On two separate occasions, I was hired to work background on big budget films that were shot a year before. In both cases, the movies were not testing well in previews, and so the decision was made to go back into production and reshoot scenes that were problematic, or add scenes that were not part of the original script.
The first of these films was set in a distant, utopian future, and audiences were having a hard time understanding the premise of the story. Additional material was written as exposition, which would be presented in voiceover during an opening montage. Not unlike a narrator reading, “Once upon a time, in a land far away…”
The problem was that there was no footage to use in this opening montage. So the actors, some of whom were big name stars, were called back into production, a year later, to step into their roles once more.
Aside from the obvious and considerable expense, it was fascinating to watch the actors filming what was basically padding for something they had thought was over and done. On the stage, the idea of going back to a show that had already closed to add a few scenes for your character here or there would be wishful thinking. In movies, it is possible.
Imagine being a famous actor, and in the year since you wrapped principal shooting on a project, you get a call from your agent:
“Oh, um… hi. Remember that movie you filmed in Prague last year? The one where you had to gain twenty pounds and grow a beard? Yeah… well, I know you’re in New York doing a play right now, but they kind of want you to fly back to Los Angeles next week for some reshoots.”
Fortunately for me, the call was much easier.
“Hey, are you available for work on a film that is reshooting? The wardrobe fitting is tomorrow morning, with a possible three days of work next week.”
On the first of those days, we were reenacting a sequence in an alleyway. The movie was originally shot in another country, with extras who were local hires, so they took great care to cast new extras who appeared as if they could be from that other country. The street was dressed to look like the locations which had originally been used. The cameras were up on the roof of one of the buildings. A deep background shot. Basically, we were just ants going about our business.
What we didn’t know was that the movie’s two romantic leads were up on that roof, filming a scene. When I saw the end result in the theatre, this scene was rather important, so I’m wondering if they were filming a brand new scene, or just an improved version?
One nice thing about working on a reshoot is that the director is usually so grateful to everyone for being there. When the scene on the roof was finished, this director surprised us all by coming down and thanking us in person. As if we were helping him, specifically. It was a nice gesture, the sort that makes a difference on a set. When the crew and the background feel appreciated, they do a good job.
The next day, we were shooting a large gathering in an amphitheater. On the stage were a few of the lead actors. Two of them were giving speeches. Which did not exist. Since this would be part of the opening montage, the director was looking for a visual to accompany the narrated exposition. It was interesting to watch the actors, who were clearly not comfortable making up their own lines, make up their own lines.
One of those actors was in a couple of hugely successful movies in the 1990s. I’d not seen him in anything since, so it was nice to know that he would be in this new franchise. (There were two sequels already planned.) I was happy for him overall, but sorry for him on this day, as he stammered and squirmed while pretending to deliver his unwritten speech in front of the large crowd of background actors, who were pretending to be the background actors from another country, who were themselves pretending to be from a distant, utopian future.
The third day of filming was the most fun, as I got to be in a close up shot with a handful of other extras. We were in a very cool futuristic set, and were being directed by the director. Which rarely happens. Usually, the extras are given instructions by the first AD, or perhaps the second AD. So when you get the chance to have the real director standing right behind the camera, watching your work, and giving you feedback, it can be a thrill.
That closeup made the final cut of the film, and I have to say it was nice to be up there on the screen, even if only for a brief moment.
For the other big budget film that was going back into production for reshoots, I had to audition. For the director. They were seeking men with a dance background, or solid movement skills, to play zombies.
I was called in since I am a mime, and also, I suspect, since I have played a zombie more than once before. (Including in a dreadful, really bad, B-movie during which I could not stop laughing the entire time, and for which they gave me a credit but, hysterically, spelled my name wrong!)
For the audition, we were working with the choreographer from the original shoot a year ago. He was helping us recreate the exact type of movement the zombies had in the movie. They were not slow moving zombies, nor were they dragging themselves along the ground. They moved quickly, and in a certain way, but also stood frozen for periods of time, and had emotions.
It was an enjoyable process, and it was exciting to have the choreographer come around to each of us and whisper encouragement, or make adjustments. Once cast, we sat in the makeup chair for over an hour, while the team of makeup artists here in Los Angeles tried to recreate the look of the zombies, a look that had been created by an entirely different team of makeup artists, in another country.
The result was fairly spectacular. We are not supposed to take photos on sets, but I did manage to sneak a selfie in the dressing room. After all, we were filming not long before Halloween, and it did cross my mind that this look might come him handy while answering the door for the trick-or-treaters…
The lead actor on that movie was not there for the reshoots. Which was a disappointment. He is a big star. Enormous. Incredibly famous. We were all hoping to see him in person. Not just that. There were only about twenty of us playing the zombies. It seemed likely that we would have had the chance to actually meet him.
I guess the phone call from his agent wasn’t a slam dunk. The guy was no doubt already committed to another project and it just was not possible for him to make arrangements to re-enter the world of the zombies.
At least, not until the sequel.