Friday, May 09, 2008

Farlanders: 15 Observations

1. Maggie Gyllenhaal is pretty.

2. Farlanders, the new Sam Mendes-directed, Dave Eggers-scripted movie I did background work on this Tuesday, was the first "indie division" movie I've worked on, and it really did represent the best of both work. While the smaller crew made for a few more mistakes than usual, it also meant more setups - there was time to do fourteen or fifteen takes of an extended tracking shot in the morning. And yet Farlanders, which will be released by Focus, is a pseudo-indie with a multi-million-dollar budget, which meant there was still plenty of room for perks like -

3. - the food. Baked salmon, pasta, rice, mixed vegetables and pie. I always appreciate it when us non-SAG folks get the same menu as SAG extras. Of course, we have to wait until they've been served, but it still makes me feel less like livestock.

4. The scenes being filmed were set on a college campus, with the Taft School, a $40000-a-year prep academy, subbing for a university in Wisconsin. Between this and 21, I've gotten a big kick out of returning to the kinds of places I couldn't get accepted to and doing exactly the kind of work I wanted to do anyway. Any hint of petty working-class resentment is strictly intentional - maybe I voted for the wrong candidate?

5. The aforementioned tracking shot followed Gyllenhaal, her onscreen kids and leads John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph mid-conversation as they pass by a student protest against the CIA and military recruiters (I was a bit vague on the details). I was given a t-shirt that read "COLLEGE - NOT COMBAT," a sign that read the same, and told to silently mime protesting. Shades of The Exorcist, but on a much smaller scale. Loved the idea of twentysomething actors pretending to be socially conscious, when most were just looking for a check between commercial residuals.

6. Chatted with a few extras from New York (most were bused in from the city) when were placed in the far background for depth. As soon as I mentioned I was from rural Mass, we couldn't help compare notes on our respective life choices. The condensed version: they get steady work, I get trees. I'm always torn over whether I should have gone straight to New York after college - the opportunities are there, but it takes a superhuman resolve to keep afloat, and my hat's off to anyone (including my friend Kate) who can hack it.

7. That Connecticut was subbing for Wisconsin, as Boston recently did for Paris in The Pink Panther 2, is encouraging; it means that New England isn't just used for location-specific shooting anymore, and has actually become a viable choice for studios. The new Hollywood? Not yet, but definitely the new Vancouver!

8. After three big-budget star-driven movies in a row (including the upcoming Revolutionary Road, partly shot in Connecticut), Sam Mendes seemed to be relishing the opportunity to work on a smaller scale. There wasn't an once of pretension about the guy - he listened intently to his crew's suggestions, maintained a very low-key, enthusiastic presence, and a willingness to try new things (filming was stopped at one point to accomodate the actors' ideas on tweaking the dialogue and blocking). He even gave the extras some direction, er, directly, which is something that's usually left to the assistant directors - again, the benefits of a smaller-scale show.

9. My co-workers at the day job got kick out of it when I told them Maggie Gyllenhaal was in the movie. A while back, some shitwit made a feeble attempt at hurting my feelings by anonymously placing a note declaring my sexual orientation in my boss' mailbox. As this isn't a secret and I haven't particularly struggled with it since the 11th grade, I just found this laughably lame, as did my boss and most of my co-workers. I responded by pinning pictures of Maggie and Jake above my desk, so the anonymous jerk would have be confronted by scary, scary bisexuality every time he or she asked me a question. So for them, this was a symbolic victory, and the subsequent goodwill meant a lot to me.

10. John Krasinski is one goofy-looking guy. This is encouraging.

11. I wanted to tell Maya Rudolph what a genius her husband is, but I then I figured that, having made a baby with P.T, she's already aware of this.

12. Best overheard conversation of the day: a stoned, conventionally "hot" extra talking with two other stoned extras about how, for some reason, she's been directed to make out with other women on multiple gigs. "I had to - acting is about total commitment."

13. The afternoon was spent doing inserts - walking multiple times along the same path without any of the leads present for shots that probably won't make it into the movie. It's here that my total commitment came in; I thought about where my character had been, and where he was going, and at what pace he should be going there. I can confidently say that I walked very well, but I was a little confused about why we were still referred to as "background" - if there are no actors in the frame, aren't we foreground?

14. I must be getting old; while it was fun and educational as always to be on a set, some of the best parts of the day were when I was in holding between shots. I streched out on a hill overlooking Watertown, closed my eyes and took in the sun on what was a perfect May afternoon. I'm working as hard at my dreams as I ever have, but I'm finding it more important than ever to remember stop and dwell in those dreams sometimes.
15. Maggie likes Diet Coke.


Kat said...

although, I don't know if i count, really...I haven't seriously done the audition thing, and I burned out on extra work real fast...and i've been half plotting my escape from the city...i miss trees.

Andrew Bemis said...

Maybe not seriously compared to the type-A crowd I saw on Tuesday, but to have stuck it out as long as you have is still impressive to me.

Anonymous said...

You are SO lucky :)

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