Wednesday, October 6, 2010

WIP Wednesday

This is a piece I wrote very quickly for an English assignment last week. It's semi-autobiographical up to the point after her agent calls. To the actors who might read this, I apologise if the film stuff is incorrect. It's shamefully been years since I've been on a real film set. Enjoy!

When people think of actors, they think of movie stars- Tom Hanks, Kate Winslet, Steve Martin. Or sometimes they think of Broadway performers- Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Hunter Foster. Who they don’t think of are people like me- those at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak. Today, however, is my first step toward changing all of that. I plan to knock today’s audition out of the park, nail the role, and get my name in lights… or at least in the credits.

I locate the office of the Gilmore Group, a brand-new casting agency here in town. It’s very small, but the interior is like most casting offices I’ve been to: sparse and stylish with posters of past projects on the wall, usually signed by the leading actors. The posters here are for movies I don’t recognize, probably small indie projects filmed somewhere in Colorado. But hey, I’m not knocking it. I would give my left arm to be doing one of those. In order to do that, however, I need to focus on today’s audition.

What everyday people (as we term them, “non-actors”, or sometimes just “normal people”) don’t understand about films is that every single little part is laboriously auditioned for by people like me. In a huge movie, when the main character enters an office building and asks for the office of Mr. Smith, the woman behind the desk who says only, “Just go down the hall and to the left,” had to come to a casting agency just like this and sweat over how to make those nine words interesting enough for the directors to choose her. It’s not easy. The amount of time I’ve spent pacing around my tiny apartment saying single lines like, “I’d recommend the salad special,” and “She came by a few minutes ago,” over and over, trying to get just the right inflection, is embarrassing. But it’s also necessary for the reason that I see when I walk into the lobby of the Gilmore Group.

There, sitting on the various couches and chairs, are twenty girls who look exactly like me. I tried to mix it up this time- the character description said that the role I’m trying out for (Girl Walking Dog) could be either funky or conservative, and I went with the former, thinking that the cool red blouse I got would be perfect. Apparently, however, every other 5’5” not-as-slender-as-we-should-be dishwater blonde in the city also had the same idea, and we’re all sitting in the same room. I should have gone conservative…

I try not to let it bother me as I go over to the sign-in table. I find my name on the list, write in my arrival time and the title of my agency, and hand over a copy of what is my only identity in this world: my headshot and resume. In the picture, I actually do look pretty. The hair and make-up lady easily tamed my hair in a way I never seem to manage and my blue shirt brings out my eyes. I should have worn blue today! That would have made all the difference! Well, no going back now. I see the assistant on the other side of the table reading over my resume. Hm, a raised eyebrow. Is that her being impressed by my long list of theatre credits, or is she silently scoffing at the fact that my “big” TV appearance was as “Mennonite Girl” in a Lifetime movie?

Whatever. It doesn’t matter. My resume is my resume and I’ve worked hard to get it in the shape it is now. I take one of the few remaining seats among my doppelgangers and fish around my bag for my script. It takes a second as my hand selects, then rejects, the emergency make-up, the extra headshots and the cell phone, finally locating my lines. I pull them out and skim over the words highlighted in yellow. I have to get this right. This is the kind of audition I’ve been waiting for since I started acting ten years ago. Because this isn’t a try-out for a one-liner. No. No, this time, I have five lines. Five! That’s enough to pass as a “featured” role! It might seem paltry, but this is the stuff of dreams for people on my level. I can’t screw this up.

While some of the girls around me are sitting quietly- some reading over the same lines, others listening to music- most are doing that actory thing that I detest: “chatting” with their competition while slipping in the titles of companies and people that they’ve (supposedly) worked with. Personally, I don’t think any of us has much bragging to do, because if we did, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now, waiting to prove just how naturally we can speak. I try to block out the inane one-upping game and turn my attention back to my lines.

“Taryn Kinsley?” We all fall silent as a casting director’s assistant opens the door to the audition room. “Is there a Taryn Kinsley here?” No one responds as we all look around for the absent actress. Who on earth would miss this opportunity? Finally, a girl across the room, who has been listening to music, starts and pulls out her ear buds. “Did you say Taryn? That’s me, that’s me, I’m coming!” She drops her iPod in her bag, takes her script from a side table, and hurries over to the assistant. “Emily Davis, you’re on deck!” the assistant calls just before the door shuts behind Taryn.

Upon hearing my name, I sit up a little straighter on the couch and make sure that my hair is not frizzing out. Taryn will spend approximately three minutes in that room and I need to be ready for my respective three as soon as they summon me.

It passes both too slowly and too quickly. When the assistant opens the door to dismiss Taryn, I stand, the script shaking in my hands. I should have memorized it, then my nerves wouldn’t be so apparent. Oh, well, they know I’m nervous anyway. We all are. And not just today; the fact that we’ve basically chosen a life of unemployment makes us all perpetually anxious.

I step past the assistant and into the small room. Squeezed into it is a big TV monitor, a camera, a table and three chairs, at which the casting directors are sitting, a cameraman, and also a potted plant, which I guess is supposed to make us feel more comfortable but only makes the space even more cramped.

The assistant reminds the agents of my name and one of them reaches her hand across the table. “Hello, Emily. Thanks for coming in today.” I shake her hand, hoping she can’t feel it shaking. “If you could just take your mark, we’ll get started.”

My gaze automatically drops to the floor as I seek out the tape that will show me where to stand. There are a variety of markings, each meaning something different, and finally I locate today’s: a blue ‘T.’ I step over to it and place my feet on either side of the T’s base. That film acting class might have cost a fortune, but I’d have looked like a moron just then if I hadn’t learned stuff like this.

“Okay, Emily, you’ll be reading with Frank today, so whenever you’re ready.”

I look down at the script and for a second, the words look foreign to me. But then I take a deep breath and remember the time I put into this. I practiced these lines. I gave my character a name. I even gave her a backstory, for God’s sake! I probably know more about Girl Walking Dog than the people in front of me. Now I just have to prove that to them.

Frank and I read through the short scene in less than two minutes. It’s not exactly plot-furthering material, but I get a laugh on the third line about the pigeons from the guy sitting to the right. That’s something, at least.

“Good.” It’s the woman talking again. “That was great, Emily.” There’s a pause, something that usually indicates that a “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” is forthcoming. But just as I start to utter the requisite “thank you” that comes before an exit, the man on the left- who didn’t change expression during my entire read- sits forward.

“Can I see that again… Emily?” he says, his eyes straying to my resume to check my name. “But can you do it with a French accent? And maybe make her a little more dead-pan?”

I say “Sure!” as I give myself a second to internally celebrate. Getting direction is like gold. Direction is like getting a “maybe,” and a chance to turn that “maybe” into a “yes.” But my inner party dies down when I recall what he just said. “You wanted a French accent?”

“Yes,” the man says. “We were thinking it might be funnier if she weren’t American, and I see that you have ‘French accent’ on your resume.”

Crap. I knew I should have taken that off. I used to be able to do a great French accent, but the last time I used it was years ago. I don’t even want to know how rusty it’s going to be if I haul it out now. But there’s no saying no at an audition. Fake it ‘til you make it, as some say.

I clear my throat and hold the script up a little higher. ‘Think Marion Cotillard. Think La Vie En Rose!’ Why didn’t I watch that movie more closely? Well, can’t fix that now. Frank says the first line and I respond with mine. And to my surprise, my accent isn’t too bad. I slip into something that sounds like British/Spanish at one point, but overall… not cringe-worthy. At the last minute, I remember that the casting director wanted it more dead-pan and rather than giving my pigeon line the usual comic nudge, I just say it without inflection. The guy on the right chuckles more heartily than last time and as the reading comes to a close, I’m delighted. I did it! And they liked me! Sally Field, I understand your speech now!

“Nice job, Emily,” the woman says as the cameraman. “We’ll let you know.” And then I’m escorted from the room. This is a little disappointing; I had been hoping to be offered the part then and there, but again, I’m not Kate Winslet. But as I pick up my bag and head for the door, I feel great. I did what I came here to do. I give the girl behind the desk a cheery wave as I breeze through the door.

* * * * * *

I didn’t get it. The audition was two weeks ago and my agent hasn’t called. This is so disappointing. No, cut the professionalism- this just sucks. I worked so hard. I thought they liked me. But I guess one of my identical competitors was what they wanted.

I’ve been on a few auditions since then, but none of them went as well. Maybe I’m just not cut out for film and television. I’ve always considered theatre my strong point anyway, although I haven’t been getting any of those parts either. I used to get parts all the time! I used to be in three shows at once! What happened? Did I peak in my teens? Oh, God, that’s depressing.

I return to the spreadsheet I’ve been making for my boss. He always tells me how good I am at my job, so I guess I could just keep doing this for the rest of my life… But I don’t want to! I’m trained to be an actor! I want to do that- I have to do that, I don’t have any other skills (making spreadsheets doesn’t count.)

On the floor, my bag starts to vibrate and my heart can ‘t help but jump. Could it be-? No, it’s ridiculous to hope that it’s my agent about the audition after two weeks have gone by, but try and tell that to my heart. It pounds as I frantically dig for my phone. I finally pull it out and look at the screen. It is my agent! I press the ‘answer’ button too many times in my hurry and worry that I’ve hung up on him.

“Hello? Hello?!”

“Emily!” My agent, Bill, sounds cheery as always. I feel like he uses that voice to counter the cutthroat business we’re in.

“Hi, Bill,” I say nervously. “Do you have an audition for me?” That can be the only other reason he’s calling.

“Actually,” Bill begins and my heart tries to pound out my chest. “I’ve got some good news for you. The Gilmore Group just called and they want you to be their Girl With Dog.”

“Really?!” I squeal, abandoning all pretense. “Oh, my God, that’s great!”

“It sure is,” Bill says. I can hear his smile under his bushy moustache. “You’re filming tomorrow. Be at the Paramount lot by five a.m, and make sure to bring that accent. They loved it! I’m having a messenger bring over your pages and parking permit tonight. Great job, kid, and have fun tomorrow.” He hangs up.

My hands are shaking. I did it! I’m Girl With Dog! Me! I immediately run to my boss’ office and ask for the next day off. If you wonder why actors are always working boring paper-pushing day jobs, this is why- we won’t be missed should be actually get to live the dream for a day or two.

The next morning at 4:45 a.m., I pull into the Paramount lot. I feel like a star as I flash the guard my permit and pull into a parking space. I feel even cooler as I sit in the hair and make-up trailer with a cup of coffee, trying to wake up as they powder my face and style my hair.

Before I know it, I’m standing in the middle of a backlot park, surrounded by trees and benches. I’m wearing a stylish jogging suit, my hair swept up in a simple yet somehow flattering ponytail. When we start to film, the animal trainer will hand over “my” dog, an adorable huge, friendly Golden Retriever named Boris.


I turn and my mouth immediately goes dry. Because standing right in front of me is Brian Greene, a new but wildly famous actor and the star of this movie. Though I read with Frank at the audition, today I’ll be exchanging lines with the real thing.

“H-hi,” I finally stammer.

Brian smiles perfectly. “Have you done much film work before?” he asks as a make-up artist swoops in to take the shine off of his forehead.

“Uh… a little.” No need to bring up what the roles were.

“It’s great isn’t it? Nothing like it.” He smiles again, but before I can answer, the director shouts, “Quiet, please. Actors to places!” Brian and I situate ourselves over our respective tape marks. “Okay, we’re going for a take!” The animal trainer hands me Boris’ leash as another man snaps a slate in front of the nearest camera. “Scene thirty-four, take one.”

“Background action! Sound!”


“And… action!”

Brian leisurely speaks his first words and I respond, accent and all, while patting Boris head like he’s my own dog. Since I only have a few lines, the scene is over in just a few seconds. The director pronounces it fine, but we do another one for safety. This is thrilling- my dreams are coming true!

But every thrill must come to an end, and this one does much too quickly. Before I know it, Boris is being led away by the handler and Brian is giving me one last smile before he goes off to get ready for his next scene. I’m quickly escorted to wardrobe to change into my own clothes and then it’s time for me to go. I’m told that the movie is expected to be released in seven months and to watch out for it.

Ten months later, I’m watching TV and suddenly, there’s the trailer for the movie. I sit bolt upright and immediately call my best friend and make a plan to go see it on opening day. Maybe it’s narcissistic, but I want to see myself on the big screen!

At the cinema, we settle into our seats, soda and popcorn at the ready. I have only a vague idea of when my scene might be, as I never saw the full script. But as soon as I see Brian jogging in a familiar-looking park, dressed in the same suit he was wearing when we filmed together, I nudge Chloe. “This is it! This is it!”

Brian jogs around a corner and I know that any minute, he’s going to approach onscreen me. But then he makes his way over to a police officer, exchanges a few words with him, and jogs off. The next shot is of him unlocking his car and climbing in.

“Where were you?” Chloe whispers. “Did I miss it? Is it coming later?”

I’m so confused. “I don’t get it… we filmed in that park. He was wearing that same outfit…” I trail off, realising that my scene has met the dreaded cutting room floor. I shake my head at Chloe and sigh. I had always known that the scene could suffer that fate, but I’d hoped that my incredible and Oscar-worthy performance (I’m kidding, of course) would make it worth keeping.

“Well,” Chloe says. “At least you got to film with Brian Greene. And hey, maybe it’ll be on the extras!”

“Yeah, maybe,” I say, taking a handful of popcorn. I’m pretty disappointed that I didn’t get to see myself onscreen, but Chloe’s right. I got to exchange real and fictional words with a major movie star- who proved to be a nice guy. The $1500 check didn’t hurt either. I make a plan to buy the DVD as soon as it comes out. If anything, I can put the scene on my reel. I smile, sit back in my seat, and watch the rest of the movie. One day- one day for sure- I’d see myself up there.

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