A Moment of Jen
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Tuesday, April 13, 2004
posted by Jen at 4/13/2004 08:23:00 PM

Extra, extra!

9 p.m., Sunday night

Joanna, my dear friend and also my agent, shows up at our house with bags. Lots and lots of bags. What's going on?

"Well," she explains, "the house that I'm building isn't done yet, and the people who own the house I'm renting don't want me there any more, so I'm moving."

"To a van? Down by the river?"

"No, no," she says, giggling. "To my aunt's house for a little while!"


"I don't think we should worry about our hair, because my sister was an extra, and they did her hair and makeup for her."

6:30 a.m.

We arrive at Rio Bravo, a restaurant on the corner of 11th and Washington, where there are perhaps a hundred other extras dressed, as instructed, in January garb. We see boots and hats and scarves and gloves. We do not, however, see anyone getting their hair and makeup done.


Joanna is too nice to say "I told you so." We sit down at a table and proceed to pretty ourselves up. Unfortunately, we're sitting next to the Grumpiest Extra Ever.

"I don't see why they don't pay for parking," she whines. "I hadda drive for hours! And they're not paying us that much. When I was in Jersey Girl..."


Turns out, lots of the other extras have been extras in other productions. I hear people chatting about the catering on National Treasure and the period costumes in The Village. Interesting.

Miss Grumpy Extra hurries out to re-park her car. Meanwhile, Joanna and I get approved by Wardrobe. Our winter coats have made the cut!

We get in a van to take us the handful of blocks between 11th and Washington and the Italian Market at 9th and Christian.

I think the van is lost.

We finally arrive at our destination to find the streets lined with machine-made snow. It's cold out anyhow, but with the snow melting, it feels even colder. Joanna and I grab some sidewalk and wait to be put into place. While we wait, we watch Brooke Smith and Toni Collette's stand-ins walk down the sidewalk, reading their lines, while the lighting and camera and sound guys work around them.

Wardrobe comes by, takes a skeptical look at my skinny scarf from Target, and replaces it with a lovely light brown knitted number. I also get an umbrella, and a bag of fruit to carry.

9 a.m.
The stars arrive, and we're given our instructions -- when Brooke and Toni walk past us, we cross the street, follow them as far as the corner, then turn left at the trash barrel full of fire. I assure the assistant director that we can handle this.

"Picture is up!" comes the call from the far end of the street, and it makes its way along the sidewalk.

"Picture up!"

"Picture up!'

"Sound is up!" someone calls.


A few seconds later, someone yells, "Background!" And the extras start moving -- walking, chatting, pushing handcarts. Brooke and Toni walk by, chatting about Jim Danvers and how dreamy he is, and Joanna and I make our move.

"So when we first met, four years ago, did you ever dream that one day you'd be..."

"...an extra in a movie being made from one of your books?"

"No, no! That you'd be living in a van! Down by the river!"

Joanna starts laughing, and laughing, and laughing. "Stop it!" she whimpers. "Please!"


The assistant director says we did fine, but we should try to stay more toward the right side of the street. Twenty minutes later, the cameras are re-set, the actresses are back where they started from, and we're ready to go again.

10 a.m.

"I think we need to talk about our motivation," I say. "I mean, okay, we're crossing the street. But why are we crossing the street? Are we believable as street-crossers?"

We decide that our motivation is broccoli. "Broccoli," says Joanna. "We want it, and it's over there, and we have to cross the street to get it."

Fair enough.


"I need to get to WORK!" bawls a woman on the corner of Kimball Street.

"Ma'am, we're filming a movie..."

"I don't CARE!"

"We just need you to wait a minute or two."

"You don't own the STREET!"

"Actually, we do," says the none-too-happy assistant. "We bought it for the day."

Miss Tardy flounces off to her aluminum-awning'd abode, muttering loudly about how it just doesn't seem right to her, and that if she bought her house, how can someone buy the street? I consider introducing her to the Grumpiest Extra Ever. I think they'd hit it off.

Four takes or so. Damn, it's cold. In between takes we side over to one of the trash barrels o' fire and get warmed up. One of the more enterprising extras has bought a roast pork sandwich from somewhere. Joanna and I covet it.


The attention to detail -- and the patience required for moviemaking -- is astonishing. We watch director Curtis Hanson fuss over the height of an awning. Meanwhile, the extra next to us -- a drama student, and a veteran of M. Night Shyamalan's latest, is working on a screenplay, about a bunch of kids who've ditched school to go to a rock show. Only what should he have them doing during the drive?

"Maybe one of the kids is a bed-wetter," I offer, "and they try to keep him awake for the entire ride so that he doesn't wet the car seats."

Joanna giggles approvingly. Someone yells "Background!" and we're on the move again.

Molly's Cafe and Bookstore has a used copy of IN HER SHOES in its window, on sale for seven bucks. I'm not sure whether this is on purpose or inadvertant, or whether I should be flattered or what.

After ten takes (or so --we lost count), we're over. The actresses, director and cameraman move up the streets to DiBruno's House of Cheese, where the next scene will be shot. Meanwhile, us extras are instructed to make background noise.

"When I yell Action, I want you to talk like you're shopping, and I want the vendors to try to sell their wares," calls one of the A.D.'s. Joanna and I converse enthusiastically about vegetables -- specifically, whether potatoes are suffering because of the Atkins craze. "And...cut!"


I had over to DiBruno's to say thanks and goodbye, and, um, would it be okay if I said hello to Toni Collette?

Her eyes -- clear blue-green -- widen when I introduce myself, and she gives me a vigorous handshake and a big smile.

"Bloody hell!" says Toni Collette. "How 'come everyone's met you but me?"

She hands me a sliver of parmesan. "This is the best &$%* cheese I've ever had. And the food here!" Her eyes take on a rapturous, faraway gaze. "Have you been to Vetri?"

Yes, I tell her. For my birthday.

"That's one of the best restaurants in the world!"

I agree. I tell her how thrilled I am that she's doing this, how happy I was that she got the part. She beams and says, "Me, too!"

How cool is that?
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