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    My Work As an Extra on “The Endless Possibility of Sky”

    gary3

    Writing about film, and interviewing actors and directors, I have gotten to know many filmmakers and performers over the years. I talk with them about their craft and how they create their films and their characters, but it’s rare that I get the chance to see them at work on a film set. It’s like someone who eats sausage getting to see how it is made.

    When I mentioned this to Todd Verow, an indie queer filmmaker I admire, we discussed the possibility of my being a fly on the wall of his latest film. Todd agreed to let me peel back the curtain and visit him as he filmed a scene for his film The Endless Possibility of Sky, now out on DVD.

    Todd emailed me the sides (pages for the scene being shot that day), and I felt like an actor in a Woody Allen film—I just get to see the scene being filmed. I have no knowledge of any other aspect of the project or characters. The scene in question is a drug orgy. It’s very funny, and a bit naughty.

    I am sent the location information, and when I arrived, the place was sauna-like hot, even though it was 36 degrees outside and I climbed across snowdrifts to get there. Todd is shirtless and in shorts, “dressing” the set by covering every inch of the wall and floor space with black plastic bags. A black couch sat in the middle of the almost empty room; two chairs and a lamp on a table were the only other pieces of furniture. A bunch of mirror balls hung from the ceiling by dental floss. The room looked cool/surreal, and showed how creative Todd could be on a micro-budget.

    I gingerly took a seat, and met/chat with Philly, the mono-monikered actress who played the meth lab mistress for the scene. Philly recounted the events of the previous day when she and Todd were filming in the snowy streets and they were nearly arrested. She approached a police van while in character, and the cops apparently didn’t like that.

    As Philly and I chatted, waiting for the other talent to arrive, we bonded over attending the same high school, though decades apart. Meanwhile, Todd finished dressing the set and “striking” the lights (turning on the spots that make the hot room even hotter).

    Philly went off to get dressed and into character. She put on a black polyester outfit that made her itchy and hot. “This is so uncomfortable,” she complained, as Todd literally made a belt out of clear plastic tape to secure her outfit, “But it helps me get into character.”

    She explained that she based her meth pad mistress on “a hideous queen I once knew in San Francisco who wore a kimono and was surrounded by young boys.” When she returned with startling blue eye shadow and red lipstick smeared on her lips vertically, she said she “had” her character. Philly looked kooky and fabulous.

    Next thing you know, Todd is handing out releases for the cast, and I’m being asked to sign one to appear in the film as an extra. I would be in the scene, in my underwear (the other actors are nude) playing a writer working on his book about the meth pad. I didn’t think the character was much of a stretch, and under the guise of participating for art, I stripped down to my black Calvin Klein boxer briefs. I was grateful the room was like a sauna.

    Todd warned Philly that the spray bottle he gave her to squirt on the actors contained alcohol, so it should be kept away from the lighters and open flames. Given that every inch of the place was covered in plastic bags, I scanned the room for a fire extinguisher. Finding none, I silently hoped that nothing would catch fire.

    As shooting was about to commence, I stood against a wall “in character,” in my underwear, and made scratches on my notepad. Philly went to the door with Todd and his handheld camera (a Panasonic DVX100B) so he could film Rob, an actor, in the scene as he entered. The idea was to catch Rob off guard, and to create a sense of realism. The concept worked beautifully. I watched this magic happen, and everything suddenly came together organically. Rob went to the couch with two other actors, Michael and Brandon, who were making out quite erotically, and he started to participate. It was pretty hot to watch these sexy, naked actors being so uninhibited; I’m getting a real eyeful. I picked a good day to visit. This is so much more interesting than filming a scene of two characters just talking.

    The scene continued on really long, and the actors were really into the sex. I acknowledged their commitment and couldn’t stop staring, even though I was ready for Todd to yell, “Cut.” When Michael coughed, he acted as a tweaker, and it was really convincing. Meanwhile, Todd was roaming around the couch shooting. He crouched beside me, which enabled me to see him zooming in on the action, covering all of the angles. Eventually he called, “Good, good,” his code that he got what he wanted.

    “I like to let it run and see what happens,” he said about his approach to shooting this lengthy sex scene.

    Next, Todd was going to “cheat” me and moved me away from my corner and more towards the “action” on the couch. I was even hotter now, leaning up against the wall covered in plastic bags. Action began, but the director yelled, “Cut!” when lines were flubbed, and we started the take again. Another error was made, and we went again and again, and a fourth time. Todd is unflappable, however. In the next take, he provided an aside to me, “Good with the pad.” I smiled at the note he gave me and took pride in my work as an extra. We shot the scene one more time, and Todd said, “This is the last time, I promise!” Philly answered knowingly, “He always says that!”

    As we started filming again, I sensed that everyone was getting a little punchy. Todd was now shooting a point-of-view scene from the doorway, moving past a naked Michael tweaking on one side of the room, me in my corner and the nude guys on the couch. I couldn’t keep a straight face in this, my last scene of the day, because I was hot and tired and hungry. But I laughed because I imagined someone walking past the open (front) doorway, seeing this room covered entirely in black plastic, with a bunch of naked and nearly naked people hanging out in it, wondering what the hell is going on.

    I heard Todd say, “Good, good,” on the replay of the video, and the scene was wrapped. I was thanked for my time. I put on my clothes, said my goodbyes and headed back out into the real world.

    © 2013 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of the forthcoming “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” You can follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.