Things For People

No strong convictions about this blog site to speak of. Just occasional musings inspired by things that transpire outside my window: LAPD helicopters searching for fugitives, transvestite prostitutes wrestling with their pimps at 3am, and the chubby kid next door who sings in the shower 4 times per day.

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Well...after 7 years I finally did a commercial spot as a featured extra that now allows me to join the Screen Actor's Guild.  People have told me along the way that, "You'll start booking commercials when you don't care anymore."  I had definitely reached that point.  After almost a decade of being trapped in the catch 22 that is union work in California I was basically done with auditions. 

See, to book any union commercials, you need to be a member of the Screen Actor's Guild.  But to become a member of the Screen Actor's Guild you need to have booked a union commercial.  It's like walking into a store called "Hank's Hammers" to buy a hammer only to be told, "We only sell screwdrivers."  I had auditioned for SAG commercials before and had some callbacks, but ultimately they wouldn't hire me because I was non-union. 

I had practically forgotten that I even had a commercial agent.  She called me last week to go in for a Jenny Craig spot.  I didn't have much information, and at the audition the casting director told me to eat chips and pretend to watch a football game.  If I can do nothing else in this world, I know that I can eat and watch football.  I thought, "If I can't nail this I'm going to have to renounce my citizenship."

The whole process took about 70 seconds and the casting director said, "Okay, thanks."  Two days later my agent called me to say that I needed to be available for the shoot.  That didn't necessarily mean I had been hired.  It meant that they had a small pool of people that the client was looking at, and that I had managed to end up in the pool.  So I cancelled a lunch appointment with a friend and gave away my shift at work.  I was a little nervous about giving up any work since it's so close to mortgage time, but I didn't want to put my bosses in a bind.  They've been very flexible with me over the last several years.

On Wednesday evening my agent called.  "Hey Adam, quick question, are you SAG?"  ", I'm not." (just like it says on the top of my resume' which I assume is in front of you)  "Oh...uh...well...let me call you back."

I just knew it.  I had raced across town to make the audition, cancelled a lucrative work shift because the production company was seriously considering hiring me, and here I am...once again, ineligible because I'm not part of the union. 

My phone rings again.  It's my agent.  "Uh, yeah, they're not going to use you because you're not SAG."  So...great.  I'm out $150 for giving up a work shift and my agent doesn't even know I'm not in the union.  Needless to say, I wasn't pleased. 

This is precisely the type of scenario that had led me to conclude a couple of years ago that acting just isn't really my thing (besides the fact that I'm not a particularly great actor).  It wasn't the first time it had happened.  3 years ago I spent 12 hours of a 2 day low-budget science fiction shoot in a fancied-up bathrobe after being told, "This job pays $150 per day and you'll get a SAG voucher."  5 vouchers equals Screen Actors Guild eligibility.  At the end of the 12 hour shoot, looking like some kind of futuristic Euro-gay I asked the assistant director what I needed to sign to get paid and claim my voucher.  "Oh, your role doesn't pay anything.  You're non-union."  Oh, how neat.  That's neat.  "Well, then I won't be showing up tomorrow.  Hope you can hire someone who looks exactly like me in the next 7 hours."

So here I was again last week, interrupting a music recording session to field phone calls about why I was once again not going to be hired on a project that I didn't really want to audition for in the first place precisely because I knew they wouldn't hire me since I wasn't part of the union.  Just as I am preparing to call my agent back to say, "Just go ahead and take me off your roster," she calls me.

"It looks like they really want to use you anyway." 

"Uh...well, okay..."

Pardon me for being a cynic, but at this point I genuinely expected to show up at 7am for the shoot and spend 30 minutes in a makeup chair, only to be told, "Oh, there must be some mistake, you're non-union, we can't use you."

Realizing that I had to accept the things over which I had no control, I woke up at 5:30 and showed up on set at 7am sharp.

The location was a 9 million dollar house in Beverly Hills.  50 to 70 people were milling about like a factory, setting up enormous lights, wiring microphones, decorating rooms.  A guy who was dressed a little like me introduced himself.  "I'm Drake."  The assistant director walked over to us.  "Okay guys, you'll be out here for now."  He led us to a garage which had become a sort of staging area.  "We need to put together a holding area for actors coming in and out, so go ahead and clear out one side of the garage."

It seemed a little odd that I was being asked to work as a production assistant and an on-camera actor, but I'm not the type of person who says, "I can't be bothered to work, I'm a thespian."  Besides, moving gear seemed more appealing than standing around looking like I had no idea what I was doing there.  So we started moving things around.  A couple more crew guys showed up and introduced themselves.  We set up chairs, hauled cables, moved tables.  Once the garage had been cleared out, I took a seat and waited for someone to tell me what I was supposed to do.  The crew moved their operation to another area.  For 10 minutes or so I sat in the garage/dressing room by myself, listening to the sounds of a film set. 

Another actor showed up.  Full of energy, she sat down next to me and introduced herself.  And then she started chatting.  And chatting.  And chatting.  "I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this..." 

I'm not really the chatty type.  Even less so at 7am.  "Mm Hmm" I said.  "Mm hmm."  "Mm hmm."  (oh someone help me) "Mm hmm."  (anyone) "Mm hmm."   

Drake the crew guy re-entered the garage.  "Hey man are you working with us or not?" 

I stood up quickly and eagerly, "What do you need me to do?"

The actor next to me said to Drake, "Oh, he's on-camera, not production."

Drake looked at me, bewildered.  "And you were helping us move stuff?  Aw man...I'm sorry.  Thank you, thank you so much.  Man I'm really sorry."  He exited the garage.

I slowly sat down, defeated.

"...And then I did this and then I did this and then I did this and then I did this and then I did this and then I did this..."

"Mm hmm."

I wanted so badly to go help Drake move something...anything.  It also struck me as odd that he was so shocked that an actor picked up something heavy.  I really didn't mind, and it wasn't bad exercise.  As I discovered throughout the day, on a union set, everyone is in a different guild.  The members of that guild only do their job.  No one else gets involved with another person's job, even if it is deemed helpful.  Must be some kind of bylaw violation. 

Over time, more actors began arriving.  We all got to know each other a little bit.  Production put us in makeup and whisked us inside to the set.  The assistant director explained the scenario.  Basically we were to be featured extras, meaning we were "Joe Anybodys" at a football party at Valerie Bertinelli's house.  That sounded easy enough.  I started feeling a little uneasy though.  Internal alarm bells were slowly going off. 

See, members of SAG who work as extras on a commercial make around $300 per day.  I was the only non-union person there.  In fact, one of the other actors said, "I didn't think you could do this if you were non-union."  I just replyed, "I don't know man, I stopped asking questions a long time ago."  I did some non-union extra work when I first moved to Los Angeles.  It paid $55 dollars for 8 hours. 

Standing on a terrace overlooking a wooded area of Beverly Hills in a 9 million dollar home, I pondered whether I was going to earn a fraction of what I would have earned had I just kept my shift at the restaurant that night. 

I decided to brush all of that mumbo jumbo aside and just have fun for the day.  After all, I'm already here, right?

I leaned over to the 2nd assistant director, "Hey man is there a bathroom in here we can use?"  He wasn't sure, so he walked over to ask the 1st assistant director.  "You should have taken them all to the bathroom downstairs long before bringing them here."  The 2nd AD was trying to go to bat for me -- "I'll tell him to be quick."  I could tell the 1st AD was getting angry with the 2nd AD.  I walked over to them, "You know what guys, I'm good.  It's all good."  Man I really had to pee.  But how long could this take, right? 

We were escorted on set.  The director flirted with various scenarios for us to keep busy in the segment as Valerie Bertinelli delivered her lines.  He wanted it to look like a party after all.  The director decided all we needed to do was cheer for a touchdown and walk over to a table filled with party food.  And this table was FULL of food.  The set designer must have spent 2 hours cooking, arranging, rearranging, rearranging, and rearranging the food so that it looked perfect for the camera.  In fact, shooting was delayed 30 minutes while we waited for freshly baked pies to arrive. 

Once the pies were in place, and I mean meticulously in place, the director decided that there wasn't enough fun going on in the scene.  He thought it would be more exciting if, halfway through her lines, Valerie Bertinelli tossed a football over to me.  That's easy enough right?  Sure it is, except that the director had already decided to have me stand directly against the table full of 2 hours worth of meticulously decorated food.  The ball would be coming from Valerie Bertinelli, all the way over the food table, to me; just above the pies which had to be specially ordered from a bakery, and had already delayed production by 30 minutes.  So, basically, no matter how many takes we had to shoot of this scene, I had to catch 100% of the tosses that came my way.  If it took 3 takes, I had to catch 3 tosses.  If it took 50 takes, I had to catch 50 tosses.  Not 49...50. 

I don't have great hands.  I was a pretty good tackler and blocker, but my coaches passed on me at runningback because my hands just weren't good enough.  Not consistent enough.  The actor who was standing closest to me looked down at the pies in front of me, and then up at me.  He leaned over and whispered, "Man, if I was you I would be sweating my balls off right now."  Thanks buddy.  Thanks for the reassurance.

No rehearsal.  Just action. 

I had no idea if Valerie Bertinelli could toss a football.  Would she throw it poorly?  Would it come fast?  Slow?  High and arcing?  Did she have an arm like Brett Favre?  She was only about 12 feet away, but there was so much room for error.  So very much room for error.  And if she threw a bad pass that I couldn't catch, well, there go the pies.  The pies that would have to again be reordered, further delaying production. 

In Beverly Hills, if you go over production time, the police shut you down, and you have to come back the next day and start all over.  So basically, one of the only things assuring that this multi-million dollar commercial didn't have to spend another million dollars to set up and shoot the next day...was me.  Me, not dropping a pass into the pies in front of me.  And it didn't matter if it was Valerie Bertinelli throwing a bad pass, or me making a bad catch; if I dropped one, I was going to be so incredibly fired, and likely blacklisted from any commercial shoot ever again.

(please don't drop it please don't drop it please don't drop it)
(whew!  I caught it.  She tosses pretty good)

"I'd like to see another one, it just wasn't working for me.  Action!"
(here we go I can do this just catch it don't kill those pies and your career)
(thank God, another good toss)

I took the ball over to Mrs. Bertinelli.  She politely said thank you.  I said, "Thank you."  She probably didn't know why I was thanking her.  But the sweaty balls actor next to me who stood looking at me with wide-eyes that silently declared 'I hope you don't have to do this too many times' nodded.  He knew why. 

So we did another take.  And then another take.  And another.  And another.

As her arm warmed up, Mrs. Bertinelli grew more confident.  So she began tossing the ball more casually, without looking over at me.  And the tosses got wilder.  In one take I vertically leaped and caught it way over my head.  I caught one with one hand that zipped way to my left (I have never caught a football with one hand).  The actor next to me was right.  My testicles did in fact begin to perpire.

On the last take, when my senses had heightened to the point of being prepared for a sword-fight with a ninja, she threw a really bad one.  It made a beeline for the pumpkin pie in the table's centerpiece.  It was one of those end-over-end tosses where the ball just flops around in the air.  I must've said a little prayer to Jesus as my hands reached out over the pie.  The ball gingerly landed in my hands as the hairs on my knuckles ever so slightly brushed into the top micro layer of the pumpkin pie. 

"Cut.  Let's move on to the next take!" 

The assistant director whisked us back into the holding area and told us to wait for lunch.  As we all waited, napping, text-messaging, reading...Anne called to tell me that she was putting my headshot and resume' out by the front door because a courier needed to come by and deliver it to the casting company responsible for the commercial shoot.  They were going to "Taft-Hartley" me.  I don't understand all of the stipulations of the Taft-Hartley Act, but it basically means I don't have to scramble to collect vouchers over the next 30 years trying to accumulate enough to finally join the Screen Actors Guild.  I'm immediately eligible.  Just like that.  After 7 years.  And I couldn't care less about being an actor anymore.  Funny how that works.