Tales from the Set
In Which Kalen Becomes a Stunt Driver
or alternatively titled:
In Which Our Hero is Asian For a Day, and a Bad Driver, But its Totally Not Racist
So there I was - roasting in my car on a hot Sunday afternoon, foot firmly on the brake pedal and surrounded by a sea of equally stalled cars on the Pasadena freeway. Was there an accident? Was the president in town? Had the zombie apocalypse finally come and we were all fleeing the ravenous undead hordes?!
No. We were extras, working on a Sunday, and instructed to sit in our cars on the cordoned off section of the freeway and keep the ignition on and our feet on the brakes so they could shoot from behind and see our brake lights lit up.
Three months into my work as an extra at the bottom rungs of the entertainment industry ladder, and Hollywood continued to bring the glamour.
We'd started work at five am that morning. Hours of just sitting, alone in our cars with our thoughts and our books and our Ipods and laptops - but never getting too comfortable, lest our feet slip off the brake pedals...which they started to do as one hour stretched into two and then three and four and five. It's terribly fulfilling, knowing that your work can be performed with equal competence by an actual rock. At one point I did leave my car and hunt around for something to hold down my brakes so I could take a nap in my backseat. Alas, I came up empty handed. Or else all the other extras beat me to it...
But that's the thing about a Hollywood set! Just when you start to feel the chill of slow and painful death by boredom set into your bones....out of nowhere! Excitement! Happenings! Egads!
A PA in an ominous black truck zoomed up alongside me and rolled down his window. I snapped to attention and shouted 'I'm not sleeping!' before remembering oh wait, nobody cares.
Much like my high school girlfriend, they just wanted me for my car.
The PA briefly looked me up and down.
"You'll do," he said, and told me to shut off my engine and get in his truck. Flattered beyond measure, but having heard stories about boys like him, I hesitated.
"But what about my car?"
"Just leave it there," he said. "It'll be fine."
"It won't mess up the shot?"
"Nobody can even see it back here," he assured me. My last several hours of work thus validated, I shut off my engine and climbed into the strange man's car. We drove in awkward silence (he wasn't a big talker) the ten minutes back to where base camp was set up and he dropped me off in front of the wardrobe trailer.
"Tell wardrobe that the director wants you to photo double for Matt King," he said.
"Okay," I started to say, ever agreeable. Then something occurred to me, even as he drove off. "Wait. Isn't Matt King Asian?"
But alas, he was already dust in the wind, and thus armed with my dubious instructions I prepared to face The Wardrobe Department.
Mercurial in their favors, The Wardrobe Department is one of the mightiest of the departments - they hold the power of Good Clothes in their hands. Their whims may be tempered by the Will of the Director, but they and they alone know what clothes can make you look your best and what can make you look your worst - AND THEY CAN MAKE YOU WEAR THEM.
Bad things happen to those who piss off Wardrobe. Incidentally, that may or may not be part of the reason I can be glimpsed in an episode of Melrose Place wearing a lavender suit and matching pink fedora.
But that is neither here nor there.
I approached the wardrobe trailer with all the timidity of the lone extra separated from the safety of the herd and very aware that he is out of his element. The three wardrobers paused in their discussion of Sekrit things and eyed me balefully over their diet sodas. They knew my coming heralded a Return to Work.
"What?" One barked.
"Umm, they need me to photo double for Matt King." I stood tall. Or at least made an attempt at height.
The Lead Wardrober narrowed beady eyes, trying to decide if I was pulling her leg or not. "Matt King is Asian."
"Yes, he is." It's always best to agree with Wardrobe.
"You're not Asian."
"That had occurred to me as well," I said politely.
"God I hate this set," she sighed and waved me up to the trucker. "Come on. Let's see what we can do with you."
Half an hour later and garbed in his character's requisite SWAT gear, I was shocked to find that I did in fact, look vaguely Asian. I still looked nothing like Matt King of course. The powers of Wardrobe are vast and many, but even they can only do so much. Still, it was something. And if you squinted with one eye, gouged the other one out with a stick, and the lighting was poor, our resemblance was absolutely uncanny.
"You'll do," Lead Wardrober ultimately grunted in eerie similarity to the first PA. And thus armed, another PA was summoned and I was driven back to set, along side another extra photo doubling for the other lead actor.
At set, we were escorted to the first AD, who was standing next to a very large, very expensive SUV. I started to get a Very Bad Feeling.
"You're Matt's photo double?" She asked me.
I nodded. My fear was a great and terrible thing.
"Good. You'll be driving."
"Yup. You'll need this."
She handed a walkie talkie to the other photo double, but my attention was on the SUV, which bore a passing resemblance to an eighteen wheeler and probably cost more than my entire apartment building.
"You'll follow that PA to the other side of the freeway and wait there. We'll radio you instructions from there. Got it? Great! Don't crash!"
I wasn't really sure what to say to that, and by the time I mustered the nerve to propose a version of the scene where Matt King WASN'T driving the car, she was already out of ear shot.
Me and my Very Bad Feeling climbed into the car.
Initially, I tried to drive at about 5 miles an hour, figuring any damage I did at that speed would be negligible enough that I MIGHT be able to pay it off at some point in my lifetime. My ingenuity was thwarted by two things: the speed of the PA we were following, and the swift revelation that my companion had no idea how to work a walkie talkie.
"You're useless," I informed him. I was not in the best of moods.
He didn't disagree.
Soon enough we found ourselves parked on the shoulder on the other side of the freeway, about half a mile out of sight of where the crew and cameras were set up. Unlike the side of the freeway we had been working on, this side was not in any way cordoned off, and cars whizzed past us at breakneck speeds.
Were it Christmas, you might say my Very Bad Feeling grew three sizes.
"You guys ready?" Squawked a voice from the walkie talkie. Which I was now operating.
"Umm, yes?" I can be forgiven, I think, for lacking confidence in my answer.
"Great! When I say 'action' I'm going to need you to merge over to the far lane, the one closest to our cameras and just keep accelerating until I say you're good. We won't be able to see you until you round the curve at those bridge supports, so we're only going to get one shot at this. But relax, its just a simple drive by shot. Got it?"
As I looked at the cars whizzing by where we were parked at a standstill, I tried to calculate the time it'd take to match traffic speed and merge across four lanes successfully. I then gauged the distance from me to the curve she'd designated as the edge of camera frame. My silence was not an assent so much as an inability to form words due to sudden lack of saliva.
I dropped the walkie into my lap, threw the gear shift into drive and slammed down the accelerator. The Terrifyingly Big SUV responded accordingly and we zoomed down the shoulder, gaining speed at a ridiculous rate. We approached the curve in the freeway and were rapidly running out of shoulder. I prepared to merge into the first lane of traffic.
It was only at this point that I realized the car had no rear view mirror.
It had been a relatively easy drive to our parking spot and I hadn't needed it and so had failed to notice its absence until that point. Of course the car had a rear view mirror - just not the traditional kind. Rather than hang from the ceiling of the car, there was a camera that looked out the back of the car and relayed a video feed to a display set in the dashboard.
Dear readers, in case you have never found yourself zooming down a (soon ending) freeway shoulder at eighty miles an hour with an incompetent passenger screaming at you to merge merge merge in one ear while a director squawks 'Where are you? Why can't we see you yet? Go faster!' into another.....let me assure you.
It does not occur to you to look for a rear view mirror in the dashboard.
Craning my neck as far as my neck would crane and praying that this car did not come with blindspots, I threw the car across all four lanes of traffic at somewhere upwards of ninety miles an hour and we blew around the corner and past the cameras.
"Great job! Now turn around and come back to set!" Came over the walkie.
"Turn where?" I yelled, still somewhat adrenaline crazed.
Somewhat, in this instance, being code for: Completely.
"That break in the divider, right ahead of you."
"The one ten feet ahead of me?"
"That's the one!"
I whipped the car to the left in a nearly 90 degree turn in a gap in the divider roughly twice as long as the car was wide. The car squeaked through, my passenger squeaked a scream, and I oddly enough, was praying to Krishna.
Really couldn't say why. The sum of my Hindu knowledge is having read Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny a couple times.
"Awesome work guys!" The first AD, upon our return to set, was far too bubbly in my opinion for someone who had just tried to have us killed. I would have said something to that effect, but I was busy kissing the ground and swearing off all forms of vehicular travel in the near future.
"You didn't crash, hurt the car, or die!" She continued in what I can only assume was her attempt at levity. I would have informed her that her confirmation those HAD indeed been possibilities in no way helped my state of mind, but my lips were still making love to asphalt.
"Be sure to see me before you guys wrap for the day. We've got a week left of shooting to do, and I might bring you both back as stand ins."
Well that part sounded nice, and so I didn't utter mystic curses at her back as she walked away. I did however, have negative emotions that needed venting in abundance, so I turned once more to my companion.
He didn't disagree.