Rush Call for a Background Extra
To be a monk... or not to be a monk
Another rush call... where you never know what you’re in for! One day you're an orthodox hassid -the next day you're a mysterious monk. That's showbiz.
The casting agency called me to be available for a 5:30 PM call at St. Josephat Monastery in Glen Cove on Long Island. My instructions were to wear a black shirt, socks, shoes, pants, belt… simply black! That was simple enough –extras are always prepared for black… it’s the “blend-in-the-background” de facto national color for us extras.
The location was quite remote but my trusty GPS got me in front of the gates. Unfortunately the gates had unclear signs on it and I bypassed it the first time, winding up on a foggy beach parking lot a mile down the road. But the beach parking lot was loaded with the huge Haddad trucks so I felt reassured. When I asked where I should park, the workers there were ambiguous and didn’t know. So I trekked back to the monastery gates and entered. The path took me up a narrow winding foggy uncharted road with no visible signs of civilization (not even on my GPS) –until I got to the top. There, I saw the familiar haze of bright studio lights and crew-people! I also saw a row of cars parked off the road and figured I’d pull in behind one of them.
BAD MOVE! The car began to slide a few inches off the slightly-banked pavement and onto the periphery of a vast gooey lawn. I was stuck in mud.
I felt my front-wheel-drive wheels slipping and the car sliding. Repeated maneuvers to get back on the paved road, just inches away were futile. Two guys came along to try to direct me but their savvy was not up to the challenges of the muddy mush and I just got dangerously closer and closer to another vehicle. At that point the two guys bailed on me. Since my driver’s side door was too close to the adjacent vehicle, I had to clamber out of the car through the passenger side. SLURP! Stepping into the unavoidable mud I realized that parts of my black shoes were now brown. As I walked away from my precariously positioned car, I knew I’d have to call for help… eventually. The job came first –I opted to check in before anything else.
Walking up the stone path and into the monastery’s front yard, I asked where holding was from the workers. No one knew!? I had studied up on the location and was familiar with the exterior so I decided to go to where the most lights were (near the front door) and went in. Again asking where the extras are being held brought no result. But this was the film crew… with 2-way radios in their ears… couldn’t they ask “someone” in charge of us extras?! No one knew where holding was?? Amazing chaos.
I went exploring around the busy-crewed house, noticing the neat architecture (circa 1910) and the iconic decorations (occupied by Basilian monks since the early 1940's) which I had studied from the website's information. However, at the moment nothing was neat. The icons, statues, candle holders, were shoved all over the place and there were monitors, spotlights and cardboard mats with electric cables taped to the floors. Complicated technology meets monastic simplicity.
Eventually I came upon a separate room with a fireplace where there were seats arranged with the sign “Solutions” on the back of them. I wished they had the word “Extras” instead. One silver-haired man was sitting in a wooden pew. I asked him if this was holding. He immediately acknowledged that it was and became very enthused to have company. As we chatted, it turned out that we had worked together on "The Men Who Built America" a few months ago. He told me that he lived in this neighborhood and had once worked with his father at this monastery as carpenters. How apropos, I thought. He explained that the monastery was almost closed up now. Only two people were running it and very few monks were joining up. He lamented that young people are not very religious anymore. That they only turn to God when they have one foot in the grave.
A young Production Assistant entered and we asked him if we could check in but he was vague about it and rushed out of the room. Another extra had found our holding area and sat down. More chatting ensued and after a long wait we decided to wander toward the absent PA’s area. While there were vouchers there, it was only for union people. We assumed the PA went out to get the non-union vouchers. Soon another dozen extras entered –they were bused in and had just arrived. I started to wish that I’d taken the bus too… reflecting on my stuck-in-the-mud situation. Two additional PA’s also arrived with more vouchers. I filled mine out and informed one of the PA’s about needing help with my car. He said he’d look into it. I’ve heard that response before; it usually meant that it would be forgotten. I started to worry more about my debilitated transportation at the end of the night. Soon after the check in muddle, we were led out into the courtyard for a short break under the tent where the snacks were set up –and it began to rain. Great… more mud under my car.
Later, back in holding, two wardrobe women showed up with a batch of long red robes. We were finally told that our role would be “monks” of some mysterious order. We put on the robes and immediately the photo-frenzy started. Each of us was taking iPhone pictures of ourselves since it was great resume-material. As we posed for ourselves, an elderly man and a young “apprentice” priest entered our area and greeted us with friendly handshakes. They were the only real “monks” of the place. But they were inspired about our garb, and later took photos of us in a group shot –including themselves in it.
After we all calmed down into our seats, a short time passed by and the PA announced that we were all DISMISSED –the director had decided not to do our scene tonight… putting it off until the end of the week. BUT… we would all get paid for the day! Wow… here I was worried that we’d be here past midnight but with this “unexpected turn of events” we were checked out at 8:00 PM. I was second on the checkout line and would have been on my way home were it not for my car’s predicament. I asked the PA again if anyone was going to help me out but the same reply was “mantracized”: “Hang tight. I’ll look into it.” Everyone else was also delayed because their return bus had been late to arrive for the unexpected early pickup.
OK… so no one was going to help anytime soon –and I’ll have to spend the night here with the real monks. And then I remembered my seldom-used AAA card hiding in my wallet. As I began to make my call, the PA kept Shhhh-shing us because we were too loud with our chit-chatting and the filming (somewhere in the monastery) was picking up all the chit-chat sounds. Later on, after we did our bathroom break, an “announcement” came from one of the directors below our floor: “Stop flushing the f---ing toilet! The sound is being picked up every f---ing time the f---ing toilet is being f---ing flushed!!!”
So I ventured around to another room, the kitchen, where I saw an elderly woman doing her chores while a small TV was blaring away. I figured I’d be “safe” making noise here. I called the AAA people who said they would be sending someone in 20 minutes. I wanted to believe that, but knowing the difficulties in finding this place, I had my doubts. So I began to chat with the “kitcheness” in anticipation of a long wait.
She had a striking resemblance to Charlotte Rae from the old Different Strokes TV series and a friendly demeanor. She had overheard my plaints on the phone and was sympathetic to my predicament. We also chatted about the history of this place. Mostly she was very excited about the TV scenes they’d done outside her kitchen window. She described a scene earlier in the day where a lot of characters were shooting each other “by the gazebo”… and how a helicopter came down and women in white robes rushed to “escape in it”. I listened intently and wished that my rush call would have been earlier so I could have witnessed these scenes also. DAMN!
Twenty minutes later two AAA guys arrived in an SUV! I was somewhat disappointed because I was sure that a tow truck would be needed. It was still drizzling when the two Russians expertly figured out the precise pulls and pushes that had to be made in order to extract my slip-sliding car from the pitch-black night’s mire. After 30 minutes, my two front wheels were on the road and I was able to be on my way… but not before tipping them. Generally I don’t tip for something I’d already paid for, but they were REALLY GOOD at their job and I made sure to mention it to their boss who did a follow-up “satisfaction survey”.
Of course the three-minute trip down the “mountain” was now rainy and foggy… not unlike in the “Rocky Horror Picture Show”. And at one point I almost made the wrong turn –no Dr. Frankenfurter on this trip! Finally the mist cleared and I saw the front gates (it gave new meaning to the thrill of “checking the gates” –the usual announcement from a director at the end of a successfully shot scene) and I was back on the civilized road to home again.
I never got to be in a scene... I never got to see the set where they were actually filming... never got to see who the director was on this episode (last of the season) -much less any of the celebrities. Oh well, such are the adventures of a paid extra when “acting strange” is not an option.