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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

15 Minutes

A couple of Fridays ago, my showbiz friend Tiger called me up and asked me to be an extra in a genuwine Hollywood movie. I flashed on the idea that this was my big chance to be "discovered". I ditched work and went home to put on my sexiest short shorts and dazzlingly white hoop shoes. Apparently they needed basketball-playing extras. They were probably expecting some soft and lazy "actor" types to show up... not a hardened cager like myself! I was going to shine out there baby. I geared up with my knee braces and ankle braces and mouth guard. I was going to Rainn Wilson this mofo.

We hustled to get there by the 12 o'clock call time. This enabled us to sit in a room eating leftover crew food for the next three hours waiting for something to happen. I let them photocopy my passport and driver's license so that someday I may or may not get a $75 check in the mail. The room was full of wannabe actors... Guys that sat around swapping stories of being extras in all sorts of important movies. They shared their strongly held opinions that such and such a director was a jerk, or that so and so actress was really nice. I held my basketball (I brought my own) in my hands and visualized soaring in for a rebound and rifling an outlet pass to start a fast break or swishing a three pointer.

Three hours later, bloated with egg & mushroom empanadas, lemon-cream cookies and peanut butter cracker packs, we were lined up and judged. The wardrobe lady (she of the boss tattoo sleeve) came in and immediately looked right at me. She said to her assistant, "He's tall. That'll help." The assistant pointed at me and said, "You!" I tried to stride with the right combination of swagger and nonchalance to the other side of the room. First pick baby! I was in like Flynn and now the rest of these misfit munchkins and morbidly obese losers had to sweat the draft.

For the first scene they just picked five of us. We met with the stunt coordinator whose first words were, "Don't touch the actor unless you're directed to." He also discouraged talking to him or making direct eye contact. This could have made playing basketball difficult for a lesser extra than myself!

Stuntman Spiff then explained the choreography. The star was going to brick a free throw. We needed to be lined up in rebounding position. He put me down on the post. I just needed to mime a basic block out, then jump in and clear the rebound. Then pass it to Spiff (a jumpy little Italian guy that seemed to want to prove he was a physical specimen to be taken seriously) and we'd run up the floor and out of the camera's view. As simple as this was, we had to do a half dozen takes... mostly because the actor couldn't nail his blocking during the end of the scene. Oddly enough, he actually had some pretty good b-ball skills. On the first take, I had my gut properly sucked in, my eyes locked on the ball, my blockout form was superb, and I soared in for the dominant Barkley-style board with the signature ball slap. I made a crisp chest pass to Spiff and we pealed out of backcourt like people who actually knew how to play basketball. By the sixth take, I probably had my hands on my hips, beer belly hanging out. I think I bobbled the rebound slightly before limp-wristing it over to Spiff and jogging up the court. I'm a little scared to see how this winds up looking (assuming we don't wind up on the cutting-room floor.)

After a half-hour break, we set up the next scene... a far more complicated affair. This was to be the game-winning basket (scored by our Hollywood talent natch.) But the scene needed to be drawn out to take about ten seconds (an eternity!) so that a voiceover could complete while the final play developed. Spiff brought in four more extras, so that we could set up the more natural-looking four against five game that most people play. Also, three of the extras were frickin' huge. These guys took up half the key, making maneuvering almost impossible. Then he set up the teams, deciding that he needed to be the one playing defense against our star... because short little guys often guard the opposing team's legitimate 6'3" guy. He also had me switch teams (another common tactic during basketball games) so that I could be on offense, backing down my guy on the post, then kicking it out to the open wing after the double team comes. Then I had to circle back up to the top of the key, stall with a couple more passes back and forth, and then find our star down beneath the basket, towering over his defender. His job was to catch my entry pass, pivot toward the middle and finish with a layup. He botched that about five times though, so we had to do it over and over again.

Between takes, one of the extras was actually showing the star pictures of his hospitalized mother on his cell phone. Others were feigning interest in where he studied, or whether he preferred TV or film work. I seriously thought one of them was going to invite him to a party later that night.

The director, Mr. Bobcat Goldthwait, came out and said, "That's some nice basketball you guys." That part was awesome. But it would have been doubly awesome if he had done it in his famous Bobcat voice. Instead he was just like some old dude in a straw cowboy hat.

The film, World's Greatest Dad, is legitimate enough to star Robin Williams (he wasn't at the set that day though) and have its very own IMDB entry. Not sure why IMDB doesn't list me among the cast yet though. That must be coming soon, for I have surely been discovered now and the offers will come pouring in.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Electronica and Anime

The entire second half of this song makes me giddy with happiness. Check out this clip from Daftpunk's weird film, Interstella 5555, even if you don't like electronica or anime.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Importance of Games Part Four

In the wake of Gary Gygax's death last year, my friend Walaka suggested a friendly game of Dungeons and Dragons. He had missed out on the role-playing experience growing up and the death of D&D's famous founder was a good reason to finally give it a try. I still had an old box of outdated books, a set of translucent red multi-sided dice and a crapload of miniature lead figurines. And tucked away in an old peechee, I found a grand and glorious campaign I wrote in my twenties but never played. To those unfamiliar with the parlance, a "campaign" is a series of adventures that all string together and connect to a single story arc. The adventures are all set in the same land and feature the same characters. So armed, I told Walaka, "Game on!"

Approaching the game of Dungeons and Dragons as a 34 year old is a vastly different experience. In my youth, we reveled in the bloodlust of vanquishing foes. There were clear cut evildoers out there on the steppes, in the moors, moldering down in dungeons or ensconced in their mountain caves. They were all stirring up trouble and needing a good smiting. Our games revolved around combat tactics and buffing up our characters with better skills and increasingly spiffy monster-slaying gear. But my view of "evil" as a preteen boy and as a 34 year old social worker differed radically. The most central dynamic in D&D is dice-rolling combat. Armed conflict is a must, but it was much harder to justify/motivate characters to engage in slaughter as an adult.

The campaign I wrote in my twenties was much more about chaos and order than about good and evil. It was about redemption and tradition. The objectives put before the players were more about getting factions to cooperate than razing the land of evil influence. In short, we were playing a Democratic adventure, rather than a Republican one.

Since I knew the rules and had a campaign all written and ready to go... I served as the Dungeon Master. This means I had to forgo playing a character. Instead I was responsible for setting up the world around the players and posing challenges for them to overcome. One of the biggest struggles I had was painting an enemy worth killing. As children, we needed no reason to slaughter a party of orcs. They were bad guys and we were just doing our job as adventurers. But this group included several first-timers, an uncommonly balanced gender ratio, and a lot of pacifistic vegetarianism!

The most horrific scene I described was in an aside conversation with a pacifistic and spiritual kind of player. I described the war crimes being perpetrated by a desperate clan of isolated dwarves in need of spiritual redemption. I told the story of "battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster." This was the sort of theme I could identify with and enjoy exploring. In order to properly motivate her to care about the atrocities that were being committed I had to go into lengthy detail about decapitated heads mounted on pikes... guts strewn across craggy mountain passes... women and children hunted down and burned alive as examples to the enemy horde. But I found it nearly impossible to adequately depict the workaday evil of the old familiar rogues gallery. Kobolds, ettercaps, gnolls, giants, and troglodytes were all there... but mostly they became enemies by proxy as they were embroiled in conflict with the group's allies.

It was much more palatable for me to illustrate our own weakness or capacity for corruption than to point the spotlight at some evil "other". I don't know if this reflects a more nuanced (more mature) view of good and evil, or if I was just unwilling to play into "demonize and execute" strategies. Either way, I'm totally not voting for John McCain.

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