Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Chuck the Writer's Experience with the new Angelina Jolie movie

The Craigslist advertisement seemed too good to be true. I could make some money by being an extra in an upcoming Hollywood motion picture - a film for which scenes would be filmed in Albany.

Sounded like a good deal. So I submitted a picture of myself and my car (the world-famous 1991 Pontiac 6000) and received a call back a day later. The person I spoke to, who identified herself as "Tina from Columbia Pictures," gave me some dates that they were filming and asked me if I would be available on those dates. I said yes, and immediately realized that I was about to become part of a Hollywood motion picture.

The motion picture, apparently an action film called SALT, stars Angelina Jolie as a CIA agent accused of being a Russian spy. Part of the film involves a chase scene filmed around Albany's elevated Interstate 787, and there was a need for cars to simulate Washington, D.C. traffic on that highway as part of the car chase.

I showed up for work early on Saturday, April 25, at a warehouse down by the Port of Albany. I filled out a blue voucher for payment, and was informed that I would be receiving $85 for 8 hours of work per day, plus time and a half if it goes over 8 hours, plus double time if it goes over 12 hours - and I would also receive $35 extra for the use of my car in the film.

For me, this was a no-brainer - I could use the money toward some of my bills, and gather enough for a down payment on either a swank Nikon D700 camera or its equally sexy big brother, the Nikon D3 camera. Plus, the production fed me and all the extras breakfast and lunch.

The first three days would have certainly swayed anyone from being part of a Hollywood production. The majority of us were not used, and in fact stayed at the warehouse all day. By the fourth day of shooting (Thursday, April 30), we actually got out of the warehouse, and I found myself assigned to an entrance ramp onto I-787, parked behind a black Chevy Blazer and a silver Dodge Ram 4x4. Crew members and cameras were all around the parking lot. Next thing I know, an elderly crew member was behind my car.

I rolled down the window and asked him what he was doing back there.

He said, "I have to put this DC license plate over your New York plates, the scene is being filmed in DC and the cars need to look like they're from DC."

Fine by me. So for a few days my Pontiac 6000 is a veteran of the Beltway and not the Thruway.

Essentially my "scenes" involved me driving up onto 787 with the Blazer and the Ram, then the filming would stop and someone would say "Okay, reset!"

If you've ever been in a Hollywood film, "Reset" means get back to the original position you were in before filming began. Even if it means driving 40mph IN REVERSE down a curved access ramp. I did that about 20 times in one day. My transmission will probably remind me about it at a future time.

Did I get to see Angelina Jolie? Maybe for a split second, I was so far away from where they were filming the scene that I couldn't tell at times if it was Ms. Jolie or a stunt double.

However, I think the best part of the filming was to be able to meet so many different and varied people, all of whom were either chasing the dream of being in Hollywood, or at least being in the Screen Actors Guild (and boy did I catch on to such lingo as "meal penalties" and "NDB" real quick). Me - I was just looking forward to that paycheck. $85 for 8 hours of work, $35 for the car, and time and a half. Minus taxes, of course - but hey, that averaged out to a lot of money. It wouldn't buy the D700 or the D3 outright, but it would at least make a dent on a down payment. Plus, I made connections with several people for future freelance jobs or new future opportunities. There's plenty of positives in that.

After six days of filming, I thanked the PA's for the experience of working in a Hollywood film, even though I suspect my car will only be in about 3 frames of the finished product. I turned in my fake DC license plate (one of the PA's said I should have just driven home and kept it, but that's not me), and went home to wait for the checks to come.

The first check came... but that will be a topic for another post.

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