Friday, February 15, 2013

My brief stint as a Beautiful Creature

The new film Beautiful Creatures opened in theaters nationwide yesterday. If it's anything like the book, it should be a pretty solid story.

But I know what you're thinking: "This movie is great and all, but it would be even better with Ian in it." Well, you're in luck! I worked for several weeks on the set from May to July 2012, and it was a blast. Sometimes literally.

So when you go see Beautiful Creatures this weekend, cut out this handy guide to my scenes. Just try to console yourself in the non-Ian scenes with all the other great actors with lines and story arcs and clearly defined faces and whatnot.

Some production notes:


• For my soldier wardrobe fitting, they took several pictures of me in partial costume. One had me holding up a sign, mug shot-style, that read, “Ian McGibboney, Union.” Part of the costume was period hairstyles and facial hair, the former which I don’t have and the latter I barely ever have. Two days before, they tipped me off to stop shaving, which I did. When they saw me face to face, a woman immediately said, “come back clean-shaven. We’ll have fake hair for you.”

• We had a full afternoon devoted entirely to weapons training. You know how I am about guns; the session went as well as you'd expect. Still, I faked it enough to get by. And sometimes the rifle even fired when I pulled the trigger!

• My first day of actual shooting started badly. I'm not sure if I got lost on the drive to Covington, but I know that by the time my long line made it to wardrobe, I was boiling with rage (probably due to the early call time and my inability to sleep at night). I tried not to show it, though I'm told I'm bad at that. It didn't help that they rejected all of the outfits I brought (which never happens) and gave me a yellow, V-neck shirt (which wasn't even supposed to be a color we could wear). Between that and the ill-fitting slacks and dress shoes they made me wear in the overcast humidity, I was doomed to feel like ugly crud for the next two days. But it turned out to be fun.

"When you look good, you feel good" — someone else
• The first scene I shot took place in a church in Covington. I sat on the left, about four rows from the back. Sitting next to me was a friend I'd met on American Horror House, Sarah, and behind were friends of hers (a retired, married couple) whom I've since gotten to know pretty well. My fake girlfriend from AHH, a Lisa Kudrow doppelganger, stood against a wall nearby. If she recognized me, she didn't show it, which suggests to me that she's very good at pretending to be my ex-girlfriend.

• At one point, Sarah and I worked out a routine where we were a couple. The unit director asked the men to cringe/look guilty at the line where we're accused of cheating on our wives when we were out "re-enacting." We ran with it, deciding I'd look at her guiltily and she'd smack me gently on the back of the head. During one take I botched up our cue badly, and she gave me hell for it. Mad at myself, I whispered to her angrily, "I fucked up, OK?!! I know!" She was rightfully shocked, and I immediately felt bad. But she got me back good. After a short break, we took another take. I got the cues right. When it came time for her to slap me, she smacked me HARD! I think it echoed. Post-take, I said, "I had that coming," and we laughed. We still laugh about it.

• Our main role in the scene was to look astonished and horrified when Jeremy Irons enters the room, because we're a closed-minded town and he's THE DEVIL!!

• We filmed the scene over two consecutive days. As many movies as I've done since then, I never get over how perfectly a crew can assemble the same several hundred people, wearing the exact same clothing, in the exact same seating arrangement across two days.

• I also find it find fascinating to watch a scene unfold. In the church scene, we could only hear part of Jeremy Irons' and Emma Thompson's dialogue, since it occurs at the front of the church. I caught enough to notice that they added political and pop culture references to the conversation that aren't in the book.

• At one point it rained, which meant the extras had to hang out under a nearby porch, collectively going wild like kids on a field trip. This only intensified when a production assistant announced to us that we were getting a wet bump. (A "wet bump" in film parlance is extra pay due to the inconvenience of rain. Yes, it does sound like something else entirely.) While we were there, someone filmed me dancing a jig. No, I don't have it. Anyway, there are limits to what I post here!

• We also had plenty of downtime in the holding tent, as is usually the case with background actors. A bunch of us became friends and hung out and did stuff with things. This guy built a house of cards. His cards were suspiciously sticky, but I still couldn't build one like that.

The pic below is of our core crew, most of whom I remain friends with in real life, Facebook and/or Words With Friends:

We're all sweating, except Jamie, who apparently doesn't.
• One the first night of filming, I brought my overnight kit but wound up driving home to Baton Rouge. The second night, I didn't bring it, and I wound up staying overnight. I spent the night in a hotel room with two of the extras and one of their mothers (herself an extra). We swam and ate pizza and talked about the biz. I remember thinking, "My life isn't so bad." Well, sometimes it's not.


• Weeks later, it was time to shoot the battle scene. This one was less fun, though it might be the most authentic film/war experience I'll ever have.

• I spent nearly an hour and a half in line for makeup. And boy, did they ever make me up! In addition to gluing muttonchops in my face (the one for which I'd been fitted the previous month), but the guy also painted and sprayed my face, neck and hands to look as grungy as a Civil War soldier would be. He did a fantastic job; I felt dirty the rest of the day.

• Farmland on a plantation in St. Francisville doubled as the Civil War battlefield (very well). We played re-enactors who find ourselves actually fighting the battle. This being a zillion-dollar production, we had fully authentic muskets that we actually loaded with blanks and fired under the guidance of real weapons experts and real re-enactors. Also, the double-wool outfits were period authentic down to the underwear and the canteen from which I was desperate enough to actually drink. Did I mention it hot as hell and I nearly fainted? (A re-enactor told me someone always does at these things.) We spent tons of downtime lying prone in the shade at the edge of the field in between takes, looking very much like the Confederacy won the war.

• Oh, about that: many of the soldiers, virtually all of whom were local, actually complained about having to fight for the Union. When I jokingly said, "Go Union!", there were actually sneers and grunts. "I wish they'd put me in Confederate gray," I heard one guy say. Ah, the South.

• We took a bus to and from the set from the holding tent in full costume and carrying our muskets. It was hard not to laugh at one of the most surreal sights I have yet to personally witness.

• Despite being fake-real-fake-real, we faced some very real potential danger out there. (Our regiment leader reminded us that if any of us felt like our safety was in doubt, save ourselves: "Don't worry about their fucking movie.")

Besides the twin perils of dehydration and heatstroke, we also learned that there would be real explosions. One of those explosions, which can be seen in the trailers, hurt my ears and rained sawdust all over my face. Also, despite being warned not to aim our rifles straight but upward (especially the guys behind my front row), someone shot their blank straight ahead behind someone's head. That person wasn't hurt, but it did lead to our commander yelling at that person. No one slipped up after that. (Incidentally, that particular take for me was the awesomest.)

• Our commander requested that some of us fall as if we were shot. Turns out that those who did got to lay there for the rest of the day while the rest of us hoped we wouldn't step on them without looking. I'm not sure who got the worst of the deal there.

• Because our regiment was on the edge of the scene, the commander joked that we'd have to look good to get in the shot. The regiment in the middle got to do better acting, falling like dominoes with a wave of a woman's hand. Also a guy yelled to her, "I can't protect you here!" Another great scene I got to watch live.

• Did I mention there was no bathroom on location? We had to piss on the fence in full view of everyone. War is hell. At least they brought bananas and Cheez-Its.


• My third and final foray into fake South Carolina was as a background driver. I took my car to St. Francisville and then waited. A really long time. And by that I mean, six hours parked on the side of the road. In the rain.

Wearing a shirt I know fits stringent background rules for color and style. I've worn it in at least three films.
• At one point, the director and star Alice Englert walked right past my car as I hung out the window like a dog. Not that either cared, but I felt self-conscious.

• The guy behind me, who drove a Prius, forgot to turn off his headlights and killed his battery. He asked me to jump-start it, during which I discovered that 1) jumping a Prius battery requires only one terminal and 2) it starts instantly and is fully charged within a second. Just another reason those cars rock.

• I eventually got to drive my car back and forth on camera in the distant background of this scene (at 00:26). But my real break (in my mind) came later, when they needed an emergency stand-in for star Alden Ehrenreich; both he and his double were filming at the time. The PA decided the back of my head looked the most like his of the drivers ("Everyone else is either too old-looking or too bald," he said), and so they tapped me to drive Ethan Wate's Crown Victoria.

There were two identical cars on set. This is one of them. This is not my driving.
• My duty was to drive the Crown Vic into a wooded path. With me in the backseat was a last-second double for Englert (who is supposed to be 16 but was 45). I had a walkie-talkie like the pros do and did my thing. I probably drove four times, stalling out twice (the car, which was shockingly a 1991, was in poor shape and had no seat belts). But I did the job. Afterward, a crew member drove us back to set in the car with no seat belts and a prop plate. I felt oddly proud of this scene.

• During filming, I read the book, which tops 500 pages. Don't let anyone tell you it's like Twilight; the only similarity is in the demographic. This one's much better.

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