Friday, June 8, 2012

"The Avengers" - Behind the Scenes (Part 2)

Teri S. was in “The Avengers” with Mark Ruffalo. Mark Ruffalo was in “In the Cut” with Kevin Bacon.  Wow, that was easy.

Yes, it made for crazy days and very little sleep. Yes, I used up a large chunk of my vacation days. Yes, the pay was mediocre ($10/hour for the first 8 hours each day, time and half for every additional hour.)  And if I could do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat.

We’ve all heard that the entertainment industry works in a “hurry up and wait” fashion.  They aren’t kidding.  As I mentioned previously, I could be on the set for 10-14 hours per day, but if one hour of that was actually spent in front of a live camera, I counted myself lucky.

We (the “Group Hug” extras) were held in a cafeteria in the lower floor of a downtown Cleveland building. Depending on the planned filming for the day, it could be groups of 75 – 300 people anxiously waiting for their chance to be on camera. More on that later.

As I mentioned previously, I usually arrived around 6:00 AM. We’d give our costume number to the wardrobe department (mine was DNY-281) and they’d bring us our freshly laundered and pressed costumes.  In my case, the laundering was more of a freshness than a cleanliness issue. Why?  Because the “D” in my “DNY” stood for dirty.  I’m serious. I was designated as a “dirty New York pedestrian”, and they took that appellation very seriously. Once I finished in wardrobe, I went up to hair and makeup.  As I had already done my own hair and makeup at home, all that was left for them to do was dirty me up.  And boy, were they good at it.

Every time we came out of the bathroom, they’d touch up any dirt that we’d washed off of our hands. Before any time on camera, they’d make sure we’d been freshly covered in more dirt. During the filming of one scene, I was actually on the set with Robin Swoboda, Cleveland news anchor and icon. (You hear her towards the end of the film giving news updates.)  She took one look at me and cracked up laughing. “Do you have any idea how dirty you are?”, she chortled.  I smiled wryly. “Yes, yes I do,” I replied. It was actually a pretty sweet moment.  You see, generally people didn’t talk to the extras.  We weren’t really actors, just props that were capable of moving themselves.  That said, I absolutely adored the crew, and the few “real” actors with whom I interacted were great.

The crew: I just loved them.  First, as I previously mentioned, was the Extras Casting Coordinator, Maryellen Aviano.  I felt pretty cool that out of 1,500 extras, she remembered my name. Even better, I had my own nickname: The Cookie Lady.  Hey, I take what I can get.

Then there was the Set Production Assistant Ryan J. Pezdirc, AKA “Pez”.  Pez reminded me of The Claw in “Toy Story”.  You remember, “The claw is our master.” “The claw chooses who will go and who will stay.” That was Pez’s job. If, out of the 300 extras sitting in the holding pen waiting to be called only 10 were needed, Pez would come down and select the 10. Needless to say, competition got stiff.
Don’t get me wrong. Holding wasn’t that bad. How often to you get paid $10 per hour to play euchre and Trivial Pursuit?  (And if you know me, I never pass up a chance to play Trivial Pursuit!)

But that’s not what we were there for.  We all wanted screen time, and we’d do everything we could to get it.  For example, I learned to moderate my intake of fluids. I did not want to be in the bathroom if/when someone came down to pick a group for a shot. I also learned to keep an eye on the spot where the production team would usually enter, so that I could make sure I was nearby when they started picking. I was also a firm believer in eye contact, and wasn’t above jumping up and down like a fool to get noticed.

Once we got on the set, we were usually under the direction of Julian Brain and Greg Hale , Second Assistant Directors.  Twice, though, I actually got to appear in scenes directed by Joss Whedon himself!
In one, I was outside after a large explosion tending an injured pedestrian.  Thanks to people in nearby buildings taking pictures and then posting them online, I was able to find a photograph of that moment:

It’s a good thing I did, because this scene was cut from the final film. (In case you can’t tell, I’m at the very top of this picture. Matt Haltuch is with me as I tend to “Massive Head-Wound Harry”, as we dubbed him.)

My other scene that was directed by Mr. Whedon was in the bank. This was the special Saturday shoot for which I had been called in, and we were all very excited to be there.  The prime character in the scene was The Waitress, portrayed by Ashley Johnson (little Chrissy Seaver on “Growing Pains”). Speaking of sweet people, she was just a darling. We joked about everything from her hailing from Michigan (always a bit of a rivalry with us in Ohio) to the proper way to tackle someone. Again, very cool.

But I’m sure you’re all wondering, “What was Joss like?” The thing that struck me about Joss was how quiet he was.  All of his assistants were running around yelling their lungs out, but Joss was very reserved. When he spoke to “Ash”, as he called her, his direction was concise, but not rushed or short. I just wish I’d have gotten the opportunity to speak with him directly.

Then came the months and months of waiting for the film to come out. I saw it Friday May, 5, 2012 in 3D. To my dismay, I didn’t see myself at all. The “Head-Wound Harry” scene had been cut completely, and the bank scene almost entirely, as well. But then I went back to see it again in 2D. This time, I found myself four times: crouched in front of a car, in the bank behind the waitress (in the upper left quadrant of the screen), leaving the bank, and finally fleeing into a subway.  All told, maybe 2 seconds of screen time total. My face is only visible in the brief glimpse in the bank.  Mostly, it’s more shots like this:

(What do you mean you can’t tell that’s Matt and me?  It is, I swear.) Oh yeah: Out of hundreds of extras, Matt and I are together in all of our scenes. Weird, huh?  It’s because we strategized together on how best to get on camera, I’m just sure of it. ;)

Of course, once “The Avengers” comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray September 25, 2012, you can bet I’ll be combing through it scene by scene for more Teri sightings!

Have you seen the movie yet?  What did you think?  And more importantly, did you spy me at all?  Let me know over at!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

"The Avengers" - Behind the Scenes (Part 1)

A little movie came out last month; perhaps you heard of it – “The Avengers”?  What you may not know, however, is that I, your humble Disney Gene, am in that movie!

(Me, in my Black Widow costume for Halloween)

Well, barely.  I was one of the 1,500 or so extras that were used on the Cleveland portion of the filming. Still, it was one of the coolest experiences of my life, so I thought you might like a look behind the scenes of some of the Hollywood magic.
It all started on a hot July day. The potential extras were told to assemble between noon and 4 PM July 15, and 10 AM to 4 PM July 16, 2011 at the Holiday Inn Independence for their chance to audition. Interested people “should dress in their best business executive outfit and must be well-groomed”.  We were instructed to bring our own pens to fill out an application, and photos would be taken at the casting.

My husband and I decided to hit the Saturday auditions.  Reports of long lines on Friday had us arriving about 9:00 on Saturday, but the lines were already snaking through the parking lot.  All told, we waited about four hours standing in the hot sun. In business suits. And heels (for me, anyway.)  And best of all, I’d been stung by a bee on my foot on Thursday, so my foot had, quite literally, swelled to three times its normal size. Boy, was that fun to cram into a dress shoe, and then stand on for four hours.  Hey, I said it was exciting, not glamorous. I mean seriously, it was wicked stepsister shoving her foot into the glass slipper material here.

Estimates of the number of people who auditioned for these 1,500 spots ranged from 4,500 to 10,000, depending on which report you read. To make a long story short, I made it but my husband didn’t. Don’t think that didn’t make fore a wee bit of tension in the household. ;)

I actually didn’t hear back from them for quite some time, so I didn’t think that I’d been selected. But when sitting at rehearsal for the Bellevue Society for the Arts’ production of “Move Over, Mrs. Markham”, I got the call. I couldn’t believe it!

I got a gist of how things would work right away. It was 7:00 on a Thursday evening.  “Can you come in tomorrow morning to downtown Cleveland for a fitting?” I was asked. Well gee; I do have this thing called a job… Oh, what the heck.  “Sure.” I said. Fortunately, my boss was cool about it. She was very excited for me, and completely understanding about the flexibility needed in the use of my vacation days over the coming weeks. Brad Rowe, my director in “Move Over, Mrs. Markham” was an absolute sweetheart about it, as well.  I had to have been a director’s worst nightmare during that time, but Brad was always patient and supportive!   

Friday morning: my fitting.  I’m sure many of you are familiar with the quote by Randy Pausch, “Be good at something; it makes you valuable…. Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.”  I believe in taking that quote a bit more literally than most people. So when I showed up for my fitting, I didn’t arrive empty-handed; I brought my special homemade sugar cookies. They were a hit.

I was originally slated to be on the set from 3-5 days, depending on how filming went.  But a couple of days after my fitting, I was laying out by the pool when I get a phone call. “The director wants to know if you would be available for a special scene to be shot on Saturday. Can you make that?”  Um, let me think… “Yes!”

So Tuesday August 16, 2011 I reported to downtown Cleveland at 6:00 AM… with cookies. This time, I made 10 dozen cookies – I didn’t want anyone to miss out! I sought out the Extras Casting Coordinator, Maryellen Aviano.  Upon catching sight of me, she exclaimed,  “The Cookie Lady’s here!”  You can bet your bottom dollar that I was determined at that point to show up every day with cookies in hand!

Here is how the days went: the night before I was to be on the set, I’d call the hotline for my scheduled arrival time (usually 6:00 AM) and the designated parking garage.  I’d get up at about 3:15 AM for shower, hair, make-up and clothes, then drive an hour to an hour and half (depending on traffic) to join the rest of the “Group Hug” extras (possibly the least effective secret identity in movie history).  We’d usually be on site until around 7 or 8 PM, at which point I would drive home, make cookies for the next day, collapse into bed, and then get up the next morning and do it all again.  My husband thought I was crazy to make the cookies each night after those long, crazy days, but I just had to.  Why?  Quite simply, the crew was working their butts off.  When I got there at 6:00, the hair and make-up people were all set up and ready to roll. The costume people had already laundered all of our costumes from the day before. And there were days that in addition to our daytime shoots, they also had to take care of the extras that were there to film the nighttime scenes in Germany. I figured those people needed and deserved a sugar boost, so the least that I could do was try to help!  So I brought cake bites, sugar cookies, snickerdoodles, chocolate chunk cookies, and oatmeal scotchies.  I hope that the crew liked them, because I really appreciated all of the hard work they did for us!

I’ve already rambled on for nearly 1,000 words, so I’ll stop here for now.  Next time, I’ll give you a look at our days on the set, as well as some info on my appearances in the film.  Thanks for reading!