bonus, or "bump." We started fairly late in the day (a great lunch had been prepared, but I had just eaten), but accomplished quite a lot in a fairly short time.

Shooting at night--to me, anyway--is somehow more draining than shooting during the day. Maybe it's that it's colder at night, maybe it's the knowledge that the morning is fast approaching and you're probably not going to get enough sleep, I don't know.

I don't watch a lot of television, though I try to keep up with what's popular. Unlike my friend Jeff, I'm not a fan of the "CSI"s. If I were, however, I think "New York" is the one I'd watch.

In a couple of the scenes we shot (where I was a police officer), Gary Sinese and
Melina Kanakaredes** were also working. I was somewhat excited to meet Mr. Sinese, though I didn't get to talk to him. While I'm not gay (except when I throw a baseball), Sinese strikes me as a pretty handsom . . . okay, I can't say it. Sorry.

In most of these scenes, we were shooting on the Downtown streets (and in the street on our last shot), but in a much nicer section than DARK STREETS or SPIDEY 3. Passersby were actually allowed to stand around and watch them shoot. Many took pictures (Kanakaredes actually posed with some of them), and I found it odd that only one in five pedestrians at eight p.m. on a Thursday were American.

A girl pretended to be my girlfriend. She was very cool and we talked about movies for a couple of hours. She and I played a game, similar to the old Kevin Bacon one, where you mention actors and their films and another actor in that film, but she was much better at it than me. She was one of those people who remembers the name of the guy who played the second teen to die in the third NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or the ugly dude in the Aaron Burr commercial.

There was an exotically beautiful, Amazonian girl (in her defence, she told us she was only six foot one, though she was wearing entallening boots) who I had once told should submit herself for WONDER WOMAN auditions if that flick ever gets made. We made fun of her for a while, insinuating that nobody that good-looking could have a brain in her head and joking about all the simple words she wouldn't understand.

Later however, I called her Wonder Woman and she came over and talked to me for a minute. Turns out she was really very nice, and I kind of feel bad about it.

Another extra was admiring a football one of the guys was using as a prop and remarked, "Wow, that is a nice-lookin' ball." My fake girlfriend said, "That's what she said." It was either the best use of the classic old That's What She Said joke, or it was so late at night that I thought so.

Yesterday, I worked with Hilary Swank. I did get to talk to her. She was surprisingly attractive and unsurprisingly cool.

The film was called FREEDOM WRITERS, and while I'll never go see a movie called that (even less so once I found out what it was about), it was a pleasant experience, and I got to listen to a girl who was actually a Freedom Writer (don't ask, please) tell about her experiences living the lives that inspired the book that inspired the movie. Several of the ex-high school students got to be extras in a movie about their life.

We shot it way down in Long Beach (which is a lengthy drive for everyone, even if you live in Long Beach), in front of the Aquarium of the Pacific. Sometimes extras are paid mileage for their drives (union extras are always paid mileage if the shoot is on location), and it's always nice, especially if you're driving all the way up to Valencia or down to Long Beach. In this case, I wasn't given mileage. It was a nice sunny day, however, with a cool breeze coming across the harbour.

We were attending a fund raiser on a grassy hill (with REAL grass, mind you!), where various booths had been set up selling food (real food, but cold and stale, so we couldn't eat it). I was paired up with a soft-spoken girl who asked me about the book I was reading ("Sepulchre" by James Herbert) and that was about it. At one point, we were moved to the line where Hilary Swank and another actress were selling tickets. I got to buy some from her three or four times, using fake movie money, and that was cool.

After that, the A.D., who was really a nice guy (but SAG people still issued a complaint against him) told our group that those who wanted to go home could, and those who wanted to stay could stay and eat lunch. I didn't particularly want to go home, so I stuck around. They didn't end up using me again after that, just my car, so I sat around watching PATTON and reading until the extras for the night shoot arrived. When they did, I saw Serena, The Girl Who Lived, somebody I used to see all the time and wanted to take to HARRY POTTER, and she came over and sat by me. I hadn't seen her in a while, but she was so friendly that I thought I would try the make out line on her. In case you care, on the set of "House" a couple of weeks ago, a woman told me a dude had come up to her and said, "So, you wanna make out sometime?" After much discussion, she told me I ought to use it, since girls appreciate directness.

I don't know why I'm telling you this, because nothing came of it. The Girl Who Lived was called to the wardrobe line, along with a hundred others, and while she was gone, the few of us from that morning who were left were dismissed and told to hop on the shuttle back to the parking lot. Disappointed, I hurriedly wrote her a note telling her if she wanted to catch up, shoot the breeze, or make out sometime to give me a call.

I got back to the parking lot and found my car, but not my keys. I had to track down the A.D., and then the P.A. who had them, and then get stuck in rush hour traffic. But I chose to stay, didn't I?

Rish

*Though what they were doing in my underwear, I'll never guess.

**Melina Kanakaredes has to be the actress with the most difficult name to spell, though I guess you do spell it like it sounds.

Friday, February 17, 2006

February 17, 2006

I haven't done much you'd be interested in this week, so I haven't posted. But I could be wrong, and maybe there is something of interest in this week's experiences.

Monday I worked "House" again. I don't know how I keep getting on it, but I hope that continues (the girl at the Fox studio store might have recognised me, as she gave me the employee discount without me having to ask). We were continuing the episode from last week, but weren't on the hospital set with the regulars. This time a little church had been set up on an adjoining stage and we were all churchgoers, the kind who clap and sway and watch people get faith-healed.

It was a short day (we were done before lunch) and pretty easy. Except for an infuriating extra with a mop of unruly Dennis the Menace hair, who kept talking during takes and wandering around. He got moved to my section when Joel saw he was being a camera-hog, and the people in my corner started to trade places not to stand by him. This guy whooped and made asinine remarks, went up the aisle toward the preacher, and just plain couldn't shut up (not wouldn't, apparently his defective brain wouldn't allow it). I suppose I should be forgiving of stuff like that, but I actually wanted to jab him with a Taser until he stopped twitching.

On Tuesday, I didn't do Jack W. Shit. I watched ETERNAL SUNSHINE again, but that's about it.

Chalupa is my favourite Spanish word. Even more than chingaso.

On Wednesday, it was my day three on DREAMGIRLS. This time we were shooting up in Pasadena. We parked at the Rose Bowl, then were bussed to the holding area (a high school gymnasium), then were bussed to the set, passing the Doc Brown BACK TO THE FUTURE house on the way. They said there were between six and seven hundred of us, but it was somewhat well-organised in that there was enough food for everyone and the check-in lines were never long.

It was supposed to be 1975, and everyone had outlandish outfits on. A lot of the black extras got huge Afros and the white ones got long sideburns (I didn't get either, which disappoints me, since I stood in the makeup line for so long). What I did get was a bright red polyester suit and a fluffy creme-coloured shirt and matching shoes. A couple of the extras made fun of me, but I thought it was great, to get to wear something so hideously Seventies that it beggars comprehension. And it ain't like it's me wearing it, it's some 1975 Grammy attendee wearing it. I snapped a couple of pictures, and a few minutes later the A.D.s made an announcement that people shouldn't take photos of their wardrobe, as it was all copyrighted by Dreamworks SKG. I would imagine there were even more pictures taken after that.

I saw Vincent from last week's DREAMGIRLS table and he said, "Hey, you didn't print any of what I said in a magazine, did you?" I told him I didn't like people putting words in my mouth, and we were fast friends.

All we had to do was sit in a big auditorium and watch the performances. Beyonce sang part of one song and was, again, the best-looking person in the room. When Mark and I worked SPIDER-MAN 3, we made a geek list to pass the time of the top ten "Saturday Night Live" cast members. Surprisingly, we both had the the same pick for number one.

Said performer--Eddie Murphy--sang two songs (or lip-synched to his own playback), and was energetic, looking surprisingly young and healthy, and made everybody laugh just by saying the s-word. He unbuttoned his shirt for the audience and was supposed to have dropped his pants, but the most he ever got down was his zipper. I wonder if they'll suggest he showed more in the finished film.

There weren't enough of us to fill the whole room (probably a thousand seats there), so they moved us around, depending on where the cameras were. For some of this, the dude next to me wore his own period outfit. It was so pot-ridden, it smelled like Cheech & Chong's skid marks. Luckily, I got moved soon after, but before I did, he complained that we weren't allowed to have our phones on the set. When the man behind him explained why, he insisted that everybody, not just rich people, had cellphones in the 1970's. I didn't question him out loud, but I think I would've seen it in a movie or TV show if that were the case.

Unfortunately, also in the group I was sitting with, was the blond mental defective from the "House" church. I had never seen him before, and now I see him twice in a row. He may be an evil spirit sent to punish me for my crimes against humanity.

The shoot went until three in the morning (actually a bit earlier than they hinted we'd be getting out), and I got home around three-thirty. The next morning I was doing a game show (my first of the year), so I had time to get some sleep before heading over.

The game show was NBC's "Deal or No Deal," hosted by Howie "Never Funny Not Once" Mandel. They had security beyond the norm, actually wanding us AFTER we'd gone through the metal detector and had our possessions searched and/or confiscated. Mandel actually seemed to be a nice guy, and somewhat clever even, but I did wonder how hard it would be to host a game show where everything is up on a teleprompter and they halt the damn show every five minutes to do something again.

In line to get in, I saw a girl who worked with me on DARK STREETS, and had gone on to work it two more days beyond the three we did together. She told the others how much fun it was and that she would have happily worked on it another week. It's interesting how peoples' experiences can differ so much, but maybe it should teach me not to be so judgmental of those who complained about SPIDER-MAN 3 or the jobs where we only sit and clap.

I sat next to John the Ladykiller, who I like very much. He actually got up from where he was sitting to hang next to me. Unfortunately, that was next to the warm-up guy (a warm-up guy is a comedian hired to keep audiences energetic and awake during a long day of shooting a live audience show. They usually annoy the crap out of me because they tell lame jokes and ask people inane questions, and I don't like to be told to applaud or stand or jump around again and again and again. But hey, that's just me; I don't know if I could be a warm-up guy), so after lunch, we moved to the other side of the stage.

The show, if you've never seen it, is pretty entertaining, once they get going. There are twenty-six hot models (although you'd be hard-pressed to find a SINGLE non-implanted breast among them, much less two) with twenty-six briefcases, each with a denomination in it. The contestant has to pick one and eliminate the others, hoping they got the one with the high dollar value inside, or sell it to the evil, shadowed Banker, who attempts to buy their briefcase off them, depending on what numbers have been eliminated. I know that's a weak explanation of the show, but I shouldn't have even described that much (after all, do I explain what "House" is about, or "E.R.," or "My Mother the Car 2006?").

We entertained ourselves by deciding which models were the hottest (and which ones John had probably already done), and I picked number six. She was so good-looking . . . well, I don't know what. She could be a Cylon maybe. John the Ladykiller had a female friend next to him who he used to date the best friend of (and she thinks he's still dating her, so I wasn't to say otherwise . . . wow, this guy is like James Bond). She actually seemed pretty cool, cute, with a real sense of humour (not the artificial kind beautiful girls steal from "Friends" reruns and then paste on to try it out), and I wondered if, maybe . . . Well, it doesn't matter, since she was all over John, one of those things where she constantly touched him or put her arm around him or laid her head on his shoulder. Ah well.

The show was very slow and they constantly re-did spontaneous things because they missed them the first time, despite having ten cameras all over the set. The first game took forever, and I suspect that both the contestant and her family were all actors reciting well-memorized lines or ad-libbing according to a set script. Sorry, Mom.

We sat for two shows, taking up seven hours. They wanted volunteers to stay late for a third show, and I normally would've stuck around (for the extra cash), but he didn't have a car, so I gave John the Ladykiller a ride home. That guy is about the opposite of me in every way (he's tall and fit and handsome, into drugs and womanising and midget wrestling), and if I had half his charm I'd be writing this blog from a stripper's bedroom instead of my own.

Which gets us to today, Friday. I'm working in West Hollywood on a film called HE WAS A QUIET MAN, starring Christian Slater, William H. Macy, and Elisha Cuthbert (who I had a brief thing for, and still have the GIRL NEXT DOOR poster on my wall). We were shooting a restaurant called Solare and playing diners (I've often remarked that I have eaten in more fancy restaurants in my time as an extra than I ever have in real life).

Christian Slater looked awful: he had been royally dorked up with red, blotchy skin, thick glasses, an overbite, and fully half of his hair gone (I assume it was shaved and he hasn't lost it). If you saw him on the street, you'd never have guessed who it was, nor given him a second glance. It must be nice to get to chameleon yourself like that as an actor. Cuthbert had brown hair about the same as she did in the HOUSE OF WAX remake and I wondered if her hair is really blonde or brunette.

I saw an extra I work with every week who I've nicknamed The General (no idea what his name really is) because he was our garrison's leader on THE GOOD GERMAN, and he told me the plot of the film. It's quite clever, actually. SPOILERS: Basically, Christian Slater is a put-upon office employee who snaps and goes to work with a gun on the same day another employee does the same thing. When the other employee goes postal, shooting up the place, Slater pulls out his gun and dispatches him, becoming an unlikely hero. Cuthbert is shot through the spine and becomes paraplegic. END SPOILERS.

In the scene I was in, they had gone to a nice restaurant and he was feeding her in the wheelchair. Slater banged her wheelchair against the tables next to theirs, which included mine. We shot a fantasy sequence where she was fully mobile, then several passes of how it really was.

It was a very small shoot, and I believe there were fifteen or sixteen of us. Small shoots are infinitely preferable to big ones, since you'll sometimes get union vouchers and union food (got the latter, not the former) and always get more personal crew attention and camera time (got the latter, not the former). We didn't go very long, as the production had to be out of there by four for the restaurant to commence its usual day. I like small shoots and I like it when they're in a hurry.

Cuthbert struck me as particularly difficult to amuse, but the longer I sat by her, the cuter she got. I think the nose has something to do with it--her nose curves upward on the end in a really unusual way. I took the opportunity to say something to her, but the infamous Outfield stutter took over when I tried. It hasn't reared its ugly head since I gave that little elf on SANTA CLAUSE 3 the drawing I made of Martin Short crushing her in the door.

The woman I was partnered up with (my date at the table) was quite a good actress, forcing me to raise my game even in the shots where our backs were to the camera and pretend to talk and drink. She was, however, what the textbooks refer to as a know-it-all, telling me all about the inner workings of the film world (in Canada, she went to many auditions for real parts, before finally slumming it and doing Extra work), how she knew what the movie was about using deductive reasoning (I simply asked somebody), and the prestigious jobs she had gotten in her mere two months of working here in L.A..

She was a writer of poetry (hmmm*), but was making the transition to screenwriting, using all the bits of information she had picked up here and there. I tried to be friendly--and indeed was--but it got a little tiring to hear her condescend to me when I'm sure I had a decade on her, so I said, "I'm impressed you've actually written a screenplay. You have no idea how many people in L.A. call themselves screenwriters and when you ask them how many scripts they have written, they say, 'I'm still working on my first.'" Well, I'm still learning the format, but I've got the story for one all ready to go. "Oh," I said, "Whoops, sorry about that." Of course I knew that's what she was going to say, but I had to deflate the balloon a tiny bit (after all, she said "aunt" so it rhymed with "haunt").

We spent a couple of hours together on our "date," up at the bar and then at our table right next to the principals (Slater and Cuthbert). She told me about this bizarre diet she was on--not really a diet since she weighed about 97 pounds--something she called a "thirty-day cleansing." I told her I'd give her a dollar if she'd eat a Dorito. But I was just kidding. I don't have a dollar.

Rish Chalupa Outfield

*A screenwriter or storyteller talking down to a poet is, in my mind, like a basketball player or boxer talking down to a professional bowler. But hey, that's just me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Comics + Movies = Celibacy

I hate Valentine's Day. To me, there's a heck of a lot more joy in Memorial Day (and at least you get a day off). Since I hung out with Kristina last Valentine's Day, I figured I'd post this essay in honour(?) of that day.

"You're never gonna get laid until you stop reading comic books and going to movies."

I was sitting in a restaurant with my pal Kristina, sharing beverages and talking about life, when she dropped that bombshell on me. I had been bemoaning my lack of success with a certain female friend of hers, and always outspoken and seldom mincing words (even when it hurt), Kristina just laid it out there on the table. The main problem with my relationship woes could be found in my leisure time activities.

With these words, my mind reeled. Could it be true? Was it not a flaw in my body, face, mind, or personality, but in where I chose to hang out and what I loved to do? Could dropping those things be what it takes to have success?

And why do I dwell on this?

I love movies. I used to love comics just as much. I must admit that there are times, whether it's remembering them, talking about them, or reading them, when I love them like that again. There's a great fantasy element and sense of wonder in superhero comics that rarely shows itself in superhero movies or TV shows. Simply the smell of an old comic can take off fifteen or twenty years.

On the other hand . . . sex. That's, well, just a much bigger deal.

Movies for me are a huge deal, though, probably right up there with sex at the top of the list. Going to movies, renting movies, talking about movies, making fun of movies, writing about movies, looking forward to movies (good ones and bad), wanting to make movies . . . these are things that really fuel me.

So losing comics and movies is quite a price to pay. I know what you're thinking: dude, I'd cut off my banana in exchange for sex!

Well, first of all: ewww. Second of all, if you did, how would you have sex? You really must think these things through a little better.

There is little that can beat the thrill of going to a movie and being swept away to a new world of wonder, with characters that live and breathe, adventure, laughter, anger, romance, and triumph that beggars any we have actually managed to experience in our little spheres.

But I also know that one of those few things that can beat that thrill is the spark of real-life romance, the chemistry between two people, the sparkle in an eye, and touch of a hand (and, let's be honest, the sparkle on a tongue and the touch of a breast) . . . the horizon of new possibilities that opens up when that human connection is there. This is important to a person's existence, on a level that's more vital than the need to tell and hear stories.

Would I never read another comic book in return for sex? Would I burn my AMC Moviewatcher card and let the local multiplex forge on without me in exchange for someone to spend my nights with (kicking me when she rolls over and insisting I breathe toward the wall)? Would it be worth it?

And a bigger question is: what kind of girl are we talking about, who would ask that I trade away one or two of the few things that bring me joy in order to be with her? Like the fairy tale trades where you must give up your kingdom or family or voice to be with the one you love? But this is no fairy tale, and it says a great deal about the character of a person who can be so selfish as to demand their mate give up what makes him happy in order to make her so.

Kristina, in her blunt way, was trying to help me, I'm sure (though ultimately, she proved to be one of those people who prefers to step on fingers rather than pull someone to safety), and because of that, I have never been able to dismiss her words outright.

I was quite horrified at the thought of a sexless existence, but some of the people around me didn't feel that way. I spoke to an ex-roommate of mine about it, and he said that TITANIC was a weaker film because the characters of Rose and Jack have sex. He told me he thought it would be a much stronger romance if they never had sex. Though I agree that their tragic parting (whoops, spoiler) would become tragic had they never gotten it on, but I didn't understand the "stronger romance" part. I asked him. He said, "Well, they had something pure going, then they ruined it by taking their clothes off." I didn't know how to respond to that, especially considering he was a 32 year old virgin (just about the saddest thing I can think of).

Practically every one of my married friends (save one, gor bless 'im) has told me that sex is overrated, a very small part of a relationship, and that the world don't revolve around it.

I talked to Matthew, who was Kristina's friend before she was mine (and loves comics more than I ever could), about what she had said and he only shrugged. "But do you think that could be possible? That comic books and movies taint us toward women, driving them away the way garlic repels vampires?" "What if it does?" Matthew said, "Who cares?" Well, I cared. Sex is a big deal to me. Matthew said, "Yeah, I guess, but comics are a bigger deal." We had discussed this many a time, and Matthew's sex drive is that of a seventy year old Buddhist monk. Like the wise man once said, "Ahh, who needs girls? I’m ambidextrous."

I wish I could be like that, but I feel the loss, and I recognise the void in my life (for something that makes a lot of people miserable, but they'd never trade away). If anyone has some advice for me, I'm in the market.

I once saw a movie (no, it wasn't CHASING AMY misremembered) where a guy who was into Sci-Fi and comics and such meets a totally cool girl who loves comic books and movies and geek culture just as much as he does, and here's the thing . . . she doesn't look like something that's been living in the New York City sewers, killing and eating homeless people for the past dozen years. I saw the movie, but it was a stupid one, and so unrealistic, it made that turd THE CORE look like a Ken Burns documentary. You just made that story up, there ain't no girl like that.

So, on this girlfriendless Valentine's Day, Kristina's proclamation comes back to me, a little stronger than it usually does. Do I compromise what I love--in essence, who I am--to find a new love, a new me? Or, if I did, would I find myself just as alone, just as unloved, but in a world even emptier than the one I used to have, with my celluloid and three-colour fantasies?

I don't have the answer. Just the question.

Rish Socrates Outfield
February 14, 2006

"I've got a Dungeon Master's Guide,
I've got a 12-sided die;
I've got Kitty Pryde,
And Nightcrawler too;
Waiting there for me, Yes I do.
In the garage, I feel safe;
No one laughs about my ways.
In the garage, where I belong;
No one hears me sing this song."

Weezer