Tuesday, June 6, 2017

STRICTLY ON BACKGROUND, PT. 11: GOTHAM

If you're a reader of the Drudge Report, you'll have noticed that New York is regularly referred to as "CITY OF HATE". God knows how it would describe Gotham City, which recently was overrun with a virus that drives people mad, a terrorist bombing of its railroad station, and a bunch of criminals with names like Penguin, Riddler, and Joker. Kind of makes the occasional mugging of Manhattan's senior citizens look positively fetching.

My first visit to Gotham City was to the aforementioned doomed railroad station, conveniently located at the Atlantic Avenue Station on the Q line, and around the corner from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I had unknowingly dressed in perfect Gotham attire -- my retro trench coat and saddle shoes. Home at last!

There were at least 150 other people, dressed in clothing ranging from every decade from the '40s forward, so I knew that my screen time would be limited to something around zero. Therefore, I was happy to get called back the following week, this time to the Gotham City Bank. Knowing what the look required, I grabbed my leather jacket, fedora, scarf, a wide necktie, baggy woolen pants, the wingtip shoes, and set off for work. The only thing that would have made it complete was if the subway had cost five cents instead of $2.75.

This time, my destination was somewhere in Williamsburg, in a neighborhood about as Orthodox an area as you'll find in America. All the advertisements and business awnings were in Hebrew, and the residents were dressed in their religious finery. They probably regarded me as I did them: What year is this?


On my way to purchase War Bonds before
attending a broadcast of
The Fred Allen Show.
There was, you see, absolutely nothing about me that appeared contemporary -- even my eyeglasses were of a different era. The Gotham wardrobe people loved it all, but threw in a sweater to fill out my look. The only way you'd know from my selfie (left) that it was 2017 was that it was, y'know, a selfie.

The set was a genuine (now-shuttered) bank, the air pumped with dust to give it something of a film noir ambiance. We were taken to our spots and given instructions. I was placed at a tall desk, where the p.a. set the scene.

Gotham City, I was told, had been infected by a virus that drives people mad. I was to fill out a withdrawal slip, then go to a specific teller, with whom I was going to have an animated (mimed) conversation. I was to demand all my money, while he explained there was nothing he could do. The conversation would grow more heated, as I pointed out the window at the crazies running wild on the streets. A little old lady was going to pull a gun on another teller, forcing everyone to take cover.

While I calmly nodded, inside I went into total panic mode: You mean, you want me to actUp until now, I was always part of a crowd, usually doing nothing more than looking at the action or, in a real stretch, walking down the street.

Here, I was essentially on my own, and, more frightening, doing stuff. Didn't they know I was just a human prop? 


Fortunately, there was no dialogue to learn; too, I was familiar with the concept of filling out withdrawal slips and taking them to tellers, even if I was more used to using ATMs. 

For the first time since doing this work, I was doing something of a solo act. It didn't matter that I was looking down, or that I wasn't really a key element of the scene. I just knew that I was there.


And in another first, I was shot from the other side, too, as the old lady approached the teller. I'm looking toward the door nervously, hoping that the crazies don't break through and kill us all. The guy on the right is looking at me like I'm crazy. 


A moment later, I could be seen walking to the teller. Up until now, it appeared to me that the old lady would simply pull a gun on her frightened teller.

But the best was yet to come.

After we returned from lunch, there was now someone on set dressed as a security guard. Not just any someone, mind you, but a stunt man who was going to earn his pay that afternoon. 


One of the side effects of the Gotham virus was giving its victims superhuman (or at least supernormal) strength. When the guard tried to stop the robbery, the old lady sent him flying over the desk where I'd been a moment earlier.

Without giving away any trade secrets, the stunt was done without any CGI magic -- he really went over that desk for several takes. And in the unlikely case they used the first take, then my stunned reaction is real, because I had no idea what was going to happen. Call me a reactor.

On set, the scene lasted about two minutes. But it was edited to about half that, so you never got to see me scurrying for cover. Too bad; I scurry pretty convincingly when needed.

This particular Gotham episode marked my sixth season finale of the year, the others being Bull, Law & Order: SVU, Younger, Billions, and Homeland. I hope they remember me when production starts up again in July. My fedora is ready when they are.

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