Friday, June 17, 2016

Anatomy Of A Bit Part


I just finished wrapping up my first role in a movie, and I'm happy to announce that I didn't flub any of my lines. Of course, I didn't have any actual lines. But I nodded when I needed to nod, furrowed my brow like the concerned, somewhat intimidated wife I was chosen to portray, and grabbed my movie-husband's hand to exit stage left as the script called for. It's hard to flub your lines when you don't have any, right? So I think I can say with complete confidence that I totally nailed my performance as Mrs. Brigman in the movie that's filming right now in Shasta County.


"Interpreters" is a feature length Sci-Fi Action/Thriller from Archetype Pictures. Since I've signed a non-disclosure agreement, I can't say too much about the film's plot, but it involves some pretty intimidating characters, and a town who's inhabitants are either quickly disappearing or turning up dead, and a handful of badass scrappers who are working hard to uncover what's really going on.
I play Camille Brigman, who's one of the quickly disappearing types (although I was also offered the part of one of those turn up dead types, and I politely declined when I found out that I would have to die on screen).

 If Director Michael Ryan is reading this right now, he's probably thinking that he doesn't recall giving Mrs. Brigman a first name when he wrote the script. And he didn't. I just came up with that on my own, just like I invented a first name for my movie-husband, Harold. I think the whole crew thinks I'm a little crazy anyhow, since I showed up at a pre-production barbecue last weekend introducing myself to everyone as "Mrs. Bratigan." They all thought I was just being a little weird and old school, not realizing that I was just flubbing the name of the character I was playing. You can see now why I'm totally cool not having any lines, right?

I'm no actor, not really. Which is kind of funny, seeing as how many times I've been on stage since 2004, when the Cascade Theatre opened, and somehow I landed the sweet role as Mistress of Ceremonies. So I'm familiar with the stage. But not acting, per se. But now that I think about it, I'm one of the only members of my immediate family who hasn't done any acting. My daughter has been involved in countless productions, both on stage and behind the scenes, and now she's working on the "Interpreters" film crew handling props and set dressing, which is sort of how I ended up landing the bit part, and how my garage ended up filled with props. In high school, my little sister had a starring role in a couple of educational films like "It Could Never Happen To Me" about the dangers of teenagers driving under the influence. My dad also had a supporting role in one of the cautionary tales from the same institutional film company playing a football coach, and my older half sister was in numerous stage productions before heading to Hollywood where she was a producer on a daytime television show.

 But I've always secretly wanted to act - even unsuccessfully auditioned for a community theater production of "A Christmas Carol" when I was ten years old. Maybe it was the fact that they never called me back after my amazing renditions of  "The Wayfaring Stranger" and "Oh Shanandoah," but I never tried out for anything ever again. In the 4th grade when I was cast as a Native American in our Thanksgiving class play, I was 'too sick' to go to school that morning, but I was miraculously cured right after the play was over. That was probably my best acting performance, ever.

When my friends Ann Marie Lockamy and her husband Tyler Penn told me they were finally filming the independent movie they've been putting together for an eternity, and that they were doing it right here in Shasta County, I was super excited (and immediately asked if there were any opportunities to get involved with it) not because I thought I'd get a chance to be in it, but because:
  1. There is a growing pool of people in Redding with interest and experience in the film industry, and this is exactly the kind of industry that could be a game changer if it was to take a bigger, better foothold in the area, and 
  2.  My daughter is one of those people, who is currently studying film in college, and I saw this as a great opportunity for her to get involved and see what it's really like on a film set.  
So….wanna know what it's like on a film set? A real film set? One with a budget, where everyone's getting paid, a film that's actually listed on the Internet Movie Data Base? One with actors both local and from far away, actors who've actually been in stuff you've probably seen (like the TV shows Criminal Minds, The Young & The Restless, and films such as Ride Along 2 and Castaway), and ones who've never been in nuthin', like me (unless you count the Shasta County Historical Society's documentary of "The Wright Time").
Caleb (holding the slate), Stefan Hajek & Chris Kriesa filming at Red Rock
First of all, there are contracts. And permits. And non-disclosure agreements. And scripts and call sheets and questions about dietary restrictions. That's because there's food! It wasn't fancy food, but there was cheese, vegetables, bagels and gatorade, and plenty of other stuff to keep people hydrated and fed over the course of a normal shooting day, which is 12 hours, minimum. And no leaving. In fact just moments ago my husband ran out the door with a heavy sweatshirt for my daughter, who begged us to bring her something warmer for their outdoor shoot tonight at the Rodeway Inn. Other locations in town used so far this week have included Old City Hall (maybe you were an extra in their town hall meeting scene on Monday?), Red Rock Bar & Grill in Palo Cedro, and the driveway of a really nice house outside of Palo Cedro Tuesday. That was Camille and Howard Brigman's house.

For my brief performance as Mrs. Brigman, I showed up late in the afternoon with a suitcase on wheels full of "upper middle class casual" clothing, jewelry and additional shoes. The makeup was thick, the hair was just right. I met my on-screen husband, George Ireton (you may have seen him onstage in the Riverfront Playhouse's production of M.A.S.H.), and then met Stefan Hajek, a Seattle actor who was preparing to intimidating the crap out of the Brigmans. Chris Kriesa

The set on Tuesday.
The three of us gathered in the driveway, in front of the house, and after a brief chat with the director, blocked our scene. Then we rehearsed. Then, when camera, lights and sound were all ready, Caleb held the slate in front of the camera, called out all that cool movie jargon before clacking the clappers, and suddenly it was on like Donkey Kong. We were acting.

I stood behind George, nodding and doing my best to look intimidated and slightly offended as he and Stefan did all the talking and acting. The talking and acting went on for an entire two minutes before George grabbed my hand and we exited the frame, as they say in the biz. Each time I tried to hold my hands in the exact same way so I didn't screw up the continuity, and after a few takes I thought maybe I should switch it up, so I tried putting my hand on George's back a few times instead. I'm sure these will all be very important details in the final cut, right?

Then we did it again. And again. And again. And once more for good measure after someone thought a shadow from one of the behind the scenes technicians might have creeped into the frame. An airplane flew over, so we stopped mid-scene. Kevin the sound guy, holding a boom with a furry cover over the end he called a dead cat, heard a far off dog barking, so we stopped and did it again. Then a motorcycle roared at least a half mile away, and we did it over again. The last hitch was the laughter of a couple of kids playing in a nearby backyard.

And if you think that's the end of it, it wasn't. Those were just the wide shots. Next were close ups, followed by some drone footage overhead, and finally, just when I was getting the hang of it, we were done. I was richly paid for my hour and a half of brow furrowing and wide eyed surprised looks, and then I hung out for awhile chatting with the crew and watching the next scene being filmed.

Another scene from Interpreters.
I know, I'm biased, but I'm really impressed with so much of what I'm seeing. Not just with Interpreters, but in other filming projects that have been taking place in the area recently. Redding is starting to attract independent, professional filmmakers who are serious about their craft. People like Matthew & Joy Thayer of Speropictures are creating some amazing short films in Redding, and passing the craft on to others through workshops and classes, as is the Shasta County Arts Council. Rene Perez, who's filmed several monster-packed thrillers in the area. And then there's the festivals, like Sundial and Firereel, that are not only honoring local film, but encouraging more of it to be made.

I don't know that you'll find me auditioning for any more acting parts in the near future, but I'm really interested to see if Shasta County can land bigger roles in the film industry. It could be a game changer. And we need to start shouting from the rooftops that there are films being made here, and that there are trained professionals who can help get them made.

I don't know if I've ever said this out loud, but my dream job has always been to be the person who chooses the soundtrack for films. But since nobody's beating down my door yet, I'll just leave you today with this streaming Spotify playlist of songs about The Movies. Click the play arrow to listen!


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