quick review of our cast of characters:
- Rosamund, actress playing Amy Dunne (stand-in: Jody)
- Lola, actress playing Greta (stand-in: Sidney)
- Boyd, actor playing Jeff (stand-in: me)
- David Fincher, director
- Courtenay, 1st assistant director
- Mollie and Paul, 2nd assistant directors
- Ryan and Yarden, production assistants
- Tom, wardrobe manager
Yesterday (Saturday) I was scheduled for my last day working as a stand-in on the set of Gone Girl. Call time was 5:12pm. I knew from looking at the schedule a couple days before that they were shooting a night scene at the Arena Golf mini golf course and driving range. I figured I’d just ride my bike over there and see what was up.
Well by now you know it wouldn’t be a normal day for me at Gone Girl if I wasn’t screwing something up. I got past security and rode into the parking lot and started locking my bike to a telephone pole.
“Sir, I’m sorry, you can’t park your bike there,” Mollie said from across the lot. I turned around and she saw it was me. “Oh, hi hon, can you move your bike over by the batting cages?”
I obliged. Then I walked over and asked her if that was where I was supposed to check in. “No, base camp is down the road a couple blocks by the Arena building.” Oh god.
I hopped in one of the vans that was making the rounds. I was on time when I arrived at the set, but now it was 5:14. Of course the van circuit takes the most direct path from base camp to the set, but a huge scenic route from the set to base camp… at 5:17 Ryan called me.
“Hey man, you almost here?”
“Yea… I’m in a van on the way to base camp. I rode my bike to the set…”
“Ok, well always come and check in at base camp first, then we’ll get you to the set.” You know, I really should have known this by now.
When I arrived at the big line of trailers parked where the fair was just a week ago, I went inside and got my voucher from Ryan. He led me out the door toward the wardrobe trailer to get my colors. Another crew member saw the t-shirt I was wearing and said, “whoa, nice shirt man!”
Ryan looked at me. “What’s on your shirt?”
I turned toward him and straightened it out. “Oh, Breaking Bad,” he said. “That’s cool. I worked on that.”
“WHAT??” But there was no time to explain. I’d have to get it out of him later. Tom came out of the wardrobe trailer and led me to another trailer with a bunch of changing rooms in it. I donned my colors and hopped in a van to go back to the set. I got there at 5:25, 5 minutes before rehearsal time. Phew.
Crew was still unloading and setting up lights, electrical, and camera equipment. David started working with the actors. In the scene, Jeff, Greta, and Amy play mini golf while discussing their hardships with love. Amy accidentally drops her money belt, piquing Greta’s criminal interest. They ran through it 4 or 5 times while we stand-ins took a few notes.
Courtenay called second team up and we went to do our thing. David discussed the angles with the camera men Peter and Jeff while lining up shots on us. We didn’t deliver lines today but did go through the actions the actors did. We then waited for the sun to set so the lighting crew could set up their lamps, screens, and reflectors to light the scene.
During all this, Jody was beginning to feel sick. She was weak in the knees and a little shaky, but still high in spirit. After that first round of standing in, they sent her home to recover and put in a call for an emergency replacement. The girl that arrived was named Nicolette. She got the usual crash course and trial by fire that we had all been through.
After that it was business as usual. David ran take after take, walking up to confer with the actors every couple of cuts. At one point he made the joke, “don’t worry, after 25 takes you’ll be bored as shit and we’ll have something usable.” At least he has a sense of humor about his methods.
It was around this time that something unexpected happened. Earlier this week, only the three above mentioned actors were on the call sheet. This time, there were two additional ones – Lisa Banes, playing Marybeth, and Ben Affleck, playing Nick Dunne. They didn’t have scenes, but were scheduled for hair and makeup consultations. I figured they would be stealthed in to base camp to work with the staff there; I was wrong.
During one of the takes around 8:00, Sidney turned around and her eyes widened. “Oh my god…” she said, and motioned toward the van that just pulled up behind us. I turned around to see the Batman himself walk by. I tell you, seeing Ben Affleck in the flesh in Cape Girardeau of all places is quite surreal.
He walked up to the clubhouse and around the fence that surrounds the mini golf course. Everyone saw him and sort of paused as he walked up to David. “Hey, straight in from New York, huh?” David asked. They conversed for a moment and then it was back to work.
Ben hung out for about an hour and then disappeared, assumedly back to base camp for his hair and makeup consultation. He reappeared a while later and hung out behind David, watching the monitors. One of the ladies asked, “David, how do you like Ben’s hair?”
David turned around and acted shocked, then said, “just kidding. It looks great!”
Throughout working on this job I’ve had friends and family tell me to take pictures and tell David this or ask Ben that. I do wish I could do those things, but there is a strong etiquette that I’ve picked up from the crew that is basically, “do not approach unless you are from within The Circle.” The Circle being the small group of people who’s job it is to actually deal with the protected people like David and Ben and Rosamund. Even Boyd and Lola are nearly on that level, though I have had the opportunity to get to know those two a little bit. There is also a strict no-camera policy on the set. They are cool with phone use, but I can only imagine that the consequences for taking a picture are dire indeed.
And I get it. These people do this for a living, and they have their lives interrupted in public enough as it is… the last thing they need is for people to do it on the job too. I have developed a new respect for what they do. The ones who have made it big don’t just get to go out and be famous and it’s all fun and games all the time; they work their asses off for their shows. They put in 12+ hour days six days a week for months on end to make their art of film, and it is exhausting. It must be difficult after all that to not have any privacy anywhere they go – having people look over their shoulder to see what they are buying at the supermarket or photographers ambushing them when they walk outside. And there are some celebrities that handle their fame with grace and some that don’t, but if it were me, I think I would appreciate any opportunity to lead as much of a “normal” life as possible.
So I haven’t yet asked David if I can have Gwyneth Paltrow’s severed head, and may not get the opportunity to either. And that’s ok. Of course it’s very easy for me to say that since I’ve been so lucky to be chosen as a stand-in and get to experience the film making process first hand. I can tell you that everyone I have spoken to in the production is extremely friendly–way more than I expected. They are all great people. They just live and breathe inside a pressure cooker, and so there is this etiquette that forms around them when you are working with them.
Back to stories. Ben hung around until 11:00 or so, then left, walking right by me as I was sending a text. I barely noticed until he was right there, but it’s just as well. He seemed like a cool guy. And he does not look like he’s 41.
After the usual 30 takes from the 2nd camera setup, David called lunch. Haha, lunch. At 11:30 at night. I guess Ryan wasn’t joking earlier when he said if I had come to base earlier I could have joined them for breakfast. We all piled into the vans and rode back. We were greeted with a spectacular dinner provided by For Stars Catering. Roast steak, some kind of chicken, grilled sea bass, asparagus, fried potatoes, salad, italian bread, and creamy tomato soup. And for desert, chocolate chip cookies that were actually baked by a person (as opposed to store-bought that we got at Giant City last week), and that kind of fancy pudding that has an egg on top, or on the bottom, or something. What’s it called? I don’t know. I went with the cookie. It was good, but I regret not expanding my food horizons with the pudding since that is my default m.o.
Ryan sat down with us and I asked him for some Breaking Bad stories. He gave me the look I thought he might give, the one that said, “I don’t know, I do this every day and there is nothing special about it any more.”
“Come on man,” I said, “you don’t have any cool stories from working on BREAKING BAD??”
“Well, I can tell you that the most fun we had was the train heist scene. We filmed that for four days up in Santa Fe. It was beautiful there.”
That was it? Wow, you are super jaded, Ryan. Although, from my day and a half of being a P.A., it doesn’t seem like they get too close to the action too often, so it makes sense.
He continued: “you know they filmed season six–well, the ‘2nd half of season five’… whatever–in the winter?”
“Whoa!” I thought about it, and I remember the most recent episodes looking devil hot as usual. “That was all in the winter?”
“Yea, and it was cold as shit. You know the scene where Cranston is burying the barrels of money in the desert? Yea, he was down there on the frozen ground doing that and he’s supposed to look like he’s sweating; they had to mist him down in between takes.” Wow. That is awesome.
I finished dinner and decided to head back to the set a few minutes early since I was jonesing for coffee and found out where they were hiding it from one of the extras (I was unsuccessful in my search earlier in the night). Sidney came with me, and lo and behold they had the food carts out in the parking lot when we got there. Sweet. I filled up my cup and turned around to go wait inside in the warmth. (Something I forgot to mention – the temperature was dropping continuously all night and I was officially freezing my balls off. And the poor extras were wearing shorts, short sleeves, and tank tops for hours in the background… poor saps.) As I turned I saw someone was right behind me headed to the coffee cart, and as we entered the “let’s get out of each other’s way” dance, I saw that it was none other than Fincher himself. Fuck me!
“Sorry!” I said as I let him by. I backed toward the club house and watched to see if Sidney would realize who it was. Then he asked her what she thought of standing in and if she was bored.
“No! I’m just trying to take it all in and enjoy every minute of it!” Dammit Sidney, I’ve been waiting for that conversation all week! Oh well. If not me, I’m glad it was you. I turned back around and headed inside. She followed me in with a big grin on her face. Lucky!
Second team started off on set at 12:22am, the official back-to-work time. David was going back and forth with Peter the camera man. They discussed different strategies and camera placements to get good closeups of the actors while we stood there to provide perspective. When everything was decided and the orders were given, the camera crew went about setting them up. Peter drew a small orange bottle from his jacket and asked, “who’s with me?”
Everyone looked around at each other waiting for any takers. Courtenay said, “I would, but it does weird things to me. And I’ll never get to sleep.”
“It does weird things to me too.” He pointed to David. “But I’ll be ok as long as he doesn’t call a wrap in the next two hours.”
“Suck it down, Peter,” David said. We all laughed.
Lisa Banes showed up a little after 2am. At first I thought she was Rosamund’s mom. The two look a lot alike. She didn’t arrive with the same silent fanfare Ben did – probably a travesty – but she seemed to be in good spirits. She had been through hair and makeup already and was there to have David check her out. He liked what he saw. She left right after.
By now I had fetched the jacket I brought from my backpack. Even with three layers I had to stand up and dance around to keep warm. But I was experiencing the moment to the fullest. On previous days I had been behind too many people or too far from the action to really feel the vibe. I had seen the technical side of film, and enjoyed learning how the crew works like a machine to make it happen, but this was something different. I was finally close enough to hear and see David work directly with the actors to forge the characters from them.
Most of the work with Lola and Boyd was done by that point and he was concentrating on getting what he wanted out of Rosamund. They ran the same half dozen lines over, and over, and over.
AMY: I was going to kill myself. Can you believe that?
JEFF: Don’t give him the pleasure.
AMY: I was going to drown myself in the Gulf of Mexico, let myself be dinner for great whites-
GRETA: Gulf is bull sharks, Miss Nawlins.
AMY: Why should I die? I’m not the asshole.
JEFF: Put that on a t-shirt.
I was watching Rosamund the entire time. David was finding something in her I hadn’t seen yet. Until now I hadn’t heard her deliver enough lines to really know what I thought of her. There was the water tower scene last week, but that was more of a playful scene. Here she was tapping into something different… she was tapping into Amy Dunne.
I haven’t read Gone Girl. And to be honest, odds are I probably won’t. But there was a moment during this streak of takes where Rosamund really got to me. This sounds cheesy, I know. But here I was, on my last day of shooting a Hollywood movie that after tonight would go on without me as if I were never there, and I was taking in every sensation I could. Rosamund found a place where, when she delivered the line about drowning herself, I felt like I was there. I was there with Amy, empathizing with her. It was a shocking, almost out-of-body experience… she was no longer an actress from England done up in makeup to look like she’s wearing a disguise… she was a person who was in the midst of desperate circumstances, and was reliving them with me.
I teared up as she reached that pinnacle with David. I realized Rosamund is a spectacular actress and I should be ashamed for never knowing of her before. She is going to be incredible in this movie, especially with David hammering away at her like he does. He is like a blacksmith. With time, care, and precision, he is slowly forging the characters from the actors, his ingots. I wasn’t expecting to be so affected by an actress’s performance, especially considering the repetition involved in Fincher’s sets. But Rosamund found something incredible, let it out, and it was caught on tape.
Since I’ve now passed into Longest Blog Entry territory, let’s lighten it up a little bit. There was another funny moment… sometime during the night. During 10 hours of filming you lose track; everything sort of runs together. After the asshole line, Rosamund putts the ball and makes a hole in one. Of course no one can do such a thing on demand, so she just hit the ball, waited for Courtenay to grab it from off camera, then acted out her celebration after stepping to a certain mark. Well, one time she actually did make the hole in one and continued right with her act. After David cut, she let out a “woooo-hooooo!”
David approached the set and reminded her that she needed to go back to her mark and then do the celebration. She apologized, and he laughed, saying, “I’m all for people being in the moment. Just not on set.”
By 3:30am, after I had had my moment living in Amy’s world, the hours were wearing on everyone. I was reminded of what a different world I come from where things like this are incredibly special. I looked around and half the crew were either sitting with their heads in their hands or were on their phones. Understandable if this is your day job. But I was enjoying myself despite the foggy cold of night.
It was clear, though, that we were getting close. The camera angles they were changing to were becoming more specific, more honed in. They were calling for second team, but Jeff was no longer in the shot. They used Sidney and Nicolette (who I got to know just a little bit and seemed like a very nice girl) to focus the cameras on Amy as she picks her ball up from the hole. First team came in and they did the usual many many takes of the scene. Then they finally wrapped Lola and Boyd.
I didn’t end up saying goodbye to Boyd; by that time things were moving quickly and we were all ready to get out of there. I don’t know if it was a good or a bad thing. I mean, I guess I regret not expressing the pleasure it was to work with him. It was something I’ll never forget. He is a great guy and I wish him well. He treated me with respect and I tried my best to do my part to make his job easier. Throughout all my time watching him I noticed all the little things he does to bring life to his character. Hopefully his career blossoms and he nails bigger and bigger roles. He has a great personality and really is a good actor.
As for Lola, well you know my feelings about her. (Erika, don’t get mad at me.) She takes your breath away when she is near you but she is also completely down to earth and treated me and the other stand-ins like real people. We were her co-workers. I did say goodbye to her and will always remember that crazy beautiful smile she has. You’ll see it… I’m sure David will pick some stunning ones to show on film.
Sidney and I waited around to get wrapped… at that point there was nothing more to do. We were seen by Mollie and Courtenay standing there after Lola and Boyd left, but they didn’t give us the signal. Man… so tired. At that point it was something like 5:15am. They were moving the cameras to one final position: a closeup of Rosamund dropping the money belt. It was one camera positioned at her feet. She jumped and a prop guy would drop the belt. David had them do it again and again and again without even cutting.
At around 5:30am he finally called it a wrap, and I got the hell out of there. I rode my bike back to base camp, checked out with Ryan, changed, and returned my colors to Tom. As I walked back to where my bike was parked, I ran into Paul, who stopped me.
A brief backstory: Saturday morning I received a call from Tom at the casting company. He dropped a bomb on me. He said they were thinking of using me as a stand-in for… Neil Patrick Harris. That’s right, the story has now come full circle. I was once again in the running for standing in for NPH! I told him HELL YES.
“Have you been having fun working as a stand-in so far?”
“Oh man, how do I answer that question? It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done!”
“Wow man, that’s great! What’s your story?” he asked.
“Well… I’m a senior Computer Science student headed for a career as a software developer, but then this came along, and I’m just trying to make the most of it, you know?”
“Oh, we’re not fucking up your school, are we?”
Heh, probably not. “No man, I’m cool with most of my professors, and I turned in all my work for this week early, so it’s all good.”
“Great. Well I need to talk to Paul but I’ll be giving you a call back with more information.” Haha!
So after working all night and seeing Paul around the set, wondering if Tom from casting had talked to him yet, here we were face to face. “So Zach, are you coming back to work with us Monday?”
Ahahahahaaa!!! “I don’t know. Am I coming back??”
“Well I know we’d love to have you back. Did Tom say anything about your hair?”
“Yea, he said I’d need a shave and a haircut. It’s no problem. They’re just accessories.”
“Ok,” Paul said. “Well depending on who you ask, Neil is about six feet tall, and he only works four days. It would be Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and one day in October which we still need to work out. I’d like to keep you here since we know you already, but you still need to go to the line-up on Monday.”
“You got it. I’m there.”
“Good. Tom will call you with a time. And if you don’t get picked, maybe we can get you back as a P.A. for a few days and get you some more work.” Aww, thanks Paul!
I have talked to the guy exactly as many times as I have detailed on this blog. But he is, like everyone else I run into around the set, awesome as hell. Super cool, super nice… oh hell, you know this could all just be confirmation bias.
As I rode home I could see the first inklings of the sunrise on the eastern horizon. When I got home I covered the bedroom windows with blankets and, despite my elevated heart rate from the ride, fell right to sleep. Right now I don’t know if I’ll still be working for Gone Girl or if my moment in the sunshine is over, but I know I’m going to that interview tomorrow with a freshly shaven baby face (the haircut is only necessary if I’m hired again). Hopefully I’ll have more to tell here soon.