As They Say in L.A., That's a Wrap

I GUESS I could tell it one more time. I guess being a movie extra in L.A. is nothing. I heard everybody gets to do it. And nobody wants to hear about your stint - only to tell about theirs. That's what I hear.

But in San Francisco, moviemaking is ``No kidding! Where?'' And stand back from the rush. That's because it's still something of a novelty to find those yellow-ribboned, cordoned-off streets along with parks, entryways, tiny alleys, curbs, and sidewalks that are blocked off. Sometimes you'll run across movie company caravans at the Grace Cathedral, maybe in Chinatown, most likely at The Wharf. And outdoor sets in San Francisco draw crowds like ``Batman.'' Too, those moviemaking items show up in Herb Caen and the junior chitchat columns, on talk radio and as small sound bites just before the weather on the five o'clock TV segment. Moviemaking in San Francisco is something.

And if you get to be in it - let me tell you.

There were 50 of us called by the casting company. It was to be an all-day shoot (I liked that) with a report call at 8 a.m., Pier 28. Waterfront piers in San Francisco are not numbered consecutively. Number 28 (fenced-in parking lot used for movie-production checkoff reporting) isn't between Pier 27 and 29. It's a mile the other direction under the Bridge Freeway behind Red's Java Hut.

About 15 of us found that out. We congregated between Piers 27 and 29 on the Embarcadero and wasted about an hour and a half waiting. (No wonder they like experienced movie extras in L.A.) So, at 9:30 we found out by phone we had missed the cattle shuttle to the set - City Lights Bookstore, Columbus and Broadway in North Beach. We rode, drove, hiked, and complained our way up there anyhow.

Being late didn't matter. Along with the other 35, we were shunted into the Palladium, a basement disco across Columbus from the movie setup. It is a dark, dark, red interior - black tile walls, neon lights, a walk-up bar, a shine-on reflecting ball, and sectionalized dance floors, nothing operating except tables and chairs. That was us, at the tables - waiting.

Finally Wendy whipped in breathless (walkie-talkie smothered in one hand) and started to talk. ``All right,'' she said, ``you guys are going to be the atmosphere for the final scene of `Flashback' with Dennis Hopper and Kiefer Sutherland.''


Wendy was an assistant director with the producing company. She outlined the plot for us. The final scene, she explained, had lawman Sutherland buying Hopper's book and had the two meeting outside City Lights Bookstore in a sort of unexpected rendezvous. (Just because you are in a movie you don't have to divulge the whole story and spoil things for Siskel and Ebert.)

So next, Alison, who was an assistant assistant director (walkie-talkie but no clipboard) divided us into five groups. But we still sat. And sat. And sat. True, there was good catered ``coffee-and'' to help pass the time. Groups one, two, and three were finally shepherded outside. The rest of us sat. Somebody had a Chronicle we divided up. The smart ones had brought paperbacks.

The participating groups returned. And we still sat. Then there was Alison again whooshing down the stairs. She stopped; pointed to me - ``and you and you.'' The three of us - one young lady in pastels, one leather-jacketed young man, and I - followed her outside and across Columbus to the set.

I heard her say - no nonsense - ``Get behind that corner of the building, no, behind it, and when I tell you, come forward, turn right and walk toward the camera and be sure to look into the store windows.''

Oh, I forgot. To begin with, Wendy had pounded into us two cardinal don'ts: Don't ever ever look into the camera. And don't ever ever change accessories, handbags, packages, hats, outer jackets, or anything once you have been in a scene. If it's reshot, you've got to look the same as in the original. So okay, I was careful.

The man snapped the scissor board with the diagonal marks and the number on it in front of the camera. Alison motioned me to walk. I did. The young lady had been coached (great word) to walk toward me in the scene; and the young man was to stroll along behind me.

The director after one take (pretty professional, eh?) said in a loud voice, sort of to everybody, ``Look, we aren't going to see him [meaning me] at all unless he walks closer to the building and then turns a little bit to walk right between the two of them.''

Well, say. ``Between them'' meant I was to walk right in front of Hopper and Sutherland before they began their final dialogue. It was easy, folks. I did it. Over and over. Maybe six or seven times, camera rolling, down the sidewalk between them. Once the director interceded again. ``Make room for that man [meaning me] so he doesn't trip over those cables and stuff around the camera.''

You know about cynosure? For 15 seconds on every retake, that's what I was. And that wasn't all. Although Alison sent us back for more waiting, it wasn't long before she rushed the three of us out for more - different camera angles, she explained. Just don't ask any questions. So for three more sessions I walked and re-walked that sidewalk in between Sutherland and Hopper.

It got pretty concentrated. Between takes, some of the other 49 extras huddled around the set began needling.

``Going to produce a video, Ralph, on how to do it?''

``Hey, Ralph, your makeup's running.''

``Better show your union card.''

``Your rug is crooked.''

I leaned over to Alison. ``Aw,'' I said, swinging my jacket in the same tired hand I had used all day, ``they'll probably just leave me on the cutting-room floor.'' I read that somewhere.

``Listen, you dummy,'' Alison whispered, ``they can't cut you out. You're with the principals in the film's final scene.''

So, as I guess they say in L.A., that's a real wrap.

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