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Memoirs of a movie extra

Novel By: DJ Hawke

Tags: True, Movies

True stories of over 10 years of work, on various film sets, in and around Los Angeles. View table of contents...


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Submitted:Apr 22, 2014    Reads: 9    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   



Taking pictures is usually forbidden, on set, without permission. Casting discourages it 100%. It is done anyway, for many reasons. Memories. Blackmail. Financial gain. Espionage. You name it. I took them for the memories. Almost all were pictures of myself, and my colleagues, in various costumes. I suppose, technically you could say, financial gain, because I am sure some of my pictures, found their way into a casting office. In all honesty, I intended to keep them, for myself. I never got into trouble, for taking pictures, nor did I ever witness, anyone, who did. You would be amazed, at the things, you can do on set, if you are not stupid about it. A lot of sets have extremely relaxed rules, but there is no negotiating, on some sets. Some sets make you accept legal liability, for discussing the film, with the press, or taking pictures. Get caught taking pictures, on a Spielberg set, and see what that does for you. I promise a very bad day.

The next taboo, is pagers, and cell phones. When I began extra work, people still carried pagers. God help you, if your pager went off, while sound was rolling. God help you, if your pager went off, during a rehearsal. God help you if your pager went off. The same applies now, to cell phones. I have seen cast, and crew, family, and friends, as well as my colleagues, get chastised, for not shutting their cell phone, or pager off. I solved this little problem, by leaving my pager, in my car. Some would argue, "I can't do that, because casting might call me." To which I reply, "You just don't get it. You are at work. NOBODY should be calling you." Besides, I like being unavailable. It makes me unpredictable. This may have saved my life, for all I know. I have never had casting get angry at me, for being unavailable, while on set. Never.

This brings me to my final taboo, and that is speaking to principle actors. This is forbidden, because of the old adage, "Dollar, waiting on a dime." Someone getting 20 million dollars, per film, needs to focus on their work. Not listen to how much you love them, or hear you critique, their work, or give you an autograph, or pose for a picture, with you. Actors deal with this, almost everywhere they go, and we contribute, by making them endure this shit, at their job too. Just when you thought it was safe, to go to work. Is this the price of fame? Production companies disagree, and they pay the bills. I understand completely. If I am paying you 20 million dollars, I demand all of your attention, and all of your time, while at work. You want to sign autographs, do it off the clock. Our principle actor could risk costing the production company, more money, because of your desire, for an autograph. You have no idea what he, or she, has going on, so leave well enough alone.

The first principle actor, I ever spoke to, was Michelle Pfeiffer. We got on the same plane, and she was either right beside me, or right behind me. Suddenly it was way past midnight. I had never worked this close, to anyone, for this long, without speaking. I was scared of breaking this taboo, and losing my job. Again we walked down the jet way, until we were out of sight, of the camera, and waited. "Cut! Reset! Back to one!" the director barked. I heard a long sigh, from Ms. Pfeiffer. I looked at her, and decided any further silence, would be rude. "How are you doing?" She sighed again, "I'm tired," she replied, "I wish they would get this shot, so we could go home." I smiled at her, "Yeah, me too." I had spoken to Michelle Pfeiffer. I said 7 words. I violated the rule against speaking to principle actors, for the first time, and nothing was said, or done, about it. Nothing was ever said, or done about any of the principle actors, I had spoken to, over the years. I think I know why. I never critique their work. I try not to even mention, their work. I talk to them, the same as I would anyone else. I think they appreciate being treated like a person, instead of a celebrity. Especially when they are at work. I also tried not to initiate the conversation. In Ms. Pfeiffer's' case, I felt it unavoidable. To this day, I believe, if I had said to her, "You really looked hot, as Cat woman," I would have gotten a less positive response.

Being around, and working with celebrities, is a lot easier, for everyone involved, if you are not "star-struck." I spent 20 minutes, at a water cooler, talking to a pretty redhead, who I knew, I had seen before. We spoke of the weather, the change of seasons, how beautiful the Midwest is, in October, and other such things. Suddenly she said, "I have to go now, nice talking to you." She then disappeared into one of the many trailers, that are always on a movie set. When I returned to my seat, one of my colleagues, said to me, "Do you know who you were just talking to?" I shook my head, "No, but I know I've seen her somewhere before. She reminded me of my mom." "That was Maureen O'Hara," he informed me. I am grateful that I did not recognize her, until I was told, who she was. I would have been star-struck myself, and I doubt I could have carried on any sort of conversation, with her, while shaking in my shoes.

I will never forget meeting Buddy Ebsen. We got into a conversation, about being typecast. At the time, the Hollywood rumor mill was abuzz with news about Christopher Reeve. Apparently he was unhappy, with being typecast, as Superman. Buddy had been typecast as well. "Jed Clampett," and, "Barnaby Jones," had made it difficult for him to find other work, in Hollywood. When I asked him how he felt about it, he said, "You know, there are worse things that can happen to you, in Hollywood, than being typecast. Jed Clampett paid for my house, and I got a real nice place, in Palos Verdes." I guess, like everything else, it all depends on how you look at things.

There were others, but I do not want to sound like someone who is trying to impress you, with the number of celebrities, I've met. I'm just pointing out that talking to principle actors, on set, is only taboo, if you are stupid about it. Examples of stupidity. The guy who went up to Sally Field, and gushed about how much he loved, "The Flying Nun." The guy who got right in Arnold Schwarzenegger's face, and exclaimed. "I'll be back!" Arnold replied, "No you won't!" and production sent the guy home.

My friend Tony, and I, worked on the film, "Black Sheep." It starred Tim Matheson, and Chris Farley. Tony asked Mr. Farley for an autograph, and we got to see the best Chris Farley performance, ever. "What!" he screamed, "An autograph? Who is this low-life, scumbag, movie extra, asking me for a fucking autograph, when I'm working?!" My friend was thoroughly humiliated, in front of everyone there, and I was sure that the production company, would send him home, for his insolence. Then Mr. Farley said, "I'm just messing with you. What would you like me, to sign?" We all had a good laugh. If you can work, all day, without being stupid, no matter what, Show business is a lot of fun.


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