Wednesday, July 16, 2014

And you may ask yourself, Well, How did I get here? (go ahead and sing along, kids, you know you wanna)

As you know from yesterday's post, I was on set again today as a costumer.  This is not my preferred position on set, but it's definitely something I can do, and today, I had the honor of working with the Costume Designer, Mike Philpot.  Really, I was more of a Costume Department PA, so my comfort level with the job increased as my personal level of responsibility decreased.  I can handle being in charge, don't get me wrong.  I just like to know ahead of time that that's the expectation.

Anyhoo.  At lunch, Mike and I had a conversation wherein he expressed his admiration for me in the job I'd been hired to do.  Which got me to the point of telling my "how I got here" story.  Most of the time, y'all don't get to hear any of my stories of my past, but Mike said it was a good one, so I decided to share it with you as well.  This may be the first time I've ever written it.  Probably.  I've told it many a time.

When I first moved to LA from North Carolina in 2002, I had only the emotional (and some, well, probably A LOT of financial) support from my family and a degree in Theatre.  I was an actor with NO knowledge of film or television, or the industry, or how anything worked.  To call me "green" is an insult to the color green.

I did what was necessary to search for acting work and an agent and a way to get my SAG card.  The only other "job" I even had any knowledge of, beyond acting, was that of PAs.  I'd been a clerical assistant in my day, so surely I could be a Production Assistant!  Not that I knew how to get one of those gigs, either.  So I auditioned for an in-house commercial video for a "doctor's" office in Beverly Hills (yes, 90210).  Didn't book the gig, but since I helped the guy set up the camera, he hired me to run the office.  Office Manager, right outta the gate!  Woo Hoo!

In a handful of months, we saw fewer than a handful of clients, and we had a ton of inventory of snake oils that the Beverly Hillians weren't buying, and the company went belly up.  I got laid off, and for the first time in my life, I was eligible to collect unemployment benefits.  I took my newfound windfall and attended bartending school.  Once I completed the coursework and got "certified" as a bartender, I started taking temp gigs tending bar for private parties, care of the head instructor.  It was a sweet deal.  Pretty much an under-the-table paycheck, plus tips, and all I had to supply was my "uniform" tux shirt/pants and my pouring kit.

So I was setting up the folding tables in the yard of the hostess of "Watch the Oscar de la Hoya Fight at My House This Saturday Night and Don't Pour Your Own Drinks" party, when she came out to chat me up.

  • Hostess: "So, what do you really do?"  (when not bartending, of course)
  • Me: "Oh, you know, I'm trying to have an acting career."
  • Hostess: "Do you have your SAG card?"
  • Me: "No."
  • Hostess: "Do you want it?" (um, duh? who asks this?)
  • Me: "Of course!"
  • Hostess: "Give your card to my assistant, and we'll call you."
What I didn't know - what I never bothered to ask - was what my employer-for-the-night did for a living.  This particular hostess was the 2nd AD on the show "24."  I had never heard of a 2nd AD.  I didn't know how little power one had, nor how much power one would yield (in spite of actually having so little).  I found her assistant (who turned out to be the Key Set PA) and gave him my card.  At the end of the night, I packed up my crap and went home.  The next day, all of the party attendees (crew on the show) went back to work.  Yes, they all had to work on a Sunday - that's why she hired a bartender!

On Monday, the PA called.
  • PA: "So, you're going to come be a stand-in for us tomorrow on '24,' right?"
  • Me: "Sure!  What's a stand-in?" (remember, I was too green for the color green)
  • PA: (audible groan) "Are you registered at Central Casting?"
  • Me: "Yes, of course." (not that I had done anything through Central beyond the one week I worked in the background on the show Bernie Mac because of my 1989 Cadillac Sedan deVille; i.e. I was still super-green)
  • PA: "Lee from Central's going to call you later today.  Ask him all of your questions."
Lee did call me, and he told me just enough that I was no longer shaming the color, and I went to Encino to be a stand-in on "24" on Tuesday.  I was in my mid-30's, standing in for Elisha Cuthbert, who was 20 at the time.  I learned how to do the job because of another stand-in, Alicia, who only taught me what I needed to know because she'd been instructed to.  I'm sure every fiber of her being hoped I would fail.  She was a bit insecure in her position there, even though she'd been there from the start and was also a PA when not standing in, so I don't know what she was worried about!

By the time lunch rolled around, Elisha was wrapped and sent home.  I didn't know that when you stand-in for one specific actor and your actor wraps, so do you (normally), so I was still soaking up all the knowledge after we started shooting the second half of the day.  The 2nd AD who had hired me was sitting near the monitors, and looking over at me, until she finally asked if I was willing to cut my hair.  "How much?" (since at the time, my hair was straight and landed at my shoulder blades) was my initial response.  "We'll bring it to your shoulders and probably give you bangs."  "Sure, why not?" sent me to the vanities trailer, where I got the fastest professional haircut of my life, and the $18 haircut "bump" on my pay voucher.  Excuse me, SAG voucher.  Then they sent me to wardrobe, where I was fitted in a suit that exactly matched that worn by Elisha Cuthbert!  They were turning me into her photo-double!  With another "bump" for changing the job I was doing, mid-day!  I walked toward set and crossed paths with Zach Quinto, who worked "opposite" Elisha most days, and as we approached each other, he said, "Hey, I thought they sent you ho...oh...oh.  Oh, they didn't send you home."  

They made mid-thirty-something-year-old-me look EXACTLY like a twenty-year-old!  Zach Quinto did a double take!  And he SPOKE to me! <swoon>

I worked as Elisha's stand-in and photo-double on SAG vouchers three days in my first week ever really being on set (I honestly don't count that week on Bernie Mac).  It takes three SAG vouchers to be eligible to join SAG.  I'd gone from completely ignorant of how the industry works to SAG-eligible in less than a year and a half.  And do you know why?

Because I wasn't "pursuing" an acting career.  I was trying to have one, and I'm a big believer in "right place, right time" and answering the door when Opportunity knocks.  This story hasn't brought us to the gig I just completed tonight, but it's Act One.  Maybe, if you're good, I'll tell you the next Act in the not-too-distant future.  Stay tuned, and keep in tune!                            
... Letting the days go by...


  1. Fascinating! Even I didn't know the whole story in one swell foop; just the bits and pieces I gleaned over the years. What I DO know (and what you don't mention) is that ever since we went to that exhibit thingy together, your whole personality changed and you became what you always wanted to be. It was an amazing and breathtaking transformation so that all of us would wait eagerly for the next bit of story from Hollywood. You were (and still are) a true butterfly. You may be a bit more mature now, but your wings are still bright and your spirit appears to remain undaunted. Makes me proud to know ya.

    1. Wow. When did you sneak in those onion-cutting ninjas? I'm all verklempt!

      That exhibit thingy we went to was a real starting point, but for me, it's so far removed from all the rest of how my career has unfolded, that I rarely ever think about it. That was a good day, though, and I'm glad you were there with me. I did not know that that day was my chrysalis (that's why I didn't mention it). Thank you for that.

    2. I'm here to remember things from a different perspective. Just doing my job. :-)

  2. Right place, right time ... and making an impression on everyone you meet!

    1. We all do, don't we? :)

      We may not always make the impression we hope to, but I think if we remain true to ourselves, then the impression plus "right place, right time" equals Opportunity at the door! Also, one of the things I mentioned to Mike in the telling of this story "on the day" is that I recognize in myself a gift of discernment. Every Opportunity that knocks isn't necessarily a Good Thing, and I feel Blessed to be able to turn down a project if I feel it isn't right.


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