Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Alias socks

Now that the Tour de France is over I can write about some knitting. Here is the story of one sock, which eventually became a pair. The yarn is Simple Stripes (colorway "Vineyard") from knitpicks and the pattern I made up as I went. It's my first "afterthought heel", and that was okay. (Afterthought = You knit a tube, and where the heel goes you put in some waste yarn, then you go back after the sock is done, pick up stitches and work the heel.)

This is also a story about knitting at work. When I'm not working as a tv writer, spinning, knitting or blogging, I get work as an Extra. You know, the people who walk around in the background in tv shows and movies? We also go by the term "background artists" which I enjoy for it's pretentiousness. I have a LOT of stories about this kind of work, and here is one that includes a knitted sock!

First of all, this never happens to me. Usually I have to hustle work for myself. I got a call from the casting company asking me to be in Alias. Well, they asked my car to be in Alias, and that means I have to drive my car, therefore they want me to be in Alias. It's to be a scene in Europe, filmed in Los Angeles of course.

After getting lost a few times I discover the "London street” is actually off of Olvera street downtown Los Angeles, next to China Town. And next to the "London street” is the "Rome street". A few blocks away is the Russian subway scene. I park my car in the Roman Piazza and join base camp where catering is already set up. A guy has a custom omelet station going right next to the taco truck and the build your own burrito bar. A hamburger stand sits at the end of the line and I take it all in while pouring myself a tall iced tea. I stupidly postpone eating for later. This is breaking one of the cardinal rules of background artists: always eat when you have the chance.

Immediately I am beset by a desperate man who will be playing a secret service agent. I tell him he looks like one. I am making conversation. He is encouraged by this and gives me his card. He hosts a podcast about the entertainment industry. He explains to me what a podcast is like I am a caveperson. He tells me Brad Pitt got his start as an extra. One hears this a lot on set, but looking around I don't see any "next Brad Pitts." I start to look for a way out but no one else will make eye contact with me.

The assistant director (AD) comes and checks us in and sends us to wardrobe. I am wearing one outfit and brought two with me just in case. They hate all of it. They even criticize the pearls around my neck. They give me clothes to change into and I go into the tiny space where three other women are already changing. So embarrassing. I am reminded of the fact that I must lose weight soon.

The blouse is sheer and I am wearing a black bra. The skirt is cutting into my stomach and the jacket doesn't completely clear my chest. I walk out for approval. They hand me another outfit. I change again in front of three new girls. This time the skirt is stretchy body hugging with a long slit that is obscene. I go out for approval. They give me a third outfit and I go back to change. By this point every woman I will be working with today has seen me naked. They all seem to change once and that's that. Pretty soon I will be the last one left.

The new outfit makes me look fifty years old. Perfect. They love it. And now they love my pearls too for some reason, as if they hadn't hated them before. I overhear one wardrobe person yell at an extra: "Do you have wax in your ears? Listen when I talk to you!" I look at the ground in fear. They want me to come back for a hat. I say ok and leave. I have no intention of coming back for that hat.

The car people are told to go sit in their cars. Everyone else gets to eat. Whoops. Well I wanted to lose weight anyway. I schlep the rest of my clothes to my car and put them in the back seat. This is great! My stuff is already in my car. I sit in the passenger seat and knit a sock for a while.

Another AD comes over and tells me he likes my car. Then he tells me I shouldn't be in it. That I should be with everybody else in "holding". He tells me like I am really stupid and rebellious at the same time. I go to holding where the wardrobe lady finds me and gives me a hat. I look at my reflection and I look like Mary Poppins. Or Miss Marple. They tell me I look like a proper English lady. I feel ugly but persevere. I make small talk with a nice and smart woman in tweed and argyle. She's also a car person.

I knit for a while and people ask me if I am knitting a sock like it's the most insane thing I could be doing at that moment in time. I explain that it's not as hard as it looks and yes, I know you can just buy socks at Target. The one nice wardrobe lady asks me about the fiber so I got get excited. Then she goes on to tell me about her wool allergy in great detail. And she also wanted to make sure I wasn't going to carry my knitting into the scene. Oh well.

And then it's time for the London action. They use the Honda, the BMW and the Jetta. They ask me to leave my Mini Cooper in "Rome." I find it funny that the one car they choose not to use is the only one actually manufactured in England. I switch gears and play a pedestrian walking down the street with a young man in a dark suit. I think from a distance I may appear to be his mother but I pretend he is my paid escort for the time being. We walk arm in arm down "Portobello Road" mouthing a conversation in silence, having the time of our lives. An extra must be silent at all times, while appearing to be having a lovely conversation. My partner mouths the word "watermelon" over and over and I reply hub bub? Hub bub?

And then it is time for the great Rome scene. While the crew moves everything around the corner, wardrobe instructs us it's time to change clothes again. Are you kidding me? The extras are a bit angry and by now all of the women have discovered the chatty podcaster is creepy so he's stuck talking to the elderly. I get in line for more clothing-related humiliation.

They hand me another XS knit top and ridiculously shiny bolero pants and I go back into the tiny room of demoralization. And then I see it. My skirt! The skirt I wore there and left behind in the trailer that got separated from my clothes and I'm so glad I found it and I'm so stupid for losing it. And then I put it on as if I was told to do so and shove the ugly pants in the hamper bin. I put on the top and stretch it over my torso to the point the seams are about to rip. I walk out and they give me a long hard look.

"I'm going to be in a car for the next scene. You won't even see me." I beg. But they have very important jobs to do dressing the background players in the season finale of Alias. They give me another shirt to try on. They say nothing about the missing bolero pants.

Eventually I make it out to my car and I am to drive around the "piazza" halfway and then quickly return to starting position in reverse. I do this about 100 times in rapid succession because the sun is fading and that may be the most important thing to know about shooting. The sun dictates the schedule.

It was a mere 12-hour shoot and I hadn't eaten during any of it. While waiting to be signed out I made a hasty peanut butter sandwich and ate it in three bites. But the day wasn’t over yet! Some of the group were randomly being chosen to stay on and do the Russian subway scene. (Yes, Los Angeles has a subway.) We all looked at our feet and prayed we weren't to be picked. It would be a 24-hour day (and night) if you were so unlucky. Somehow I wasn’t picked. Although I was tremendously relieved, I started to feel resentful too. Wasn'’t I good enough? Professional enough? Pretty enough? I'm actually part Russian too. Fools!

As I drove home with pains of hunger rolling through my body, I questioned why I take these sort of jobs. And then I remembered it's because I don't have any better offers. I never watched the show when it aired but my pal Scott did and he said he saw a woman with a ponytail driving a Mini with racing stripes through the streets of Europe. I asked him if he liked my skirt but for some reason he couldn't see it while I was driving. As if it didn'’t matter what kind of ugly pants I was supposed to wear or not.

I know this is a long story, but I've been itching to talk about something other than the Tour de France. Did you see I knit almost a whole sock in this story? It's relevant!


Harlem Purl said...

(british accent)I rather enjoyed your story. I was thoroughly entertained.

Must try the afterthought heel next time I do a pair of socks.

Anonymous said...

I read every last word, and I was truly fascinated. Awhile ago I had dreams of being an actor. Even checked myself into acting school, and attended one class. It was fun, but I'm glad I didn't stick with it. I admire you for your courage in sticking with something like that.


Wendy Stackhouse said...

LOL!!! What a great story!

I've been an extra in one movie ("Deep Impact") and I was almost entirely cut out, but it was fun, though hot. And I was too scared to introduce myself to Robert Duvall (one of my favorites and he was VERY nice to all the extras who were brave enough).

I realized after we separated on Friday that I had never asked you what you do in real life, so now I know. What have you written for? I'm mostly a singer these days, but have been an actor in New York. DH is here to do films, but came out to workshop a musical that was (all too) briefly produced this spring. Now he and his business partner are working on starting a production company out here. They also are pitching a really cool sci-fi/action series.

Anyway, nice to know more about you and have a laugh!

Anonymous said...

great story! i didn't know you had mini.
very nice. i hope to hear more of these "extra" stories.

HeathBiter said...

I know you're thrilled at the idea of not writing about the Tour, but I believe there is breaking Tour news you're gonna wanna comment on. Great story by the way.

Star said...

Thanks for the nice feedback everyone! I think I forgot to mention that I am not much of an actor!

Anonymous said...

This story needs to be submitted somewhere.. "New Yorker" is one suggestion...and published! I'm serious. It was totally entertaining! Brilliant! Nice sock too!!

Anonymous said...

i have a feeling you have had other such experiences and reading this has me looking forward to reading more of them. honestly, with a little fine tuning it would be like a david sedaris piece
(which do appear in the new yorker).

Karola said...

I love reading your long and short blurbs.. they are so entertaining.. anyway i just moved from nyc to arizona.. eeek. i can't believe it did it in a flash.. look forward to catching up on some older blurbs that i had fallen behind with :-) karola