all posts in this blog series will probably contain spoilers… YE BE WARNED!
If every day goes like today did, then I will have so much to write about that these posts are going to get longer and longer. I love sharing all the gory details but I realize the story can be told without them, so from here on out I will put the summary points in bold at the bottom in case you want to skip to the bottom tl;dr style and get to the major points. If not, read on and see how it all happened.
First off, I need to set the record straight here. Remember how they like to give me as little information as late as possible? Me, the guy who consciously refrains from speaking in absolutes when I don’t know something absolutely, let a big one slip. I am not standing in for Neil Patrick Harris. I am standing in for Boyd Holbrook who is playing the Jeff character. My previous assumption was surely born out of hope and ignorance. IMDB doesn’t have an actor listed for Jeff yet (you heard it here first!) so there was nothing to go on except that NPH is blonde and we might have the same builds… who knows.
Anyway, the morning started off with a bang. Remember how I was supposed to get in a van at 8:30 to be shuttled to the set? Well it turns out that said van never existed. There was no scheduled shuttle after 7:30. After a couple phone calls to the folks at the casting office it was decided that I needed to drive. No big deal, except that I was 20 minutes away from a place I needed to be in 20 minutes. That’s a terrible feeling.
I drove like a bat out of hell heading for the address that I typed into my phone at 8:40. It turned out to be a location in the nearby Giant City State Park (an awesome place that I need to revisit as a tourist). The highway turned into this windy park road and of course addresses in online directories lose all meaning when you cross the boarder into state park territory. I sped around the who-knows-how-big park until I finally stumbled upon the base camp. I made my way in at 9:03, thinking I had committed a major fuckup… in Hollywood if you’re on time, you’re late…
But it turns out they weren’t filming any Jeff scenes anyway. I think there was an optional one they might have filmed if they had time… but, haha. “Have time.” Today I finally got to witness the real inner workings of AAA movie production. And boy was it both like and unlike what I expected. But first, the waiting.
Yes, more waiting. Waiting in the wardrobe/dining room with all the extras. Waiting for hours and hours. They finished filming the first scene right before lunch. A family of 4 extras walked in and told us about their experience hauling luggage into a cabin over and over and over for 100+ takes over four hours. What… that is absurd! 100+? It was the kids telling the story but Dad backed them up the whole time, so I took their word for it. As we all went through the lunch buffet line and sat down, the production crew started piling in. And with them, in walked the man himself as well as the girl playing Greta, Lola Kirke (she is stunningly beautiful… those photos on IMDB don’t do her justice).
Most everyone including myself have been preparing themselves to not be starstruck when these people come around (although my Starstrike Protection Buffer did run out later and got me in a tiny bit of trouble…). They sat down across the room from where I and most of the other extras were seated. “Cool,” I thought. “It’s David Fincher in real life.” They disappeared before lunch was over and I quickly got back to doing nothing.
There was a lady with a staff badge that was hanging out with the kid extras who I could only describe as the official staff grandma. She spent all her time playing with the kids and keeping them occupied with origami and other various art projects. She was really sweet. There was even a crew member who came in at one point and made an origami dragon for the kids. I thought that was pretty cool. Unfortunately, Ryan came in at one point and sent two of them home without getting to be filmed. They had waited all day for nothing, and were understandably destroyed about it. It was sad.
So cut to some time later – Paul the assistant director came in and sat down by me. I thought it might have been time for me to finally do some standing in. I was wrong.
“So, Zach. How would you like to learn to be a P.A.?” (Production Assistant)
*deer in headlights* “Are you serious?”
He said yes, and told me how one of the crew had a family emergency and had to fly out the next day. They were short staffed as it was, and the offer was on the table. I accepted.
“Alright guys,” he said on the radio. “Zach’s going to be our new P.A., which should be a lot more fun than reading… ‘dark blade’ or whatever it is he’s got here.” (It was a book of poetry by Charles Bukowski that the girl I was sitting by graciously lent to me to keep my mind occupied.) And with that, in walked Ryan and another guy named Yarden.
“Zach, this is Yarden. He’s gonna hook you up with a radio. Do what he says.”
Ok! Yarden, who is from some place where they have cool accents, wired me up with a secret service style radio complete with earpiece. “Ok Zach. Keep this radio safe and give it back to me at the end of the week, or I will cut off your balls.” I started laughing as he continued the bit: “why are you laughing? This is serious. And you know what the director looks like? Well if you see him, turn around and walk the other way. Don’t go within 15 feet of that guy.” Working with Yarden is going to be fun.
Here’s what I felt like wearing my earpiece:
And here’s what I looked like wearing it:
It was extremely awkward for about an hour trying to get used to having conversations spontaneously erupt in my earpiece while still having to participate in reality around me. There is also a protocol where someone echos the director’s commands over the radio so everyone can coordinate across the whole area. Imagine a stream of “Rolling. Action. Cut. Reset. Rolling. Action. Reset. Action. Reset. Action. Cut.” along with coordination comms in between each command constantly rolling through the radio. It is very confusing at first. Because of this I missed the first couple radio comms that were directed at me.
My first task was to keep the dining room and bar on “lockdown”, meaning just make sure everyone was quiet and no one stumbled their way into the set or into the camera’s view. Never mind the fact that I didn’t even know what “lockdown” meant until Mollie poked her head in the door and said, “hey stand-in/P.A., did you hear ‘get dining room locked down’? That’s you.”
“Oh… sorry…” HURF DURF. A few minutes later she also demonstrated how to scold someone for being too noisy, such as a bartender doing their job by washing and stacking glasses, which incidentally creates noise that carries across 2 rooms and a hallway straight into the microphones on set. I tried my best to be as apologetic as possible to the other bartender and busboy who I had to get onto about that. I’m a lover, not a fighter!
I started to get the ropes and eventually the staff got the picture that today was not a normal day and performed their tasks with the silence of ninjas. In return, they got to peek through the door at the set in the lobby of the lodge building we were in, where they were filming Rosamund entering the room 28 times. At that point I got to watch as well and see Fincher at work. Sometimes he would see something wrong and cut early, give directions, reset, and call action again. Other times he would study the video just taken by the cameras and pick out details to improve upon. He seems to be very meticulous with his work, which probably explains why he is one of the best. Needless to say it was an awesome sight, and I could hardly believe it was really happening.
In the dining room, state park visitors were greeted with the treat of getting to sit down for lunch and watch a movie being produced out the window. It was pretty cool. There was a couple there, Alan and Elizabeth, who came to the park for lunch but decided to stay all day to watch the production. They were super cool and had an awesome attitude; grateful that they had stumbled upon such a thing and totally happy to cooperate with the production staff when we needed them to.
They finished the indoor shot and moved to take the outdoor shot of the same scene, Rosamund driving up and entering the building. Another reason why it takes 20+ takes is because with extras they are trying to time it just right so that this person walks by right as that person enters the camera view, then they pass the actress right at the moment she walks inside, etc etc. It’s quite the challenge to make it all flow and appear natural. For this shot my job was to lock down the lobby they were previously filming in. It was kind of a break since there were no tourists in there, just crew tearing stuff down.
After the first action, I realized Rosamund ends up inside the building with just me standing there acting like I know what’s going on. The door shut behind her and I heard reset over the radio. It took me a moment to think, “hey, maybe I’m supposed to inform the leading actress in this movie about this.” And of course by the time I opened my mouth Mollie stuck her head around the corner and called “reset!” The next time around I got it right and called reset when it came over the radio. Rosamund turned around, smiled at me, and walked out. It was a memorable moment.
At one point someone on the radio said “whoever’s locking down the lobby, can you look for David’s cell phone? He left it in there somewhere. It’s an iPhone.” Haha, what?
“Looking,” I said into my mic. I spotted it immediately, just sitting on a table. I was almost afraid to touch it for a moment… “found it,” I said. I grabbed it and walked toward the door to the hallway Mollie was in, and she popped her head in at the same time. I gave it to her and she gave me an attaboy. (Not condescendingly at all… she was so super sweet to me all day helping to get me on my feet.)
Dusk was setting in after about a dozen takes of that scene and it was time to move on to the final one of the day. Ryan sent me down the hill where they were setting up to film Rosamund walk in to her cabin. Here I finally got to see a stand-in in action since Rosamund was getting her hair and makeup adjusted. By that time the stand-in had it down and just took a couple directions from Fincher; then he could concentrate on getting the cameras to land where he wanted as they followed her.
It was about this time when I couldn’t contain my excitement about this whole thing. Along with some other folks, I was inching up to about 10 feet behind Fincher to watch from the same monitors he was watching and listen to him give directions.
“Zach. Zach!” I heard someone whispering harshly. I turned around to see Yarden motioning for me to follow him around an adjacent building. “What did I tell you about going near the director? Don’t make me cut off your balls.” Whoops. Yarden then tasked me with watching the parking lot and making sure no cars approached and interfered with the shot. That lasted about 10 minutes until Ryan and Mollie called me to go up to the other parking lot, the one the tourists were parked in, and help Yarden lock it down. I had to prevent anyone from leaving for the duration of our shoot at the cabin. Oh boy…
It turned out to be not as bad as I thought. I stopped six or seven cars, and all but one were cool with it. Alan and Elizabeth were in the mix too and asked if they could go down to the cabin and check out the set. I said, “you can try. They’ll probably intercept you once you get down there, and since I’m working for them I can’t really condone it…” but they went down and didn’t come back for a while, so I assume they got a decent view of the action. I hope they did, anyway.
The one that wasn’t cool with it was a couple that was rightfully upset at Paramount for ruining their day. The main hiking trail in the park was shut down, then I got on to them for being too noisy at the water tower (next to the cabin), and finally I couldn’t let them leave. I made friends with them before it was all over though, and helped squeeze them out before shooting was done. By that time Yarden was allowing people to leave as long as they took a right out of the parking lot instead of a left toward the set. Around 8:30 they wrapped up shooting and I was sent on my way to the dining hall for dinner.
Since I’m the newbie and didn’t really have to do any tear down work, I was the first one there. And lo and behold, there sat Lola Kirke eating a plate of food by herself. “Hi, I’m Lola! Who are you?” Uhwhaaa… nothing… no one… just go away!
“What do you do here?”
“Well I was hired as a stand-in for Jeff, but they upgraded (?) me to a P.A. today. You’re playing Greta, right?”
“Yea! …Is everyone coming in for dinner?”
“Oh, now I feel bad for making them sneak me pieces of chicken and stuff from the kitchen.”
We chatted for another minute. She took me by surprise there, but turned out to be very nice. I told her it was nice meeting her and she said the same, then dismissed myself from the room before barfing up some kind of nonsense and looking like an idiot.
There’s not much else to this tale today. Tomorrow I head out to the van that leaves at 6:48am. That reminds me… it’s really late. 2600 words, are you serious…?
- I’m standing in for Boyd Holbrook, not NPH
- my ride to the set didn’t exist so I drove myself and got there 3 minutes late – STRESS
- got upgraded to Production Assistant
- relayed directions to Rosamund Pike
- located David Fincher’s missing iPhone
- the safety of my balls was threatened twice
- Lola Kirke is like when the prettiest girl at the dance talks to you and you’re completely unprepared