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Baghdad Café, eh?

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I am an American Reporter in Iraq urgently running with a crowd through the shell shocked city to a run-down Baghdad Hotel for a Vital War News Conference. The front sidewalk Hookah Café sign reads مقهى (“Coffeshop”). Insurgent’s Explosions are heard in the distance while the Ex-C.I.A. Secret Battalion ACTION HERO strides confidently past the Armed Guardian Police in Bullet Proof Vests. The HERO knocks into me jarring my hand held HDTV Camera. Everyone is pushing into the Mobbed Lobby (in disrepair for a change). Fire & Smoke Pots clog the air (“Smoke Bump” – more Money…Score!).

Between each shot on this Tent Pole Summer 150 Million Dollar Blockbuster the Huge Grip Crew use Trucks to spray water onto the streets so that light is reflected, adding depth and contrast to the shot (we need a “Wet Down”). Ever notice most night scenes have wet streets? Water makes it look Pretty (look for this, trust me). The largest Steadicam Crane I have ever seen swiftly swoops down from the 5 story blown out building across the street directly behind the HERO following his every step.

The Publicity Still Photographer’s actual 10 year Son is costumed and made up like a filthy Aladdin Slumdog who begs the HERO for help in Arabic (taught to the kid by one of the 25 Middle-Eastern Extras dressed like Osama Ali Baba). This Boy’s real Sister is dressed in a Teen Burka and hangs with the HERO’s Real Life Award Winning Actress Girlfriend (recently Divorced and just a tiny bit older than our Mid-30s Brand Newly Minted Famous Male Movie Star). He’s been around 15 years doing Supporting Roles and struck it rich with a Comedy Smash last year.

This film I’m working on, was completed 6 months ago and the Final Rough Cut has “Tested” needing certain plot clarifications. Oh, we forgot to shoot those scenes where you understand what is going on? Oooops-a-doosie-daisy!  On the count of three say “SHOOT RETAKES” and pretend we are a Studio Head of Distribution (this is the part where you throw suitcases filled with money at this Project mere months before Release). Production has convinced the Producers of the other movie our HERO is currently shooting in NYC to release him to their Rival Movie Studio as a Favor for 36 hours over this weekend. Our Handsome Hunk is cut from the Harrison-Ford-in-his-heyday swath and he & his Star Gal Pal have been flown out to the Coast in a Private Jet and pampered within a Spray Tan of their lives. She’s really pretty, the size of a stick, talks to the crew, smiled directly at me before I realized who she was, and is Botoxed to the tenth degree. Still… she’s sweet and obviously loves watching her Man in Action. They’ll probably be broken up before this film is released and everyone on the set knows it but her.

Between takes the Extras are passing their iPhones around with this couple’s latest googled shenanigans. How weird is that? At the market this week I counted them on the cover of several Gossip Rags (he usually has his shirt off for some strange reason…). I really like that he keeps bumping into me just because the Director yells “ACTION”. Why can’t these Male Movie Stars keep away from me? I ask only for respect.

Wardrobe approved & complemented my “Desert Casual” outfit (it never gets old being told you dressed perfectly for the occasion, War Zone or not, don’t you agree?). It’s different shooting on a Saturday night at an empty Hollywood Studio (the large crew is thrilled they’ll earn Golden Time and they can’t stop talking about it whenever I am at Crafty snacking). Bragging about money in Show Business? Shocking! We work late and get a Meal Penalty (Score!). This night sequence when edited will be seen a total of 7-10 seconds in the Final Cut and probably cost slightly over $210,000. Pocket change. Signing out, I ask if I get a “Star Bump” cost increase because the HERO repeatedly touched me. The 2nd AD replies “Those were the old days Pal.” Ouch.

Watch my 1976 Movie Debut as “Saul the High School Track Manager” starring Steve Guttenberg …about 25 minutes into CHICKEN CHRONICLES on my IMDb Link: click here!

Written by jstarr

April 20th, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Closed Set

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It’s busy Pilot Season and I’m fortunately turning down work (one can be so busy, can’t one?). The dream is to shoot a Pilot that sells & be asked back to be a Regular Union Stand-In (Jackpot!) and/or Steady Extra (also a potential long term Jackpot). You annually work 6-9 months with the same Cast and Crew & are treated “Special” (and who doesn’t like that?). This particular Pilot I’m Standing In for a Guest Star, not a Regular. Waaaah. But there’s a Big But…”Utility Stand-In” is the next best thing. You’re the Go To Guy for multiple Actors (however some Stand-Ins are Executives’ relatives and they steal jobs!  I was on Rock Hudson’s Hit TV Show McMILLAN & WIFE in ’74 & the Camera Team aimed their Lights at the Producer’s 72 year old 5’1″ Mother who Stood In for Rock…and he was 6’4!”).  These days you need to look like the real Actor to get hired, just like a Stunt Double. Please feel free to cross fingers that Johnny Extra books a long term Regular hire in the near future. Excuse me while I light a candle in my own honor…

I’m shooting in Malibu matching a Star who you know! He plays the Hubby in a smash sex comedy movie franchise (hint…I look like him but without my goatee & glasses). Arriving on set, a Stand In goes to Wardrobe to get “Color Coverage” (as close as possible to whatever the Actor is wearing that you are covering that day). Best compliment of the day?  Cameraman: “John move to your right. And you look like Ben Kingsley.”  Note to Producers, I would LOVE to Stand In for Ben Kingsley! Working without glasses on Set & I am close to blind faking my way through the “Marking Rehearsal” watching the Stars with my fellow Stand Ins (a cute Parisian Gal married to a Big Shot and a nice guy I worked with many times before). They help me cheat my way through the blocking. This show worked on Passover but my Dad said “Take the job and skip Seder!” Now if I can just manage not to be smited by lightning all is swell. The Director of Photography and his team light this small Hotel Room overlooking the gorgeous bay as Romance Central. It is a “Closed Set” which means Johnny is around Naked Actors! Hoo yah! No one is allowed inside except 40 horny Teamsters. Some Closed Set. The Hot Young Blond Guest Star Actress (who was murdered by a Vampire last season on a Hit Show) keeps getting into the bed sans robe just as every Grip in town happens to have something urgent that must be plugged in right by her side. Subtle this ain’t. My Actor is in briefs and could have done a few more Sit Ups this morning (not that I’d judge, and he is charming and friendly).  Side note: When I was John Travolta’s Stand In on WELCOME BACK KOTTER he was a Gent who knew everyone’s name and a pleasure to work with. I once ran into him at Twin Dragons while dining with a pal in Medical School. She hadn’t watched TV in years and had no idea who Travolta was. Imagine how disappointed I was when he said “Hi John” and introduced me to his girlfriend Diana Hyland. My friend said “Who was that?” Oh just a guy who had a couple of films called SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER & GREASE. John Travolta knew my name. I’m special.

Today everyone knows my name on Set possibly due to me wearing a large Orange Masking Tape Name Tag. Here’s a secret. Every single Stand In who is not a blood relative has done plenty of Extra work, but they always deny it. Yes, you heard it here first. Stand Ins often don’t acknowledge Extras (I call them Stuck Ups). I however hang with anyone who smiles at me (I’m an easy lunch date on shoots). The challenge is that with over 100 new people on every show remembering names is almost impossible. Which is a nice way of saying that  sometimes I am Mr. Stuck Up Stand In with Extras. “Hi John, we worked together last year on that show with 150 Extras in the rain, remember me?” Ahhhhhh…no. Excuse me while I get back to the room with the Naked people.

Written by jstarr

April 9th, 2010 at 11:38 am

Bloody Mama!

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Johnny Extra here on a 2 day Science Fiction ‘End of the World’ shoot.

I am an Electro-Mechanical Engineer (am too!). The 2nd AD said our motivation is “Problems on the Motherboard Eleven!” Yes Ma’m! I am supposed to silently mouth “Are you on Switch Nineteen?” to my Lovely Young Female Scientist Co-Worker. Then the World Ends and most everybody dies.  The Lead British Scientist Who May or May Not Be The Bad Guy shakes it off and orders survivors to “Tally the dead!”  We keep keeling over for 17 takes. Carpet Face Burn Central.

My Gal Pal for the day had a pad mattress for most but not all her falls and was a real trouper. Take after take our papers and files and pencils and people fly everywhere. Of the 45 Extras only one complains and she quickly (and correctly) is labeled “Pain in Neck”.  I pegged her earlier when she was whining that the Breakfast Omelet Bar only had 9 choices of cheeses! Boo f’ing Hoo! Sorry M’ Lady. Dost thou wantest for not? By lunch time the crew was buzzing and the mocking behind her back commenced, Luckily the majority of the Extras were all pros and made it a fun day while Ms. Pain became Prima Diva de Day.

Back to the Blood…did I mention the Puddles of Blood by the Young Hot Black Female Scientist Guest Star? Three different people played her. 1st the Actress hired for the meaty role. 2nd the Stand-In for lighting and blocking. 3rd the Stunt Double who takes the hit to the head on the Main Deck Control Room Console and BLEEDS EVERYWHERE before she dies. Next to me. Right at my feet.  All TV Monitors in the World have Ceased to Broadcast…again? The Electro De-Fragmatizer** has malfunctioned (I repeat…again!?!)  I’m out like a light with my head on my Console (good news…I lived!). And I get Special Make Up with a Bloody Rip on my forehead surrounded by a Major Purple Bruise!! Yippee! I was the Talk of the Town at meal break (at least at the Extra’s Table).  An 18 year old said “You hurt your head dude.” A Pro replied “That’s Make-Up Bro.” But after 12 hours they were handing out Ibuprofen and ice bags.

News Flash: Puddles of Blood are really Rubbery Plastic Things that are Pre-Made by the Special Effects Team and they peel right up without leaving marks on studio carpet (like a Black Cherry Fruit Roll). EFX folks Windex the puddles before takes so the Blood looks shiny & pretty! The dead Guest Star has amazing Make Up where the rest of her face used to be. Graphic open wounds. She, her Stand In & her Stunt Double are all identical in body and weight, same light grey suit jackets with matching well tailored tight pencil skirts and insanely high sexy heels. Same gorgeous long wavy chestnut colored wigs for all three Ladies. Two other Stunt Doubles fall down flights of stairs repeatedly without complaint. They get a well earned standing ovation by cast and crew. It is amazing to see and I love getting to work with them (the Stunt Coordinator is terrific, kind and she helped us all).

A Female Director too! Yay! The 2nd AD and I have worked together before and she makes the day fly. Her Coordinator (let’s call him “Todd”) was funny and cool but had to warn us all “under no circumstances bring any food or drink onto the Sound Stage”.  Four minutes later I run into Todd on set and he’s carrying a steaming hot cheese and mushroom omelet with a toasted bagel & schmear in his mouth. I say “Don’t let Todd catch you” and continue walking past Futuristic Main Deck Blinking Green and Red Lights embedded in the Huge Scientific Metal Equipment (“It’s Alive!”).
About this massive Sound Stage… I worked here before in one of their two standing Courtroom Sets. There’s also a Jail Cell Block and we are so Wi-Fi Sci-Fi on their 2-Story International Corporate Headquarters Anywhere in The Future set which goes on for corridors and offices and hallway after fake long hallway. Get this…they shot “Murphy Brown” here!

Back in my 8th Grade 1969 Junior High School days (yes kids pre-“Middle School”) I had a Speech Class with the wonderful and delightful Julie Nimoy. One day her Dad came in. You know him as Leonard. He was doing a little show at the time called “Star Trek.” Ring a bell? Anywhoo…Julie once brought Dr. Spock’s Pointed Ears into class (they were made out of wax and melted after a couple of days shooting under hot lights so needed constant replacement).  Mr. Famous Cool Father of My Friend is right this second in the front of my Speech Class asking if anyone would please join him in an Improv Comedy Sketch.  I raise my hand so fast my arm flies out of the socket! I wish I could regale you with what we did but all I remember was it being fabulous fun and Mr. Nimoy kindly said to my class afterwards that “Someday this boy is going to be a Star!” Hello Leonard? I’m on Line One and have been holding for 40 years!

**This bit I stole from my terrific Dad’s great OUR MAN FLINT script (check my Pop out …Ben Starr on IMDb).