Yankee Stadium. The House That Ruth Built. Home of more World Series games than any other ballpark. As close to a baseball mecca as one will ever find.
This is my first visit to Yankee Stadium.
But there is no ballgame to
No, the way my life is, my first visit to Yankee Stadium is to be an unpaid extra for Anger Management, a new comedy with Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson.
I took Lolita with me, as she has never experienced firsthand the wonderfully boring process of movie making. What she knew about filmmaking before tonight came from those HBO First Look specials they run between shows. Sure, on those shows, filmmaking looks almost glamorous. I guess I could make the filmmaking technique seem exciting if I had the ability to encapsulate four months of work into 17 minutes.
I came tonight because I miss being on a film set. It’s been three years since my last AD job, working on a project ghost-produced by an Oscar nominated producer/director’s production company for his much less known brother. I won’t mention the title, because you’ve never heard of it nor will you ever see it. After all this time, it’s shown at but one film festival and there are no plans to ever release it on video.
Now, for those of you who have never been behind the scenes of a film set, here is what basically happens…
The second assistant director is the first one on set. He or she opens up the production office, or van if you are on location, and starts to get everything ready. Then the first AD, unit production manager and the production assistants show up, and there is a discussion about how the day is going to progress. Eventually, the grips and gaffers and craft services and set dressers and makeup artist and costumers sound recorders and boom mike operators and Teamsters show up, and they go about their things. The last people to arrive are usually, in order, the director, the actors and finally the producer. And after everyone else arrives, there are the extras. The second AD, who called Central Casting the night before with a wish list of actors needed for that day’s shooting, finds out which ones showed and calls Central Casting again to send replacements for the people who didn’t show in the first place. Then the set or location is set and dressed, and you’re ready to roll. Sometimes, the operation of getting to the first strike of the day can take half an hour to three or four hours depending on a great many factors, including getting the extras, who are usually paid between $60 and $100 per day for doing almost nothing.
Now, with a film like Anger Management, which has planned to shoot four days at Yankee Stadium, the production isn’t going to spend the up to $300,000 per day to load the stadium up with the several thousands professional extras they will need to make the shoot look as authentic as possible. Adam’s already getting several million dollars for this film, and Jack’s price could buy Lichtenstein. Add to that the cost of costars Heather Graham, Marisa Tomei, John Turturro, Luis Guzman and Woody Harrelson… hell, you already have a monstrous budget, it’s a wonder they could also afford Kevin Nealon. So what the production will do is hire a company like Be In A Movie to advertise on web sites to get ordinary decent Americans to come be a part of this close encounter of the cinema kind. The production will get a hundred or so professional extras to place in the sections directly in front of the camera, then pepper the outlaying area with normal folk, so when audiences worldwide see the film next summer, they will hopefully think “Wow, they really filmed that during a Yankee game!”
There are pros and cons to this approach of hiring folks off the street, or the net in this case.
Or so I am told.
During my days as an AD, I never dealt with more than a handful of background actors, as the profession SAG card carrying actors prefer to be called. This is to differentiate them from the general riff-raff of extras. People have come from all across the Eastern Seaboard to be a part of this. People who can’t shut the hell up when the production assistants let them know the A unit is rolling. People who, when promised to be fed and hydrated, use this as an excuse to stuff their gullets with as much crap as they can shovel in, then start bitching and moaning and complaining they haven’t received dinner yet, even though their fat asses haven’t even been in the stadium two hours and they got a fairly decent snack pack with fruits and cookies when they walked into the stadium.
Before filming started, Jack and Adam came over to the section where the masses were assembled to thank them for being a part of this magical night. We’re sitting on the first level of the third base side, in seats none of us will ever sit in again because we are not billionaires. Behind Lolita and myself is this sow from Jersey who seems to believe talking about her nephew having a nightmare the previous night and waking up in a pool of his own bile and urine is a proper conversation topic in a public arena. But she is bored, even though she just got there. And I can’t blame her. Regular folk aren’t used to the hurry up and wait pace of filmmaking. They come because they have been promised free food and drink, raffle prizes if they can stick it out until 3:30 in the morning and the chance to work besides Adam and Jack.
As the production moves into its third hour, the camera have all been trained on a section on the first base side of the facility. Over there, a group of background actors is sitting with former New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, who is playing himself in a scene. The unwashed masses on the third base side are getting restless. They’ve been sitting there for three hours and the camera hasn’t faced them once. They are not the focus…
Suddenly, pandemonium erupts. People are on their feet, screaming and clapping. My nose has been buried in Chuck Palahniuk’s newest book, which I have to speed read through because it’s Lolita’s and she’s going to start on it as soon as she is done reading my Ellroy novel. The crowd got a glimpse of Woody Harrelson, who is down on the field and passing by our section on his way to wardrobe. He is playing a Yankee Stadium security guard who will be shooting with our group just as soon as the A unit is done with Rudy over there, and they are working on their last shot on that side. We will be fed out “lunches” before then, at which time Rudy is supposed to come over and thank us all for being a part of this magical experience.
We don’t know what the hell is going on over there, as there are cameras and crew blocking our view. Around 11:45 PM, lunch is called, which we should grab as we are herded into a new section. Seems we were being filmed after all, for a couple of reverse shots of the action over there. Rudy’s people decide this is a good time to get him out of the stadium, so we never get to hear from him. But the masses are too busy stuffing their faces with some kind of wrapped sandwich thing that wouldn’t be suitable airline food for those short hop flights from LaGuardia to Logan International to notice. And since the masses aren’t too fond of paying attention to what’s going on, it’s almost 1:15 AM before the next shot, which will consist of Adam running down to the field and encountering Woody’s guard as Adam tries to get on the field for some reason, is ready to rehearse. The natives are once again restless, going into their sixth hour of sitting there doing nothing, and it’s becoming a free for all. The production assistants are trying to get people seated, but everyone wants to be in the shot, because Adam and Woody are going to be in the shot, and three thousand people are trying to get themselves into a space which can only hold a hundred or so maximum. The crew is visibly frustrated. Finally, Adam gets the crowd back on the production’s side by leading the group in some waves. Finally, the majority of the crowd gives up on getting in the shot with Adam and Woody, and head towards the upper section of the field level. It takes almost two hours to get two sets of takes, of Adam walking down the aisle and of Adam and Woody’s interaction.
The crew was hoping to finish filming by 2:30 AM, but here we are at 3:30 and the production assistants are trying in vain to get the vastly diminishing crowd to move one last time to the left field bleachers. Promises are made that the raffle prizes will be given out as soon as they can get one shot of a full bleacher section, but that’s not enough to get most of them to stay.
Including myself and Lolita. Lolita is bored and I am getting pissed off at the general unprofessional attitude of both the crowd, who by showing up and signing a release form agreed to be placed and replaced in different sections as shooting progressed, and the production assistants, the majority of them having never worked on a non-student film set before and are basically pissed off because they are earning crap wages to be treated like crap by a bunch of idiots. Why any director or assistant director would willingly subject themselves to this kind of working conditions is a question for the ages. Non-professionals simply don’t care about the process of filmmaking unless they think they might be able to see themselves on screen. The further people were placed away from the camera, the more apathetic they became. Little do they understand that a good showing by this group will help get the word out that filming in New York again can be a rewarding experience. More productions mean more money coming in, which means more jobs for New Yorkers.
And that’s what this great city needs right now.