Sunday, May 29, 2011

Throwing Our Weight Around


“I don’t like the necklace” the adolescent boy stomped onto the set to confront my gorgeous actress already clad in full hair, make-up and wardrobe.  “That, that, that, that THING looks likes it’s made of pearls!” he threw his hands in the air exec-utorially, “and you’re supposed to be just starting out with your business!” he buttoned his brat-like tantrum with a heavy sigh of disapproval.
Frankly, had this been a rumble on the street, I do believe that in its entirety our loyal crew would have come slam-smashing to our actress’ defense and pummeled the crap out of the scrawny bastard for daring to speak so unjustly to our beautiful beloved heroine!  But since none of us knew just exactly who the Justin Bieber-wannabe was, we hung back silently as a Very Important Producer Conglomeration took formation; and fifteen minutes later resuming pre-shooting of the scene, the lovely beaded choker that had graced the neck of our lead actress had mysteriously vanished.
Slinking into the darkness (as I’m wont to do) I ponied up to our stage PA and probed for some insider info.  “Who’s the snot-nosed toddler, who let him out of pre-school this early and did he ride his nifty skateboard onto the lot?” I whisper-asked my friend skeptically.
“Don’t know his name” our PA (who knows EVERYONE), whisper-replied back.  “All I know…” she added conspiratorially, “is that he’s Network.
“Ohh…” I nodded in accordance, scampering away appropriately out of sight.
There exists an unspoken yet well-understood echelon in show business.  
And weakling tweenager as he may have appeared to be, the emaciated young one carried some seriously heavy clout - significantly weightier than his well-gelled bangs.
>>><<<
Having successfully camera-blocked the entire show in a ten hour day, I returned a late phone call Thursday night to my friend RJ in New York for a catch-up chat and a couple of cocktails.  My Friday would be easy-peasy!  My cast would simply camera-refresh and then head off to hair and make-up at 3pm!  And I would be home for a glorious Memorial Day Weekend by four o’clock to lounge blissfully in my jammies!!!
Oh, when will I learn…?
“PENNY!” my AD shouted as I reached for a miniature frosted brownie at Craft Services.  (Curses!)
“You are HER for the rest of the afternoon!” he informed me with a hearty pat on the back and a gentle hug.  And shuffling through the pages of my script I found myself once again presenting scenes with the actual cast in front of cameras and booms.
The weight on my shoulders to perform well with the actors for our Director and crew was profound; the perfectionism that I demand from myself whilst performing was significantly heavier…  But the miniscule weight that I bore personally was ridiculously insignificant in proportion to the entire process:
Please do enjoy the time-lapse video of my previous pilot.  (I’m one of the blurs on the left!)
video

Understanding why I sleep so effortlessly ‘til 4pm on my days off,
~P

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Earning My Bread and Butter


ACT ONE:  
Personally, I blame the runny eggs.
Sure the greasy bacon may have aided and abetted in the awkward situation, and had I bothered to have the patience to wait and toast a hearty bagel I most likely could have prevented any public disturbance!  But with too much adrenaline coursing through my veins at the first day on a new show, my intestines gurgled most unpleasantly…
Certainly after all my years in show biz, the idea of standing-in for one more Hollywood icon – a woman whom I admit to admiring equally for her exceptional personal strength and courage as well as her contributions to the world of comedy – had absolutely nothing to do with the rebellious rumblings in my belly, right?
(Yeah, I don’t buy that story either…)
Truth is (and no surprise to my family and friends who know me) despite twenty years of working with some incredible performers, I still get excited to meet certain actors and with no apologies, I find my humble job thrilling to get to interact and often “Act” amongst them in a professional setting! 
Yet acutely aware of my relatively low-ranking status in the Hollywood food-chain, I’ve developed a keen awareness of when to be present and when to hole up and hide in the darkness.  (Wait, does that make me a bagel?)  But having been politely requested by our 1st AD to be present on stage whenever our specific actors were working, I happily schlepped a non-named directors chair from set to set, devouring from head to toe every subtle nuance of my unique actress’ performances.  She was charming!  She was delightful! She was talking to me!
No, seriously, she was TALKING TO ME.
“Hi!  I don’t believe we’ve met!” she smiled warmly, extending her hand graciously.
And as any tinsel-town veteran such as myself would do under normal circumstances, I subdued my excitement, introduced myself professionally and after shaking her hand pleasantly, I resumed making preliminary notations in my script as to entrances, exits, etc.
(Yeah, I wouldn’t buy that story either…)
These were by no means “normal circumstances”, it was still our very first day of work and completely caught off guard by the actress’ self-introduction, my Fate was inevitable: 
Yes dear friends, I Ethel-Mertzed her…
Like the salivating jaws of a fixated pit bull, my two sweaty palms clamped down on her delicately manicured digits, and with equally intense staring I managed to slobber out my name followed by gushing something along the lines of “it’s greet such truly a pleasure meet great to you!”  (Hey, all the right words were there, just maybe not in the correct order.)  
And with a most polite laugh and “You’re so sweet!” she headed back on stage for the next scene during rehearsal.
>>><<<
ACT TWO: 
Captivated by my enchanting actress on Monday I was disappointed to hear that we wouldn’t be rehearsing the next day due to re-writes; but at the special request of the Director of Photography, my fellow lead male Stand-in and I were brought in at 11:30am for technical assistance as the cameras were loaded onto the stage. 
Lighting needed to be checked out with the two of us present who knew the actors’ movements, and with audio booms in operation we were told we would spend only a brief couple of hours getting everything in sync in order to shoot a quick demo scene that utilized all four cameras and the largest set on the stage. 
At our discretion my co-worker and I selected a scene from the script with which we thought would best assist all of the departments, and running lines between ourselves to become familiar with the dialogue, we were camera-ready in five minutes.  All that remained was to hear the word “ACTION!”, and we’d be outta there by 1pm with a paycheck!
“That’s LUNCH, be back at two” someone shouted.   (Oh, ffs…) 
>>><<<
With one on-camera rehearsal under our collective belts around 2:30pm, our DP and UPM bantered politely as to who should have the honor, and passing the torch to our DP I finally heard the word that would cue my entrance, allow me to perform and blissfully send me home early:  “ACTION!”  And with calculated precision, talent and group cooperation we nailed the scene brilliantly as all involved rejoiced in applause at our conglomerate efforts! 
Denying taking an actual bow (I’m humble that way), I happily stored my script into my skull-and-crossbones backpack awaiting an official “out” time from set dismissal. 
5:15pm…
This was clearly a hostage situation. 
Two un-manned cameras were locked off and trained on us like prisoners as we were instructed to be in each set held captive for lighting. And in a casual manner to pass three hours without so much as a bathroom or ciggy break, my co-worker had opted to spend our punitive time together by rehashing his entire resume for me, detail by detail, job by job, actor by actor that he had ever worked with, no minor facet too trivial to mention.
“We lose the stand-ins at 5:30” someone’s voice boomed overhead.  (An angel?)
And strolling up to the set our DP beamed with great personal satisfaction at his work, mildly saddened that he couldn’t keep us the whole night but infinitely pleased that we had been there to help.  “Did you have fun today?” he grinned smugly.
If by “fun” he meant nicotine withdrawal, bleeding eardrums and possible bladder leakage, then yes, by all means I did indeed have “fun”.
>>><<<
ACT THREE: 
Slinging the obligatory sign around my neck identifying my actress’ name, her character name, and my own name (hand-written in parenthesis with a Sharpie as an afterthought at the Director’s request), I lurked in the shadows as usual.  Mostly my work was done.  I had completed two days of camera-blocking, and at precisely 12:51pm the day before, heaved a sigh of gratitude that I had audibly conveyed my first technical note to my actress without any misspoken difficulties.  *whew!*
But hearing my name called, I scampered onto the set as the unassuming ever-so-prepared Stand-in to tend to my duties, and taking a seat at the table in lieu of my actress I suddenly found myself summoned to perform a scene face to face with Rosita Dolores Alverio. 
“Good morning, Penny!” she smiled genuinely, effortlessly glancing at my name from the sign around my neck.
“Good morning!” I replied in kind to the Oscar award-winning performer better known as Rita Moreno.
“ACTION!”
>>><<<
TAG:
Personally, I still blame the runny eggs.
After all, it’s not like I had any stress this last week…
Looking forward to a bagel in the morning and wishing you all happy bellies,
~Gurgle-free P

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Ice Cube Tray Conundrum


“An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force.  An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” ~Sir Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion
If ever a body were at rest and Sir Newton required further proof of his physics, suffice it to say I would happily splay myself on his table as a specimen and willingly subject myself to additional testing.  We had successfully completed our last television pilot, my overtime paychecks were marinating in the bank vault and having paid my rent for the first time in months without dipping into my savings I slept ever so contentedly.
*Ring*
In an Oscar-award winning performance of cheerily answering a phone from the dredges of Spielberg-worthy dreams wherein I found myself battling aliens in Hi-Def (no less), I scrambled for my cell somewhere in the depths of my purse; and flipping open the old-school cell, managed to professionally receive the call telling me that I had been hired for a mid-season show to begin filming mid to late May, scheduled to shoot through the end of July!  This would be a nearly seamless transition, no “unbalanced force” in sight!
And with grateful appreciation once again, a body at rest could stay at rest.
>>><<<
“Acceleration is produced when a force acts on a mass.  The greater the mass (of the object being accelerated) the greater the amount of force needed (to accelerate the object.)”  ~Sir Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Motion
With all due respect to Sir Isaac Newton, I wasn’t entirely convinced that his formulations took into consideration all possible incongruousness.  (Incongruities?)
#1:  My “mass” was never happier than to be lying on the bed watching a marathon of “Star Trek the Next Generation” television episodes.  (Mock me if you will, but I still think Patrick Stewart aka “Jean-Luc Picard” is a hottie!)
#2:  In fact, my lazy “mass” was thrilled to be home, but being eye-balled by my feline companion plaintively puling for fresh milk I had no choice but to get my “mass” up and walk to the local Russian Delicatessen.  Ergo my argument with Sir Newton, in that without the “G factor” (in this equation “Guilt”) my mass shouldn’t logically have been budged by a five-pound meowing ball of fur. 
But standing in-line with my quart of moo-juice, I hung politely behind the lengthy line of the four-foot tall babushka-clad ladies ordering cuts of, um, well; I don’t exactly know what “meats”.
#3:  Muttering something Eastern-European and physically pushing my mass aside in a swarthy desire to acquire a container of a (maybe?) cabbage-based side dish (?) from a nearby refrigerator I clung onto my container of milk, amazed at the four-foot tall force of nature able to strong-arm her way around me.  (Hey, she might’ve been short, but she was sturdy!)
And that’s when Sir Newton dawned on me.
Standing up to my full five-foot six (and a half!) stature, I caught the eye of the shaved-headed Russian guy behind the counter, my potential hero, my very own “Ivan-Luc Pikardski” and tapping into my best femme fatale look of sorrow at the idea of my dairy product curdling before I ever reached the front of the cash register, he beamed down to my rescue to cash me out immediately.
(High-Five, Newton!)
>>><<<
“For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action.”  ~Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion
My mass officially off the bed, I found myself ready for some acceleration! 
Now, it’s one thing to have a couple of weeks off from work, yet quite another to have your laptop freeze for hours on end…  And finding a site to help me optimize my poot, I logged on for any helpful information that might speed up the motion of my equally ‘inertia-challenged’ computer. 
Sponsored by Microsoft and immediately intuitive to my current Windows system just by clicking on the page; helpful suggestions popped up all over the place with step-by-step menus and recommendations as to just how to accelerate my computer.  All I had to do was click on the drop-down menus!
Just click on the icon…!
Just make the page go…!
Just sit, and wait, and sit and wait…!
But as Sir Newton might have surmised so many years ago, my computer succumbed to his First Law of Motion, and preferring to stay at “rest” froze itself up and refused to reboot for the next forty-five minutes…
>>><<<
Not going to lie, I retreated to the kitchen for a cocktail only to be confronted with one more “G factor”.
Despite my mass of being an adult of relatively normal size, the “G factor” (in my second equation being “GROSS!”) wriggled across the floor in search of wall paper paste (I have none!), propelling me upward and onto a counter top in nanoseconds with all manner of natural accompanying girlish squealing.  (Picture below is courtesy of Google images, because SERIOUSLY I didn’t wait around to take a personal photo op.)

And not going to lie, I eventually managed to squash the tiny creepy infiltrator with a wet napkin despite its nearly friendly likeness to “Cindy Lou Who” (My sincere apologies to Dr. Seuss fans).
(Seriously... she's got antennas!)

But with a nerve-calming hearty cocktail in hand, I continued to ponder the laws of motion. 
As of two phone calls this morning I’m starting work Monday on the new show, and frankly I’m somewhat anxious that I’ve been told in advance that I’m on a week-to-week basis depending on the lead actress’ decision as to whether or not to keep me for the series.  (We've not yet met, but she reserves the right to dismiss me at will.)
>>><<<

For now, I’m sticking with Newton.  No force has yet been exerted on me regarding the sit-com and my hopes remain high to work with yet one more Hollywood icon!
In fact, my only real conundrum at this point is the newly purchased mystery below:
Here’s the minus:

Here’s the plus:

Quietly making two trays of ice (confused at which end supposedly goes where in the freezer!), and trying to remain a body at rest this weekend,
~P




Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ribbet


“There is no such thing as time” ~Albert Einstein
Not one to argue with a genius, I nodded in solemn agreement as I marveled at the Monday morning adolescent bulbous zit on my chin.
***
Always and ever so grateful for work, I embraced the fact that I had been hired to do eight days on a pilot; and somewhat giddy at the idea of meeting two more Hollywood icons, I actually looked forward to the usually tedious process.  I would laugh!  I would enjoy the brilliance of comedic talent!  And I did!   
For exactly four hours.
Like a tweenager uncomfortable with where I’m supposed to sit on the first day of high school in the cafeteria, I meandered awkwardly around the stage before selecting a chair next to a few co-workers at a table away from the sets, and spreading a civilized napkin across my lap, prepared to nibble quietly on my lunch.  But unbeknownst to me, the territorial pursuit of hierarchal supremacy in our group had already begun…
As if self-relegated to the end of the table like a kazoo player in band, the littlest one was gnawing the remaining meat off a spindly BBQ rib enthusiastically, occasionally breaking into to song for no apparent reason whilst simultaneously confessing his reluctance to eat fish these days because he felt “like, really, really bad for Japan”.  But (fortunately?) as Fate would have it, most of the indiscernible prattle had fallen upon the tuned-out ears of the entitled rich kid (slash) son of a big wig who barely deigned to notice anyone else’s presence.
At the other end of the table however, where I had recognized two faces from the past who both waved me over as their long lost best friend, I suddenly found myself caught in the middle of a most uncomfortable passive/aggressive pissing match.  
As one person had been hand-picked by the Director, the other chosen by a VIP from the Network, the two found themselves at a ‘who-knows-who’ standstill; and with no proper judge to deem either one of them superior, suddenly my worthiness to even sit at the same table with either one was verbally challenged as to just who high up in the food chain had happened to hire me.
“The 1st AD" I cowered in a fetal position, wrapping my arms protectively like a prison convict around my lunch (hey, it was macaroni and cheese!) should this confrontation become an all out jail brawl and poo start flying. 
But as the dominant popular kids are prone to do, I was again embraced as the long lost best friend (slash) crippled zebra on the table – either to be lovingly nurtured or savagely ripped apart limb from limb.
***
Now as any normal human being might do, I took comfort knowing that I’m secure in my skin (as it were) and refusing to be disarmed (as it were) by the jungle beasts, I did my best to avoid conflict.  After all, nothing good is to be gained if you allow yourself to be eaten!
But by Day Three, my patience was waning. 
The ongoing battle for dominance in the high school jungle was becoming unbearable. 
Cringing at the shrill hyena laughing and spontaneous bursts of blasphemy at any ad-libbed mishaps by the actors, I buried my head in the sand like an ostrich trying to tune out the obnoxious noise of the cheerleader who was busily multi-tasking as she attempted to instigate fear at the threat of our Director’s temper (“He is SUCH a screamer!”); his intolerance of people who don’t know how to do their jobs (“I saw him fire a stand-in right in front of all the cameras!); as well her self-importance of knowing said Director (“I’m sooo glad I’m his favorite!”).
And with a guttural sigh of exhaustion, the Alpha Male of our class (a veteran of television for forty years) retreated out of sheer annoyance to chain smoke outside and double his blood pressure medication.
***
Now logically, as a grown up, I knew that much like the bullying in high school, “this too shall pass”.  After all, the cast were delightful to watch, the Director never really blew his stress-o-meter past “agitated”, and despite the tedium of five long days with no overtime pay, at least my trusted friend Lori had joined our ensemble making the idle down time (when our actresses weren’t working) that much more pleasant.
Unfortunately, the introduction of my younger, prettier and also red-headed friend only seemed to fuel the fire in the belly of the cheerleading jungle cat…
As Lori and I were unable to imagine why we would be kept for show night, I caught the eye of our 2nd AD and quietly inquired as to our status for the upcoming Wednesday shooting.  And as if smelling fresh blood and possible weakness, there by the AD’s side appeared the cougar drooling with anticipation. 

“God, I hope not” was the reply from the 1st AD in response to the 2nd AD as to whether or not we would have to stay; sending Lori and myself into joyful elation – the sound of which absolutely infuriated the Alpha Female.
“Well, just so you know” the cougar piped up anxiously to the 2nd AD, “I’ve worked with this Director LOADS and LOADS of times before, and just so you know” she continued authoritatively “I’ve been on shows where he not only kept the stand-ins after the audience left, but REBLOCKED the ENTIRE EPISODE!  Oh yeah!  Oh yeah!” she nodded maniacally as the AD wandered off to anywhere else that could only be better.
It was a dark magic.  Possibly the darkest magic I have ever seen.  The ability to suck the joy and hope out of all those who dare to come near it…
***
With only three days left on what should have been a positively thrilling adventure, I slept the sleep of the dead until 4:30pm Saturday afternoon.  My appetite for food failed me; my energy was zero, my soul in peril.
But as The Universe always conspires to assist, I remembered an email I had received about three years ago from my friend and Life Coach Ellie Mae, a wonderful, inspirational piece that I’ve kept in my inbox most aptly titled “The Upside of Irritation” (Courtesy of DailyOM.com):
The goal of spiritual development is not to learn to control our environment—which is more of an ego-driven desire. And while having some measure of control over our external reality is important, it is when we are confronted with a person or situation that irritates us and we can choose not to react that we know we have made progress spiritually. It is when we have mastered our internal reality that we will have become the masters of our lives.
The more we try to eliminate annoyances, instead of learning to handle them gracefully, the further we get from developing the qualities that come with spiritual growth, such as patience, tolerance, and acceptance. It is often in the presence of people and experiences we find annoying that we have an opportunity to develop these qualities. Fortunately for most of us, our lives offer an abundance of opportunities to practice and cultivate these traits.
***
Arriving once again level-headed, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed early to work on Monday (perhaps not the best choice when being hunted like prey), I found myself hustled onto our morning location shoot just as an ‘anybody’ for the lighting crew.
“Security says you have a green Toyota, Penny.  Would you go get it?  We need cars parked on the residential street” our 1st AD asked kindly, shuffling me back to the parking structure.
Uncertain as to where I should specifically angle Cecilia (my car) against the curb, like a true confident Hollywood star she coasted easily onto her undesignated mark (selecting her best lighting?) and waited patiently (for the third time in her career!) for her (ironically again) Colorado ‘wardrobe’.
And gushing once more like a proud parent I couldn’t help but take a photo and exude my excitement for my 1997 Toyota as she positively snarled with annoyance at being subjected to be placed on-camera sans proper waxing.  (That's my diva!)
(I was flogged for three days with the orange "check engine" light.)

“We are going to be here together FOR-EVAH!” the dastardly jungle beast cougar reappeared salivating all over our jugular veins.  “And they’re going to keep us!!!  For show night!!!” she beamed, thrilled that should any of us actually have a real life, such utter nonsense would have to be put on hold.
***
As a stand-in candidate for a mid-season show, I returned a call to the casting company to confirm my availability and with the help of my friend Lori snapped a few head shots as requested with which to email the ADs as to my “current look” and hair color.  I was excited!  I was hopeful!  I was even thrilled (slash) embarrassed to be caught by our Director who casually wondered how many photos I wanted taken in the sets, only to be wished well by him should I get the job!
And scurrying away properly, Lori and I disappeared into the house seating only to be confronted yet again by the unrelenting cougar…
“Super-duper great for you!!!” the cheerleader piped up once again.  “But just so you know, if the DP is who I think it is, not only will he make you wear a wig, but he’ll also keep you for lighting for like six hours every single night!” she beamed; positively delighted at my possible future misery… 
***
Wandering around the studio lot in search of solitude, I plopped down in a chair underneath a forlorn staircase and embraced the quiet. Never before had I ever been so annoyed by someone at work.  I was irritated.  I was festering.  And contemplating the situation I couldn’t seem to regain any proper sense of “me”.  If anything, I had become Lindsey Lohan in “Mean Girls”, a catty, bitchy, uncontrollable mess whose inner dialog had succumbed to the forces of evil around her. 
And unable to save myself, I pleaded for a sign from above…
Ding!
Looking up for no apparent reason other than searching for my own sanity, I glanced to the heavens for guidance.  And discovering the sloppily glued thermometer stuck to the underbelly of the staircase, I sat in appreciative awe, grinning at the wide-mouthed bass forever immortalized as unable to pluck the joy from the happy leaping frog.

In hindsight (after festering for four more days), I believe I’ve learned yet one more valuable lesson in my ongoing “quest to make sense”.
Being comfortable in your own skin doesn’t prevent others from crawling underneath it occasionally – the trick is to not let them live there for too long.
May you skim the pond happily,
~Zit-free Kermit P