Any of you following my blog for the last few months know that I started out doing Voice Over work, and then branched out into screen acting.
Truth is, I did it on a “lark” initially, applying for and getting a role as a background (BG) extra on an upcoming Hulu Original Limited Series show. I’d love to share more, but my NDA prevents it, however, I will let you know as soon as we have a release date.
Anyway, I got, and worked, a BG role in this series and let me tell you: It was by far the coolest thing I’ve ever done!
I’ve done a lot of cool stuff before…
That’s a pretty big statement, because in my sixty (SIXTY!?) years on this earth, I’ve done some pretty cool things. For comparison, I’ll tell you about some of them here.
Joined the Navy (Yeah, it WAS cool)
Growing up in Ohio in the 70’s there were not many prospects for work after high school, so just a couple months after graduation I joined the US Navy in the advanced electronics field so that I’d have a trade when I got out. Little did I know at the time I’d spend 20 years of my life serving in the world’s best Navy (No offense to you guys in “lesser” navies…LOL). Interestingly, the recruiting motto at the time was “join the navy, see the word”, and I DID do that! Of course, they forgot to mention that somewhere north of 70% of the world is water, and I may have seen every molecule of that. Anyway, serving in the navy allowed for many opportunities to see and do pretty cool stuff.
Around the world…
To start with, I have visited more countries than I care to count. From Europe, to the Middle East, to Africa and the Far East and as far south as Australia and South America, I’ve been there. Of course, the OTHER thing they don’t tell you is that you spend WEEKS at sea and only 3-4 days in a port.
On my first deployment, on the USS Carl Vinson (CVN70), we started our trip out of Norfolk with the plan to change home ports from there to Alameda California. We spent a little more than 11 months deployed. During that deployment, I saw aircraft take off and land, also saw a couple “crash” and one that slid off the angle deck and into the sea (the pilot ejected).
Crossing the line…
We crossed the equator at 0/0 and I became a “shellback” on this cruise. We also stopped in both Monaco and Casablanca (Did you know there is NO “Rick’s American Café’ in Monaco? Did you also know if you tell the taxi driver to take you there he will drive around for hours looking just to run the meter up?). Traveled south around the Cape of Good Hope and back up the Eastern coast into the Indian Ocean and Red Sea, then passed through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean to sit off the coast of Libya for a while.
And Russian Bears…
At this time, we were having a bit of a scruff-up with one Muammar Khaddaffi and our transit through the Red Sea was punctuated daily with Russian Bear (aircraft) dropping huge bags of red dye in the water around the ship because Mr. Khadaffi said he would sink our ship and turn the Red Sea into a “Sea of Blood”. I suppose it was supposed to be psychological. It was actually comical, and we would gather on the weather deck daily to watch it.
We also spent about 90 days straight in the Indian Ocean without a port visit. Those were some LONG underway days!
On our way to the Philippines for a three-week maintenance period, I re-enlisted and one of the perks was to fly off the ship three days before the ship arrived to enjoy a couple of liberty days “alone”. As a result, I had the pleasure of riding in the back of a C3 aircraft (We called it the COD) when it was catapulted off the ship. What a ride THAT was! Zero to 180 knots in the space of less than a second! Better than any roller coaster!
And a little slower arrival/departure…
Also during my long career, I had the good fortune to be both delivered and removed from a ship via helicopter. Several times on helicopters that were unable to actually land on the ship, so I was suspended by a wire and dropped (well, not LITERALLY dropped) and/or lifted from the flight deck. Being terrified of heights made that just a LITTLE more exciting. I’ve flown out to and back from more ships on helicopters than I can count (I was a “field service rep” for one of the shipboard systems and would travel to whichever ship was having a problem they couldn’t fix).
Abandoned on the runway…
On one trip, I was flying (by plane) into Hurghada Egypt. At one point, we had a detachment stationed at the airport there, but not anymore…the plane landed, opened the door, handed me my luggage and then took off, leaving me standing on the runway as far from civilization as you could get. About an hour later, the ship’s helo showed up to ferry me to the ship, but they were low on fuel, so we had to sit, surrounded by Egyptian police, for three hours till the ship was in range of the fuel. By this time, it was getting dark and the rules say no transporting passengers over water after dark…but we went anyway. Nothing like looking out the window at extreme darkness and suddenly thumping down on a deck you didn’t know was there.
Probably the BEST experience though was having the opportunity to live and work in Naples Italy for five years. Man, I love that place! If I close my eyes I can see, smell and taste it. I fell in love with Italy and its people in those five years. I’d love to move back one day!
Anyway, all that (and there is a LOT more, but this post is not about that) to say: Yeah, I’ve managed to do some pretty cool stuff.
But the COOLEST was…
But the coolest, by far, is being on the set of a television show being filmed as an ACTOR. A background actor, but an actor nevertheless. If you ever wanted to be on TV, this is a great way to get started.
But listen, do you even notice the background actors in TV and movies? I never did. What ARE background actors? They are the people behind the principal actors who are milling about, walking through the scene, or generally “filling out” whatever scene is being shot.
What do BG actors do?
Think about it. A coffee shop scene in New York just wouldn’t be believable if there weren’t a throng of people moving around outside the window. Or dozens of people in line or sitting at tables. All of those people are background actors. Here’s the thing (and one of the production assistants even said this to me while I was there): A scene just doesn’t work without the background folks.
And now TV has changed…
Having this experience has almost ruined TV and movies for me. I barely pay attention to the principal actors now, as I tend to focus on what the background people are doing to make the scene more realistic. Try it sometime. Next time you are watching something, instead of paying attention to what’s going on in the scene, pay attention to all the people in the background. Or watch it, then back up your DVR and watch it again with a different focus.
Sorry if that ruins it for you too, but misery loves company.
A real learning experience…
More importantly I learned a TON about film making working as a background actor. You know that 30-second scene that was a minor, but important, point in the story? It probably took them 4 HOURS to film it. Each scene is shot over and over again from different perspectives and then cut together in post-production.
I always wondered how you could be watching a conversation where the camera first focuses on one person and then the other…without being able to see the camera over one actor’s shoulder. I just assumed there were several cameras rolling and they just did some trickery in the cutting room so you couldn’t see it. Nope. Between each take they move the camera around and shoot the same scene, over and over, from different angles. It’s amazing to watch.
Outside MAY be inside!
And that scene in an office building, where you can see out the boardroom window to the trees beyond? Yeah, likely they are shooting in a warehouse, with some trees in pots sitting outside the window and a nice big mural of trees painted behind it. Sometimes, if you look real close, you can tell…but since you are generally looking at and paying attention to the action in the scene, you don’t notice it. It’s sleight of hand, and probably why they call it the “magic of television”.
Lights, Camera, ACTION!
Oh, and “lights, camera, action”? Not a thing. It goes like this: “Roll sound” …and they turn on the sound recording equipment, “Roll Tape” and the cameras start to roll, “Background” and all the background actors start doing there thing and then, finally, “Action” when the principal actors do their thing. It’s all very well-orchestrated and professional.
Speaking of professional, everyone, from the background actors, to the production assistants, to the director and everyone in the crew, are some of the most professional, no-nonsense people I’ve ever worked with. All-in-all, a fantastic experience and the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I look forward to spending a lot more time on set. I’ll let you know when the series is released. I am presently working on a new project called “The Wages of Sin”, a feature length independent faith based film that begins filming in April.
Aint retirement grand!