Whitley and I just had a week of amazing adventure: Doing a “cameo” on the set of a major motion picture.
It was a classic movie set, with security guards stationed everywhere and people of all races and colors walking around doing “ordinary” things, such as drinking coffee or talking on their cellphones, while dressed in outlandish “Star Trek”-type costumes, with huge purple or orange wigs and monster masks. When we passed one actor who seemed to have strange, “alien” eyes, Whitley whispered to me, “If that guy isn’t wearing contacts, I’m going home!”
I decided to wear one of the wigs I have leftover from the days when my head was shaved when I had the shunt put into my scalp. So I wouldn’t have to wear wigs forever, my hairdresser and I have developed what might be called a “shunt cut” for me. This sounds faintly obscene, but it’s really just a cut and color that hides the lump on my head. However, this means my hair is very short and layered, so I thought a wig would look better (in the photo that goes along with my diaries, I’m wearing ANOTHER wig, not the one I wore on the set). Since so many other people were wearing them (and outlandish ones too), I felt right at home.
The director, however, wore the usual “director’s uniform” of baggy shorts, sneakers and a baseball cap. He’s a new friend whose film includes a UFO convention, so he decided to put up a booth on the set just for us. Our call the first day was for 7:30 in the morning, meaning we had to get up at 5:30, since the set is an hour’s drive away from our home and we wanted to eat breakfast, because we didn’t know what there would be to eat when we arrived.
We were afraid to skip breakfast the first day, but we discovered they feed you well on a movie set (if they didn’t, the actors and crew would probably mutiny!) There are always trucks parked nearby dispensing coffee and tea and there is a “craft service” table with snacks on it (but some of this stuff can be lethal, you have to stay away from the chips and donuts).
I heard some great stories while I was there. I asked if I could wear green during the shoot and the wardrobe mistress brought me a green top to wear without questioning why. She told me a great story: Her father-in-law is a director who had an actor on one of his films who was HATED by the crew. This actor used a cane, so every day when he was in front of the camera, some crew members would take his cane and file down the bottom of it. They did this a little bit at a time, so he wouldn’t suspect anything, but he gradually needed to lean over further and further in order to use it.
They got even with him another way as well. When the film was about to “wrap,” he demanded to keep his wardrobe (taking home clothes is something that is frowned upon). So when we was done wearing some of these items on the set, the wardrobe people altered them (ever so subtly) to make them just a little bit smaller, so he’d think he’d gained weight when he took them home.
The only thing missing from the set was “little people.” There always used to be a dwarf or two on a movie set, since they would wear, or manipulate, all the special effects. Computer- generated “cgi” effects have eliminated that entire industry (which is sad).
On the last day, we got a “call” at the last minute, so we threw on our clothes, I grabbed my wig, and we tumbled into the car. Since it was during the rush hour, it took us two hours to get there, but when we finally arrived, we found they hadn’t set up the shot yet. This is typical of movie- making, which is the art of “hurry up and wait.” Some of the jobs are complex, while others seem easy, but not everyone could do even the simple ones, because it takes a special kind of mentality: you have to be able to sit through hours of tedium and boredom when you’re not needed, then be ready to spring up and do a perfect job when you are. If the director decides he wants to redo a scene, but in moonlight this time, the gaffer (the lighting man?who can be identified because he?s festooned in clothespins and is wearing rolls of tape on his belt) has to be able to manipulate the lights and gels to produce that effect, usually within a few minutes.
Since no one was on the set when we arrived, we figured it must be dinner time, and when we checked it out, we found we were correct, so we had a lovely prime rib meal. And we earned it later! Along with a large group of extras, we did the same scene, again and again, for hours, but we finally got it right and the film was wrapped. We staggered back to our car, only to find that it was 2 a.m. This time we got home in 20 minutes.
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