Friday, March 13, 2009

Back from set!

I've gone and done exactly what I meant not to do. It's take me over two weeks to post again. I entirely meant to post the day after the shoot, but I went to work, then I had a show, then I had to sleep, then and then and then ... you get the rest.

For the interested parties, then, let me fill you in how my first commerical shoot in about a decade went. (Photo courtesy jasonlam via Flickr's creative commons.)

To begin with, we did not, as I originally suspected, shoot outdoors. We shot against a green screen, which I was thought would look cheesy, since my character was in the woods. However, when I saw how they were going to use the footage and that the spot would look intentionally stylized, I understood it. As it was cold outside, I was fine with staying indoors. Though, I must admit, I was somewhat concerned it may actually be less comfortable under the hot lights (and they get hot, folks) than in the February briskness.

I did as the stylist had instructed me: packed anything in my closet that looks like it could go on the "campground." As I have not been camping in years, I owned a lot fewer of those options than I had thought. I brought a rolling carry on bag worth of clothes and a couple pair of beat up shoes. When I arrived at the studio, a production assistant was outside and asked if I was Molly or Gretchen. I told her I was Molly and then followed her instructions to the green room (aka, the waiting area, not to be confused with the green screen). Immediately, I reckoned they must've hired two "mothers" or maybe two "mother-daughter" sets, they'd shoot both and then blend the two. I later found out that Gretchen was the little girl who'd play my daughter. Of course! Why would a client spend all that money on two sets? Haven't I made enough products to know that a client is going to go for the cheapest way to get a message out?

The stylist sifted through my clothes and showed me the options she had purchased and we agreed to let the director decide, after she pulled her favorites. Into the makeup chair I went, in the meantime. That was great! On the only other shoots I've been on, in which I've been in front of the camera, I've had to use my own street make up and apply it myself. And I'm not cosmetically inclined so I have no idea how it looks, in the end. It felt great having someone else paint my face. Since we were shooting in high-def, she used high-def ready make up. I've always been amazed the few times I've gotten to see makeup artists do their stuff. The face really is their canvas.

It was when I was in the makeup chair that I got to meet my "daughter." And really, I should remove the quotes. I heard Gretchen and her mother enter the green room, just off from the makeup room, and then the little girl peeked her head into the make up room to see what was going on. What I saw was the spitting image of how I've imagined my daughter would look at age 5 or 6. She was a petite little thing with the same squarish shaped face as me; bright, gentle, round blue eyes; fair skin like mine, but more akin to Honey's coloring; and strawberry red hair - the same color I had from birth to about three - blunt cut just below her chin. I had, just two weeks earlier, gotten my near waist-length hair cut to just above shoulder-length. We looked like the same character at different periods in her life. It was uncanny. When I stepped out of the makeup room, her mother did a double-take. Frankly, I looked more like her mother than her own mother did. One crew member actually thought I was her mom before I had to direct him to the real "Gretchen's mom." For the rest of the time we were both on set, I could hear people murmuring, "Can you believe the resemblance?" and "They're not even related!" (The picture is of me at 5 - when my mom used to cut my bangs. I'm still kind of blown away by how much we look alike.) So, my hats off to casting. Well done, folks. Well. Done. [insert slow clap here]

I had already decided that I was going to attach myself to the kid, before knowing who was cast. My thoughts were 1) I'll be more comfortable if I have a partner; 2) there's a good possibility that she's been on sets more recently than I have, so I could follow her lead; 3) if she's a sweet kid, she'll probably be less intimidating to me than the crew, since I'm an out of practice novice and 4) if I want this relationship to look even remotely genuine, we've gotta do some quick "bonding." Luckily, Gretchen was exactly the kind of kid you want on set: sweet, well-behaved, articulate, bright, very comfortable around adults and strangers and still full of a sense of fun. Also luckily, her mother was warm and approachable. The stagemother stereotype is nasty and, I hope in most cases, unfair, but I'll admit I was concerned about it. She was not the stereotype. This is just what her kids do - like soccer or ballet. Gretchen and I chatted and got along really well. I was so glad she was comfortable in the realm of adults. Frankly, it reminded me of me when I was a gradeschooler. I was always more comfortable with adults than kids when I was a kid. It was well into my teen years before that shifted any, and I was in college before I preferred my peers' company over that my parents' peers. Yeah. I'm a dork.

We only had a few lines each, and only one scene together. It had been a while since I'd been on a set, and I couldn't remember how many takes people normally capture. I must have done a minimum of 20 takes for each line, trying to hit various moods that the director wanted. At some point, I know I zoned out during at least one or two reads. Autopilot took over and I tried to wrest back control, but I can't say for sure that I did. All in all, though, I felt like I kept my energy up, if not my mental stamina. I hope they got what they needed.

I probably shot a solid hour, maybe a few minutes more, of footage. Though with all the lighting adjustments, my total time in front of the green screen was probably closer to 2.5 hours. That, I could deal with. What surprised me was the photoshoot. Oh, yeah. This was news to me! Apparently, they're incorporating a print campaign. It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable in front of a motion picture camera - camera intimidation always manifested itself as facial tenion, and 90% of that was easily missing this time - but a still camera ... ? Still? As in posed work? I don't mind having my picture taken candidly or a striking a quick pose with friends, but deliberately posed studio stuff? Blech! Shake it off, Molly. They're paying you. Do your best.

I had a quick wardrobe change and tried to take direction from the photographers, adjusting miniscule head-tilts and hip-shifts. "Look proud, but concerned," was the direction I remember best. Huh? I tried to contort my face for their purposes. The shot they liked best of me, cracked me up. "That's not my 'proud' face. That's the look I get when I'm in an awkward conversation at a party and don't know how to get out of it," I told them. Oh, well. It's their baby.

All in all, it was a great day. I was in by 8:30 and wrapped by 2:30. And the pay for those 6 hours, even if it was what I would normally expect based on what little I know of typical pay in this area, would've been bigger than what I'm paid in a day at my current job. However, the compensation for this project was about 2 - 4 times what I've seen advertised for similar jobs, so this means in those 6 hours, I made more than I do in a week at my desk job - working full time. Sure, I'll have to pay an ugly chunk to self-employment tax, but I'm sincerely pleased!

The spot should start airing later this month or early next around the northeast quadrant of the United States. By that I mean if you were to cut a map of the continental U.S. in four mostly equal parts, then those in the upper right hand corner will probably see this spot. Apparently, they're going to focus the heaviest airing in the upper midwest.

Now, I have another notch in my belt, another piece to add to my resume. And I have another guidepost along this path of decision-making. I'm still not sure if acting is something I want to fully invest in, but it's becoming clear to me that maybe I should revisit it more often than I have in the last 10 years and explore it again. I've always known I can't go too long without acting. I perform regularly and am difficult to live with if I'm not on the stage often enough. But I don't want to take something I love and let it become a "job." I know Robert Frost says we should aim to marry our vocation with our avocation, but I don't ever want activities I love to feel like a chore. For me, I think there could be a fine line.

But you know what? I really don't have to make that decision right now. I'm not going to project this right now. I'm going to take it all one day at a time, because all I have is today, right? And today, I'm going to rehearse, write and walk the dog: three things I love.


mommanator said...

congrats on a job well done! I presume! since you got paid so well.
cute pic of ya. my niece could pass for your child too, she has same colored hair and skin

JoeinVegas said...

No residuals?

Virginia Gal said...

oh you gotta tell me who is this ad for so I can look out for it!!

Darla D said...

That sounds like a great day! I can't wait to see it. Oh, and cute pic! :-)

Pearl said...

Someone is going to have to put this on youtube for me! I want to see!