There are currently three major features being shot in Pittsburgh: The Next Three Days, a murder mystery starring Russell Crowe; Love and Other Drugs, a comedy starring Jake Gyllenhall and Anne Hathaway (both of Brokeback Mountain fame); and Unstoppable, an action flick starring Denzel Washington. This means that every unemployed actor (if that is not a tautology) in the region, and everyone else with too much time on their hands, now appears to be working as an extra on one of these films.
After my boot-camp experience of working on the mixed marshall arts biffo flick Warrior, I was wary of taking up extra’s work again. But sheer curiosity – combined with the invisible hand of the market feeling around rudely inside my pocket – goaded me into signing up for yet more adventures on the movie set.
I was called into my first day with the The Next Three Days last week. At daybreak, I drove to the Pittsburgh Zoo carpark, the gathering point for crew and extras. After signing in, I hovered around the trailers for a while with about dozen other extras, sipping coffee and eating egg muffins, waiting for instructions. Finally, it became clear that what was required for the day was not human thespian talent but car acting.
There were two cut away scenes which required traffic innocently chugging along as the get-away (stunt) car took off. Could Chuck (my anthropomorphized Hyundai hatchback) handle himself under that kind of pressure? I’d soon find out.
We all drove in convoy first to an Aspinwall strip mall, and spent a couple of hours waiting for whatever it is you are waiting for on a movie set as PAs run around shouting ‘copy!’ into their walkie-talkies. Eventually, a police car moved importantly onto the road and stopped traffic. Watching carefully for our signals, the cars took off, one by one and zipped along the bitumen for about half a minute, then turned around and came right back for reshoots. We did this about half a dozen times, and I am proud to report that Chuck remained in character the whole time.
By late morning, we had nailed that scene and it was then off in convoy to Spring Hill to perform a similar scene, only involving hills. However, before we could begin a new bout of car acting, we were whisked off to lunch at the riverfront Atria‘s restaurant, part of the gleaming Pirates stadium complex. This is more like it, I thought, as after lunch I walked off my enormous salad, strolling in the brilliant autumn sunshine along the banks of the Allegheny. I could easily handle being a stage mom to Chuck, and enjoy a comfortable future basking in the reflected glory and paychecks of my movie star vehicle.
Then it was back to Spring Hill, but this time there were too many cars and not enough roles. I spent a few hours sunning myself, wandering around the view-saturated streets and chewing the fat with a couple of PAs while Chuck got a much deserved rest. We were dismissed late afternoon – in marked contrast to Warrior, where you were lucky if you were relieved of screaming duties before 10.00pm.
Bumping into Russell Crowe
My next call-in early this week was back to more familiar territory. Turning up at 6.00am and ushered into ‘the holding pen’ – the usually cramped, unlit place where extras mill around for hours waiting to be called to ‘act’ for a few seconds. The location was the old children’s hospital in Oakland and we were holed up in what for all I know could have been a former operating theater or artificial limb dispensary. I was cast as a nurse and issued with a set of scrubs about three sizes too big for me. I sat at a table along with a tall beautiful African American woman whose last role had been performing in a “truly terrible” basketball-babe flick in LA: across from me sat an African American middle aged man who lost no time in telling me he was a Minister and urged me to look up his website to get some good tips on how to live. We sipped our coffees and everyone except me ate donuts.
Happily, all Chuck’s training the previous week was not to go astray; after a couple of hours PAs came around looking for people to park their cars on set. I thrust my hand up and eagerly went off to collect Chuck. I situated him in full radiance of the movie lights where he remained all day, taking in all the attention like a true pro.
Finally, ‘patients’ and ‘medical staff’ were called on set – the entry to the emergency department waiting room. For the first set up, I had to walk from one end of the room to the other, lean over the desk and ask the triage nurse something. Thanks to years of walking around rooms, I knew how to do this without any coaching and the scene went off without a hitch.
However, the next scene required the hero, Russell Crowe, to come running full tilt into the ER and push past a couple of medical staff. I was selected to be one the nurses between which Crowe would barrel. As neither myself nor my fellow nurse had any experience being bumped into by a fast moving Hollywood star, we had to discuss the scene with the director, get our blocking right and rehearse with Russell.
As we were talking with the director, Crowe looked at me with some surprise and remarked “I know that accent! Where are you from?”. We shook hands and exchanged a few brief friendly words – but sadly there was not enough time for me to suggest to Russell that if he was looking for really steady vehicle to park in the background of any of his future movies that I had just the car for him.
The first take was good – Russell careened between myself and the other nurse and shouldered me out of the way with much energy. However, the director wanted the star to move slower, and slightly more to the right. His shoving was fine though. My ability to look surprised and annoyed at my fellow countryman’s hospital hurtle was “good”. After several takes, it was a wrap and it was back to the holding pen.
For a few minutes, I was the star of the holding pen, as my fellow nurse recounted the scene to the extras who had not been needed on set, and verified, to admiring eyes, that I had indeed “been shoved out of the way by Russell Crowe!”.
The rest of the afternoon was without any further excitement. Later in the evening Chuck and I made our way back to Lawrenceville, tired but happy that we had both done our small bit in creating that special Hollywood movie magic.
Update on my pending engagement
Thanks for the comments and flood of emails supporting my forthcoming engagement with international heartthrob Chris Isaak. As I suspected, the weight of world public opinion is firmly on my side here, and all I have to do really is just wait for the inevitable. Not only that, but this bit of spam found its way into my contact form submission with 24 hours of my post:
“You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.”
Precisely! And the freaky correspondences between Chris’s life and mine continue: I just found out that Chris was interviewed by the same ABC radio announcer in the exactly the same studio that I was interviewed in just before I left Australia, a mere two years before me. How about that?? We were that close to actually meeting.
Meanwhile, like any bride to be, I find my mind drifting quite frequently to the question of what I should wear. I’ve known women who have spent at least a year carefully pondering every aspect of this life-changing question and I think I will be no exception. Any suggestions as to what could be an appropriate nuptial look for me – keeping in mind the likely Vanity Fair spread – gratefully received!
And the Glee Club zombie mini-documentary continues to take shape, including a shoot at the wonderful Brillo Box on Sunday night, starring myself and A.T Vish thrashing around on stage in our very best gothic outfits. Sound and vision will, I hope, finally be ready by the next post…