Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Will Smith-ish Blog

So I called the casting hot line last Friday, the night before the shoot, only to find out that the location is in San Leandro – not San Francisco, as I had been told. And I had to be there at 6:15 a.m. If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have said yes to extra work. San Leandro s thirty miles away, I don’t have a car, and BART doesn’t even start running until 6:00. Fortunately, I was able to hitch a ride, but it meant meeting my ride (a very nice woman named Elizabeth) in the Haight at 4:30 in the morning.

Buses don’t run much at that hour, and I wound up taking a cab to her. But at least she was there, waiting for me.

Now, San Leandro is in the East Bay, which would be fairly easy to get to over the Bay Bridge. But the Bay Bridge was closed from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. for the retrofit. So we had to go south, cut over on the San Mateo Bridge, then cut back. This we did.

We found ourselves in San Leandro about 45 minutes after starting our journey. Unfortunately, the directions given on the hot line were what back asswards. Instead of a LEFT on X Street, it really a RIGHT.

So we found ourselves making vehicular in the dark pre-dawn hours. In San Leandro.

Fortunately, we found a gas station that had a map. I figured out where it was, and we arrived on schedule.

There was breakfast, coffee, and then a lot of sitting around. Others (extras dressed as doctors and nurses) did their scenes, but my first shot (I was a worker) didn’t occur until 2 in the afternoon. I didn’t mind so much. I got some work done, and got through a big chuck of Neal Stephenson (I recommend THE BAROQUE CYCLE highly, by the way; it’s 3000 pages of bliss – pirates, escape from slavery, pitched battles, romance, Isaac Newton!)

I was a worker, getting in line to donate blood behind Will Smith’s character, who has just received money for the blood he donated.

We went through a rehearsal, and I couldn’t stop staring at “Will Smith.” I figured he was a stand-in, but he really LOOKED like Will Smith. Only something was…. off. He was thicker than Will Smith. He was a good-looking guy, but he didn’t have that Will Smith insouciance. He moved slower.

I was trying to figure it out. Maybe he was a Bizarro World Will Smith. But, rehearsal over, we seemed to be waiting for something.

“Will Smith” and the D.P. shared their favorite 3 Stooges episodes, and “Will Smith” acted out an exchange from his particular fave. And then Will Smith showed up. It was really strange seeing Will Smith and “Will Smith” together. It was like somebody had made a photocopy of a photocopy of Will Smith to make “Will Smith.” (I found out the next day that “Will Smith” was, in fact, Will Smith’s brother.)

I didn’t know that Will Smith was that tall. He’s like 6’3”, 6’4”. The director is Italian – Gabriele Muccino – and this is his first American movie. He has made several Italian movies, however, none of which I had heard of or seen.

I was in a warehouse, walking slowly down an aisle, with a clipboard.

In front of me, Will Smith approached a counter, and looked at a form. Thandi Newton was with him. (She’s Zimbabwean! And really really skinny!)

The camera was on a dolly.

After one take, the director told the D.P. that, after he’d dollied in, pan right to the form. The D.P. told the director that he was taking his cue to pan to the form when Will Smith looks at it.

No, the director said: “Go boomah!”

This elicited huge laughs from the cast and crew. I gather than Mr. Muccino’s accent and unfamiliarity with American idiom is a frequent source of amusement. Mr. Muccino, an affable yet intense man, doesn’t seem to mind.

That was pretty much it for the first day. Since none of the other extras lived in San Francisco, and I didn’t want to hang around until the crew wrapped, and I could wheedle a ride from somebody, I decided to take BART home.

Along the way to the station, I found myself at a very wide boulevard - three lanes on either side. As I pushed the Walk button., I noticed there was an Asian woman on the other side pushing her Walk button as well. I stabbed mine with my thumb. She did the same.

When we finally got the signal we desired, we both walked across. As she passed me, she gave me a huge smile, as though we had, together, achieved a major victory.

It was about thirty blocks to the BART station. There I found myself with only a ten dollar bill in my wallet. A change machine converted that into two fives. But there was no machine to break a five into coins. And the ticket machine did not give change. So I used my ATM card to purchase a ticket for 3.60, the amount it costs to travel from San Leandro to San Francisco.

Disembarking from San Francisco, I counted up my change, and found I was a nickel short of the 1.50 required by MUNI. The same damn BART change machine problem prevailing in SF, I was forced to surface to find a way to break down a fiver into something more manageable.

Unfortunately, there are few stores open on Market Street at eight o’clock on a Saturday night. I had to walk four blocks before I found a 7/11, where I purchased cherry Ricollas. My mouth full of cherry goodness, and my pocket full of replenished change, I resubmerged myself.

But all the turnstiles at Montgomery accepted only FastPasses. I was forced to walk another two blocks underground to the Powell Street station, and finally made my way home. I got there about 9 p.m.

The props cart had a bobble-head Hank Williams doll perched on it.

The call was for 6:18 a.m. I thought, that’s awfully PRECISE, isn’t it? Especially when everybody knows it really means “6:30-ish.” Which is EXACTLY what it turned out to be. After putting on our costumes at base camp (an old pier down by Fisherman’s Wharf), we were shuttled to the holding room in Chinatown, where we hung up our wardrobes and waited. There were about a hundred of us. The Asians had "china" written on their vouchers. The white people had "cauc shopper" on theirs.

We leaped into action on the second day, however, and were on the set by 9 a.m.

Here was the deal: Will Smith and Thandi Newton were walking down an alley, having an argument. We were walking on the street perpendicular to the alley as they fought.

I walked up a street, as Will Smith shouted at Thandi Newton.

I walked DOWN this same street, as Will Smith shouted at Thandi Newton.

I walked UP and DOWN the street at the other end of the alley, as Will Smith shouted at Thandi Newton.

Finally, I walked down the first street, without Will Smith in attendance.

Jada Plinkett-Smith showed up mid-afternoon with son, Jaden Smith, who is playing Will Smith’s son in the movie. She’s very short!

It is very difficult to keep Chinese non-extras out of a shot, even with the aid of an interpreter. Chinese non-extras seem, by and large, to be indifferent to the presence of film crews.

One of our Chinese extras gave the crowd handlers a phrase, “Mo Hi, Loy Loy,” which I believe means either, “Keep moving, thank you,” or “You’re in the fucking shot, thank you.”

A guy with a bullhorn was shouting, “Keep moving, keep moving, thank you,” when an old Chinese woman, walking in front of him, stopped and said, “What’s the meter?”

The guy with bullhorn said, “Meter?”

And I said, “I think she means ‘What’s the MATTER?’”

I believe she thought he was yelling at her, personally. Oddly, she didn’t seem that upset about it.

She moved on, before he could say anything more.

There was one guy who had brought his own portable television, and a fold-away cot. And he was dressed like a Mongol prince, in black silks, with long black hair, and a Fu Manchu-ish moustache.

There was also a Chinese guy, playing a single-string Chinese violin. He was there mainly for atmosphere, but he could play the thing. The funny thing was, he didn’t seem to know any Chinese music. As a matter of fact, the only two songs he played were Red River Valley and the Anniversary Waltz.

I got home around 8 o’clock last night. I was supposed to work again this morning, but when I woke up, my back had locked up. I couldn’t straighten up. I was hunched over like a 90 year old Chinese woman. So I called in sick. I eventually straightened up, but every time I sit down for an extended period, and stand up again, it takes five minutes or so for me to straighten up. Weird. Too much walking on concrete and sitting around on hard chairs, I guess. I’m old!

And that washed me out for my final two days as an extra.

According to the Scotsman (daily newspaper in Scotland), Mr. Fishenden, a technology officer with Microsoft, has warned British authorities that their plan to issue national identity cards could make identity theft easier. He said, "Unlike other forms of information, such as credit card details, if core biometric details such as your fingerprints are compromised, it is not going to be possible to provide you with new ones."

Jaden Smith, Will’s son, is really a good-looking nice kid. And Will seems like a very easy guy to work with as well.

To celebrate our 30th Anniversary, and our 30th Anniversary DVD, which is allegedly going to be available in actual stores sometime soon, the Ducks are gathering here this weekend. We are doing two shows.

Duck’s Breath LIVE!
Sunday, October 23, 2005, 8:00 PM
1111Addison Street
Berkeley, CA

And here:
Duck’s Breath LIVE!
Monday, October 24, 2005, 8:00 PM
142 Throckmorton Avenue
Mill Valley, CA
415-383-9600 (Or TicketWeb)

And finally...
From a website for a North Carolina television station:
"A cat in Dobson, N.C., is believed to be the only cat in the world with two tongues, according to a Local 6 News report. The cat, named Five Toes, was born with two tongues and five toes on each paw."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you were used in several different scenes? Don't they worry about the same people being noticed throughout the movie? I guess they've had problems finding enough extras.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Merle Kessler said...

We changed costumes for each set-up. We;re so far in the background, you can't recognize us, or if you can, it's framed so our faces aren't showing.

11:00 AM  
Blogger BonzoGal said...

Yahoo! Just purchase tix for the Freight and Salvage. Will prepare self for hilarity to ensue.

10:10 AM  
Blogger BonzoGal said...

Er, "purchased."

10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They will be filming "Pursuit of Happyness" at the Hayward BART yard on 150 Sandoval Way in Hayward on this coming weekend, Nov 5th-6. They will be filming scenes on a BART train.

7:11 AM  
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