Sunday, February 22, 2015

An Oscars Special -- Movies vs. Theater

   Hello everyone, looks like it's wrapping up award season for the acting community with tonight's Academy Awards!  At the same time, I happen to be an extra in a small film in town that seems to be headed to a film festival.  I'm just an extra, but I'm learning some cool differences between the film and live theater industry!  I thought that in celebration of this season, I'd tell you all a bit about my experiences!  So, here we go!

Call Times  
     The first thing I noticed was call time versus the actual beginning of shooting.  In my experience with theater, you generally show up 15 minutes before call time and, at the given time, you rally the actors and start to do warm ups and discuss the day's plan.  However, when I went to my call time this time for a movie, there was a sign in and a long time of waiting.  I probably spent 20 minutes outside just waiting.  However, they did have a spread of snacks and waters and juice to tide everyone over.  There was also one girl running around with a clip board getting everyone to fill out paperwork calling me "Miss Galen" and constantly checking if I needed anything.  It was really interesting to see that they cared so much about their extras.  Finally, after a long time, the crew opened the door and asked for 5 volunteers.  I quickly slipped in with another girl and a few guys, leaving the other 3 or 4 extras outside.

The Set 
      The moment I stepped inside, I knew it was very different than a stage.  We were filming at a local bar/club with a stage in the back by the bar and a dance floor in another room.  The crew had occupied the entire back room and had decorated the walls with the logo of the club in the movie.  I had thought this would be a very small production for a senior project with a small camera and such but I was wrong.  Lights were strategically set up in corners just out of frame with light filters, a huge camera with a secondary screen, and sound equipment including a boom mic (with a very handsome operator if I might add).
       The size of the crew was enormous compared to what I was used to in Beauty and the Beast, the biggest play I've done.  We generally had the director, choreographer (if she was needed that day), vocal leader (choir teacher). orchestra/band director, one or two set people on hand, the lav mic operators, a guy or two up in the lights booth, the stage manager, one or two costume designers, and the two to three makeup people, in total, about 15 people spread throughout the entire large theater space.  Here there were 2 sound operators, 3 camera operators including the guy doing the slate, the director, the girl checking on us, 2 people taking pictures for continuity just behind me, and around 10 more people preforming various other jobs, from setting up the lights, to adjusting cables and moving set pieces, in all totaling around 20 people in a tiny bar (not to mention the grumpy bar tender who actually worked there).  The set had to be changed repeatedly due to wherever they stationed the camera, which leads me to...

Rehearsals VS Re-shoots 
     In the live theater business, there are generally a series of rehearsals over several months culminating into a few final performances.  Here however, shooting day, you have to just go for it.  It was strange to see the actors already knowing their lines never having done it before.  The camera would roll for about 2 minutes, an actor would do one section of lines, and then there would be a re-shoot.  And another.  And another.  Until they finally had what they wanted.  Now, of my 3 and a half hours there, I was filmed on camera approximately 3 to 5 minutes total and then another 10 or so as background laughter.  In live theater, there was usually more interaction.
       Extras are different in theater because there are usually less of them and they usually serve
than one purpose.  For extra, Jaimi was an extra in Beauty and the Beast, however she still had two specific costumes, certain lines to say in multiple scenes, and a specific spot to stand and parts of the songs to sing and dance too the same way every time.  While the scenes were happening, Jaimi was in the background with the others going over the specific motions or going over songs, and during the actual play, she was on stage more constantly being seen if she was in the scene.  Extras in the movies however, (at least according to my experience) just did whatever they would do in the situation so, talk to other patrons, sit there, watch the person talking, etc, sometimes just providing background noise without actually being seen.  Overall, it felt much less involved and smaller than being a stage extra, but it was still fun.  However, let's get back to the subject of time.

    As I was mentioning, I was there for 3 and a half hours but I was hardly seen on camera.  First of all, it took time for them to finish setting the stage, taking down or covering as much copyrighted material such as drink names as they could, and arranging chairs.  Then there was so much time pent on arranging the camera angle in a perfect way.  The process seemed to go a bit like this:

Get set ready -> Get camera, mic, actors, etc set up -> Shoot for 30 seconds to a few minutes -> Cut -> Reset everything -> Reset camera, sound, etc -> Reshoot -> Cut -> Reset -> Reshoot -> Cut -> Reset -> Reshoot - >Switch scene -> Change camera lense, height, or angle -> Set up -> Shoot -> Cut -> Reset ->

   And so on.  The original plan was to have 2 scenes shot that day, one from 4-6 and another from 6-8.  I started to feel really bad for the other extras who had come who weren't even inside, still just waiting outside to be called in.  Only to more lucky extras were pulled in, and I think the rest were finally sent home around 7.
   Although I was there for a long time doing basically nothing, I wasn't really bored in the same way that I would expect.  For one, I could talk during the empty time rather than having to be silent and watch another person's scene I've seen a million times.  To go with that, I was actually able to talk to another extra who was actually super interesting!  So, let's move on tooooooo...

    It was almost instantly that I discovered theater people and movie people were different in many ways, some of which are sort of inexplicable.  First of all, everyone seemed happy even if they were extras, which is not something you always see in live theater.  A lot of people are bitter if they are cast as a small role and there is usually a small divide between the leads and other actors.  Here, the divide was created more by the fact that the leads were much more busy than us.  They did say hi and were very polite (and the lead is hilarious), so it was nice.  Every extra seemed really happy to be there, even the ones who hadn't done basically anything.
    The coolest thing though, is the guy I was sitting with.  He was telling me all about how he is an extra in a big movie coming out with some really famous actors and how he actually got to meet them.  He did say how in bigger productions, there is a much bigger gap between the actors and extras and you don't talk to them unless they talk to you, so I can see how that would be really weird, especially coming from an environment where all the extras are called actors too and there is basically no difference between you other than screen time or number of lines.  He talked about being in commercials and on a small local TV show, so it was really cool to see someone who is really making a job out of the things that seem so small but are so much bigger than you think.  The scene we shot required us to just "talk casually" and we were able to just fine since we both had stories to share about movies vs. theater.  The atmosphere itself, while much busier, was somehow more relaxing to just talk to this guy for a few hours, have some snacks from the craft table, and basically not do much of anything.
     On a side note, it's also been my experience that the Director is usually angry and specific on how things are done.  Now, this was not true for Beauty and the Beast because our director was amazing, but I also really liked the director of this film going around and checking on all of us.  It was a nice change of pace.

   So, filming went a bit longer for one scene than intended and I actually got to go home before I thought I would.  I got to rest up and now I'm getting ready to go to my family's annual Oscar party (even though I'm pretty unenthusiastic and annoyed at this year's selection).  I hope you all enjoyed this and I'll see you all later!  That's a wrap!