Tuesday, March 29, 2005

So You Wanna be In the Movies -- Part 3

Personal note -- We're going to be on vacation for the next week, so no updates until the following Wednesday. Hang in there. -- Jim


The Austin Energy Holly Street Power Station resembles a giant erector set that was built in and around a mad scientist's chemistry lab, then dropped off by the Colorado River to rust in place. Pipes and tubing of all sizes snaked in all directions, serving perfectly inscrutable purposes around the large turbine stacks. Peculiar notes were scrawled on different bits in pencil and marker, messages like "Close A valve to open B valve", and "do not overpressure".

On this day, the station was standing in for some place called "Mid States Ethanol Processing Plant". A large tank had been repainted with the logo, which was also on all of our grey hardhats (the crew wore orange hardhats with the "Revolver" movie logo on them).

It doesn't seem all that big for a place that can generate 600Megawatts of electricity. Unless you're standing on top of it. Then it seems plenty big enough. At one point I and several other extras found ourselves near one of the plant workers, who gave us an earful about the place, and how it was slated to close down by 2008 because of complaints by the neighborhood.

It struck me that there was a great magazine article to be written about the plant's closing some day.


Of course, being on the set didn't actually mean we were going to do anything. Another thing few people know about making movies is the amount of waiting that goes on, especially for extras. Oh sure, some of the crew never seemed to stop the entire three days we were there, but there is still a lot of hurry up and wait in the movie business. I've been on shoots where a twelve-hour day had at most 2 minutes of actual filming, if that much.

On this day, however, we get to business fairly quickly. After some drizzle passes, our small group is set up in various spots and given props and marching orders. Some of us get tool belts and/or walkie-talkies. Everyone gets an id badge, labeled "Mid States Ethanol", with a picture of one of the production crew on it.

I'm in a group with two others. We are told to walk around a parked 18-wheeler, wait as another passes by us, then split up. I have to climb up some stairs and wander around the second floor. During all this, a pickup, ostensibly driven by Sarah Michelle Gellar's character drives by and parks. Gellar isn't doing the driving of course, its her stand-in.

We do this several times. Each time, we get a litany of yells from the director, passed along by the PA's. The first is always "picture's up". I don't know what that means technically, but for us it was basically "Get ready". Then, you get "rolling." Sometimes you can hear "speed" or "sound" but that generally doesn't get passed along. Finally, if we've made it that far (and sometimes things get aborted for various reasons), you get "background action" and "action".

The various "actions" could get messy. Depending on your location you might be going on "background", to give you a natural movement before the actors come in, but you might need to go at the same time they do, or you might need a completely different cue if the camera is moving and you come into view after action has begun. You might get cued directly by a PA, or just wait until something specific happens, like a vehicle goes by, or a character passes your location. Sometimes it was hard to hear cues, and you just had to guess.

Eventually, they have shots of the pickup driving up and its time for Sarah to exit the truck and walk over to talk to some guy. I'm pretty far away at first, and can only note that she is wearing jeans and her hair is a dark brown. Later, I'm amused by the fact that every single extra feels the need to comment on how small she is (Sarah is maybe 5'2" and quite petite. Small indeed, but you'd think she was a midget from the way they talked. I guess they expected Buffy to be more like a WNBA player).

We have no scripts (of course) so we can only infer what is going on. Sarah's character has some sort of argument with some guy. It's during this that the clouds, which have been with us all morning, begin to break up and we find ourselves with a dazzlingly sunny (if breezy) day. This is a problem, because all the shots so far are of a gloomy, cloudy day. The light is now wrong and the directors have to regroup. We break for lunch.

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