Work Work Work

This past week, I was booked on a three-day background shoot at another sports stadium.  Actually, it was the first job in a surprisingly full week.  Two additional background jobs, a corporate picnic, and a commercial.  As a mime.


Getting booked on the three-day call was no small matter.  For some reason, this particular casting company has a complex and comically redundant procedure.  First, I was sent an email which instructed me not to respond directly, but rather to click on a link which would take me to a form which I could fill out, letting them know whether or not I was available for the three days.

This in itself should have been unnecessary, since the casting company has a website where I can (and do) go to provide them with my schedule.  There is a calender page.  You simply click on the days you wish to work.

After filling out the emailed availability form, I then had to wait for an automated call to let me know whether or not I was being submitted.  When it came, I replied right away, by calling the number which was provided and confirming that I was in fact, available.  Again.

Since the job was apparently sub-contracted from a different agency, I was instructed to call the number for that agency and confirm there as well.  Also.  Again.

Still not booked, mind you.  Just triple confirmed.

The next day, I received a text message saying that I had been booked, but before I could bank on that, I had to respond to the text, and also call a number over at the other agency, the one from whom the job was sub-contracted, and let them know that I received the text telling me I was booked.  When I did so, I was connected to a voice message telling me to call back the next day to receive the details for the job.

That outgoing message was from a guy named something like David.  He was extremely insistent that we would be working all three days.  That we could not accept call backs or auditions for real work.  That cancellations would not be tolerated.  He went so far as to say there would be matching shots and he would not be able to find a “clone” for us.

If he had not made such a big deal about this (perhaps instead simply stating that there is a possible recall so we must be available all three days,) then it might not have felt as if we all got screwed when the three-day job turned into a one-day job.  At the very last minute.  Costing us all two days pay.

I’ve been doing background off and on since 2003 and have only canceled on a job once.  It was due to a last minute callback for a national commercial, which I booked.  I can appreciate a background casting person wanting to make sure that actors will not be irresponsible, but a background casting person has no right to tell me I cannot pursue real work.  Naturally, I would not take the background job if I knew there would be a conflict, but if my commercial agent calls at the last minute with something that pays far better than extra wages, then that is what the cancelation line is there for, isn’t it?

Overstating the importance of making a three-day commitment seems worse after being told at 9:45 PM (just before signing out) that there would be no recall.  Now we had no chance to book something else at that late hour.  Whose fault is that?  Not the casting agent’s, I realize, although they do share some blame for promising something which was not guaranteed.  The production company is most likely to blame, which is not at all surprising considering how unorganized the day went, right from the start.

It was a bizarre day.  The parking was mishandled.  Some people were given passes to put in their windshield.  Some were not.  Some were given the passes but not told to put them in their windshield.  Some were told to park only on the upper two floors.  Some were not told this.  As a result, half the people got parking tickets!

We were not fed breakfast, which is unusual for a morning call.  There didn’t seem to be any one person assigned the task of giving instructions to the background.  Instead, there were several people who came and said things to us, and some of those things which were said contradicted other things we had already been told.

We went through wardrobe twice.  Normally, they ask you to be approved by the wardrobe department before sending you over to the set.  Which they did, and we were.  Once we got there, we were all sent back to go through wardrobe.  Again.

Then there was the baffling Vaudeville act the director was playing, with his first assistant as his partner.  The director would say something.  We could all hear him.  He spoke politely and seemed like a kind man.  Then, his assistant would repeat everything into the microphone.  (They always give the most obnoxious person the microphone.)

It was a comedy routine.  Even though we could all hear the polite director perfectly well, his words were interpreted by the assistant with the microphone.  As if he were speaking another language, or as if there were some unwritten rule that said the director must not address the background personally.

Now, all day long, I was in a good mood.  Singing to myself.  Grateful to have three days of work lined up.  The stadium we were in was brand new, and built with an artistic sensibility.  There was something beautiful about the industrial architecture.  Although I don’t like modern homes, I love modern public spaces.  I was enjoying poking around the empty corridors.  I had a good book to read. I was happy.

Not everyone else was, and some of them were vocal about it.  One girl in particular did something I had yet to witness until then.

It was seven and a half hours into the day.  The director was standing in front of us doing his Vaudeville act with the first assistant.  Telling us to be more animated.  More vocal.  More energetic.

Just then, this one girl spoke up from the crowd.  She complained that we hadn’t had lunch yet (normally, a crew will break for lunch at six hours) and it was too hard for us to do what was being asked because we were all too hungry!  This was said in front of, not only the director, but the clients!  People turned to see who she was.  The first assistant appeared dumbfounded and asked her to repeat what she said.  Maybe he had heard wrong?  Some extras agreed with her, but I was half convinced she was joking.  For a background actor to argue with the director, in front of the whole room, is unprofessional in the extreme.

When we returned from lunch, this young lady was no longer with us.  She had been sent home, but it seems she made out better than the rest of us.  We all worked a full day, then lost out on two of the days for which we were booked.  This insubordinate girl only worked a partial day, got paid the same as the rest of us, and lost no work we didn’t also lose, by speaking out the way she did.

Part of me admired her for not putting up with she felt was unreasonable, but another part wonders if it really was so unreasonable.  In the big picture, really, how hard is background work?  We sit around in air conditioning and watch some basketball players.  That’s hard?  I try to keep things in perspective, stay quiet, and act like a professional.

Being screwed out of two days of work does get me angry though, and the outgoing message from David suddenly bothered me more than it did when I thought I was going to have three days pay.  Not his fault, I know, but even so.

The casting agency was apparently flooded with angry emails the next day, and did their best to make it up to us.  They called me twice with jobs I had to turn down because I was already booked elsewhere, before they came through with flying colors late Thursday night.  It was a call for a mime.  For a Volkswagen commercial filming the next day.  A union job, which pays better.

We filmed downtown in Pershing Square.  There was a heat wave, we were out in the sun, and I came straight from a night shoot with no sleep, but I was overjoyed to be performing and so glad that the three-day job which fell through led to a much-better-and-maybe-they-would-not-have-called-otherwise real job.

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About anunperfectactor

Actor performer storyteller.
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