This week, most of our work has been with keyframing and things that wouldn’t necessarily be the most interesting to talk about, so instead, I thought I’d tell you about my first experience on a major Hollywood film.
I spent all of high school trying to make a feature film, and shooting video with my friends, and when it came time for college, I knew I wanted to go to film school. I am a big Star Wars fan, and at that point was still a George Lucas fanboy, and I thought that USC was the way to go. I got to tour USC, and I have to say that it was an amazing campus, and the program obviously is one of the best, but ultimately, I ended up going to Worcester State College (now Worcester State University), and I was in the communications department. I was so close to living the dream.
My third (and final semester) at WSC brought about a really interesting opportunity. During one of the TV Production Club meetings, someone mentioned that there was a casting call for a feature film, and that it was going to be the Farrelly Brothers directing. Me and a friend drove into Boston, and went to the casting call, and stood in line for a couple of hours.When the time came for our section to be brought in and looked at, I was picked. My hair was shaggy and my beard full, and they thought I would look good as an extra in an eighties flashback scene.
A couple days later, I drove into Boston again, and went to be fitted for wardrobe, this time skipping class because it was on a weekday. A couple of days later, I showed up for the first of two days on set.
I had to arrive early in the morning, at the Boston Casting office, which was where I had been fitted, and was right across the street from Fenway Park. I went in, and this wasn’t a flashback scene, so I didn’t need to change into costume. I walked with a crowd of people over to the park, where we were going to be filming for the day. We packed into a single section of the park, not quite enough to fill every seat of the section, but enough to make it look like an early season crowd (and this was prior to breaking the curse, so they weren’t necessarily filling the seats in real life either way.
We would get moved around into different configurations, some of us kept off to the side in another section, and then rotated in. We could text but were told to keep our phones on silent or “pleasure mode” as the PA’s called it, and this was the September 17th 2004, long before smart phones, so we had very limited access too much information.
I had brought a couple of books to do homework, and would tuck them under the seat when I was in shots, but mostly I ignored my school work and watched the crew change the set ups, and all of the work going on around me. They were using cranes, and what looked like modified cherry picker trucks, and while the whole process fascinated me. Prior to that, I’d seen camcorders, and the cameras that concert venues use, but I hadn’t seen real cinema film cameras in person. For a young film nerd, it was hypnotizing, and even though I was doing very little, I was hooked on the feeling of being on a film set.
When cameras weren’t rolling, the Fenway cleanup crew was hosing down the floors and bathrooms, and I can still smell the rising stink of old beer getting washed off the floor.
The first big exciting moment of the day came in the late afternoon, we were moved over to the bleachers across the park, told to throw on our jackets, or spin our hats around anything to not look like the same crowd, and we were spread across a small bleacher section, and we were told that we were going to be intently watching the game, and that when Drew Barrymore came pushed her way through we were to act as if she was just anyone else. Of course, they brought her out to kind of let us all cheer for a second and get it out of our system. We did a few takes watching her push her way through, and then a couple where she tried to climb over the wall to run across the field.
That was about all we saw of Drew Barrymore that day. I will say, I was several rows back, but between takes she seemed to be really nice to the extras that were closer to her. I know that everyone has good days and bad days, and that we hear a lot about those moments when celebrities are feeling bad and act like jerks, so the fact that she seemed really nice should be mentioned.
Finally, to finish the day off, we went back to the original section, and were joined by Jimmy Fallon. He had just finished on Saturday Night Live, and his first leading role in Taxi wouldn’t come out for a few more weeks, so he wasn’t an unknown, but he certainly wasn’t at The Tonight Show host level yet either.
We worked for about an hour, getting different shots, and we’d all been there almost 12 hours, and many of the extras were fans who were having a hard time keeping up (like I said before no smart phones, and we weren’t allowed to have portable radios, and the Red Sox were playing in Yankee Stadium while we were shooting. At that point, his personal assistant would run up between takes and tell him what the score was, and what was going on in the game, and he would stand and tell the crowd. At that point, the Red Sox were losing.
When this was going on, I was sitting only three rows back from him, and I was on the end seat of the row, (at one point Peter Farrelly tripped on my foot, and then apologized to me, which I thought would be the highlight of the experience). I’d sit and watch the empty field as if a game were being played and react according to the directions I’d been given, and then they’d call “cut,” the assistant would run out and I’d watch from about ten feet away as Jimmy Fallon would stand up and announce the strike count, who was on what base, and all of the other baseball stats that meant very little to me. Even though I wasn’t much of a baseball fan, it was an exciting way of hearing about a game.
When the ninth inning came, the Red Sox were down by one run, and most of the crowd was certain they were going to lose, but each of Fallon’s updates sounded more and more encouraging as he mentioned people getting on bases, after one take, the assistant ran out, talked to him for a second, and he told us that the Sox had caught up and pulled ahead by one run. He then proceeded to delay filming, he walked out of his row into the aisle, and stood three inches to my right and very loudly sang “Where it began,” and the whole crowd sang back “I can’t begin to knowing” and lead us all in a sing-a-long of ‘Sweet Caroline-, the entire verse standing inches away from me, before starting to work the crowd.
After ‘Sweet Caroline,’ he lead us all into ‘Dirty Water.’ After two songs, and Jimmy Fallon singing and dancing his way through a hundred or more, tired extras who had been having a hard time keep their enthusiasm going, we were all renewed, and reenergized to finish the last hour or two of shooting.
When I finally left, and went back to my dorm, I slept through the following day of classes, but I called my parents, and my little sister, and told them all about it. My first day on a real Hollywood film had been long, and most people would have considered a lot of it boring, but it had ended on such an exciting note, and I knew that I was going to spend as much of the rest of my life chasing that feeling as I could.
That’s the really exciting part of the story, I did a second day a few days later, and brought my sister and my friend Kevin, and arguably the day had a lot more going on, and less ‘tedium,’ and we got to meet and get autographs from Lenny Clark and Bobby Farrelly, but ultimately there wasn’t anything quite as exciting as doing a sing-a-long with Jimmy Fallon as the Red Sox had taken back a game they seemed certain to lose.
In case you’re even less of a baseball fan than I am, the film was Fever Pitch, and a couple of weeks after the excitement of filming, the Red Sox went to and then won the World Series for the first time in 84 years, and because the plot of the movie had surrounded a fan hopelessly in love with a team that couldn’t go all the way, actually went all the way, they did some reshooting, and reworking to fit the World Series win in. The movie was pretty good, but the experience I had on it, was amazing, and I have chased that feeling on every shoot that I’ve worked on since. I’ll definitely post an update on here if I get to have a day that matches that feeling.