Monday, February 21, 2011

Where do we go? Where do we go now? Oh, oh, oh Sweet Child . . . O'Minnnnnneeee

Jesus, what a fucking week.

The stress is like white noise now; ever present, heavy and constant.

I have been making ends meet since my unemployment was suspended back in December by working at the Doggie Daycare, then filling in any gaps with background work.

When booking background work, you basically register with Central Casting. They do background for every major television show or feature film in Los Angeles. Once you stand in-line for an hour or two, get your measurements down and they take a photo of you, you are in. Its free unless you want to submit a picture of yourself- which costs $25 or something.

The women that work at Central tend to be a bit snooty to you. They give the men an extra photo to improve themselves. The women they won't even return a smile. In fact, they will drop the smile in the 0.2 seconds you make eye contact with them. 

You get a phone number based on your gender and union status. Then you call that number, also referred to as the information line, and listen to job postings usually meant for gigs the next day. Then you copy down the number to the agent on the listing. You call them over and over and over again, I would say 60 plus times, until you get through. Then, they ask for the first five digits of your social security number and review your picture. If they think you will work, they book you and give you the "Booking" number with all call time, location and wardrobe info. If they don't think you are "hot" enough or something, they say, "I am gonna pass. Thank you." Click.

Booking work for yourself is a full time gig. You have to check the information line every half hour, or during peak times. Often on set as background, you see a group of actors standing in a circle all on cell phones trying to book themselves for the next gig. They will give tips to other actors with listings, and if you are lucky and next to someone who got through on the line, they might pass the phone to you to book on it so you don't have to drain your cell phone battery calling in every 2 seconds.

Rush calls are casting calls to set working in a few hours or later that day. Those usually post first thing in the morning.

Then there are a slew of calls around 10am, noon (where they usually tell you to call back after lunch) 3pm, and 5pm. I have the best luck trying to book myself at 5pm.

What people don't understand about background work is a) you do not audition b) you are paid minimum wage if you are non-union c) you are considered lower on the food chain than catering or janitorial people.

Usually I can pull in $70 with meal penalities (around $8), booking my car with me on a job ($12 bump) or other miscellanious perks like working with artificial smoke, sometimes providing your own costume, sometimes gas compensation if the set is far away . . . those do add up though they are minimal.


I worked Bones a few weeks ago up in San Gabriel Valley. My mom is a big fan of the show but the only episodes I have seen are patched together through a few family visits.

The episode mentioned below has not aired yet, but it will be in the sixth season.

Abe's Mom recommends the best books to me. Honestly, if I could support myself doing background and reading in the sunshine every day on set, that's exactly what I would do. She gave me The Help by Kathryn Stockett which is thicker than a Warlock's genitals but an easy read.

Abe's aunt spoke about it and said its an amazing book because one chapter she will identify with the black maids of 1962, and the next she would indentify with the rich Southern Belles overwhelming themselves with hectic social lives while running a household.

I only ever identified with the maids.

I plowed through that book like it was a brownie bowl. Page after page after after page, I couldn't stop. Once in a while I would take a breather, but I couldn't wait too long before jumping in their world again.

If you were to identify me in the background of CSI NY or Bones, you would see I am the one holding up the big yellow book.

While doing background, nobody really bothers you with too much direction. You can kinda show up with what you want to wear and bring what you want with you on set, and no one will bother you. There is a wonderful anonymity to it all. This is bittersweet, since we all want to be discovered. Secretly, we all hope the director or the producer will notice US and something will suddenly change.

I don't know if that actually happens or if those stories are simplified and passed along on trashy morning programs and in background gossip circles just to keep us going.

On set, I was moved around a lot in one scene. One minute, I am placed in line to buy coffee, then moved to the side to be one of the blurry figures who crosses camera so there appears to be life around the principal actors. Then I was moved back into the coffee line and all the time, I was reading my book.

In the scene,  Emily Deschanel is jogging up to the coffee stand with David Boreanaz. When we shoot, she runs into me. Now, I wasn't expecting that. Usually, while working background, you don't want to do too much. You want to be noticed but not for ruining a shot. So I sway with the force of her hand on my shoulder, don't look up and keep reading. I mean, we are Washington, D.C. right? Who the fuck cares?

Halfway through the morning shoot, the Assistant Director runs up to me. I looked up. He said, "See? When someone runs up to you, you look up." I said, "Ok, so you want me to react. I wasn't sure." He said, "Yeah react, and get a little testy with the wait in line for your coffee."

I closed my book suddenly, "Oh! You want me to act! Well, thats what I am here to do. I will throw in a little bitch for some ambience."

He smiled, "Great. What's your name?" I told him.

We did the scene, and at first I overdid it of course. Way to self aware. By the last take I was perfect, of course Emily never got the lines out the same way take to take, so who knows how they are going to patch together that whole situation.

Later that day, we were redressed as Federal employees and asked to walk around a night scene. We waited, then walked, then waited, then walked. Its all pretty boring.

When I had my book with me, everyone had to engage me, "Hey, what book is that?" "Good, huh? What's it about?" "Hey, I think you are going to finish that book today." YEAH, I KNOW, IF YOU STOP TALKING TO ME!

Reading in public is always such an aggrevation.

Towards the end, they let everyone go. One of the background wranglers was suddenly paged, "What? You want to keep the brunette at the coffee stand? Let me see." She looks to us, "Was anyone here in the coffee stand scene?" I raised my hand. I was the only brunette left.

She said, "Whats your name?" I told her. She repeated it into the walkie. Then she turned back to me, "They want you and one other actor to stay for another scene."

Was this is it? My big break? A voucher maybe for my troubles?

In the end, I was retained but not used. They just wanted background for another shot and maybe the AD liked me, laughed at my jokes- but at the end of the day, I am just another extra.

You hope they call Central and ask to book you for a real audition, or make you a regular background person (which would insure a steady paycheck and vouchers for the union) but there are just too many of us. I was remembered that day, but wouldn't be remembered tomorrow.

1000 Ways to Die

The next week, or the week after . . . its all a haze to me right now, I booked work on Spike TV's 1000 Ways to Die which I have never seen.

This time, I booked through The show explores various bizarre scenarios in which people have died. They are one of the few shows who will book someone non-union for a principal role in the recreation. Usually, for female characters, they insist on casting someone super hot and for whatever reason, that has not been me.

I was able to book myself on background as a spectator at a baby oil wrestling match. These sets are suprisingly minimal compared to something like Bones. Same distance (thereabouts) in a hole in the wall out in San Gabriel Valley but no gas compensation and the worse oatmeal imaginable to man waiting on a folding table in the parking lot for us.

I showed up with a new book and helped myself to some fresh fruit and a bagel. I am back on carbs. Abe says he can feel my ribs now when he holds me, and insists I start eating more. Since Murray passed away, whatever desire I had to eat just stopped. Even now, I force myself with a few hits of ganja to put food in my mouth. Its not because I want to lose weight. It just is right now.

My mother called, "How is our actress?"

My heart leapt with joy. That is the first time she acknowledged I was an actress by trade.

Me, "Awww, you called me an actress."

Mom, "Yesssss. How was your play opening last night?"

I said, "Good, you know. I am not a fan of theater. It just seems alien compared to film. I am a method girl, like Marlon Brando or Dustin Hoffman." Though, they did theater, too.

Mom, "I'll be darned. How many people showed up?"

Me, "Almost a full house. Like 14 people."

My mother erupted in laughter. Mom, "Hey, that reminds me of that scene in The Big Lebowski. You know the one? Where the landlord invites the Dude to his play. hahahahaHAHAHA!"

My mother didn't even like that movie when I first introduced it to them. My parents were visiting me at Undergrad and brought their VCR with them to the motel. I brought over a copy of the movie from my friends' dorm. All my mother said afterward was, "That was weird."

The film resonated with my Dad and his opinion is the one that ends up becoming "their" opinion. I find that irritating.

After the Mom-Pep-Talk, I was brought in to a set roughly the size of a studio apartment. We were placed around a child's size swimming pool next to two large bottles of baby oil. I was moved once, then twice, then ended up directly behind the judge's table where the baby oil wrestler would fall to her death.

There were about 10 crew members. The director was slightly overweight, middle aged, had a wedding ring on and was just putting his hours in. The prop guy, a large gentleman, came by and popped drinks in everyone's hand. He handed me a whiskey bottle.

The wrestlers came out and I was eager to see how "hot" they were compared to me since they landed a principal role. They weren't. But to be fair, they were professional wrestlers. I decided to be the drunk whiskey girl and shout at them during the match while sloppily spilling whiskey out of the top of my bottle. I may have even thrown in a few spittles in there if the lens got close enough to me.

The guy next to me shot a few dirty looks my way and said, "You know you are spilling that on my shoes."

There is always one surly extra. I said, "I know, its for effect. Can you deal with that as an actor?" He didn't answer me and returned to oogling at the wrestlers as a tit accidentally popped out here or there. He promptly informed the girls, "We are seeing a lot more than you think. Har har har." He was disgusting.

Abe says men make inappropritate comments like that because they think that is what is expected of them. Otherwise, they aren't seen as masculine. Pigs.

When it came time for the girl to fall backwards onto the spike on the judge's bell, right in front of me, I was centered in the frame. She dropped and the camera is left on me giving my reaction shot; holding a whiskey bottle with my jaw open. I heard, "Cut!" and looked up to the Director of Photography and his Assistant Camera guy, they were both staring at me and giggling. They said, "I don't know what it is about you, but you are hilarious."

VICTORY!!!! Yeah- thats when I nab a bag of nutter butters and call it a day.


Central held an open call for Season 8 of Entourage. An open call is when anyone can show up. Its kind of a nightmare.

Central asked to take two recent pictures of us in a business suit and a bikini. So, in the pouring rain with an intense head cold, I showed up in a business suit with only a bikini on underneath. The line was out the door so I had to stand in the rain for a few minutes.

People always feel sorry for me when I am cold because I start chattering, and shaking and it all seems very dramatic. If I am under an a/c vent you would think I was thrown overboad in the North Atlantic.

With a fist full of toilet paper to blow my nose and wet hair, I waited in line for 3 1/2 hours to have a boy pop my new measurements into their database. He helped me with the measuring tape.

He said, "So skinny."

I said, "Awwww, thank you. Thats the best thing I have heard today."

He smiled, "Have you been working on that?"

I said, "You bet."

It was another 40 minutes before my pictures were taken in the back room. This time it was three girls who were not chummy with me. The girls in front of me smiled at them and thanked them. I don't know if that really sticks to "I was unpopular in high school" syndrome. I just do my thing.

Casting girl, (sharply) "NEXT IN LINE!"

I popped up in my heels, one was holding a loose toenail on. I felt like shit and worry I looked like it.

One click.

Casting Girl #2, "Ok, now your bikini."

I stripped, still a little wet from the rain, under their fans. Shivering, I stood in front of camera and forced a smile. I hate forcing smiles. I don't think it looks good.

One click.

Casting girl, (sharply) "NEXT IN LINE!"


While driving around with Abe shortly after, we were on the topic once again about moving in. If I don't make some dramatic changes to my lifestyle, I will flounder into poverty. The more I think about me and Abe, the more I believe that after a year, we should be making plans for the next step.

Even with my background work and doggie daycare, it is not enough. And, I want to build a family and a more stable life so we both can be comfortable and happy.

Abe thinks moving in is "just like getting married. And I am not ready to get married yet." He also argued, "You do all this work all the time for your animals. You bust your ass every day to get money and get ahead. You need to be doing that for yourself not your animals."

I don't know if I would be working as much if I didn't have to bring home a 50lb bag of dog kibble every few weeks. Sometimes we work harder when its for someone else.

Why can't he feel that way about me?

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