Friday, May 29, 2009

Hollywood north. And east.


Last night, I met up with my friend Caner for our irregular language exchange that has more-or-less irretrievably morphed into “hanging out.”

As we wandered around the island, we happened upon what looked like a traffic jam – Rue de la fonderie was packed with cars. Strangely, none of the cars had drivers. However, there were a lot of folks bustling about, setting up platforms and turning on spotlights. It appeared that a movie shoot was in town.

We decided to hang around, and watch the spectacle, thus giving me the opportunity to teach Caner the word “rubbernecker.”

I was vaguely hoping that we could insert ourselves into a background scene, but no luck. We spoke to one of the extras – “figurants” – and he told us that he had answered an ad in the local paper. They were paying 100 Euros a day, he said, and – judging from his demeanour and that of some of the other extras hanging around – supplying free booze as well.

In any case, our guy was in a great mood, ignoring instructions to sit in his car in order to light a cigarette and chat with Caner and I: he told us that he’d answered the call for another production that would start filming next month. They liked his casting photo enough that – and here he puffed out his chest – “They are going to make me not a figurant but an acteur.” He then offered us his autograph.

Your gonna be a star! (our new friend, in red)

We managed to suppress our star-struck awe long enough to ask what this movie was about. Well, he said, it was a disaster movie. It was winter (thus why he and the other extras were wearing heavy coats) and “climate change” had somehow knocked out all power across Europe. The only way I can imagine climate change being able to simultaneously knock out nuclear, wind, solar and coal power at the same time is if it melted all of the electrical transmission wires, in which case I’d be less concerned with the lights being out than the fact that my flesh was on fire.

However, plausibility be damned, we were there to see movie magic. And see it we did. As the extras sat in their cars, in front of a fake traffic light affixed to a nearby lamp-post, the director – of course, wearing a pork-pie hat – told a pair of child actors to walk through the cars, pretending to cry. Then he told them to do it again, only with more agitation. Then again, more fearfully. Then again, while a few car horns honked. Once more, while a pair of extras walked in the background. Again, crying less intensely. Again, with the head at a different angle.

Action! Photos and video taken with Caner's cell phone

At some point, genius that I am, I noticed that, although it was supposed to be winter, all of the car windows were open. Presumably, this was so the drivers could hear the director’s instructions. Would they add in the windows in post-production?

I noticed a woman who was badly dressed enough that she was clearly part of the crew. I wandered over and asked her – in French – about the windows, thinking I was quite clever: “I don’t know,” she said, looking at me curiously “The camera is only focused on the one car in front of it anyway.”

Quite right. Trying to salvage the conversation, I asked if she – and presumably the movie crew – was from Paris. Now she gave me a look like I was an idiot: “I’m from Cologne” – which should have been abundantly clear to me from her German accent. I gave one last flailing attempt to redeem myself: “So, what is it you do here?” – “Lights,” she replied. “What do you do with the lights?” She shot me a pitying look: “Whatever needs to be done. Now shhh… they’re starting.”

I took the hint, and slunk off.

Director and crew, doing whatever it is they do

Caner and I stuck around for another half hour, in which time they did a dozen takes of the two boys walking five meters. That bit of film, if it makes it into the movie at all, required 20-odd extras, as many crew, plus a dozen police acting as security. It took about an hour to do, and will last probably five seconds.

I can’t wait to see it.

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