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!