Saturday, June 28, 2008

Blood Done Sign My Name - Oxford, NC Welcome

This is a picture taken with actress Robyn Shute and Andy Kaplan in front of the Welcome sign for Oxford, NC. In fact, we were actually shooting that day in Shelby, NC in an old run down area of town. The film takes place in a small town in 1969, so our costumes and hair reflect the era. Robin has a wig and my hair was cut short and slicked down. The costumers also supplied my shirt and undershirt and told me to unbutton the top buttons. Even though we are "extras" There is tremendous amount of work put into the details. Most of the costumes for the movie are rented from companies in Los Angeles. The costumers pick out the clothes from a large warehouse and they are trucked cross-country in tractor trailers which then are used as the local "warehouse" during filming.
Robyn is a talented actress who has a background in opera, self defense and horseback riding. She can fill a multitude of roles in a movie from actress to singer to stunt double.

Ten Tips for Being a "Professional " Extra

It is just over a year that I completed filming as an extra in the film Leatherheads. Although being an extra means waiting around, bringing multiple wardrobes, eating after the actors and production crew eat or watching them eat upscale food, while you are having burgers, there is a path or journey to move on to professional acting.

The journey and knowledge of being an extra and moving into different roles includes the understanding of the set, the director, the costumers, and production assistants. Here are some of the tips and tricks I learned along my short journey.

1. Be Inquisitive - On most movie sets there are people who just show up for fun and those who are interested in the "craft" of acting or producing a movie. Since on most movie shoots extras can be waiting for hours a day, there is an opportunity to engage in conversation with other actors/extras. You can also engage in conversation with the production assistants, hairstylists, makeup artists, audio engineers, grips, caterers, and even like on Leatherheads, the Animal Wrangler.

2. Listen - In the midst of all the waiting around there is then that moment when you are being called to the set. Listen to the announcements from the production assistants in extras holding. Be ready to go to the set on a moments notice.

3. Be Professional - Treat this as a professional job, not a hobby. Although you may be making minimum wage, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent daily on major film productions or on a small film the actual invested money of the local producer or director. Show up to the set at the right time, bring the right clothes, and be positive.

4. Costumes - For many films, you may need to be self dressed. This means you are responsible for bringing clothes that fit the role for the movie or scene you are doing that day. If you are going to be a lawyer, town leader businessman, then bring a very nice suit and tie.. If you are a blue collar worker, then an old pair of jeans, and an appropriate shirt works. For women, bring the appropriate dress or pants for the day. Also maybe most importantly bring a good pair of shoes, so that you can wear your own vs the ones they may give you. This also means you may have to invest in clothes. You might need to go to a Salvation army to look for old clothes if you are working on a movie set in the 1960's for example. Make sure you also have an idea of your sizes. You might be dressed by the costumers themselves. In this case, and this is the fun part, you get to wear the clothes of that era.

5. Hair and Makeup - This is possibly a challenging area for some. In many films you will need to have your hair cut to match the era that the film or period that the film covers. In Leatherheads, my hair was cut to look like 1925. In Blood Done Sign My Name, my hair was styled and cut for the small town NC 1960's look. If you have a beard or mustache you might be asked to shave it off. The more flexible you are the more roles you can get.

6. Casting Directors - On each film there is an extras casting director. Keep an eye on their website or call their extras hotline on a regular basis. Keep in contact with them and let them know you availability. If they are on the set, introduce yourself and thank them for the opportunity. You might also inquire to future dates and roles that may be appropriate for your "look". In many films you may play multiple roles.

7. Paperwork and Pay - On most movie sets, you will need a drivers license and social security card as proof that you are legal to work on the film. Upon arrival on the set, the first thing you will do is sign in. There is usually a table set up as you arrive at the extras holding area. You will be asked to fill out a "pay" form that specifies who you are and where the check should be sent and how much the daily pay rate is. In cases where you will be given costumes, you will need to give your form to the costumers during the day. This is a way for them to make sure you don't walk off with any costumes. At the end of the day, when you are "wrapped" they will sign you out and give you the paperwork copy. Keep these in your records, as there might be a chance your paperwork might get lost. Also, travel costs are not usually covered, so plan that as part of your expenses. Carpooling, crashing on someones couch, sharing a motel room or sleeping in your car are some of the ways to keep expenses to a minimum.

8. Directions to the set - Make sure you have the correct driving directions to the set and a phone # of someone working on the production in case you get lost. In many cases, the film will be in an area of town which is sparsely populated. You may also be arriving at the set at 4:30 am to 6 am when not many people are around and stores are closed. Typically there will be signs directing you to extras parking when you are within a few blocks of production.

9. Be Noticed, Not Pushy - When you are on the set or in extras holding, get to know the production assistant who leads you out to the set. As you arrive on set, try to meet the production assistant there also and build trust and let them know your are professional and serious about this film. Many of them are just like you working their way up the ladder.

10. In the scene - One you arrive on the set, an assistant director in charge of keeping track of extras will instruct you or pick you out to be in a scene. They know you may be a first time person or they know you have experience so may use you differently. In some cases you may be in the deep background where you are just filling in the background just like scenery. If you are fortunate you may have a role where your face is clearly seen or you are "Featured". You know you are featured when the cameraman takes a tape measure to your face or the camera is just a few feet away. In any case, once you are "featured" you also may be "used" so they can not show your face any more. For example, in leatherheads I was a Chicago Photographer and Reporter. When I showed up one day, they were filming a scene in Duluth MN. It would not have made sense for me to be there. Or in Blood Done Sign my name, I was a city councilman. It might not make sense, if I was in another scene as a State policeman. As a professional, be honest with the assistant director. If you are not, you may end up being cut from the film when they edit.

10.5 Enjoy yourself, enjoy the journey, make new friends and "break a leg". You may even want to pack a bag with your overnight supplies, you never know when you may be asked to stay an "extra" day!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ricky Schroeder and Me

Last night I arrived at Charlotte, NC Silver Hammer Studios for the day filming of Blood Done Sign My Name. It was in a new area of Charlotte being developed for the creative community which included the Music Factory. It was a scorching day outside, so it was good that the production was inside. We arrived at around 1:30 pm and met with the costumer who outfitted us for outfits for 1970's church leaders. Our scene to be shot that day would be the Church leaders meeting with the Minister of the Church, played by Ricky Schroeder. Based upon a true story, our scene was depicting the white minister of the town who invited a black minister into his church to speak about race relations. The church leaders do not think it is a good idea and try to dissuade the minister.

Our scene took place inside a "Church Meeting Room" which looked like a conference room. Eleven leaders and the minister sat around the table. I was standing in the back of the room directly facing the minister (Ricky Schroeder). He gave an impassioned speech. This was one of the first scenes which I was involved with that had intense dialogue and close up shots taken by many of the actors in the film.

It was a great learning curve to see how they moved the cameras around to various sides of the table to get the close ups. They shot about 6 different angles moving the cameras each time.

I did get my third haircut from the film It was cut quite short and it was meticulous since we were getting closeups. Also got to wear a very thin1970's era tie which added to the realism.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Politics and Social Media

The battle is shaping up in the Presidential election and technology is playing a major role in attracting the youth vote. We noticed last week that a new group was set up by the McCain campaign by Senator Joseph Lieberman to attract the independent voters to McCain's cause. This was a new "group" that can be opted into on the John McCain website. This is a smart move for those who do not want to receive the "republican" message and sets a signal that McCain is still working to be a "maverick", yet being practical about consolidating his base of support. They are also going to use this group to attract the disenfranchised "Hillary" supporters from areas such as NY, CT, NJ and FL.

Obama is continuing to mine his base of supporters for small donations. However, his website and messages talk about a "matching donor", so this is an interesting twist since a 'matching donor" seems to me to be someone with "influence".

Speaking of strange bedfellows, I just saw a commercial with the Reverend Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson about the environment and global warming. It is good to see role models of being world citizens from these two influential leaders.

One other trend seems to be happening also. With social networks spreading worldwide, there is more of a chance of a young person to meet and establish friendships with others in dozens of other countries and to essentially develop more of a global framework. This impact means that there will be a developing awareness of global politics and trends from a very young age.
This may also break down some of the stereotypes and propaganda we read about other countries.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Book Expo of America Impressions

Takeaway Feeling at Book Expo - Reinvigorated, Excited About Books
Everywhere I looked people shared the passion and love of books and memories of reading. Author Dennis Lehane mentioned on a panel how he will always remember the first book he read. I think it was Smokey the Bear.

He also shared how his book Mystic River he didn’t think would become a best seller because it was a sad book. Of course, it did, but that humbleness was what the audience loved about him. And we all clamored to have his new book, The Given Day autographed, just one of the many book treasures I picked up at the Expo.

Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran shared how books allow you to live in the imagination and how vital this space is to freedom of the individual and to a country. She shared how in Iran that Desdemona was edited out of Othello because they thought it would depress the people and that Olive Oil was edited out of Popeye because of her apparent low morals. These forms of censorship stifled the imagination and the experience of the story itself.

I left her panel wanting to celebrate the right and priveldge to read, something that shouldn't be taken for granted.

Marketing Impressions:

1. The average publisher featured 2-4 books at the show. They probably gave away an average of five hundred books per title. That’s a huge expense.

2. Some publishers featured book samplers. These included sample chapters of a book by a known author. Or included collected bodies of work. For instance, I picked up Paris Review’s sampler of interviews with authors.

3. Most publishers had giveaways in addition to books. These included: beautiful color catalogs, totes, book marks, clever candy, cookies, or magnet type promos around the theme of the book. Some had hats and t-shirts.

4. Authors autographed books at their publisher’s booth, or shared a booth with another author. Many signed books following a panel or signed books at the designated autographing area. Authors like the publishers participated in the huge free book frenzy of Book Expo. It’s the nature of the expo, but I suspect that that will change in the future.

5. Booths for authors
The writers’ row area which was in the secondary hall of the show had several booths for authors. Many authors teamed up to share booth costs. They gave away book marks and were quite selective about who they gave a free book to compared to the larger publishers.

6. Sharing of booths by independent publishers
Various university and literary presses teamed up and shared booths. But they still gave away a ton of books.

7. What seemed hot and different?
a) Graphic novels were very big at the show both from U.S. publishers and Asian publishers.

b) Environmental books and environmentally conscious book giveaways. Along these lines I did check out Amazon’s Kindle Device. Of course, I looked up my novel Jen-Zen and the One Shoe Diaries and that was fun. I liked using the device. It was easy to navigate and a treat to use. I think devices like this will continue to play a larger role in the future as we as a society become more conscious of our carbon footprint.

MediaMensch Meets Marcus Smith, new CEO of SMI Motorsports

This week begins a new chapter for NASCAR and Motorsports as Marcus Smith, takes over as the CEO of the company founded by his father and chairman, Bruton Smith and fills the shoes of legendary promoter and former CEO, Humpy Wheeler.

Today at Lowes Motor Speedway Club, we had a chance to be part of a press luncheon to meet and greet Marcus. Marcus grew up in the business at his father's side and told some great stories of learning the business from the "outside". As a young man, he was a champion "Weedwhacker" who could trim your hair with precision. He also had to opportunity to take part in some other stadium "maintenance" activities such as chasing the pigeons away with shotguns. That was the "sunburn" part of his career.

After college, Marcus had the opportunity to learn about the business from the "inside" moving around from department to department and gaining responsibilities as he grew in his job.

His vision for the future of his organization was to keep SMI a place where the employees and fans had fun each day. At the heart of the sport is entertainment and the future challenges are allowing the fans to have access to the drivers in the face of increasing media and sponsorship demands.

Marcus is currently on a "listening" and learning tour of SMI and seems to be doing the things that a good leader must do, surround yourself with great people, provide direction, and then get out of their way.

Many interesting events are coming to Lowes Motor Speedway and the other tracks owned by SMI. Last week, SMI bought Kentucky Motor Speedway, and on September 11, 2008 will be opening the "Bellagio" of drag racing strips called the ZMAX Dragway. (Can you tell he owns the Las Vegas Speedway too!).

As far the the challenge of filling seats due to $4.00 gas prices, SMI will be working to package its tickets to keep that experience affordable to its core fan base. One statistic, I learned today was the their average fan to Lowes Motor Speedway travels 400 miles each way on average and stays for multiple days. It is the one sport, where you can really bring your friends and family and have a life long memory.

We also had a great time at our lunch table getting to know a "Motorsports Historian" and a few other executives who surround Marcus Smith and will be playing key roles in the day to day execution of his vision.

MediaMensch looks forward to deepening our relationship with NASCAR, NHRA and Motorsports owners, teams, drivers, sponsors and especially the fans!.

Welcome Marcus! We look forward to your 50 year plan!