I have had my adventures getting into the world of acting in September 2014. From being a choking victim, bad teacher, writer with to an attitude. Fast forward to May 2016 having a speaking role in upcoming movie Downsized with Matt Damon and Kristine Wigg to do background work recently for Handmaids Tale (Tv) and Shape of Water (fox movie) Directed by Guillermo Del Toro in Hamilton, Ont.
Saturday October 15th
I get an email on 10:30am with information for the next day. Where I had to be and what time. The shuttle bus would be waiting for us on Booth ave (Near Lakeshore) at 7:00am Sunday morning with call time being 8:15am to be on set.
Sunday October 16th
Woke up at 5:30am and I was excited about the day!
I had prepared most of what I need the night before so by 6:00am I was on the go..
The streets were empty with hardly and cars on the road. I headed across Bloor street West using the new bike lanes installed in August and then south on Bathurst on my way down to the Martin Goodman trail.
The only interesting thing that I was the preparations for the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon that was happening in a few hours. I reached the Front and Bathurst and got on the trail and began to ride, it was little colder being close to the lake but I was well covered and very warm.
The Police officer situation
Being that early in the morning I was moving very fast across the trail and not really stop at all the necessary points along the path. That was until I crossed paths with a police officer and her cruiser!
I stopped at the light and she pulled in front of me and asked “where are you going?” I was little surprised and said to her “I have to catch a bus to get to an acting gig in Hamilton. Can I go now!”
She didn’t say a word and kept driving. There was a woman walking over nearby and she looked at me little perplexed at the office had said to me. I shrugged it off and kept cycling.
The rest of the ride was very smooth and I was moving a good pace. I reached Cherry Street and took the path below the Don Valley on way to very tricky part of the path. It got very dark all over sudden and my headlight was not that bright to show me the way, I cycled little slow until a reached a sign which said Path closed. I freaked out! Now what do a I do?
I turned around and tried to figure out how to get to my destination, I knew the name of the street was Booth Avenue so I went back to Cherry Street and went North until I reached Front Street East and turned right and continued to cycle. I crossed over the Don Valley and continued to cycle for a few blocks until I reached Booth avenue and then south to the end of the street and on my right I saw the shuttle bus waiting for us.
I locked my bike and hat and walked over to the bus. There were about 10 people there already and they were still waiting for more people to show up. About ten minutes later gentleman walk up said “ I am Ambros your AD (assistant director) for today, we will be leaving shortly”
At 7:00am the bus door closed and we headed out of the parking lot. Just at the bus was going to be make a right a shadowy figure showed up and the bus doors opened and a young millennial comes and a few people said “ Just in the nick of time!”
The bus started its journey towards Hamilton. We reached Hamilton at 7:54am. I told my friend Alessandro who I had met on Thursday in Oshawa on the Handmaid Tales set “He was moving fast and furious for a Sunday morning”
We were directed to Background Holding area which was the Football Hall of Fame. It was completely empty of all the trophies and memorabilia and transformed into wardrobe, make and change rooms.
I had met some actors from a previous set we were on in Oshawa for Tv show Handmaids Tale, as we were getting settled we were given instructions to get registered and receive our Actra voucher for the day, which was the usual process.
Picture will not be permitted
Until the end when one of the Assistant Directors made this statement. “Please leave your cellphone here in the staging area, they are not permitted on set. If they are found you will be escorted out and you will be relieved for the day. If any pictures are posted online on this movie you will be found and dealt with!”
I looking at my friend Alessandra Pena and said “ Wow there serious! This is the 21st century last time a check, I am very sure the rule will be broken!” he responded “ it will be!”
I went and got my Ad man Pant, shirts, shoes and tie and proceeded to find a change room. We were told to go downstairs and change. So a few of us went downstairs and found this small washroom that can only fit 1 person.
We turned around went down 15 steps and changed in the hallway. I said “this is what happened on Thursday in Oshawa! We changed in the basement hallway.” We all went back to holding and got settled.
Part of being a background actor is the hurry up and wait mantra, I had heard we were doing an outside scene in the morning and inside scene in the afternoon and perhaps some additional scene in the evening if needed.
As we waited hair and makeup came to use to inspect our hair and faces to see if we need to make any adjustments. We were dressed as Ad men in the 1960, short hair and clean shaven is what was needed.
They came back and said I was okay and continued my conversations with fellow actors around me. Half our later we were called to go back to wardrobe for some final additions to be made. It was a great experience to see all the men lined up and dressed in 1960’s clothing. It became even more interesting to see the women transform into their styles. Many of the women had their redone and some of them even wore wigs! Some were painting the finger nails red and have a party doing so. They would come up to us for fun and say “What do you thing?” I would says“ very nice, still smell little strong” They would run away laughing!
All the men were given a pocket square to our suit ensemble and we were beginning to look the part.
Another hour past and we were told to go back to wardrobe to get our hat and jackets for the outdoor we were going to do first. Back in line we went to get additional clothing, the energy and excitement was beginning to build amongst the actors.
The Background journey begins
We were asked to line-up for a final check to make sure everything was in order. Attention to detail is very important aspect in film and tv shows.
This is when I encountered my first big problem of the day. The shoes I had were very narrow and small and it was beginning to bothersome, I decided to grin and bear it for the morning.
We went outside in a single line and this is where things got really interesting. The director of this filme is Guilermo Del Toro who has recent films The Strain (tv show) Pacific Rim (2015) Blade 2 and Pans Labrynth to his movie portfolio.
We were then separated by the various AD (assistant directors) to various area in the huge court yard which was being watered down by city works to dampen the ground to make it look like 1960’s. It was great experience to see Hamilton City Hall transform make it look like the 1960’s, the inside didn’t need much change, it looked like the 1960’s!
The Cigarette smoking man
While we were outside we were also given suitcase to hold and 1960 type glasses to wear, we were official in the 60’s!
I was put in a group with 4 men really close to where the camera was set up to doing a panning scene across the yard. My new AD was Liza who was going to give me instructions what do during the scene.
And then funny thing happened…
Another AD come to us with a packet of smokes and said “We need everyone to smoke so grab one”
I said “well. I don’t smoke!”
He responded “ Really. We can you learn how to do it”
Proceeded to give smokes and lighter and walked away.
I said “Excuse me can you back I can’t turn on the lighter” He said “seriously you not lying, you are not smoker!”
The rest of the background actors we laughing too!
He then said “no time to waste I will light for you for now and just smoke and exhale!” Can you do that!
I said “okay I will try!”
So my journey began, I literally not touch smoke since high school. So I took a few puffs and started to cough and feel very weird. I go this huge head rush for the next half hour”
Waiting to Exhale
Lisa came up to me and said “are you ready?” I said “sort of” she look at me little bewildered and then said “Jim you have to exhale the smoke!”
I was responded “Oh that’s a great idea!” She started to laugh herself!
The first scene was going to get started and Liz game me the following instructions “Take a 12 count and walk straight and then turn left” I responded “ just to make sure count to 12 then walk” She looks at me and said “yes and I will give you hand gesture to go!”
We were all set
Ready. Set & Action (then redo)
The first scene went well and I came to my starting position and then second scene and back to my original point.
The most interested part of film is the amount of times they do shoot scenes. It get very repetitious and you have to use to it, sometimes small changes are made as what the actors are saying, where they are walking and how they are interacting.
As I mentioned earlier my shoes we really beginning to bother me and I had made a decision to speak to wardrobe when we went back later in the morning.
The Second scene and meeting Michelle
We took a break and then we switch places in the scene. I got sent far back in the scene which was inside Hamilton City Hall, where I got to meet some new background actors and Michelle. She had transformed into a 1960’s dressed woman and looking fantastic. In between all the retake scene I began to start small conversations with her. Where they finally end was very funny and interesting.
We share our movies passions and history of why we started in this business. That’s where the conversation got interesting.
I told her I has worked in the video store business for Video 99 and Blockbuster Video store in the early 2000’s and had attended few conferences. In 2014 I did six months of acting and had a journey that I did various types of roles.
The in May 2016 I get involved again and did background work for upcoming film Downsized with Matt Damon and Kristine Wigg coming out in December 2017. During production I got picked by Director Alexander Payne to do a brief speaker role of a few words, due to that I got upgraded to Actra Apprentice for the day and nice paycheck of $1800 a few weeks later.
This is when she said “Really interested Jim, but I can beat that story!” At this point some of the other background actor joined the conversation interested in the rest of conversation.
Some of the had heard about it already and said “ You have not heard about American Gods yet?”
She started her story and it ended very quickly. “I did an orgy scene with 2 other guys and got SSE (Special Skill experience) and $2000 for it, it was closed set with only few people in the room. Nothing really happened special happen, one guy rubbed against the side of breast”
My response “now that’s a story!”
The day continued with retakes for half hour more and then we gave back our glasses and briefcase and we retreated back to the stage area for a break.
We got back and rested for a bit before we were given our next instructions for the day.
I went and spoke to Amy in wardrobe about my shoe situation and she gave me two other shoes to try. Unfortunately one set was too big and the set was way too small. So in the end I had just rest my feet throughout the day.
About hour later we got summoned to get in line in wardrobe to get ready for our next scene which was going to take place indoors.
We headed back outside and then inside Hamilton City Hall which looked exactly like the 1960’s! We were separated in various groups by the AD (assistant directors) I ended upstairs really close to the scene they were shooting, I was grouped with 2 other gentlemen.
We great each other and waited for our cues. It was great to Guillermo Del Toro go through rehearsal with the actor and tell them where to stand and deliver their lines.
Watching all the productions pieces come into play is a fascinating part of movie making to watch. From the moment the director yelled “Action” (very loud by the way) The synchronicity of the background actors movie in the scene, the actors saying their line, the camera moving with them, the AD and other production staff watching every move.
The scene and retakes continues for 1 hr and then we were escorted outside for a bit.
When is lunch!
The next though on everyone mind was when is lunch! The AD’s advised us we were going to get Subs delivered to us on set. The mood seemed somber because many of the actors didn’t believe it.
I sat down to guess how Michelle!
She seemed happy to engage in the continued conversation about the movie industry. One of the background actors asked? “What your favourite movie of all time?” I said “I don’t have to think about that!” on the other hand Michelle struggled for the answer.
I literally don’t remember what it was, probably for the fact it was very boring and not true. By the way is Aliens director by James Cameron.
We then started talking about movies in 2016 and which one we had like the most so far. This is where I thought Michelle was going to turn into She-hulk!
I said I know which is the worst! “Suicide Squad” Michelle turned around in anger and said “what are you talking about!” I said “ it was great trailer (best of all time I had very seen) but a very thin storyline”
She got angrier. “don’t you read the comics!” I said “I do!”
This discussion continued she continued to poking me and really getting agitated. The other background actors seemed to be enjoy our interaction!
A few minutes later a jug of water arrived with some beef and vegetable patties. We started saying “I thought we were getting subs” The AD said “they are coming for the mean time have these” They were gone very fast! I reached over and got Michelle a vegetarian beef patty and she smiled and said “thanks” very softly. She was still angry!
The final scene Cigarette smoking man returns!
For the late afternoon scene were inside on the second floor of the Hamilton City Hall. They had coined this glass enclosure “The Aquarium” for the day. I put in there with three other gentlemen and was given more cigarettes to smoke, by this time in the day the AD was really having fun with me. “How is the smoking coming along today? Feeling better now? I have gift for you when we are done.” The other extras were having fun with it too.
We were instructed to smoke and have conversations while miming (saying no words) I must have gone through another 5 cigarettes with all the retakes we were doing.
The day final ended as they yelled “that’s a wrap”
We all headed back to the background area to get changed get paperwork in order and get on the bus.
It was amazing experience to learn more about the movie industry, share insights with background actors and make new friends that I hope to see in future sets in the days and years to come.