Wednesday, February 17, 2010

James Dean

   In April of 2000, I graduated from the academy. I did not enjoy my experience there, but I did learn a lot (as I've stated on here before). Towards the end of my year there, I heard that the tv movie "James Dean" was going to be partly shot at our school, which then occupied part of the Pasadena Playhouse. Any of the students who participated as an extra would get a SAG voucher for it. While a few of us saw this as an opportunity, there were many who brushed it aside. Even though there have been countless stars and working actors who started as extras, the line of work has a negative connotation. Theatre and film departments of colleges are breeding grounds for snobbery and the academy was no exception. Out of entire graduating class, only about five students signed up.
   Three of us went together and signed up with the extras agency working for "James Dean". It was in a nondescript building on a very busy street. The man who ran the business was very cocky, though he had nicer people who worked for him. They took our photos and had us fill out forms stating our info and what we were willing and able to do. An older gentleman who was helping me out spoke up when I reached a box asking if I was willing to do nudity.
   "Don't do that, honey." He said. "Your dignity's not worth that."
   It was odd at the time to hear someone say that. Before we graduated, some of my fellow classmates had done a final play where they all had to be completely nude at least once. While they all took it in stride and complimented each other on what great actors they were, I saw it as being forced to go nude or being denied their degrees. It's so easy to allow yourself to be taken advantage of when you're a young actor just starting out. But of course, there are other ways that a young actor can lose thier dignity than by disrobing for no reason.
   The day I went back to the school for the shoot, the adjoining parking lot was full of white trailers. I met with a PA (production assistant) who signed me in and helped me fill out my voucher. Then he told me where the wardrobe trailer was. The wardrobe lady fitted me with the lovely ensemble you see me in in the picture above. My clothing was authentic from the early 1950s right down to the undergarments. I'm not cold in the photo, it's one of those lovely pointy-cup bras! I received many comments throughout the day, such as, "You'll take an eye out with those things!" I even wore a girdle and shorts with (unprotected) rubber lining. Let me tell you, it was not fun taking those off at the end of the day, as the rubber burned my skin. 
   After going to the hair and make-up trailers, I went to extra's holding, which happened to be in the theatre our final plays had been performed in. There were not a lot of extras for this scene and we were all working as union. Everyone, including the crew, was super-nice! People were more than happy to explain everything to me and how it all worked. You got snacks from "craft services", but you changed your clothes (or used the restroom) in the "honey wagon". I thought that was odd.
   Some of the extras had had pretty interesting careers already. One woman (who was the one who took the above picture) was also the dancing lobster on "The Amanda Show", while another woman had been a dancer in the Las Vegas show, "Splash". We sat in the seats and talked. One guy slept, which I thought was an odd thing to do at the time.
   Soon, the director came out onto the stage. Mark Rydell was dressed casually and was just the nicest guy. He told us what the scene we were going to be in was about with a soft voice and the flaire of a storyteller. James Dean was in an acting class that garnered lots of respect from the entertainment communtiy. He was doing a scene with another guy who played the owner of a watch shop. James was going to play a man trying to steal a watch. But the acting teacher couldn't foresee that James would get really into the scene and try to beat up the other guy to get the watch. All of the other students would freak out and the teacher would have to break up the fight. And that would be that.
   Eventually we went into the classroom where the scene was being filmed. It was one of the dance classrooms. This was a room where I learned how to fence (I totally sucked), brushed up on my tap-dancing skills (kind of sucked at that, too, but I had more fun at that) and even acted in there on occassion (whether I sucked or not was up for debate ;) ). The director and his immediate crew were against the mirrored wall. I looked on the opposite side out the window to see a large light on a craned platform. The man guarding it was sleeping. One of the extras whispered to me that he was getting paid tons of money to sleep there. In front of us against the was wall, was James Franco. He was laying down on a couch, smoking. After he finished that cigarrette, he lit up another. From what I could guess, he's an actor who tries to immerse himself in his character, whether he's at work or not. Every now and then, he'd scrunch up his face or make a pouty look, and he looked like a photo of the real James Dean. I enjoyed that.
   A props man came around and gave us various items to use in the scene. He gave me some feminine horn-rimmed glasses, which I chose not to wear (because I was dumb) and I regretted it later when he approached me and asked me about it later. He didn't yell at me, but I felt bad and used or wore whatever props or wardrobe gave me from then on.
   In the scene, I sat next to the guy who was playing the actor James was about to beat up "for his craft". I would list his name, but I don't remember what it was. If it's listed on imdb, there's no picture by his name. He was a nice guy, though. He did a little bit with me before he walked up onstage to do the scene with James, which I thought was nice and went along with. Working on that scene was one of the times I got to do the most acting as an extra.
   There were a few shots for that scene. One was focused just on the two actors and the teacher and I'm pretty sure we weren't used for that. Another was behind us looking at the stage, and another was on us reacting to what was going on on stage. There may have been more, but again, it's been awhile.
   After shooting, we waited around a little, ate some lunch (I think) and then we were done. I turned in my costume, got my voucher and went home, not knowing how soon my next extra gig would be.