Thursday, February 24, 2005

First Snow, now Milton's?

Following up on a tip from my wife who saw a film crew at nearby Milton's restaurant earlier this morning, I wrapped up in my winter coat and set out to see what was up. It was the cast and crew working on "First Snow."

From what I could gather from the limited amount of time I surveyed the scene, they were fixing to shoot a scene inside where it was warm. Obviously they weren't looking for any extra extras, so I soon turned back and headed back home to my painting project.

Monday, February 21, 2005

out of gas

Snapped these photos Saturday afternoon at Isotopes Park of Texas State Bobcats outfielder Elliot Babcock trying to stretch a two-run double into a triple against the UNM Lobos.

He was MEAT!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

First Snow ... first day

I got a call late Saturday night from the casting director of “First Snow” asking me if I could work as an extra on Monday, the first day of filming. For one or more reasons, they had decided to either use me as a janitor cleaning the floors, or as a random shopper walking around inside Winrock Mall. Of course I was willing, otherwise I would never have gone to the audition. I also had no conflicts with my schedule. After all, where on earth could anyone possibly have to be at six in the morning?

So I arrived at the mall a little before six AM, and began the process of looking for someone who could either check me in, or direct me to the extras area. In this case, we were being held in an abandoned store inside the mall, just beyond Bed Bath & Beyond. For those of you not familiar with Albuquerque, Winrock Mall is one of several nails driven into the economic heart of the downtown when it was constructed conveniently close to I-40 back in the early 1960s. Forty some odd years later, the mall itself resembles some sort of futuristic ghost town more than anything else. I heard rumors that it is due to be renovated and possibly converted back into an outdoor mall. At any rate, a total of 10 people were brought in as extras. Half were ladies, the rest… dudes. Interestingly, 9 of the 10 people had been told during the extras audition that they would likely be used in the “pub scene.” Whatever.

Every group has one- the guy who will talk to anyone, and ends up talking to everyone if given the opportunity. No, I’m not that fella! In this case, ours was a Wal-mart employee who also claimed to have had a bit part in the HBO series “Band of Brothers.” I never saw an episode of that show, so I really have no idea if he was telling anything even close to the truth. However, I suppose anything is possible. The guy I’m talking about looked almost exactly like Greg Brady. I don’t mean the young Greg Brady from the Brady Bunch television series, but the middle-aged actor who played Greg Brady in the most recent Brady Bunch reunion show. I would say that the best thing about this type of person is standing back and watching the crowd part as he entered a room full of people.

As I typed previously, Monday was the first day of filming for the movie. If pressed for a description, I would have to call it as I saw it from my perspective, “organized chaos.” It seemed like most of the crew were frantic trying to learn how to communicate with each other, and as expected, there was a LOT of hurrying up and waiting to be done. The caterers were behind schedule. The lighting crew appeared frazzled. People with clipboards seemed both angry and tired.

The stand-in for Adam Scott (one of the principal actors) was late, so I was pulled out of the extras pool and asked to serve as stand-in for the stand-in. Basically, I spent the next 20 minutes shadowing Adam as he rehearsed a scene with Guy Pearce. In the scene, Guy and Adam were walking through the mall discussing personal current events. At one point, Guy squatted down and said something along the lines of “Looks like someone’s been pissing on your floors.” Adam responded by blaming it on the Garcia brothers. Pretty dramatic if you ask me!

I was impressed by the fact that Guy Pearce’s character was supposed to be carrying a drink in his hand while he walked, and even though he didn’t have the required prop, he held his right hand as if he was actually carrying a Styrofoam cup. Now, THAT’S acting my friends. Guy’s stand-in and I watched carefully, and took notes about body movements and hand gestures the actors made. Our job would be to recreate the scene as closely as possible for the lighting and camera crews while Guy and Adam were off to wardrobe and make-up. It was pretty entertaining. I think I would definitely enjoy serving as Paul Reuben’s stand-in for the next Pee Wee Herman movie, especially if Tim Burton were directing it.

Nevertheless, eventually the original stand-in arrived, and I was directed back to the extras holding pen. Frankly, I can’t imagine arriving late for the first day of work for even a crappy job. But as one of the first waves of Generation Xers, what do I know about today’s kids? This slacker didn’t appear to be hung over, so I suppose he thought it was more pressing to stop at Einstein’s and grab a triple lima bean sprout latte with chive than it would be to make a good impression by arriving on time. The project assistant who had selected me from the extras pool indicated that they might send him home if he ever arrived, but this kid really did resemble Adam Scott- not just in height, but also had a similar body type and hair style. I would assume that these were the qualities the camera crew really needed more than punctuality. Besides, there was no way I could have committed to giving them 12-hour days for the next six weeks as I have to many things to do to get ready for the baseball season, and with my other graphics work.

Once back in the extras tank, I did my best to answer everyone’s questions about where I had been and what I had seen. Soon after my popularity wore off, it was time to fill out paperwork to ensure that everyone (including Uncle Sam) would get paid. Then I was sent to wardrobe. It was determined that I was too tall and/or skinny for the janitorial costume, and would be used as a random mall shopper. It was strange how the two extras dressed to portray janitors looked more like “real” janitors than did the people actually janitoring at the mall. The clothing technicians present decided they couldn’t do anything to make me look more like a random shopper than what I was wearing (unbuttoned dark green flannel over a brown sweatshirt, Levi’s, brown belt, and my work boots), so they sent me on to make-up. The cosmetologists remarked that I looked perfect as is, which made me suspect that they were working for tips.

Thus, it was back to the extras holding area for me, where I spent the next 45 minutes watching an old man and his wife attempt to finish filling out his W-4 and W-9 forms. I would venture a guess that this man had every single legal document that had crossed his sixty-some odd year path stuffed into his wallet EXCEPT for his Social Security card. Eventually, the movie people decided that he wasn’t going to be able to take direction well enough to serve as an extra, and was sent packing- reducing the pool to only nine people.

By now it had to be around 8:27 am, and the time for prolonged waiting had arrived. There are many ways to pass the time in situations like this, so feel free to print out my list and stick it in your billfold in case you ever need suggestions.

1. read magazines or books (personally, I find the atmosphere too distracting for reading, but then again, I am easily entertained)
2. eat/drink/smoke (besides being served a large breakfast and lunch, the catering wagon is always open for snacks)
3. watch the crew scurry about
4. take notes for your blog
5. rank the other extras based on who you feel is the greater BS artist
6. sleep (good luck on this one!)
7. try to look important (this game gets exponentially more difficult as the day progresses)
8. even further embellish your resume
9. compile a list of players for your pending fantasy baseball team

I think it is worth mentioning that the mall walkers were quite agitated by the film crew having moved into their turf. Although the entire production resulted in a substantial shock to their normal routine, I noted that it wasn’t enough to make even a single blue hair stray from the path worn into the carpeting. Certainly the event would have provided much in the way of conversation later that afternoon as the seniors gathered for dinner at Village Inn.

A thought crossed my mind as I watch these old-timers doing their best to prolong the inevitable. Why hasn’t anyone opened an oxygen kiosk in this mall, or in malls all across America? I would think that in addition to selling oxygen, you could do a pretty decent business if you stocked designer tanks, heart monitors and other related accessories.

Eventually, the production assistant in charge of keeping tabs on all the extras broke the news that the director had decided against using any of the mall shoppers, and we were sent home around two in the afternoon. As I drove home, I thought it would be awesome if someone would roll into downtown Albuquerque and cast a bunch of the homeless people as extras in a movie. After all, the homeless are well-suited for hanging around all day, and could benefit from a few square meals and some cash in their pockets.

So, you might be wondering if I would agree to work as an extra again in the future, or if it seems like too much hassle without a guaranteed return. I would say without question that I would, even if the movie seems like it will be tragically awful. It isn’t so much that I fancy myself being discovered and getting a chance to “act” professionally, but more along the lines of I wonder how I would look on the silver screen. Besides, if I ever make it into the final cut of a movie, it will make Christmas shopping for friends and relatives a snap for a change.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Saturday, February 05, 2005

casting call of the wild

I read online Friday morning about a casting call for extras taking place not far from home for a movie with the working title of “First Snow.” Although the name itself made me shiver and almost crawl back under the warm blankets, I decided that it might be interesting enough to warrant checking out.

Before hopping into the shower, I quickly printed off a self-portrait headshot and attached it to a current copy of my resume. I dressed for the type of role that I would have liked to been cast if chosen: a two-tone green thermal underwear shirt beneath a heavy pine green flannel, blue jeans, and my Redwing hiking boots.

The casting was being conducted by the Phoenix Agency in the Talent Street offices at 8809 Washington Street NE. Their studio is located in a decidedly industrial section near the northern edge of the city. There are no windows to speak of in the offices, but if the employees step out into the west parking lot they can enjoy a commanding view of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Park and the Rio Grande River valley where Alameda is situated. Inactive volcanoes dot the west mesa and snow-capped Mount Taylor is clearly visible some 50 miles to the west.

I arrived at the studio right around 11:00 am, a good hour after they had opened for auditions. Overall, the process was relatively unorganized. They had plenty of waiting space available in the hallways outside the suite, but no one from the company present to direct new arrivals into the main office where you had to sign in and pick up a numbered blue card on which you record your vital information. I received card numbered 170. I would think that 170 people showing up in the first hour to apply to be an extra in a movie is a decent turn out.

Probably it goes without saying (but I will anyway) that people watching was second to none! I entertained myself by observing the reactions of people when they first arrived and attempted to make some sort of sense of the scene. I was greatly amused by the people who eventually offered instructions to the new folks on what they needed to do to begin the process. These folks are clearly nicer than me, and should receive some sort of civic award for their efforts.

By noon, the crowd of applicants had swelled to over 270 people. Old folks, middle-aged people and youngsters of all imaginable races, and a representative sampling of all three sexes were present. There seemed to be a comparatively large number of mothers with young children present- every one of which reminded me of that unfortunate Ramsey kid from Colorado. Possibly I would understand parents trying to get their kids a role in a movie along the lines of ‘Seabiscuit” or “The Goonies,” but “First Snow?” What on earth could be going through their minds? From the limited information I’ve found online, the plot for “First Snow” appears to be a man’s life going down the tubes after a psychic predicts that he is going to die. The role of the man is going to be performed by Guy Pearce. And that’s really all I know about the film.

Some people in the crowd passed the time by reading cheesy novels, while others took advantage of the down time to further embellish their resumes. The majority of the rest seemed quite content to spend the entire time stamping their feet and complaining about how long they were being made to suffer. I suppose the waiting process does seem overwhelming to lots of people, especially any first timers. However, having worked as a extra for Suspect Zero and 21 Grams, I realized that this exercise was nothing compared to the amount of standing I’d be doing if I got selected out of the herd.

Interestingly, a good number of people present appeared to be represented by agents. I’m not sure what all you get with an agent other than an overpriced headshot, but it was obvious that some people had connections and were able to leap to the top of the waiting list immediately upon arrival. Possibly they had done work for this Phoenix Agency in the past or something. Certainly I noticed some familiar faces from the previous casting calls I had attended.

Without a doubt, the most interesting person there was a grouchy old cowboy (applicant no. 194) wearing a gold belt buckle the size of Laguna. At one point he lit up a Winston in the hallway, and then deflected the numerous scowls fired in his direction by muttering, “I don’t see any no smoking signs.” After adjusting his brown sweat-stained cowboy hat, the man resumed his previous activity of staring at high school girls.

My name was called around 1:00 pm, at which point I was led to a hallway inside the main office and instructed to sit in the last of some eight or nine office chairs. Ahhh…. finally some structure and order amidst all the chaos! One by one people at the far end of the line were called into an office, while the rest of us played musical chairs to the sound of silence. Everyone’s spirits in this hallway were definitely elevated as it became obvious that the wait was nearing an end.

Eventually I met with the casting agent. She was a very nice woman who showed no sign of stress even though she still had to interview hundreds of more people before she could stick a fork in the day. She indicated that she "liked my look," and was going to recommend using me in “the pub scene” (scheduled to be filmed February 22nd) pending approval by the director.

Be sure to tune in next week for further adventures in the New Mexican film industry.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Garcia's Cafe

Garcia's Cafe- 1736 Central Ave SW, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Timmy doesn't live here anymore

I snapped this photo earlier today while on walkabout in the areas surrounding downtown Albuquerque and the historic Huning Highland district. There is little doubt in my mind that this tree once served as the majestic living foundation of one of the finest tree houses ever constructed in the Rio Grande Valley. Today, this ladder into the sky stands as a silent reminder of lost childhood dreams and adventures.

As I slip into my mental time machine, the sun dissects the sky from the western horizon to the east approximately 11,473 times- at least as quick, if not more so, than a Nolan Ryan fastball. The effect is quite blinding so I shut my eyes. When I open them again they are stinging slightly with sweat, and my mouth tastes of dirt- Midwestern dirt.

I’m standing knee deep in a large hole that my older brother Kevin and I are digging next to the old shed in the backyard of my youth. It is a Saturday. It is summer. The fact that we had made so much progress by mid-morning must indicate that we had already seen that week’s episode of Land of the Lost.

I don’t remember “why” we had decided to dig a hole that day, but only the sense of urgency in that we both knew it would have to be completed before nightfall. We dug like madmen to be sure, pausing only briefly to investigate rusty horseshoes and other interesting objects as they were unearthed.

The hole measured perhaps 4 to 5 feet square, and perhaps as much as 4 feet deep by the time our neighbors Ron and Jack were allowed out of their house and came over to see what we were doing. Their younger brother Joel wasn’t able to come outside that day as he had been grounded- having been caught, I believe, wearing his father’s underwear. As quickly as they saw our project, Ron and Jack dashed home and soon returned with shovels of their own.

For some odd reason, four people digging with shovels tend to move more than twice the amount of soil as only two people digging with shovels. This is true! In fact, it has been my observation that possibly the only way one could sabotage that equation is to hand one of the four people a PhD. Well, be that as it may, on that particular day we expanded the area of our excavation by double in a flash and were soon down to a depth where even the bravest of earthworms feared to tread. I was convinced that we must have been nearing the center of the earth when I caught what I thought then was a good whiff of brimstone. (Now however, based on my better understanding of the makeup of our planet, confined spaces and people in general, I believe that what I probably had experienced was one of Jack’s farts.)

We decided that there was really no need for our hole to extend any deeper since none of us spoke Chinese nor liked Chinese food. Lunch had really never entered into our minds. Instead, our tiny brains were preoccupied with designing a wooden bridge over our pit, and constructing walls on the western side of the hole to fend off possible attacks from teenage hooligans who would ride dangerously near while navigating our town’s alleys on their bicycles so they could smoke cigarettes without being noticed by adults.

I swear, I have no idea where all the lumber came from that we used that afternoon. Some came from under the shed, and quite possibly the rest was removed from the shed itself. Nevertheless, it was all put to good use.

It must have been around 5:00 that evening when our dad ventured onto the back porch of our house, and eventually made his way back to our happy little construction camp. I doubt that any of us could have been prouder as he stood silently and surveyed the scene we had created with our own hands, sweat, and blood- and a good deal of his lumber. Obviously, he could tell that our substantial fortress would serve us well in any future dirt clod war that we found ourselves engaged in. We had plans for making the thing completely enclosed before the end of autumn, as our fort would prove essential to our desire to dominate the neighborhood snowball fights that coming winter. It would also be used as a swell place where we could sleep outside, and as a base camp for a wide variety of top-secret nocturnal reconnaissance missions. Of course it would also be used as a clubhouse where Ron and I would trade baseball cards.

My dad said nothing as he studied the earthen embankments surrounding our unfilled moat. We simply hadn’t had time to run the garden hose over to fill the darned thing- having wasted too much time discussing where we would purchase an alligator, and trying to guess how much one might cost.

Surely he could tell how much effort we had invested in our labors simply by the amount of dirt that covered our faces, hands, and clothing. It seemed like an eternity before we got a reaction from him, but given that he is a math teacher, he probably had to first calculate how many buckets full of sediment we had removed to create the hole. Most likely, he was also marveling at the fine bridge we had built and was dreaming of the day when we would all become engineers.

Finally the silence was broken. He said, “Nice hole. Now fill it in.” With that, he returned to the house and the relative sanity of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. I remember exchanging looks of disbelief with my brother and our friends- as if we were ballplayers and the weatherman had just forecast freezing rain on opening day. It was awful!

Interestingly, and I wonder if anyone is still reading this, it didn’t take nearly as long to fill in the hole as it did to create it. My brother gets most of the credit for having figured out that we could fill it in very quickly by tossing in all the lumber and other stuff first.

From time to time, I wonder about the people who live in that old house now. Do they ever look out the window and wonder about the origin of the large depression next to the old shed? Probably, the old shed and depression no longer exist, but in their place stands a “modern,” yet aging two-car garage.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

wanna bet?

I am very excited about a gift that arrived unexpectedly in the mail yesterday! You see, when the in-laws were out for a visit to help ring in the New Year, it was determined that all I was lacking to make me truly happy was a plastic playing card caddy. I had been looking for one in all the obvious places… Toys R Us, Target, local pawn shops, etc., but no one seemed to have any in stock. Imagine if you can, my surprise when I opened the cardboard Miles Kimball box that the mailperson delivered and pulled out my very own SEE THRU cardholder. As if clear isn’t kool enough, this model also has a sort of lazy Susan base that allows it to rotate a full 360 degrees. Although I haven’t tested this yet, I have a theory that if you spin the caddy fast enough, you can completely eliminate the need for a dealer.

Given that I have spent a good deal of time over the past six months writing product descriptions for a web-based, southwestern building supply company, I couldn’t help surfing over to the Miles Kimball website to see for myself what they had to say about this amazing product. My favorite portion of the description reads, “Clear plastic holder keeps the deck and discard piles neatly separate, prevents confusion.” Yeah right… “prevents confusion”- if anything, it will only delay confusion. Nevertheless, if you play card games and don’t own a card caddy, I recommend that you buy one today. If not today, then do your best to pick one up no later than the end of the month. Keep in mind that February is one of the shortest months this year.

Sure, you might feel the urge to argue that playing cards won’t get my blogging done, but if you do, please email that complaint to me directly instead of adding it as a comment to my blog.

The card game being played in the photo is Phase 10. For readers unfamiliar with the game, I would have to describe it as an addictive combination of Uno and Yahtzee- but without all the screaming. The game is actually pretty laid back, more like Canasta- except with more colorful cards. If you’ve never played Phase 10… DON’T! Instead, take up something less frustrating like juggling or jogging or both.

Thinking back to the abovementioned visit, I recalled an event that was so amazing my subconscious had pretty much blocked it out entirely. While we were enjoying dinner at the diner, Mark (my father-in-law) made liars out of Buddy Hackett, Tim Conway, and a host of other celebrity spokespeople by eating a single wavy Lay’s brand potato chip. That’s right… JUST one! It was one of those moments that define an entire meal. I have to admit that I was very impressed. I guess I bought into the whole marketing strategy of Lay's that eating a single chip was an unobtainable quest. After all, how can you argue with a slogan that has been around longer than yourself? I celebrated Mark’s magnificent achievement by adding a second handful of chips onto my plate.