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!

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