Thursday, April 05, 2012

No, I didn't get to yell "CLEAR" ... yet

Yesterday I got a last-minute pleasant surprise, as the cable flick Heebie Jeebies needed a badass fake paramedic on call. So I got in my black ambulance, cranked on its sirens and hightailed it to St. Francisville. Here are my medical notes:

• All night long beforehand, a tremendous thunderstorm had rocked the area. At 4 a.m., I was pretty sure the lightning was going to zap me right in my bed. So you can imagine what such a downpour did to the gravel quarry where filming took place. MUD SOUP.

• The casting agency asked me to bring rain boots if I had them. I don’t. After yesterday, I may get some. My paramedic pants touched mud on my way to the changing trailer, and I decimated two pairs of shoes.

• Because of a miscommunication, I hitched a ride from base camp to set way before I actually needed to be there. I spent about 25 minutes just watching the crew unload items into the German chocolate cake that had once been the ground. I had not changed into the paramedic outfit, and just stood there wearing a Saints T-shirt and jeans and clutching my gym bag, waiting for someone to give me something to do. When a girl asked me what I was, I told her I was a paramedic. She walked up, bared her neck and asked me to diagnose the red welts she had on her neck. I said, “No, I’m playing a paramedic.” She said, “Oh, I thought you were a real one.” To which replied, “Nope, sorry ... but I’d say those are bug bites.”

• Once the confusion subsided and wardrobe called me back to base camp (they thought I was late when actually I was too early), they gave a paramedic uniform tailored to my precise measurements. I rarely wear clothes that fit, so looking sharp was a treat. And yes, I was asked several more times if I was a real paramedic — once by the actual on-set medic, who wasn’t wearing any kind of uniform.

• Several makeup people worked tirelessly to make the sheriff’s deputy and the trapped miner look filthy. They employed such screen necessities as Tancho and various dirt sprays. If being filthy was what the actors needed, all they had to do was what I nearly did several times — fall down.

• The crew on this set were among my favorite so far. They were very chill and accessible and fun to talk with. Most of them were around my age, which no doubt helped. The director and ADs were clear about what they wanted and patient — no small feat, considering they had 11 pages to shoot, which one of the actresses told me was an astonishing amount. (After 5 1/2 hours of shooting, they’d gotten through only 3 1/2). This marks the first time I've had my name spoken through a bullhorn along with the real actors, so that's something.

• In between takes, a crew member asked me if I wanted a shooting script — a digest-sized copy of the scene (it has a specific term, but I can’t recall it). I thought he was kidding, but I said yes, so he gave me one. And I left it in the prop medical bag I carried. I wouldn’t have scanned it here, but it would have been a cool thing to keep.

• My role involved treating the sheriff and, later, chatting with a real-life firefighter who was playing — wait for it — a firefighter. In the first shot, I’m taking vitals and checking the sheriff’s eyes before we’re interrupted by a miner yelling, “I’ve got something” and teenage girls screaming. In the second shot, I’m chatting with the firefighter as I lean against my ambulance — radio in hand, my idea — and we see what we’re told is the most supernatural thing we’ve ever seen float up into the sky. Then the main cast hugs, kisses and walks off past us as we continue to gawk at at THE MOST SUPERNATURAL THING WE’VE EVER SEEN.

Visual approximation
• I got to wear latex gloves on screen, which I didn’t realize was a longtime dream of mine until I did it. When I finally took them off after about an hour, I could wring sweat from them. In the words of the actor playing the sheriff, “That won’t smell too good.” It didn’t.

• The prop plate on the police car was inconsistent with a real Louisiana police car plate. I figured that was something only I would notice (and I always do). But then a truck in the scene got a Public Louisiana prop plate, which is exactly what the cruiser should have had. Even weirder, the truck had a real Public plate underneath the fake Public plate. Ah, Hollywood!

• As the lone new member of the production and “the bottom of the totem pole,” as they put it, I had to take the group picture, which means I wasn’t in it. But it did mean I got to climb onto the top of the ambulance and tell them to “give me angry, give me betrayed, give me martini” and other nonsense. At first, I couldn’t focus one of the cameras, to which an AD joked, “Nothing in this movie has been in focus!” Afterward, the entire cast and crew gave me a hand. After that, I stood there awhile as most of them headed off to the lunch tent and apparently forgot I was stuck up there.

• Once someone remembered to help me down from the ambulance, I grabbed a steak dinner and sat at the only open spot, next to three of the movie’s main stars (two of whom were the aforementioned teenage girls). They were nice. One of them, who is 16, told me earlier she’s often recruited for roles because of her scream. They scream a lot in this one, apparently.

• I only had to work the first half of their day, which means they still have several more hours of filming even as I type this (at 1 a.m.). Still, I would have stayed if they asked. It was that much fun.

• IMDB says Heebie Jeebies will air on SyFy on Jan. 5, 2013. Mark your calendar now. You have no excuse this early.

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