Tuesday, January 17, 2017

STRICTLY ON BACKGROUND, PT. 4: ELEMENTARY

After several gigs that involved taking 6:30 A.M. vans to such far flung places as White Plains, Queens College, and JFK Airport, it was a relief to book a job that was a subway ride away (137th near City College) at the more reasonable time of 9:45. 

Despite shooting in early December, it was a warm sunny morning -- a good sign for what was going to be an exterior scene. But by the time they were ready for us, the temperature would drop precipitously as a strong wind blew in a thick cloud cover, turning the blue sky to a dark, threatening grey, fit for a Sherlock Homes mystery.


It was appropriate, then, the series I was working on that day was Elementary, which re-imagines Holmes and Dr. Watson working in modern day New York. And if you think the stars bear little resemblance to Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, you win a trunkful of back issues of True Detective magazine and a polyester deerstalker cap.


Before dining at The Edge, make sure it isn't
overrun with extras.
Other than the call time, something else that promised to be different about this shoot was the holding area. Instead of being lodged in a church basement as is often the case, we were ensconced at The Edge, a restaurant with an American/Caribbean/Jamaican cuisine, a gastronomic hat trick that got me hungry before I even checked in. 

Unfortunately, The Edge was merely the host, not the server. Perhaps it's just as well. Once I start eating that kind of grub, you can't get me off my chair until I pass out, which wouldn't do my reputation any good.

The group I was working with waited about three hours before going to the set -- the set being Edgecomb Avenue and 140th Street, where we crossed the street several times while a scene was shot several yards away. As I said before, the weather wasn't what you'd call clement, but at least we were dressed for winter when it was cold. I once had a "winter" shoot where I wore a sweater, scarf, and leather jacket on a sunny, 70-degree afternoon for a couple of hours. If nothing else, working up that kind of sweat is a great way to lose weight.

After 10 or 15 minutes of the back-and-forth, we were then assigned to walk east on 140th as they shot another scene. I was partnered with another guy, and we were told to go about half-way down the block. The p.a. would give us the OK when to start walking toward the featured actors. 

Our job was to look like we were friends, despite us looking completely differently -- he, a well-dressed businessman a decade or so my junior with salt & pepper hair; me in my tan overcoat, brown lamb's wool cap, and backpack. Diversity!

After the first couple of takes, we got the word that we were getting in camera range a little too early. We were then told to start near the end of the block, and, when getting our cue, to walk slowly toward the actors. That's the kind of thing that I really need to concentrate on to accomplish, so it would take some serious acting on my part. 

I think it took just two more takes to get it in the can. While the featured actors were in a two-shot, my co-extra and I were in a wide shot near the end of the scene as the camera crane pulled back. 

When I took a photo of the scene as it aired, I angled on us rather than the entire shot, just so you could tell it's me. You can tell, right?

This is exactly the way I walk against the wind on a December day: head kind of down with hands in pockets. I'm a natural at this extra stuff. Except for walking slowly. Then I need direction.

The Elementary shoot also provided valuable perspective on my job. This being a public area, non-actors were restricted from walking on the street until the shoot was finished. A bunch of teenage school kids, who were quite agreeable in waiting for the all clear, started chatting with us; none appeared starstruck. One of them turned to me.

HIM: You on this show?
ME: Yeah.
HIM: You a TV star?
ME: In my head, yes.
HIM: So you're crazy?
ME: (pause) Yeah, you could say that.


No danger of my ego running unchecked with that kind of interaction.

                                             ****************************

1 comment:

Kevin Thomsen said...

Is this the episode that aired Sunday? I'm watching it tonight! I love that show.