TNG_Day_#40_01212015-28.dng

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Column by J. Torrey McClain

In theaters now, if you look quickly and listen closely, you can see my profile and hear my voice in the fantastic new movie from Shane Black, The Nice Guys.  I recommend seeing The Nice Guys, not only for me, but because it is a dry, fun, and interesting movie that has a number of laughs.  But, as usual, the movie is the background to my musings and in this case, my personal experience.

On my birthday in 2015, I got a text and a phone call on my way to meeting with friends.  Since I was in the car, I didn’t pick up, my preference, and waited until I was walking along the sidewalk to my destination, expecting to see calls and texts with well-wishes.  As I looked, I got another call, from my call-in booking service.  I answered and immediately gave my acknowledgement that I was available to work the next day.  It was only after this that I was able to look at the text and see that it was my first union gig, as a photo double.

To understand this all-new stage as a background actor, I must explain my normal experiences.  As a friend once relayed to me from a recent L.A. Times article, background actors are known as props that eat. Generally there are at least 20 of us descending upon a production to provide atmosphere and a realistic look of city streets, courtrooms, bars, malls or wherever the protagonists need to be.  We sit, we walk, we mime talking, we run for cover, we sit in a Ferris wheel, we play at eating food and generally try to be as real as possible with several cameras capturing the moment.  In between the scenes, we descend like locusts on craft services, lunch catering and our holding area, eating, talking, reading, writing, playing music or whatever we do to make the eight, ten, 12 or longer hours to pass by while assistant directors and production assistants try to corral us and keep us to a mild whisper so as not disturb filming.  I love the job as the time in between gives me moments with graphic novels or whatever I’m reading at the time, but it can be stifling to many others with low tolerances to being told exactly what to do, wanting to talk, preferring not to listen and expecting the spotlight.  If you’re happy just fading into the background and realizing that your issues are the smallest in the world of a production with many moving parts, days pass wonderfully well.

nice guys

My days on The Nice Guys were so much different.  My first day of my first union gig, I was nervous.  When I met the production assistant checking me in and he said something along the line of these words, “Great, glad you’re here!  This day is all about you,” my nerves shot up a notch as it became apparent that I was the only background actor there.  Instead of being sent off to hang with the other extras, I got to eat at the same time and table with the crew.  I felt guilty of impostor syndrome as I sat among the people there on a daily basis with specific jobs to make the production move forward.  After finishing my food, I got a full haircut from the people in the hair department along with some grey added to my dark brown hair to match the original actor.  A special suit of specific clothes awaited me at wardrobe.  Once ready for the camera, I arrived on set, ready to exit the production van, one of the PAs opened up an umbrella for me and held it over me until, feeling very sheepish, I took it from him and walked toward set.

Continue reading

Advertisements