NOA

A child screams as the rain pours down all around us. I can’t see him, only hear him. The pitiful sounds of a young lad, screaming and crying; His girlfriend is dead.

My hands are caked in fake mud and real, fake blood, and real. My clothes are soaked inside out with sweat, and outside in with rain, to the point of pouring out my sleeves as I hold them at my sides.

“BACKGROUND!” We charge. No time to think, no time to react, just go, just go, don’t fall, just go. Spear up, don’t stab anyone, don’t stab yourself, spear up. Heads up – rain up, a womyn falls next to me. Just keep running. Don’t fall, spear up, just go.

“CUT!” the stampede slows to a walk feet from the camera. Out of breathe we lean on our spears and each other, awaiting praise or criticism.

“Back to to one.” Still isn’t perfect. Few more takes, maybe a few more angles. We’ll get it – we’ll get it.

How the hell did I get here?

TWO MONTHs EARLIER

After a particularly long evening of emailing potential employers I stumbled upon an open casting call for Martin Scorcese’s “Wolf on Wall Street,” where else, but on Craigslist. I had been to a couple scam auditions already, but this one seemed a little more legitimate than they had, so I thought there was no harm in at least showing up.

The next day I arrived in the city wearing a full suit, brief case, and carrying business cards. They wanted lawyer types, so I hoped my professional appearance would take attention away from the gruff state my beard was in. Since growing it that summer I had grown quite fond of it, and since camera operating didn’t have a dress code I hadn’t thought to shave it.

When I arrived to the casting location the line stretched twice around the block, in and out of the sun, and for two hours I waited. I sweated. I chatted with my fellow would be Wallstreeters, and sweated.

By the time I got inside my professional appearance was a little faded, but I adjusted my tie and marched through the doors. Inside I discovered what looked like five hundred or more people seated in a large auditorium hall filling out paper work, and dreaming of Hollywood. I found a seat in the middle and next to my chair was a very large man, a body builder who hadn’t taken any short cuts. Black shirt, black hair, black shoes, black shorts, black eyes, cold stare.

He took one look at me and walked over.

“You have a beard.”
“Yes, I do. I grew it myself.”
“Take this card, show it to them when you turn in your papers. Then come to the back for a private audition.”

I’d heard of things like this happening, but I wasn’t exactly prepared to get on my knees and “beg” for a job.

In the back there was a separate room with a small crop of men and womyn listening to a very jovial Australian ex-military officer explain the audition. I happened to walk in just on the tail end of this description;

“So if any of you lil shits are ill, have a condition, worried about rain, late nights, or nudity – please get the fuck out now.”

No one even blinked.

“Happy days. Let’s get started then.”

Over the next hour we all demonstrated basic fighting techniques, dying techniques, and the ability to follow orders. When all was said and done, they started pointing fingers in the crowd. I was chosen alongside five other gentleman.

Lucky us.

The Rain

Many of us made a choice after that first day, give up or get wet.

Over the next two months we saw numbers surge and fall as literally hundreds of actors would sign up to replace fallen comrades, only to turn around and quit the next day. In one week we watched as over 400 people walked away from the project. Not a single person I was friends with on set gave up, and it became a point of pride amongst those who were there that first day on how many shooting days they had survived. To my knowledge no single person was able to be present every single day of shooting due to scheduling conflicts or illness, but when Principal photography ended I was among the stupid few who had stayed the whole time.

It wasn’t bad at first, we were in the forest so we had some cover and the shots were short so no one ever got too wet for too long. This only lasted two days.

For the bulk of shooting we were in an open field, from 10 pm – 4am, with the rain, and the camera.

“RAIN ON!” became a battle cry.

“Tsh, tsh, tshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” was it’s answer. And for the next six hours, we pressed forward through mud, and shit, and dirt. Blinded by the endless wall of water we stumbled forward through the field. Running into each other, over each other, picking up those who fell and dragging them along. If they wanted it to look real, we accomplished that.

“CUT!” Meant only a brief reprieve. We would turn to one another for a quick joke, a hug, a smoke. Anything to help us forget what was happening.

“STAND BY!”

Back into ranks, back to one, back into the shit.

“RAIN ON!” “RAIN ON!” “RAIN ON!” again and again and again.

There was no where you could go once you came to set. You either stood in the rain, or you sat in it, there was no other way. We enjoyed little except laughing at the new recruits when they asked “is it cold?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.”

I saw a man fall and snap his ankle. A girl rip her mouth open on a log. Another I’d prefer not to describe.

The only thing that kept me going in the end, was a sick sense of personal pride, and those with whom I shared it.

The People of Earth

Background work’s most rewarding feature is the intense population of people you are intimately exposed to. On set I made friends with everyone I could, but I’d like to take an opportunity to thank those who kept me smiling through the cold, the late nights, the  long lines, the people who laughed every time they saw me and stood by me in the rain.

Tom, a father of six, professional high wire technician, who showed me pictures of him alone on the top of skyscrapers rewiring antennae. We spent all day and night quoting “Step Brothers” and just bullshitting the only way a 40 year old man and a 24 year old boy could. He always saved a seat for me, and kept a spot for me in line. Thank you.

Kris Kemp, a comedian and playwright. Our inspirational leader who often led us in inaudible gibberish speeches to which we would all exclaim in high joy from to confuse the ADs. Keep on dancing man. Thank you.

Alejandro, my fellow boxer and filmmaker. I hope we can make those movies soon. Thank you.

Nick, the golden haired child of the tribe, try to get more sleep little one. Thank you.

Sarah, skippy, my train travel companion and bus buddy. Shine on. Thank you.

To everyone else, I was very glad to meet you, and look forward to seeing you all again someday. Thank you.

For Pictures and Videos from set please see this unofficial flickr.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kriskemp/sets/72157631675338825/with/8051643681/

One comment

  1. bicycledays

    You described this perfectly in a really cool visual style. Background work is about the people, like being part of a summer camp with creative people, playing dress up, running around, participating in a kind-of Indian corn vanilla train wreck. You’re a terrific writer, JT.

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