|Posted by kdrichardson on August 16, 2014 at 10:45 PM|
“Hey, you write screenplays, don’t you?” I was asked by a friend.
“Sure. I’m on my tenth one in fact.”
“Well, are you going to sign up to be an extra in Don Cheadle’s new screenplay being filmed in Cincinnati?”
“When did that come about?”
“They just announced it. They begin filming in early July into mid-August.”
“I’m going to look into it. It sounds interesting. I’ll get the chance to see a production from the inside out.”
And so I did. I applied online along with a headshot and my personal vital statistics. Sometime later I was asked to make a personal appearance for a full body photo and fill out an application. You see, at this point you’re actually applying for a paid position. Yes, I was surprised that I would be paid for this gig. I was willing to do it for free, you know, and that might occur in some places, but for this film, Miles Ahead, a bio-pic based on the life of Miles Davis, the pay made your travel and time worth the while.
Having done that, I didn’t hear anything for many weeks. I figured that I didn’t make the cut, and that wouldn’t be the first time. This was the third film I had applied for.
It was August sixth, and there was only one week of filming left. I had almost forgotten about the opportunity when my phone rang while in Walmart. It was Anne from the Miles Ahead crew, and she asked if I was still available at a moment’s notice to do some film work. I replied, “Of course!” so she said that she wanted me to come down to a warehouse in Norwood, Ohio and get measured for my costume. Of course, being someone who can get lost in a phone booth, it took me forever to find the place as it really wasn’t on the street they said it would be. It was in a warehouse nearly a block behind the provided address.
I found it but I was a sweaty mess. They found a suit circa 1950 to fit me, and added an ascot as an accessory. When I got home, I noticed on the costume ticket that I was to play a producer in the ‘Porgy and Bess’ scene. A producer? That’s mega-face time!
Emails were sent giving me the time and day of the filming, but the day before I was to film, I was phoned and told that they wanted me to come in the day after tomorrow. There was something up with the scene that I wasn’t able to decipher due to the caller using industry lingo that I wasn’t able to comprehend.
So, I showed up that Wednesday, parked by Music Hall in the downtown area, and was shuttled over to Taft Theater. The bus, containing thirty Hollywood wanna-bes, resembled something of a rolling United Nations with a heavy emphasis on Oriental passengers. I thought that to be strange, but it was supposed to be a New York scene, so who was I to question.
I signed in at Taft, and was promptly told that I was all set and to go get something to eat. There was a table full of catered food, but upon further inspection, it was ‘breakfast.’ I wasn’t up for breakfast at 3:45 PM, so I grabbed a yogurt and a thumb-sized Cinabun.
I looked around and noticed that the Grand Ballroom of the Taft was a mass of organized confusion, and I was surprised at the size of the gathering. I expected twenty or thirty people, but there must have been over one hundred actors and crew scattered about. To the far left wall was a makeshift salon complete with six, and possible ten chairs for hair styling, dying, and cutting - yes, cutting. To the side was a men’s and women’s tent for changing, along with a wardrobe with racks of suits, shirts, dresses, two seamstresses, and other assorted accessories. The other two walls contained the catered food and drinks. In the middle of the room there must have been twenty to twenty-five large round tables that were surrounded by seven or eight chairs each. At one point in time, nearly every chair was occupied.
I took a seat at one of those tables and waited for several hours watching as those who had been tapped for the Osaka, Japan concert scene were outfitted in a 1970 style by wardrobe. Ah, Osaka. That explains the Orientals, I thought. The assembled mass was then photographed and marched to another part of the theater for their big moment. One of the Taft’s stages was to become Osaka, Japan for the evening.
As time dragged by, it was apparent that something concerning my participating in this session was amiss. I finally corralled a production assistant and asked when the Porgy and Bess scene was to be shot. He informed me that they weren’t shooting that scene. I showed him my email ‘invite,’ then asked him why I was asked to come down there on this night if they weren’t going to shoot my scene. He replied that they probably wanted to use me as a background street pedestrian. That was good enough for me, so they outfitted me on a late 1950s suit, broken-down shoes, and a skinny tie. Upon getting suited up, the wardrobe person named ‘Hollywood’ inspected me and declared that I looked “just crispy.” I took that as a compliment and assumed crispy was an updated version of the term ‘hot.’ What a drag it is not being hip.
We were now four hours into our ordeal, and our group thought we were about ready to head out to the location when the production assistant loudly proclaimed, “I know you all are about ready to get started, but it’s now the crew’s dinner time. Grab a plate.” It was time to eat again. They herded us through the line, and while the food was good, the selections were limited.
After we finished up, they prepped us for our departure to the location. Like the crew before us, we were photographed and inspected. One of the woman inspectors said that it appeared that I hadn’t been to ‘Hair’ yet. Being one of the senior men there, I didn’t have that much hair to worry about. Be that as it may, I guess I still looked too 2000-ish rather than the late 1950s. So, they sprayed my ten hairs in an attempt to make them look like something, but I don’t think they were very successful. They ended up giving me a 1950s hat, and that covered a multitude of mistakes.
One woman emerged from Hair, felt her coif now containing nearly a can of spray, and exclaimed, “I have Barbie hair!” Another man who, following a greasing of his locks, took on the look of the quintessential street hood, but his appearance was more natural than the work of the make-up artists. I told him that he had a great character-actor look, and he asked, “What era?” I said, “Probably the ‘40s to the 60s.” He said, "Yeah, some people say that I have that De Niro thing going." He did. He was a nice guy, and that flew in the face of his, “Hey Bub, c’mere,” look.
As we climbed on the bus, they told the driver that he was to take us to 14th and Main Street. Oh no, I thought, that was in a section of Cincinnati known as Over-the-Rhine.
OTR might have been a bustling community in its heyday, but time had long-since passed it by. The powers that be have tried for decades to resurrect that area of town, and they’ve had success in pockets here and there, but for the most part, the area is better known for its rising crime statistics rather than its culture. Be that as it may, OTR looked enough like a jazz district that might have been located in New York back in the ‘50s, so that was the place we were to shoot for the night.
The bus pulled up and dropped us off. From there, the man who had been seated next to me turned to me and asked, “Where do we go from here?” I didn’t have a clue so we wandered aimlessly around the set until we finally blended in with an assembled mass of other extras. Those in charge arranged us on the sidewalk, some in couples, others as individuals. I was to be the guy with the big hat carrying a briefcase. We waited until the director shouted, “Rolling!” then announced, “Background move!” and we did just that. We became pedestrians walking down a humid nighttime New York street. The director then called out, “Action!” Out of the club walked Don Cheadle as Miles Davis as he escorted a white lady friend wearing a mink stole to the curb. An era-friendly Yellow Cab pulled up, he loaded the lady into the cab, and it roared off into the night. “Cut!” came the call which we barely heard for we were nearly a block away at this point.
We repeated that scene nearly a half dozen times as they adjusted with the camera angles here and there. Then they chose several of us to move over to the corner of Woodward and Main where they would shoot the continuation of the scene. We ran through about a half dozen takes of that scene where the police actors entered the scene and cuffed and stuffed Miles Davis into the back of the 1954 police car, then sped away. Another group of extras emerged from the night club shouting at the police, and the cop did his best to subdue the protests. “Cut!"
At this point, they were done with us for a while. Several of us migrated over to the steps of a building and slumped down. We were tired. It was nearing three AM at this point, and most of us had been up for nearly twenty hours straight. Then the rain began. That was unexpected, but fortunately it didn’t last long. The ground became just wet enough to give the night air that heavy asphalt smell. There was just enough time remaining to shoot one last scene before the crew had to begin disassembling the set for the morning rush hour. We once again became street pedestrians who, on this take, appeared dumbfound upon witnessing the scuffle taking place. Following this last take, Don Cheadle yelled, “That’s a wrap!” Everyone cheered.
They loaded us on a bus and we returned to Taft Theater to disrobe, fill out our times, and depart the premises. I was amazed when I entered the Grand Ballroom at this hour. The room was nearly vacant. Everything, with the exception of the changing tents and clothing racks, had been cleared out to the four walls.
So there we were; thirteen guys, butt-to-butt, jammed into the tent trying to quickly disrobe so we could grab the first shuttle back to the parking garage. We all wanted to go home while it was still dark, and the shuttle held only thirty people. As it turned out, I was one of the lucky ones, and the bone-jarring ride through the construction zone in downtown Cincinnati woke me enough to recall where I left my truck parked some fourteen hours earlier. It was now raining lightly.
I found my truck, headed home, and arrived there just in time to grab a quick shower and forty-five minutes of sleep. As I was waiting to slip into a much needed but brief slumber, I contemplated how, at one moment in time, a group of people assembled for a common cause, did their duty, then moved on. Much like life itself, I thought. Then my alarm went off and I realized that the world of the imaginary was over. I rose once again to head to my ‘real’ job.