Wednesday, April 12, 2006

extra! extra! read all about it!

If you haven’t seen “The General” which is another Boorman/Gleeson combo, I suggest you put that right asap.


If you have a spare few seconds, stand up. Find a space on a wall with room for you to stand right up against it.

Now go as close as you can to the wall without touching it, and crouch down with your legs spread apart so that your head is roughly where your sternum would be if you were upright. Now hold your hands up in the air as though someone was pointing a gun at you. Thank you. Now you can read the rest of my story, just keep in mind that position you were just in.

About two years ago I signed up on a website known as MovieExtras.ie, which is exactly what the name suggests. You give your details together with a relevant photo and supposedly the production companies will all be beating a path to your door for their various projects.

In all the time since I first signed up, I would say that I got a total of three actual offers of work, and for one reason or another I was unable to honour any of them. It got to a point where I decided not to pay my annual subscription fee last September since I presumed it was an area where you needed to know someone who knew someone to get anywhere.

Then, out of the blue came an email followed by a text message, saying that there was a film shoot that required extras plus their cars for a bit of driving. Just for the hell of it I replied saying that I would do it. I have been dealing with a lot of headwrecking stuff recently and this seemed to be just the thing to take my mind off of it all.

The first day of shooting was to be my birthday on March 21st, but when I didn’t hear anything from them, I presumed that either they didn’t need me or they realised the oversight of my unpaid subscription. The following Monday, however, I got a message on my phone.

“Hi, this is Sarah from Tiger’s Tail, and I was wondering if you’d be interested in being an extra in our production on both Thursday and Friday of this week. Please ring me back at this number if you’re available.”

I have to admit I was a bit of a chicken at first. Since I mind my own kids on those days every week, I managed to use that together with the fact that I would probably be eventually uncovered as a non-payer as excuses to reply in the negative. But shortly after I got that message, I happened to also check my emails.

As well as an email version of the same offer from Sarah, there was one from my mother. For the past year I have been trying to get her to weigh in on my plans to re-house my grandmother, with absolutely nothing constructive being ventured in reply. Now, having found accommodation for her, she decided to weigh in and suggest that the whole thing was a bad idea.

Now that the camel’s back was well and truly broken, I was convinced that this extra thing was just what I needed to take my mind off of everything for a couple of days. I first called MyX and told her I needed to change around my days with the kids, and she duly agreed. Then it was time to ring Sarah.

Apparently they did not need drivers for this particular stint. She told me that the movie starred Brendan Gleeson, and was set in a mental institution, and they needed male nurses. Seemingly I fit the bill because of my height. They were shooting at the abandoned John Player cigarette factory near the centre of Dublin city, and I was to be there at 9:45 on the Thursday morning.

Over the next couple of days, I went through the typical mixture of excitement and trepidation that you normally experience when faced with something completely unknown. My kids thought I was going to be a movie star – I toyed with the idea of letting them think that for a while before deciding to let them know that my part was to be a very small one and I may not even appear in the final production. Luckily my daughter then said: “That doesn’t matter, Daddy, it’s still cool!”

On the Thursday morning I got myself ready and gave Sandra a lift into work before going to the set. Just after she got out of the car, I got a text message from a number I didn’t know. Here’s what it read:

“Hey! Please be sure and have white underwear with you this morning!”

Now THERE’S a message you don’t get every day, I thought. Unfortunately my underwear-colour decision was a done deal at this point, so I had to stop off at the Crumlin Shopping Centre en route and get a cheapo pair of white briefs. It was as I was waiting in line to make my purchase that I came up with the title of the blog post which was always going to be written after this experience.

Eventually I found parking close to the factory, and bang on 9:45 I tentatively walked through the front door. There was equipment lying around and people walking in all directions, with the exception of one big student-type bloke who was standing at the bottom of a long winding staircase in the foyer. I asked for Sarah, and he led me to a room deep into the factory with had a piece of paper with “EXTRAS HOLDING ROOM” on the wall beside the door.

First to catch my eye in the room was Sarah. Maybe it was because she was holding a clipboard and sported a secret-service-style earpiece, maybe it was because she was a good-looking blonde; you can decide that one. She introduced herself and asked me to help myself to coffee and wait there with the others. It was then that I realized there were at least a dozen people in the room most of whom had similar nervous dispositions to me, which set me at ease.

After chatting to the fellow extras, I realised I was one of four male nurses for the shoot that day. My colleagues included [not real names of course] Hertz Van Rental, Mr Extra and Billy the Kid.

Hertz was a burly South African in his early forties. Apparently he had been called for the rehearsal shoots in Ardmore Studios, and he seemed to be a nice enough bloke. I gave Mr Extra his moniker because he seemed to be a seasoned veteran of this particular pastime, and he after telling us about all his previous experiences he kept pretty much to himself. Billy was the youngest, I’d say early twenties at the oldest, and he was the chattiest of the bunch.

In the holding room there was a makeup girl and a hair stylist chap. After making the extras who were slated to be mental patients look good and crazy, she came over to check out the prospective nurses. She began by staring at my face.

“You seem grand. I see you shaved this morning. Yes, you’re ok.”

“Why thank you,” I replied with a wink.

As it turned out, we all fitted the bill. Then after an hour of sitting and small talk, a girl with clothes draped over her arm came in and said:

“OK, who here is going to be a male nurse?”

The four of us stood up. She told us to sit down again.

“It’s ok, lads, I just wanted to let you know that you won’t be getting into your uniforms until the very last minute before the shoot. They are completely white, so once you are in them you won’t be able to sit down or lean against a wall or anything, ok?”

That was fine by us. A few of the others wanted to smoke and since it was a sunny morning we all decided to go out into the area behind the building to wait for our call to get ready. Outside we saw a car park, plus everything you would expect to see on a film set – lorries filled with equipment, old double decker buses, and, of course, a line of trailers.

During the course of our chatting while waiting I learned a bit more about the movie and what it was about. Seemingly the flick is to be called “A Tiger’s Tail” [NOT “Tale” I am reliably informed] and stars Gleeson who is to play two roles – a man in a mental institution, plus his “twin brother” who is a successful businessman but who apparently is in his imagination. I was also interested to learn that the director was the great John Boorman, though if pressed I could not have told you what the man looked like.

Of course the biggest curiosity among our group was the actual set itself and what it was like. Billy the Kid told us how he had arrived way too early and accidentally wandered upstairs close to where they were shooting, only to be quickly directed to the holding room. Still, I could not help but have this fascination about what the set actually looked like, and I was very eager at this stage to get a look at it.

Alas, I was forced to wait a while. Scratch that, it wasn’t just a while – it seemed like an eternity. When noon came around I suggested to the others that it was highly unlikely that we would be involved in anything before lunch. Sure enough I was right. At one o’clock the wardrobe girl told us it was time for food and that things should definitely get moving at two.

Then a load of people started coming out of the building, and clearly they had just been at the Valhalla which was the film set. We were told to wait for them to get their lunch before we stood in line. As we waited, I got my first glimpse of Brendan Gleeson himself. I was tempted to take a picture with my phone to send to Sandra, mostly to appease her constant text messages which said things like “What’s it like so far?” and “Have you seen him yet?”. I thought better of it, however.

The lunch was impressive, steak and chips was my choice out of the three options, with apple crumble for dessert. While on the “extra’s bus” eating our meal, we overheard someone say that Kim Cattral [aka Samantha Jones from Sex In The City] was also in the movie. I nearly fell over myself to text Sandra, neglecting of course to include the information that she would not be on set either of the two days!

True to her word, bang on two, the wardrobe girl gave us our whiter-than-white costumes, and directed us to our communal trailer. Of the four of us, I was the only one to give accurate measurements, and the other lads had to have alterations made. Luckily the top was long enough so as to make the cheap briefs unnecessary, so I didn't even try changing into them. Once we were resplendent in our male-nurse whiteness, Sarah called us into the building.

As the four of us were strolling along towards the back entrance, I made what I thought was a pretty witty comment that we must look like Reservoir Dogs in reverse with our white garb, but I guess nobody picked up on it because they were as nervous as I was.

Sarah led us back into the Extras holding room and we were to wait there until called. This was where our no-sitting, no-leaning ban began to take effect. We were standing there like lemons for about half an hour. At least the mental patients were allowed to sit down in their dressing gowns!

Then Sarah appeared at the door, and called Hertz to join her, saying they only needed one Extra for now. I turned to the other lads and suggested that it was quite possible we would not be involved at all in shooting that day, but at least we would be paid no matter what.

No sooner did I have those words out of my mouth than Sarah reappeared at the door and said,

“Well, it turns out they need a second nurse after all, how about you? Want to follow me?”

Yes, she was pointing at me. I guess this was to be it. I followed her back to the foyer, up the winding staircase and into Valhalla.

5 comments:

Paige A Harrison said...

JL, you can't be putting ad breaks into your blog! Should I put the kettle on? Dying to hear what happened.

(P.S. I'm reading a Nick Hornby book at the moment. He's good but he's no JL Pagano!)

Anna said...

That is so cool... can't wait to see you on the big screen!

Omaniblog said...

Wonderful. You capture so well the pace of the day. And the excitement too.
I did a day once, on a set in a pub near Bath. You have brought that day flooding back.

hermione2001ie said...

Finish it damn you!

JL Pagano said...

I did! Click where it says To Be Continued!