Sunday, October 30, 2011

Anatomy of Fear

Lucy Knisley investigates why we enjoy scary things in her comic essay, Scaredcited. It's good. And it's Halloween weekend so you should click through and enjoy it.

You know what I'm most afraid of?


Friday, October 28, 2011

Revenge of Steve Jobs

Like the killer from the SAW movies, Steve Jobs will continue his important work from beyond the grave. He has set up a series of elaborate traps in his hardware that will make you appreciate life better if they don't kill you painfully.

Okay not exactly. (Although I trust his ultimate Master Plan may yet prove to be more insidious.) Actually, he just had this idea for changing the way you watch TV. Honestly, I don't want to have to talk to my television. Can we not do this one?

If you haven't read this, I encourage you to read about the latest changes to Netflix. (It's a joke, btw.)

DirecTV may be dropping FX and the National Geographic Channel on November 1. (In addition to a bunch of other Fox stations, though those are the only two I care about.) If you watch any shows on FX, showrunners have recorded special announcements warning about how many new episodes you will miss if this happens. I've only had DirecTV for a few months and the channel lineup has been volatile. I had to watch the first half of the most recent season of BREAKING BAD in Standard Def before they reinstated AMC HD. G4 is still off the lineup. Now this. (Although I arguably have bigger problems to face right now beyond missing a few tee-vee shows.)

Last night, I hit a red carpet kick-off party for some little film festival. Tonight, I gotta hit a birthday party. Tomorrow night, some big Halloween bash I bought into. Sunday night, a going away party for a friend. That is a lot of consecutive nights of drinking. There is such a thing as too much. I wish I could break this up into two weeks' worth of activities.

Play dangerously this weekend, folks.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Everybody Wants Some

Doesn't matter if I talk about the nature of my career being feast-and-famine. Doesn't matter when I point out that I'm suffering a particularly harsh lean stretch. I get into a networking situation, people hear some of what I've done, and they think I'm in a position to help them.

Sometimes it'll be put forth in a half-joking manner. Sometimes it'll be a more direct pitch. Suggestions of collaborations, without even being familiar with my work.

I want to help people. It's in my nature. But what a lot of folks don't seem to get is that I am NOT in a career position where I can help others right now. If I'm not eating, how am I supposed to help you find a meal? I've got a team of people hustling for me and I'm still struggling.

It's a drag. And I'm nobody right now. What happens when I actually get to a place of some recognition?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I've Been Shockingly Nice

Let's get this out of the way, since I wrote about it openly here: MENAGERIE is dead. My take on the found-footage open writing assignment at Paramount. Apparently, they really liked the short story I wrote but will probably go with a bigger-name writer and a more "middle of the road" concept. But a few more people are now fans of my work, which could theoretically pay off down the line, so bust out the fireworks. Guess I'll just pay rent with I.O.U.s until then!

Some people say a career in the entertainment industry is like riding a rollercoaster. Because there are highs and lows, I assume. But really, it's a poor comparison because a good rollercoaster is FUN ALL THE WAY THROUGH. When you're barreling down a hill on a rollercoaster, it is exhilarating. When your career is barreling down a hill, it is fucking depressing.

Still. My team of reps has been reshuffled. We've got a few things waiting to go and we're about to make a serious go at television for the first time. Last week, I was talking to my new agent (former manager) about it and he suggested that I watch some television to familiarize myself with the medium.


I watch a truly despicable amount of television so I feel ahead of the game for the first time.

The past couple of weeks have been jarring with highs and lows, from almost every aspect of my world. I'm trying to reconfigure my life. Reevaluating the things I need and don't need in my life right now. I am capable of some remarkable cruelty when I'm properly motivated...

Everything's about to change.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

You Broke My Heart and Killed Me

Gifford Children's Choir of Racine, WI

Friday, October 21, 2011

Elmo Costello

out of the sky, into the dirt

I love it when my instincts are completely wrong.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Brutality of Now

When I'm suffering a lean stretch, I tend to wait longer before getting a haircut. My hair can get really out of control. I'll tame it with hats or gel, for as long as I can.

I'll wait a little longer to do laundry, too. And I'll skimp on the dryer time. Instead of 34 minutes, maybe 18. That's the difference of a few quarters. Clear sign I'm suffering a lean patch is when I'm carrying wet clothes home from the laundromat.

When I'm facing so much uncertainty, it's difficult to maintain optimism. Hope. A sense that the hard times are a temporary affair. Confidence that a reversal of my fortune is not just in the vaguely defined future but imminent. Within grasp. A right at the next corner. You need optimism to get through it, to deal with people, to get any work done. It fuels you. It tempers the panic.

If you knew that you were going to win a million dollars next week, what would you do this week? I think most people would probably live a little better.

Got a new agent yesterday. My new agent is my former manager. I know, it's a little confusing, and the question becomes, "What's the difference between an agent and a manager?" It's a little hard to explain. Even though I have a better understanding of it than I used to. Bottom line is, I never really connected with my original agent. (Truthfully, I've had buyer's remorse about selecting him at many stages.) Now, I've got a great agent and a great manager and I feel the sense that the Team is stronger.

I'm managed by Prolific Entertainment. Repped by APA.

In other news, Rosie O'Donnell was voted the worst talkshow host ever.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bourne Background, Act 3: Girl, Interrupted

Wednesday morning, 12th of October, 3:00am. Last day of the shoot.

I sat with Londin inside the holding tent. Her stalker Ahmed was nowhere in sight. Londin and I both felt bad about freezing him out at the end of the previous day. When you stripped away the stalkerish reading of some of his actions, he seemed to be a nice guy. Awful thoughts flitted through my head. Of Ahmed hanging from an improvised noose in his closet. The guy had been doing background work exclusively for two years: he wouldn't just flake on the last day. What had we driven him to do...?

I had my costume on while Londin was off getting her hair done up. I wasn't eating again today. Instead of a 5-Hour Energy Drink, I'd brought a Sugar-Free RED BULL. My body's more familiar with the effect of RED BULLS, I imagined it might give me an easier time. Instead of chugging it at the very beginning, today I would wait until we were called onto the set. Which happened a lot sooner than I expected.

"I need 25 people who are ready to go to the set!" hollered the AD. Another portly man who'd been hitting on Londin.

Throughout the holding tent, people were still grazing on their breakfast buffet plates. I didn't feel like volunteering first thing in the morning -- but when you don't eat, you're essentially ever-ready. I dutifully put on my gloves and stepped outside the tent with the gathering 25.

That's where I met her.

Truth be told, I'd met her briefly on a line the previous day. She'd made a comment and I responded and I thought maybe we'd have a conversation -- but then I made the assessment that she probably didn't want to be chatted up. And I wasn't here to chat girls up. So nothing happened.

But today, she was among the 25, ready to hit the set. She had this adorable pixie haircut that made me think of Mia Farrow in ROSEMARY'S BABY. She made a comment to me:

"That P.A. just referred to us all as 'ladies'."

"They've got us in this sexless uniform," I suggested. "Covered head to toe. It's an honest mistake. I choose not to be offended."

She ran her thin fingers through her tousled, black hair. A little self-consciously. "I've got a boy's haircut," she said. "I'm surprised they haven't confused me for a boy."

I studied her for a moment longer. She was inviting a conversation. "Have you done anything like this before...?" I asked.

And we were off...

We kept talking as we were led to the set. She'd never done anything like this before. She was a book editor. She'd heard about this "Marcher" shoot from someone who'd incorrectly guessed it was some kind of low-budget horror movie. And she'd signed up for it.

We were positioned next to each other on the production line and I was getting excited at the prospect of spending the day with her. She extended her hand. "My name is [blank], by the way," she said.

I shook her hand and smiled. "Malice."

Then, cruelly, we were interrupted. I was unceremoniously pulled away from her. Repositioned elsewhere in the factory.

That's when the last day of this arduous shoot turned into a personal mission. I had to find my way back to this girl. Back to [blank].

The hopelessly teenage romantic in me posited that perhaps this was the larger significance of me doing this shoot. Of me enduring all three days. Maybe the Universe was compelling me to do this, had conspired to get me to this place under all these desperate circumstances so that I would meet this one girl.

If I hadn't been so hard up for the cash, I might not have done the shoot.

If I'd bailed out with Sherwin after Day One, I wouldn't have met her.

If I'd been eating, I wouldn't have been part of that 25 and I wouldn't have had that conversation with her.

It all made perfect sense now. Pieces of a puzzle fell into place. I needed to find [blank]. I needed to get her information before the clock ran out on the day. Exhausted and vaguely delirious on a hastily chugged RED BULL, I was suddenly convinced that my entire year had been leading me to this one day.

Day Three was all about waiting for the sound of gunfire. And running.

They took a few minutes to record some screaming/yelling reactions of the workers so that they might layer it into the sound mix later. I was supposed to be a part of this but I backed off and took a picture instead. I wasn't about to have my voice recorded, even as part of a cacophony.

Lunch break, I wasn't eating. Londin was giving me the business when we were interrupted by the miraculous return of Ahmed. We hadn't pushed him to suicide. Apparently, he'd overslept and had to take a car to the set this morn. His Londin-fawning was curbed by his worry over being blacklisted from the extras casting calls. He depended on this work.

The lunch hour wore on. An obese Chinese guy arrived at our table: DJ. He pressed Londin for her phone number. It was a last day move. Do or die. If you wanted information, you had to gun for it.

Londin gave DJ her number with the warning, "... but no booty-calls because I have a fiancé!"

Ahmed heard this and, after DJ departed, clarified, "Wait... you have a fiancé...?"

When Londin confirmed this, the effect was instant. The magic spell shattered. Ahmed immediately turned his chair around and started talking to another group of extras. He was done making an effort with her.

Meanwhile, I stole glances at a spot a few tables over. There was [blank]. At a corner of a crowded table, eating her lunch. I would have gone over there but there was no room at that table. Yes, it was the last day, but I didn't want to pull an Ahmed or a DJ. Didn't want to be That Guy. I needed to find a better opportunity.

Back at the shoot, we filmed variations on the Running of the Filipinos. From the cover of machinery, I made the day more interesting by trying to get a picture of the stars. Extra cautious to not ruin any takes by having my camera's flash go off during filming.

From the extras perspective, the stars were the background artists of the shoot. Their names rarely came up. Their celebrity lives less vital than the networking taking place among the lot of us. Our interaction with them was minimal. At one point, Rachel Weisz awkwardly, reluctantly bleated out a "Hi..." to some of us as we waited to shoot. It was half-hearted and unnecessary.

Which is not to suggest there was any negative sentiment toward the stars. There were just sort of there. Doing their job like we were doing ours. (Albeit, at a slightly better pay-rate.)

They had their makeup and wardrobe people tailing them as we had our separate team of makeup and wardrobe people keeping us in check throughout the day. Everything in its right place.

One of the final shots of the day was a wideshot of all of us running toward the exit. We all had to run a ways down a hallway to clear the shot. I was positioned toward the front of the crowd and was looking forward to the physical activity. Anything to jolt some life into me.

We were reacting to gunfire. Fleeing for our lives. When they called action, I was ready to sprint out of there. But I couldn't because some of the people around me actually wanted to be SEEN in the shot -- they were doing this slow-motion jog that did nothing to suggest "running for your life from random gunfire".

Throughout the shots, were were constantly reminded to keep our face masks up. The grand escape shot at the end was the one exception. "If you're Filipino, you can have your mask down while you run." I considered it for a moment but ignored the offer. I wasn't looking to be easily identified in this movie.

As the shoot was winding down, an extra I'd befriended who'd been playing a supervisor called me over to hang out in his area. Efren. He wasn't an actor, either. Just a guy looking for a job on Craigslist who stumbled on this curious opportunity. A week later, he was a supervisor in a pharmaceutical factory in Manila.

I could see [blank] standing one station over from me. This was good. I needed to make this happen.

The director of the movie -- Tony Gilroy -- quieted us down to make an announcement. He was a screenwriter with a long list of produced movies and this was his third as a director. I'd met him briefly in college, after a screening of a movie he'd written called "Dolores Claiborne". Back then, he had long, curly brown hair. 16 years later, his hair's gray and close-cropped. An A-list screenwriter who's leveling up as a director. A career trajectory worth coveting.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he announced. "We are done shooting."

Cheers, applause. People tearing off their pink and blue costumes as they walked back to the holding tent.

I timed my walk so that I'd be casually striding next to [blank], who I hadn't talked to since we were torn apart early in the day.

"So, do you go back to playing a book editor tomorrow?" I asked her. It acknowledged that I remembered the conversation we were having this morning.

She smiled. "Tonight, actually. But it's good that we wrapped early. I'll have a little time to get myself together before getting back to it."

As we walked back to the tent, I peeled off my pink smock and she admired my ink addiction.

I wanted to get her information. There was time enough to get her information. With all the lines, checking out at the end of the day was a big ordeal. But I didn't take this extras gig to meet people. Certainly not a girl. I was off my game. I had no game. But I couldn't let her go without making SOME effort.

Back at the tent, I gave her my card. I hoped that maybe SHE had a card and would automatically offer me hers. She didn't have one but seemed sincere about her promise to contact me and keep in touch. In the days afterward, I would kick myself for not getting her number. A fucking business card was never going to work. In the end, we had barely talked.

The rest of the time seemed to go in slow motion. Londin let the word get out that I was a screenwriter and all these Filipino filmmakers dogpiled on me with business cards and invitations to festivals. I kinda like when Filipino people come up to me and start talking in Tagalog. It's like an immediate sense of kinship. Even though I don't understand a word of what they're saying.

Ahmed came up to me and shook my hand. "Say goodbye to Londin for me if you see her," he said as he walked away. Londin had been right behind me, in plain sight.

Londin and I played the Lottery Game on the ride back to the city. "What would you do if you won the lottery tomorrow?" It's a great conversation generator. Reveals character. Hopes and dreams. The ultimate question being, "What would you do if you didn't have to worry about money? If you took money entirely out of the equation, what would make you happy?"

Londin screwed it up, though. She talked about investments she would make. I was only partially present anyway. [Blank] was sitting on her own toward the front of the bus. I wasn't going to ditch Londin so I could awkwardly hit on a girl who was probably as exhausted as I was.

Bus arrived at 36th and 3rd. Everybody shuffled out and scattered to the wind. I walked Londin a few blocks before parting ways. Three days and she seemed to have accomplished a lot of productive networking. Networking I might borrow on at a later date. She was like the kid sister I never had.

I had a drink. Alone at a bar. A few drinks. It felt like I'd just stepped into someone else's life for three days. It was a drag but you also meet these people who become your best friends for a really compressed period of time. The high of production. At the end of it, I don't know how much I really accomplished. Didn't make a significant sum of money. Didn't get the girl's number.

Maybe it was one of those experiences that would make more sense over a longer arc of time...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bourne Background, Act 2: The Stalker

[Note: Some names have been changed, just in case.]

Tuesday morning, 11th of October, 3:00am. Traversing the avenues alone in the dead hours of the morning makes you see the world differently. I often walk the streets during these hours but I'm usually headed home from a bar. Walking to work at this hour, stone cold sober, made the quiet streets seem more jarring.

One of the hazards of walking NYC during the dead hours are the Rat Streets. They're not always easy to spot from a distance. They're not necessarily marred by an inordinate stack of garbage bags, or cartoonish rows of gothic arches carved into the sides of buildings. But you start walking down a Rat Street during the dead hours and the rats come out to greet you. They seem to follow horror movie rules of engagement, perilously darting across your path when you're just a few strides away. When you're half-dead from exhaustion, it causes a startle.

No Sherwin today. No security friend to help me be antisocial during the downtimes of the shoot. Would Miss "Londin" be back? No idea. Returning for the second day of shooting background was less about "the experience" and more about earning just a little more of a pittance of a paycheck. My expectations were ground underfoot.

The bus was moving out toward College Point, Queens by about 3:16am. I plugged my earbuds in and listened to an episode of This American Life. Something soothing about This American Life episodes. They help calm my nerves during long, dark journeys. Riding the bus through the black of night, zoning out with my ipod, it felt like I was headed to the airport for a flight. In a movie sense, I was. I was heading to a pharmaceutical factory in Manila.

Day Two would not be as much of a trial as Day One, I promised myself.

Check-in for papers. Check-in for wardrobe. Londin appears and I break the news that Sherwin has bailed. She is the portrait of shock.

"I must really want to do this for a living because there was no doubt that I'd be back here today," she says. "After 26 years of doing what my parents wanted me to do, I'm finally doing something I'm passionate about. And I love it." She did. After one day, she was friendly with most of the production staff and half the extras. Her first gig and she was making it count.

Sherwin wasn't the only one who bailed for Day Two. I hear a number of production assistants quit because Day One was so disorganized. And the number of extras had noticeably thinned. This being my first big movie shoot, I had nothing to compare it to in terms of order... but the lines continued to be a blueprint for chaos.

Planted my flag at a corner table in the holding tent. Londin joined me, along with a guy I hadn't met before. Ahmed. A portly South Asian fellow with a blemish on the slope of his nose that was impossible to avoid staring at. Londin pulled me aside and told me that Ahmed had been stalking her since the shoot yesterday. I thought, "This is the price you pay for being so friendly with people..."

She told me that Ahmed had invited her to sit next to him on the courtesy bus back to Manhattan yesterday. When they arrived in the city, he went out of his way to walk her back toward Penn Station; went in for a hug and kissed her on the cheek to say goodbye.

At the start of Day Two, he was trailing her like a puppy. Making cursory acknowledgement of my presence as he tried to tend to her needs. He fetched a plate of food from the breakfast buffet and offered it to her. She declined. Reluctantly, he offered me some of the food he'd collected. I declined. I declared that I was not going to eat today. To avoid the indignities of the public bathrooms available at the shoot (made more cumbersome to use by the awkward smock/apron costumes they had us wearing). A lone 5-Hour Energy Drink would be my main source of fuel to get me through the next 12 hours. I'd never had a 5-Hour Energy Drink before and was hoping I'd get better mileage than the name suggested.

The focus of the conversation immediately shifted to me and how fucked up it was for me to avoid eating for the next 12 hours. For me, avoiding eating meant avoiding the long lunch line and avoiding any potential digestive issues that might result from the crappy buffet. I didn't feel particularly compelled to discuss my self-torture but the ensuing debate helped to distract Ahmed from fawning over Londin. For a little while, at least.

Earlier than Day One, we were back on the set, pretending to work. The whole reason for the super-early call-times was that we were shooting at the New York Times facility, where they print the newspapers, and the production had to be cleared out by 4:30pm every day.

They switched me to a different station on this day. The 5-Hour Energy Drink had me way too jittery for five hours before it dumped me in a ditch of despair. I'd gotten less sleep than the night before and I was just pacing about, trying to remain conscious.

Fortunately, Day Two was when the action began. This was a "BOURNE" movie, after all. (Called "The Bourne Legacy", "Bourne 4" on the paperwork, even though Matt Damon wasn't in this and the new star, Jeremy Renner, wasn't even playing the character of "Bourne".)

The scene: Jeremy Renner's character shoots some gunfire in the factory, busting a few pipes. The Filipino factory workers freak out and run toward the exit, offering Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz cover as they coolly exit the facility.

[Fake bullet holes]

Strangely, this required a modicum of acting. Everyone couldn't just start running as soon as the gun went off. They made us wait by the gunshots. 1st gunshot: What was that? 2nd gunshot: Oh shit, someone's firing a gun in here! 3rd gunshot: Do we leave our stations or do we run?! And so forth. They directed us in sections, to avoid a bottleneck. Women were to start running before men. Elderly extras were to shuffle forward as younger extras were allowed to sprint. Above all, they wanted us to be careful. We weren't stunt people, we weren't being paid as stunt people. While it might be more visceral to have people falling all over each other, the production didn't want to invite lawsuits.

Some of the extras were hamming it up. Over-indicating shock and fear as they jogged out, throwing their hands up in the air as if they were trying to remove an invisible cat from their heads. This meant more takes. More directing the extras.

At the breaks, I rejoined Londin and her extras-boyfriend Ahmed. She was NOT showing him signs of interest. Her body language and responses were clearly saying "No". And he kept failing to read any of it. For my part, I tried to make casual conversation with him. Tried to feign interest while I was exhausted, famished and decidedly uninterested in getting to know him better. Ahmed had been living exclusively off of background work like this for the past TWO YEARS. How anyone could suffer these hours and conditions for an extended period of time was beyond me. It's like living as cattle. Being herded about, talked down to, fed shitty food; existing as something less than human. I was fighting to make it through three days of this and Ahmed had been doing it for TWO YEARS, on some productions that had worse conditions. I was quietly judging his failure to read social cues but he was making a LIVING off of something he was passionate about. Which was more than I was currently accomplishing.

The day dragged on. My fatigue set in as I seriously questioned what I was doing with my life. Some people were doing this as a lark. Some people were doing it to advance their careers, network, maybe shift into production assistant work. I was doing it for the small amount of cash it would earn me. Slightly above minimum wage. With all the screenwriting projects I'd been working on this past year, the past TWO years... this is what I'd been reduced to. Unskilled work. A job I landed by emailing a cell phone picture to an office.

Londin stuck close by me as we negotiated the winding queues to check-in wardrobe and drop off our vouchers at the end of the day. Ahmed kept a watchful eye on us. Saved a spot in line and encouraged us to cut in front of him. We declined. Opting to wait for the very ends of the lines to come to us.

Ahmed was done at least 20 minutes before us... but he waited. He waited for Londin. But waiting for Londin meant waiting for me with her.

We boarded the last courtesy bus back to Manhattan. Ahmed stepped on ahead of us. I jumped into a free seat and Londin jammed in next to me.

"You know, he's going to kill us both now," I warned her. "He's probably got a hunting knife in his bag."

He was two seats behind us for the trip home. Sitting alone.

When the bus stopped, Londin and I leaped for the exit. We walked briskly down the sidewalks, continuing to joke about how he was probably right behind us. We were joking but we were also a little afraid. A few blocks away, I dared to steal a glance back:

Ahmed was nowhere in sight.

We both felt bad.

It had been a long day. And we only had a few hours before we had to be back for our last day. We'd do our best to smooth things over with Ahmed at the breakfast buffet.

[continue to ACT 3...]

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bourne Background, Act 1: Cult Orientation

This week on Misanthropy Central, "Bourne Background". Malice Highload spends three days working as a background extra in the new BOURNE movie.

ACT 1: Cult Orientation.
ACT 2: The Stalker.
ACT 3: Girl, Interrupted.

Monday morning, 10th of October, 3:30am. Headed to Penn Station to meet up with my friend Sherwin so we could walk together to East 36th and 3rd where a courtesy bus would shuttle us and a full cargo of assorted Filipinos to College Point, Queens. Over the next three days, the New York Times Facility there would double as a pharmaceutical factory in Manila for the new BOURNE LEGACY movie, shooting under the production name "Marcher".

I'd never done extra work in a big budget movie before. When I was a star-struck kid, I would have loved the opportunity to do something like this. BE IN A MOVIE!!! As an adult, I was doing it for the cash. Not a grand sum of cash, either. But when you're suffering a lean patch as I've been, anything helps. I'd heard about the casting call for Filipino extras from another friend the previous week; sent the casting people a cell phone pic of myself and got the confirmation call the next day. My first movie role and I was looking to stay as far in the background as possible. When I'm facing hard times with my career, the last thing I feel up to doing is meeting new people. But I also have a history of pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I had to do this, both for the pittance of money and the sheer experience.

I texted with Sherwin as I walked down to Penn. On the train into Manhattan, he'd met another person who was going to be in the shoot. We weren't even at the bus and we were meeting new people. It was a girl. The last thing I felt like doing was meeting a girl, at 3:30am, on barely any sleep, looking and feeling like hell. I barely made eye-contact as I shook her hand. Her name was Joanne or Joanna. Didn't really matter because on the walk over to 36th and 3rd, she told us that her stage name was "Londin Knight". She had been a stock broker and a road manager for Wyclef Jean and a month ago she decided that she wanted to become an actor. She already had a manager who had helped her pick her stage name, which she admitted sounded absurd. (I suggested she change her name to "Stage Name TBD".) This extras shoot was her first gig ever. This was her paying her dues. She was tired and loopy -- and her delirious enthusiasm helped keep us conscious during those early hours.

The general dress code for the day was a white crew-neck t-shirt, "light" pants, white shoes. We all showed up looking like we were about to join a cult.

As expected, the 12 hour days were an endurance test of waiting. There were maybe 150 extras. Filipino, Chinese, a scattering of South Asians and others. Some were aspiring actors. Some were full-time background artists. Some were older folks with endless free time, just out for a few free meals. There were long lines to check-in in the morning, collect your wardrobe, get your stab at the mediocre buffet lunch, drop off your wardrobe at the end of the day and finally drop off your daily vouchers. The lines snaked about like amusement park rides. Extras with SAG cards got to cut the lines, enjoyed a slightly fancier buffet and a separate holding tent during breaks. (Not to mention a better pay rate.) But in the end, everyone had to wait.

Aside from SAG and non-SAG, there was a hierarchy of extras. The majority of us were in these Pepto Bismol pink scrubs with pink hair caps, blue aprons, blue gloves and white face masks. Essentially scrubbing us of as much identity as possible. (I was fine with this, wishing to remain as invisible as possible to the cameras.) We looked like surgeons in a Keebler Elves factory. We were the lowly workers. Above us were the supervisors, in yellow shirts and khakis. They got prop cell phones and fake name tags. I envied their costumes because it looked like it was easier for them to use the bathroom. There were engineers in blue jumpsuits filling out the corners of the frames. The top tier extras were the security guards. They got fake guns.

These different groups of extras tended to stick together during breaks. SAG, supervisors, engineers, security guards. The hierarchy seemed to affect people's personalities off-camera, too. Nothing like a fake gun to prop up your ego as you cut the lunch lines. And then there was the rest of us non-SAG, pink-and-blue cloaked worker drones.

Sherwin, Londin and I stayed together through those long, dead stretches of that first day. I fought hard to remain standing during those early hours. Getting up at 2:30am meant that I had to go to sleep a lot earlier than I'm accustomed to. To help myself along, I'd had a few drinks in the late afternoon. Did the trick. I fell asleep all right but as I began the work day, I was vaguely hungover AND exhausted. Londin -- tired and loopy -- pranced about the New York Times factory. I flailed my arms back and forth like a robot, trying to keep my blood flowing and stave off a coma. The three of us joked about what exaggerated movements we could do to make ourselves more identifiable in the final film. Londin sauntered up to an old crew electrician and asked him for advice on how to make it in the industry. All the other half-dead extras quietly, curiously gawked at us.

It was a long wait before we were split up and gradually placed in positions throughout the factory.

We were given plastic bins and various pill bottles filled with dry beans.

Yellow packing slips were in the bins and we were told to pretend to read them as we pretended to work on these production lines. "Work" in this factory mainly consisted of shuffling pill bottles from one bin to another and back again. It didn't really matter much as long as the effect of hard work was sold through wide shots. "HIGH ENERGY!" was the prevailing direction given to us throughout. We were sweat shop workers: we had to look like we depended on these jobs.

During one of the breaks, I caught up with Sherwin and asked him if he had a backstory for his character. "What character?"

"Factory sweatshop worker in Manila. I've got a whole backstory for us. You and I have been working at this factory for ten years, trying to save up enough money to open up our own G.R.O. club."

This is what you do. Anything to help kill the seemingly endless hours.

I originally thought I'd get some writing done while I was working this gig but it wasn't the best writing environment. You had to leave all your possessions in the holding tent when you were called onto the set. Beneath our aprons, the costumers pinned large Ziplock bags where we could store items like our gloves and caps but nothing much more significant than that. I kept my cell phone in my pants pocket beneath all the layers of pink and blue. I took pictures. A lot of people took pictures, and more blatantly. With all the forms we had to sign, they never made us sign any non-disclosure forms. As long as you weren't taking flash pictures on set (as one poor girl accidentally did), everyone cast a blind eye on all the picture-taking.

The stars of the movie, Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz, floated in and out without much fanfare. I don't think a lot of the extras knew who they were. Their stand-ins blocked the shots and were in the fray a lot longer. The extras, in general, seemed to regard the stars and their stand-ins about the same way: film equipment you were to avoid.

By the end of the day, Sherwin and I lost touch with Londin (without getting her contact info) as we weathered the long lines to return our wardrobe and turn in our papers. He and I had a drink and some food when we landed back in Manhattan, sharing appraisals of the experience. We both agreed -- the hours and the waiting took a unique physical toll.

When I got home, I checked the production website for the next day's call-time. It was half an hour earlier. I texted this fact to Sherwin and he immediately backed out of the whole affair.

Suddenly, I was questioning whether I really wanted to do this for two more days. Yes, I'd agreed to do three days and I was making a (small) paycheck, but I wasn't getting any writing done -- which made this entire thing seem more frivolous and wasteful. I weighed the pros and cons for a short spell before setting my alarm clock for 2:00am.

I'd signed up for three days, I wasn't going to bail after one just because I didn't have a friend with me. And who knows what could happen in those two extra days. The universe told me I had to see this through.

[continue to ACT 2...]
[continue to ACT 3...]

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Laws of Other Worlds

I'd like to generate a proper post about my experiences over the past week. Three days shooting background for The Bourne Legacy. Thing about an experience like that, there are a lot of ways to tell the story. There are the fragments of anecdotes I've already shared with people over drinks. There's the David Sedaris THIS AMERICAN LIFE version. And then there's this blog.

It's approaching two days since I finished shooting and it already feels like I dreamed the whole ordeal. It was exhausting and humbling and even a little exciting in unexpected ways. Going through it, I couldn't wait until it was over. Since it ended, I kind of miss the pain of it all. It's been surprisingly jarring to reacclimate to the unique indignities of my regular life. It's like, for three days I swapped my everyday troubles for the troubles of another person's life. Now that I'm back, I'm left wondering... did that change anything?

I'll post properly about the experience soon. Just to purge it from my system.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tricks are for Chairy

"Hey, papi, you wanna sit on my face...?"

I'm performing as a background artist in a major motion picture Monday through Wednesday. So, you know... this is what you get.

I've got to wake up around 2:30am Monday morning. Be at a bus stop on the East Side by 4am.

Work's work.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Dope Dog Afternoon

I was listening to the latest "Breaking Bad Insider" podcast and Vince Gilligan was talking about how dope dogs work. Apparently, their handlers have to be carrying a little dope with them because if the dogs go a few hours without finding any dope, they start to get disheartened. Planting a little dope for them to find throughout the day keeps them motivated.

This is me. I'm the dope dog who hasn't found an ounce of dope in ages. It's demoralizing. I desperately need to find some dope. Even if someone has to plant it somewhere easy for me to discover.

I need the bump. I'm losing it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Steve Jobs Has a Posse

Steve Jobs
February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs has a posse.

Bourne in the Background

Hey, I just got cast in the new BOURNE movie. Starring Jeremy Renner (who's not playing Bourne because Bourne isn't in this one but it's still got "Bourne" in the title). I'll be playing Julia Stiles. Joking! I'm playing Franka Potente. Ha, I did it again.

No, I'm a background extra. They were casting "Filipino Travelers". I sent a cell phone pic through email and got a call the next day. I don't know how much it pays exactly but it pays something and it's three days of work next week. I need the money.

Appearing in a movie is one of the last things I want to do right now. I'd rather hide under a rock until the world looks more promising. But a paycheck is a paycheck.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


Though he usually interviews comedians on his podcast, Marc Maron's interviewed MAD MEN's Jon Hamm and BREAKING BAD's Bryan Cranston for this week's WTF. The Hamm interview's up now and the Cranston interview is something you can look forward to on Thursday. I recommend.

Unrelated, last week I was getting some notes on a new script I started writing. One of the notes was: "Nick Gaffney... do you think he's necessary?"

What a loaded question.

Here's something the IRL Nick Gaffney forwarded me, for you to play with--animated gifs of 16-bit game title screens:

!!! Title Scream !!!


Monday, October 03, 2011

Guns N' Roses; Rock in Rio 2011

It's the wee hours of Monday morning and I'm at a Guns N' Roses concert in Rio.

This is the wonder of the internet.

There's a live feed of the Guns N' Roses ROCK IN RIO show on YOUTUBE right now and I'm enjoying it here in New York City without having to suffer the rain, crowds or the costs of plane/concert tickets.

They're playing a cover of U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday right now. Regardless of what the shit-talkers whine about, the band sounds brilliant. Axl doesn't look so great and his voice has seen better days (said the biggest Axl-defender you'll ever know) -- but those songs are hard to sing and he's had to learn different ways to sing them over the years.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt was on Jimmy Fallon last week and apparently JGL likes to sing karaoke with an Axl voice. He performed a bit of his impersonation on the show. JGL is a great actor but his Axl does not compare favorably next to mine. This, you should know. I will prove it in person if you need me to.

Hey look: Guns N' Roses are my band. I don't care what you say, I stand by the current incarnation. It'd be nice if the original band could be the get-along gang but if you hear the new band, you can't say they aren't a cohesive rock outfit. They kick serious ass live. Though it may not be consistent, Axl's voice can still sound brilliant. Right now, he's singing the fuck out of "Knockin on Heaven's Door". On an icon level, I wish he looked as well-preserved as David Bowie, Mick Jagger or Slash... but hey, genetics.

If you don't have your heroes... well then, what do you have?

Angelika Film Center Popcorn

The best movie theater popcorn in NYC is at the Angelika Film Center. Not too greasy or salty or bland. It's just right.

When I got to college in the early 90s, I loved the Angelika. It showed all these movies that I didn't have access to in the suburbs. Went to the Angelika often through college and years after. And at a certain point, I kinda stopped. They employ a poor queue technique, only allowing people in about 5 minutes before showtimes, creating awkward snaking lines. The theater screens aren't that big and you're periodically treated to the rumbling sound of subway trains.

All that given, I stopped by there Friday afternoon and, on impulse, caught a showing of Take Shelter. Just to take a trip down memory lane. The whole experience, complete with the sounds of trains bleeding through the walls, was sort of charming. I liked the movie. And the popcorn was perfect.