Unused to Film

I am on a film set today. My dressing room contains two enormous bean bags and a desk with a kettle and tea-making facilities, wifi and three bottles of water. I stayed in a four-star hotel last night and enjoyed a long bath. I could also have enjoyed a sauna and a swim but the bath was plenty. I was picked up early this morning by a driver and delivered to the make up van where I was made up by a lovely young woman who also plucked my eyebrows. I was given a brand new costume to wear and brought cups of tea, snacks and lunch in my dressing room. Every half an hour someone knocks on my door to ask if I am alright or perhaps adjust my costume (I am in a uniform – it is quite straightforward). They ask if I like the bag the props department has found or check I am enjoying myself. Everything is done for me, the tag is cut off my shoes, a badge is pinned on, a necklace is threaded into my collar just so. I have my photo taken often. I have got a lot of writing done and I am feeling very relaxed. I have been on set for over five hours and have not yet filmed anything or been asked to do anything trickier than make a choice from the lunch menu.

This is filming. The director apologises but this is filming: I brought my laptop. I brought books. I have 5 lines in 2 scenes. I am getting shit done, it’s good, tell me where to stand.

When I am finally in the studio (where the cameras are) there is more waiting. We are in a school gym in which a modest, mid-war East London terrace house has been built. I chat to a few people. The stand-ins. The medic. A runner. This runner is just out of University. I congratulate him. Being a runner is a dog-of-a-much-sought-after job. A very precious foot in the film industry door. He says he’s learned a lot on this job. He has learned that in film it is all about who you know. I ask him if he wants to be a director. Of course he wants to be a director, he tells his shoes. I tell him he should not be embarrassed, I am sure there is not a runner in the industry who has fought and pulled hard to be a runner because they like being a runner. Of course you want to direct.

He asks me what I do. He means what do I normally do as an actor. If I normally made films he would know me. This is unsaid. The answer is theatre. There is a general insouciant mutual stand-off between film and theatre people. They are very different industries. A few people successfully straddle the two and most actors would like to have a foot in both. So I also tell my shoes that I do theatre.

He asks me do I like filming. I do. But I miss… the control.

He laughs. Ha. He agrees that yes someone else will cut it all together and he is right. Someone else will decide my entrance and my exit. They will choose my best side, my best footage, my best reaction. Some other time. Weeks from now.

But I did not mean “control” and I do not get to correct this because I am called into the terrace to walk repeatedly down a wallpapered hallway, past a mirror and into a room where I must register shock.

I meant responsibility. I miss the responsibility.

It is normally my job to make others’ job easier. I am used to the collective. We try to make the other person’s job easier. But I do not feel it here. I am not even responsible for removing the tag on my shoes here. I am not looking down the lens so I can do no more than stand where I am told. I am not viewing and cutting together the material so I must trust that the information I have is the information I need. I rely on coloured tape on the floor and nods from crew members behind the camera signalling when I move and stop and speak. I cannot make anyone’s life easier. It is a shame. I like that rondo of helpfulness theatre is made of. I feel I need as much practice as I can get.

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6 thoughts on “Unused to Film

  1. Fascinating. I have only been an extra. Same amount of waiting around but no privacy or room service, and no one gives a fart if you are enjoying yourself. Amazing food keeps turning up in vans with side hatches. Other extras meet no one’s eyes while boasting how many calls from their agents and the part coming up with a line…

    • Urk. It’s tough being an extra. They are treated quite differently. And… not very nicely.
      All that food, though! The food! The unceasing stream of food!

  2. You get unlimited food at sea, too, though not necessarily very good food….

    It all sound rather daunting and discombobulating, this acting in a film malarkey. Thanks for the insight.

  3. Last time I was on a set was Ice Station Zebra where my dad said I pushed Rock Hudson out of my childish way to oogle Patrick McGoohan. My mother observed to my father that I had good instincts…this yrs before Rock’s preferences public knowledge. Loved sharing your day talking to shoes…

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