WELCOME TO EARTH-4
A Column by J. Torrey McClain
Around this time last year, my good friend Steve suggested that we check out A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) at the Silent Movie Theater here in Los Angeles and I had no clue what it was. I briefly checked the description, saw a positive Metacritic score and thought to myself, “Why the heck not?” I ended up seeing a fantastic slow-burning film that made the vampire genre fresh. I also saw one of the best images to portray a character in a long time.
Early in the film, the co-protagonist girl vampire decides to go home with a drug dealer who had previously threatened the other protagonist as well as a local streetwalker. As he bursts into his lair, he walks by a large fish tank and gives it a smack. Seconds later he’s doing lines of cocaine on a glass table, a mounted deer head and a mounted antelope head on the wall behind him, before turning on the annoying techno. He sits on a couch draped with a blanket of what looks like tigers that would jump out under black light. In the corner there is a hookah. As the girl vampire explores the rest of the pad, she finds a set of drums just below a large marijuana leaf poster. I laughed to myself as I immediately realized I had in those brief seconds already characterized this asshole in my mind with no redeeming qualities. Sure, the actions earlier helped, but that apartment spoke to me clearly and it screamed into my brain “HE IS A DOUCHEBRO.”
Those items and that music might not mean the same thing to every person. Maybe to others they see a seedy drug-dealing criminal. Some may see a guy that is definitely more current in his musical taste than I (as Clem Snide and The Replacements play as I write.) Others may see an advocate for marijuana besides business reasons that has been stigmatized due to its frequent use by hippies and non-WASPs. (I put myself in the advocate camp, by the way, as the criminalization and the imprisonment of many people in jail due to marijuana related offenses seems to be one of the many effects of the inherent racism in our justice system. But, that’s for another discussion at another time by others much more qualified than I. Check out Deray McKesson on Twitter to start your journey on that front or some of the great essays in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the soon-to-be author of the Marvel comic Black Panther). I just know that for my viewpoint, the more the scene unfolded, the more it verified my judgment.
Such is the magic of great set design. As a background actor, I get to see lots of set design up close. Items might not show up distinctly on camera, but choices get made in the costume, prop and set departments that impact the feel of a scene. The care that the professionals take in these aspects of filmed entertainment mesmerizes me more than most things.
I’ve seen pictures of coal miners on the wall in a pizza parlor scene in Justified. I’ve seen “fingernail clippings” of a serial killer in a Ziploc bag on CSI. I’ve worn period costumes, jackets from the 80s and my own wardrobe to try to fit into different times in the past 40 years. I’ve carried drink glasses and smoked cigars to make a scene feel more realistic. Part of the fun of walking on a new set is looking to see backlots used again and again with different decorations to make the location feel unique again. From paintings on walls to signs in windows, the design ranks easily as my favorite thing to observe on set. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night provided a perfect example for me to discuss it and to show some of my pictures from various locations and sets.
The first picture is one of the many fliers posted around Greendale Community College on Community. There’s something that tickles me about flag football between the Karate Kid Club and the Disco Club.
The second picture also comes from Community and concerns the Straight A’s of education. Of course, number three is Greendale’s vaunted air-conditioning program.
The third picture comes from a location for Android Cop where I played a ruffian. The location is an old factory that is perfect for a post-apocalyptic setting.
The fourth picture comes from a movie that has a jail scene. At this jail, make sure you don’t play musical chairs.
The fifth picture is another shot from the jail location. In this film, I will be a background prison guard.
The sixth picture is a model from the CSI episode “Merchants of Menace.” It is one of the items on display at the convention of “murderabilia.”
The seventh picture has more “murderabilia” from “Merchants of Menace.” The pentagram and the dog-like gimp mask captured my eye.
The eighth and final picture comes from Parks and Recreation. It’s one of the many murals from the show, all of which are damn funny, but this one where they burn a magician at the stake is the least offensive out of context.