Monday, March 4, 2013

Jumping The Shark

Working in the dream business is far more, and far less, than outsiders imagine.

The Magic usually comes when the nice person from Accounting comes by on Thursdays with the shoe box full of paychecks for all the good little girls and boys.
The Glamour is working on Skid Row at 3AM in the rainin January, freezing, so that some genius idea will sell more self-sealing diapers or some other dubious widget.

You might think that would inhibit the number of hamsters seeking entry to the Tinseltown Habitrail set-up, but you'd be sorely mistaken in that assumption.

Friend of mine was undergoing preparation for the upcoming Glamour one afternoon, preparatory to an all-night shoot near Skid Row. Like most of my species, he was standing by and minding his own business, and trying to stay out of the way while the working crew was moving heavy things.

So naturally, with a radio and an earpiece, he's the first one approached by Local Homeless Guy, with the obligatory purloined shopping cart full of random sacks of detritus in various stages of purulence.

But this guy was a true one-of-a-kind. He wasn't looking for a handout, he wanted a job.

Whereupon my friend pointed him towards one of the assistant directors doing the cellphone parade on the nearby sidewalk. My friend, being both bored, and astonished at the prospect of witnessing a panhandler with both a potentially marketable skill and the desire to use it gainfully, tagged along within earshot to hear the following conversation.

"Hey, are you guys looking for any extras?"

"Sorry buddy, this is a union shoot. SAG only." replied the AD, thinking he'd dodged the bullet.

Without missing a beat, Homeless Guy says, "No problem, I'm in the Screen Actors' Guild."
Then goes pawing through a voluminous pile of miscellaneous paperwork in the upper basket of his buggy, and produces his current valid SAG membership card, paid in full through the rest of the year.

"Yeah, I've got my resume here somewhere, I worked a lot on a lot of cop shows, I usually play a homeless guy, I have all my props (we know, we can smell them - ed. ) but if you need a business man I've got a suit and a briefcase in here too, and I can do a lot of other looks." Picture Michael Keaton's interviewing with Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis in Beetlejuice and you've got the scene pegged to a T. It really is pure brilliance: why pay yuppies to get dressed and made up as homeless people, when you can just be a homeless person and get paid for the gig? And we do a catered lunch!

AD shifts back into professional-to-professional mode. "Uh, okay, thanks, we're all crewed up, everyone showed, so we won't be needing anyone else today. Sorry."

Homeless Guy says, "No problem, I understand. I was just specking*." And he moves along with Whatever He Was Doing Before He Saw The Bright Lights And Big White Trucks.

And the AD mutters towards no one in particular in his retreat to the safety of the magic circle of Hollywoodland back on the set, "Geezus, even the BUMS in this town are SAG."

Which may not be one of the Four Horseman of The Apocalypse, but it's definitely a precursor ingredient. Just remember that when you're looking at anything on TV or film that isn't a live shoot in public, when you think that anybody within sight of the camera "just happened to be passing by" anywhere you (or rather, the cameras) could see.

*(Standing around "on spec" is what desperate extras do for the merest chance of about $50 for the day and a bologna sandwich box lunch when a shoot needs 50 of something, on the hope that their route to the Oscars will begin when only 49 of the ballerinas or bald guys in tuxedos booked with casting agencies will actually show up for a shoot on time, and they're hired by the desperate/thankful production staff on the spot, so as not to disturb the director's/producers/ad agency's delicate karma and harmonic balance.
The frightening thing is that in L.A., you could crew up anything from a restaurant to a coup at City Hall at minimum wage simply by pretending to be a movie shoot, and pointing a camera at the proceedings. You could get 500 ninjas, or a fully-staffed 5-star restaurant, as long as you looked like a movie, provided props and wardrobe, and catered a lunch for everyone after 6 hours. If Al Queda wanted to really mess with this town, they wouldn't establish sleeper cells, they'd open a production company and start casting for "Airport 2014".)

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