Monday, November 16, 2009

Kid Extras

I'll admit I have a wicked double standard about background work. I have my justification for doing it, but I'm pretty judgemental about people outside of my age range. That's hugely hypocritical because I cognitively understand the need for all types and ages of people to create the setting.

Nonetheless, I feel sorry for older people who do this and "professional extras." I can't imagine working background for more than a few years, let alone ten or twenty! I would not ALLOW my parents to do it based on the possibility of being treated poorly. And nothing is worse than seeing a 70 or 80 year old person standing in wardrobe and check out lines and spending the day on a folding chair, under a pop up tent in a parking lot.

Then there are the kids...

I began this post last week when there were child extras for the carnival scene of "Heroes." Today the situation is on steroids!

I'm in a lovely auditorium at Collge of the Canyons in Santa Clarita for a brand new FOX comedy, "Sons of Tucson." The episode is about a kiddie dance pagent and I am unhappily a background stage mom.

There are several background kids as well as some featured dancer kids who were booked from auditions. As I've alluded, background is a lot of sitting around in a holding area then when you are on set it's usually walking back and forth over and over and over... It's not fun. You have to be quiet on set and can't excuse yourself to the restroom when you need to. I can't imagine a child enjoying the experience.

The likelihood of being discovered on set is not as high as we'd all like it to be. Why then would a kid want to do it? Moreover, what kind of horrible parent decides that being a pathetic extra is more important than having their child in school?! There is a "school" on set and the children are required to spend at least three hours there.

Some of my fellow adult background and I wonder how they can possibly cater to the various academic levels of these students who they know for only a day.

A parent must be on set at all times; I overheard a mom mention her husband was elsewhere on set. Who the hell are these people that they can both be here with a child who's only making $134 for up to 8 hours of extra work? I just don't get it... I do this consistantly to pay my bills; a kid should be in real school. I do this to earn my way into the union to get an agent; cute kids can get an agent with ease.

Thankfully no one is glitzed up for a kiddie beauty pageant, as that would make me vomit. (Yea, I did pageants, but not until I was 17 and it wad completely my idea.) However there are little boys and girls in sparkly dance costumes. I am not a dancer, and while I know it's normal for that world, I find mascara and rouge and curly updos on seven year olds very unsettling!

When I started this post last week on "Heroes" I was bitching about kid extras. Today as I see both the featured talent and child background all dolled up, I just don't like or understand children in entertainment in any capacity! I feel like all they're learning is hair and makeup, competition and the idea that the world revolves around them.

And now a few of the real stage moms have sat down behind me... I could listen in to develope my character, but I think I'd rather go visit the craft service table. (Thats Hollywood speak for food!)

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Roommate Drama... again.

Right now my female roommate is jamming to tunes in the bathroom while her boyfriend is talking on the phone on our balcony. No one is out of bounds; it's annoying nonetheless. I would just really love some QUIET! I only have to deal with it for a few more days though; I'm returning to Ohio for the holidays and when I come back to LA, things will be very different in this apartment...

Let's rewind; roommate #1 is still a gay male who has become a dear friend to me. In August roommate #2, an asshole, was replaced by a vibrant, annoying but sweet, European female. I guess now instead of #1 and #2, I can just say dude and chica.

Both have always known that my guy is keeping his job in Ohio through a coworkers maternity leave. Then in January he'll visit Los Angeles to interview for jobs here. His industry is all based around sales per month, so it's likely he'd be hired to start at the beginning of a month; best case scenario, February!

My roommates have been well aware of my plans to be in Ohio from late November through early to mid January, then I'll hopefully move out of this apartment in February or March... and if it's not until April I'm going to kill myself! So, imagine my frustration when dude roommate announced that he was going to put in his 30 day notice in December to move to Europe to be an au pair. Meaning, we'd need a new roommate starting January 1st, while I'm still in Ohio! I think he should go to Europe but couldn't help but selfishly wish that he'd just wait another freaking month so we could move out at the same time! How could he create this situation over a time he already knew I'd be gone!?

I thought about putting in my 30 day notice at the beginning of November and moving my belongings to a storage unit. However, the cost of a hotel while my guy interviews and we then look for a new apartment together would almost certainly exceed my fantastic rent. On top of that, what if it takes him a while to find a job and I'm stuck in Ohio longer than planned...? I would have screwed my roommates in the month of December had I vacated, so instead dude roommate was screwing us in the month of January. This all caused a great deal of stress.

I love dude roommate, but part of me just didn't believe him. He's ridiculously talented, but very unfocused. Being from Europe, chick roommate had the knowledge that if he goes through all the correct legal channels, he couldn't possibly leave the US before February, so we both thought he should just stay in LA instead of moving back to Texas with his family until the paperwork came through. Not to mention, the family he's corresponding with said yes to him simply over email! We worry he's getting sold into sex slavery and wonder what kind of horrible parents choose a caretaker for their child, having never SPOKEN to them!

Dude roommate was still forging ahead, so I posted a craigslist ad for a roommate, in hopes of meeting someone before I left. It didn't get much response because people simply don't look for apartments six weeks in advance!

Then... dude roommate decided to move his date forward by a whole month. *sigh* The continuously changing plans were annoying and we're so sad to see him go, but it actually makes the roommate search a tad easier. I'm leaving the 19th of this month and he's peacing out three days after me. With the new time line, we were able to meet with five candidates. We're really torn between two of them; a third would be okay but she's a bit young; the fourth was super boring and the fifth was a waste of time.

Additionally, we'll be playing musical rooms! I am so excited to be moving to the master, which is only possible since dude roommate is moving out sooner! While I won't have a balcony, it's on the other side of the apartment meaning I won't have to hear my two roommates or smell the cigarettes and weed they smoke outside. Even if I'm only here a few weeks in January, the private, attached bathroom is absolutely worth the extra $50 a month. Plus, there's a lock on the door, so I won't have to worry about my belongings while I'm gone for the holidays! Chick roommate is switching to my room because it's larger and the new girl will be in the smaller room, that I originally moved into way back in May...

The stress of this situation over the past few weeks was overwhelming, to say the least. Oh, and chick roommate quit her job at the end of October and is anxiously waiting for the first of the year to possible be contacted by immigration about leaving the country. *stress*stress*stress* I am so sick of living with roommates! I can not stand that the roof over my head and security of my belongings rests with people I barely know and don't entirely trust.

I am lonely all the time; I am exhausted from working long, inconsistent hours; I am frustrated that I have not been auditioning or taking classes; it is difficult to maintain focus on my plan when it took me five months to get one stupid SAG voucher! I am so sick of this reality. I feel like I'm in a holding pattern instead of living my life. I need my guy to be here with me, living in a place that is just he and I! I need to be in the actor's union so I can get a good agent and focus on auditing and taking classes; if I'm not doing that, there's no point in being in the god forsaken place.

My age, education and relationship status are so far beyond what I have been living since April of 2008. That may sound pretentious and negative, but I'm just really exhausted. And I have a headache from hearing the bump*bump*bump of someone else's music...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Name that Show

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Name that show!

I think this is an easy one; actually I think I posted a picture when I was on this set back in July or August.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

If this were a status update it would read:

" standing on the roof of the Curios George parking structure, looking out over the Universal's back lot, Warner Bros. and the twinkling San Fernando Valley, eating a turkey dog."

Don't worry, I have pepper spray and there are rent-a-cops on scooters, who haven't bugged me yet. That's surprising because someone committed suicide off one of these garages in the past five years!

I'd post a picture of the Valley or the houses lit up on the Hollywood Hills behind me, but neither turn out. However, in the parking lot right below me you can see 13 star wagons, other production vehicles and lighting cells. There are also three huge cranes and a light grid six spaces wide. They must be getting ready for a mammoth shoot.

So why am I up here? As I already wrote, to eat my hot dog! Duh!

Actually I was working background on "Heroes." After five months of extra work, this is my first work at Universal! Unfortunately, my employee id was of no use. We filmed in pretty much the only area that's not part of the studio tour. Just beyond the back lot and beside the farthest parking garage, there's a vacant area called Freeway Park. There's an over grown baseball diamond and a dilapidated house facade used for something years ago. On that site, "Heroes" built a carnival, complete with rides. Luckily I spent most of the brisk night spinning around on the Scrambler. It's amazing how enjoyable a fake carnival can be since you're being paid instead of paying!

Now that I'm wrapped, I kind of don't know what to do with myself. Lately I haven't wanted to go back to my apartment. I'm not having an issue with my roommate; nothing beyond the normal annoyances anyway. It just feels so stagnant there. Although I'm working like crazy, seven days straight last week and five this week, I'm so bored! Last night I told my guy I hated feeling so restless. Then today I randomly checked my horoscope and got this:

High creativity, lots of work, stable love but low wellness and no money? That sounds about right...

Hmm... I'm far away from the few cars up here and the scooter cop has rolled by me three times in the past hour. Someone sucks at their job!

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Thursday, November 5, 2009


I feel like such a dork today because I'm starstruck by sets! I'm at the CBS Radford studios in Studio City working background on a new NBC show "100 Questions." I've been here before for "Accidentally on Purpose" and love that it's minutes from my apartment, but am particularly excited today to see sets from two of my favorite shows!

Know them?

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Picture Car

A line from my Studio Tour script: "Absolutely any vehicle the camera sees is called a 'picture car.' Between you and me, some of these cars are bigger stars than the actors who drove them! Coming up on the left, we have a famous cruise in..."

It's not just Kit, Herby and the DeLorean; background vehicles are required to fill the street and help create the setting. Stock taxis and cop cars and other specifics are owned by studio transportation department, but street cars come from background actors. "Bookable cars" are usually no more than five to ten years old, NOT white, red or black and not SUVs. So, my black '98 hadn't worked before today.

Thanks to the awesome background coordinator on "24," she's making her TV debute on 20th Century FOX's New York Street!

I'd had my hesitations about booking my car. I've seen background let other people drive their car. Not cool. When you are away from it, like for lunch, you have to leave it unlocked, with a key in it in case production needs to move it! I would not do that if I was on location, but here on the lot, it seemed safe. Some background complain that the measly fifteen extra dollars you get doesn't pay for the gas you idle away.

Despite all that, I never want to do regular background again! I'm such a loner, I loved being in my comfy car by myself with all my stuff and radio, driving in circles! It was fantastic! Now I'm a pedestrian again but might be back in my car when the sun goes down.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I feel like Charlie finding a golden ticket!

I should probably explain... SAG is an actor's union; the Screen Actors Guild. Strikes in recent years have created a lot of non-union work, but at the end of the day, real actors, most movies, many TV shows and even commercials are SAG. Although the union dues are crazy expensive and the industry is rough right now, people my age and above really need to be SAG to get an agent and manager.

How do you join SAG? If you're cast in a speaking role on a SAG project you must join as a result of the Taft-Hartley Act. The trouble is, it's a catch twenty-two; to get auditions for things on which you'd be Taft-Hartley-ed, you need an agent. But to get a good agent, you need to be union. You can also join through sister unions including AFTRA and Equity. Both these ways have lots of rules and regulations that I don't completely know.

I opted to turn to a third option, in which I feel I'm taking matters into my own hands a bit more. Background work. While it's a necessary evil that many people refuse to do, it does offer three benefits. 1. I'm paying my bills by being on set. 2. I'm learning from being on set. 3. I have the opportunity to join SAG by getting vouchers.

Ah, the voucher system... It's very broken, but the least of SAGs worries right now. Most positions on set are free-lance. Everyone from the sound guy to the Teamsters to the production assistants work different shows everyday and are hoping to land a regular position. That means we're paid per day on a voucher. One of the "you might be doing background..." jokes is "if your bank suspects you of small check fraud" because every single day of work is a separate pay check. (Yes, it's annoying.) Anyway, non-union vouchers are usually the color blue and union vouchers are usually yellow; most background are on a Willy Wonka quest for the golden vouchers!

After you acquire three union vouchers, you are then eligible to join SAG. How do you get a union voucher? Well, that is the million dollar question with no good answer! Sometimes it's luck. Maybe you replaced a union no-show, maybe the production had to pay a certain quota of actors on SAG rates and you were at the right place at the right time. Sometime it happens because you do something special. Like everything in this town, it seems to have a lot to do with who you know!

It's frustrating because I've met people who have their vouchers, but no interest in acting. Or, on a movie shoot people get SAG vouchers, then they're called back for continuity purposes for multiple days and they end up with well over the needed three vouchers. It makes people like me who have been working for five months and gotten none want to pull our hair out!

I've heard you need to be assertive; let the A.D. (assistant director) know you're trying to join and ask your P.A. (production assistant) if any vouchers are available. That's much easier said than done. Crew and background are usually kept separate and PAs usually don't have them to give or the authority to do so and are annoyed with being asked all the time. All too many P.A.s are on a power trip and being asked only feeds their ego. It's awkward and you're left feeling really desperate and sounding pathetic.

So how did I come by mine? By luck I was able to let my situation be known in a way that felt natural, not forced. Monday I was replacing someone on the FOX show "24" as a worker in the CTU. I immediately got a good vibe from the background point person and as he searched for that person's voucher I asked, "are they yellow?" The answer was no, so I joked, "aw, stupid so-and-so, what good are they?!" I know it sounds contrived, but in the moment it wasn't quite as bad as the usual background groveling. He laughed.

Later on set I learned it's a good show for getting vouchers, it has a lot of regular background and supposedly he'd even asked who needed them. I mentioned in my last post that the P.A. had been with the show from the begining, even had an office and that in many ways it was one of the nicest sets I'd ever been on. As it turns out, he's not a P.A., at least not anymore. I guess the show requires a lot of continuity among its extras so he has the rare title of "background coordinator," with responsibilities that would normally fall on the 2nd 2nd. (That's not a typo and means the third assistant director; why isn't it 3rd A.D.? No one knows...)

Later Monday he asked if I could come back today and of course I said yes. Only two or three of us were recalled. It didn't make sense to me that a "matching shot" wouldn't include the people I was right next to on set, but I certainly didn't question it. I knew in my heart there would be a yellow voucher waiting for me today. Somehow, I just knew! And there was!

He said it was because I'd filled in at the last minute, but that wasn't really the case. It wasn't a "rush call" and it wasn't in my control. Rather, he liked me and he actually had the ability to give me a SAG voucher, unlike most powerless P.A.s. And no, amazingly, he's not a creep trying to abuse his power like many of them seem to be. He treats everyone with respect and has created a what feels like a legitimate work environment. The crew and regular background are friendly with one another; the background knows what to do and where to go, which is vastly different than most sets I've been on. We chatted quite a bit today about my guy and our big move and I learned about his position, how he got his office and his recent attendance at the U2 concert! Now we're facebook friends.

As I suspected, it wasn't even a matching shot; they didn't need me for continuity! Sometimes the director changes the shot and doesn't need us; in some cases I've heard extras are called in just in case... In my five months that's never happened. I've always worked. Sometime you sit around for hours to work only fifteen minutes, but you work. Today there were only seven or eight extras total and a few of us didn't work at all. How funny, my first day on a SAG voucher and my first day not doing a damn thing!

I was there for eight and a half hours, just thirty minutes shy of awesome union overtime. Usually that's annoying, but I was making double the non-union rate. Tomorrow I'm working the show again for a different scene at a different location, using my car. He needed non-union cars, so I know I won't be getting voucher number two, but I'll take the work!

I was already getting burnt out on background and a little downtrodden, but this feels amazing and refocuses my plan of action! Two more golden tickets and I can join Willy Wonka and the other umpa-lumpas in the acting factory!

Monday, November 2, 2009


Well, I narrowly survived the big move in Ohio last month. Now most of our belongings, including a car, are smooshed in a storage unit and my man and pets are living with a friend, in a very tiny room!

[Believe it or not, there's a king sleigh bed, huge dresser, huge armoire, large TV, kitchen table and chairs, chaise, Bowflex and other workout equipment under all those boxes. Plus, two ducks and a goose! It helped that the couches went elsewhere and we sold our washer and dryer.]

Here in LA, I've been working my ass off, doing both background work and Halloween Horror Nights tours at Universal.

[This is essentially a picture of a picture. I looked into the camera and photographed the monitor that the guests see.]

I FINALLY got a blogger iPhone ap to work, I think... Hopefully it will work and I can update much more often. I don't want to be someone who twitters or updates their Facebook status a thousand times a day, but there are often little blurbs I'd share on here.

For example, today I'm on "24" and loving it! The background PA (production assistant) has been with the show for its entirety, so he has an office in the sound stage and is very cool. Most of the background are regulars and our holding area is really nice. 'Nice' means indoors and with seating!

Background actors do a lot of 'crossing,' or walking back and forth; so I had to laugh at (and then take a picture of) our door to set:

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