Friday, January 20, 2006

January 19th, 2006

I had a fitting in the morning, and it was so short (it practically took longer to park than to go through the whole process), that I called my agency to see if they had any more work for me.

A couple of hours later, they called to see if I would head to Valencia to work on "The West Wing." Valencia is to the north, way up past the L.A. County border. It was a Rush Call, which is where somebody didn't show up for a gig and they call someone to replace them at the last minute. Sometimes these pay extra (they say you can get union work that way), but I've never been that lucky. I may just have one of those faces.

They were shooting in an airplane hanger, where the Air Force One set is (I peeked into the huge set, though we weren't using it that day, and longed to work in it). There was a big convention hall set up with balloons and election decorations, along with many of us dressed to vote and celebrate (I got one of those goofy old-time white Styrofoam hats like barbershop quartets wear).

I mentioned when John Spencer died that I had worked with him before. His character, Leo McGarry, is running for Vice President alongside Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits), and I had worked as a Santos staff member, a reporter, and a Santos supporter. I was the latter again, and this was the big election night episode. For drama's sake . . . spoilers ahead . . . they decided to have Spencer's character Leo McGarry die on election day.

Amid this somber scene, the band Foo Fighters is playing at the election results party. Janeane Garafolo interrupts the song, saying "Congressman Santos has a statement he wishes to make." He comes up and mentions Leo's passing and that, while it's sad, the election is more important than any one man. It was a long speech, and except for the thousand year old Fuyvish Finkel, nobody I've seen has a worse time remembering dialogue than Jimmy Smits. But he actually did alright.

At first, it was somewhat touching (though I thought it was more heartfelt when the A.D. came out and told us what the scene would be about and how it was a moving scene for the crew and they required our understanding). The director however, was infuriating, doing take after senseless take--of the entire scene mind you--until Smits actually did start to flub lines. It was really cold in the hanger--the coldest indoor set I've been on--and as the hours went on, people got grouchy and unhappy.

I like Jimmy Smits. I was a big fan of "L.A. Law" as a kid and absolutely loved one of the sketches he did when he hosted "Saturday Night Live" around that time (my pal Dennis and I never said the word "enchilada" the same after that). There was a middle-aged fat woman standing in front of me who had no idea who he was and we argued over whether he was a handsome man or not (she said she much preferred Antonio Banderas). When Smits came by, I grabbed at the woman and said, "Okay, here he is, I'll introduce you. You can let him know that he's not a good-lookin' guy." She seemed horrified, as if I were seriously going to do this thing. Ah well.

There were a lot of us--maybe seventy--and as the sun set and the scene went on, people might have lynched the director (some of the extras were getting angry even at the Foo Fighters for "playing" the same song over and over again.

We shot more later with Bradley Whitford and the blonde woman, and this too, took take after take after take. Not sitting in front of a monitor watching what the camera sees, we can only note when someone stumbles or forgets dialogue or gets distracted. I can only imagine what went wrong for the director to continually call for more takes (they were using a Steadicam, and I've been on countless sets with one that didn't require multiple takes).

Later, we did another whole scene with Whitford talking on the phone, and even I (having arrived hours after everyone else) was on double-time by then. It was past midnight when we were released, and luckily there was little traffic to keep me from my drafty little apartment.

Now that it's in the past, it doesn't seem so bad, I guess. There are hard days (like this one or on SPIDER-MAN 3) and there are easy days (like SANTA CLAUSE 3 or "Malcolm in the Middle"), so I suppose it balances out.

Rish Outfield

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