Freudian Slips: On The Set of Invincible

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

August 15, 2005

On The Set of Invincible

I ain't no dummy!

I answered a casting call on a whim and just finished filming as an extra in the movie called Invincible. Invincible is based on the true story of Vince Papale, the oldest rookie to ever play in the National Football League. Down on his luck, Vince shows up for an open tryout for his favorite football team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Vince makes the team without ever playing a down of college football. Ergo, I decided to walk onto a movie set to see if I could make the final cut in a movie about my favorite football team. When I came home with a mint condition 1976 Eagles jacket the night before the shoot, my wife told me I was taking the movie way too seriously. The true underdog of this movie is Mark Wahlberg as Papale while Greg Kinnear plays coach Dick Vermeil. My miniscule part called for wearing winter clothing outdoors in 94 degree heat for 13-16 hours a day. I highly recommend the experience of being on a live movie set but the wardrobe I could have done without. Behind the scenes was gritty and unglamorous but a fantastic experience nonetheless.
As an extra, I learned what a wrangler does on a movie set. Wranglers herd actors from spot to spot. I learned the art of pantomime. I learned the difference in the class structure between the bagged lunches of non-union workers and hot buffets for distinguished members of The Screen Actors Guild. I learned that in a football movie a play does not end in a tackle, but rather, it ends about 15 seconds later when the director shouts "Cut!". That takes some acting for a sports fan to get used to. Mostly, I learned that acting is 95% mindless waiting and 5 % the opportunity to hit your mark.
The production company motor coached the actors over to the set from a designated parking lot at 21st and Oregon in Philadelphia. On the bus, I wound up sitting next to a seasoned actor of the Screen Actors Guild. Tom plays a newspaper reporter in Invincible. He also appears playing an admiral in the movie the The Wedding Crashers. Ironically, Tom didn't know he was in the recently released The Wedding Crashers until another actor enlightened him on the bus.
"I was in the movie?" Tom answered quizzically. "I haven't seen the movie yet."
"Wedding reception. I recognized you right away, you Silver Fox. You could be seen on the screen for about two seconds."
I said in a friendly way, "Sounds like you crashed The Wedding Crashers."
The clientele on the bus was like a giant bird nest of every struggling thesbian in the Delaware Valley. Conversations on the bus focused on auditions, the exchange of head shot photos, resumes trading places, leads on upcoming projects, etc. I struck up a conversation with Tom. After Tom read me his resume in an engaging presentation, he asked me what movies I had notched on my belt. Maybe the shiny Eagles jacket I carefully carried on a hangar gave Tom the wrong impression. I didn't know what to say so I bluffed my way through the awkward moment.
"I appeared on an episode of Ripley's Believe It or Not!"
"You what? Son, you are a rookie in the minor leagues."
I took it all in stride. Like Vince Papale, I had nothing to lose. During the bus ride, I gobbled up a few pointers that Tom tossed my way before we arrived at The Palestra where it was on to wardrobe and make-up departments. The pallets and hangers of 1970's clothes in wardrobe was truly astonishing. It looked like they airlifted every stitch of clothing used on TV's That '70's Show. I couldn't believe I once wore those clothes and was glad I finally got rid of them last year! Wardrobe didn't carry any Eagles apparel so I was the only extra with an Eagles jacket for the shoot. After makeup, a plump lady almost sat me down in a chair for a fake pair of long blond sideburns but instead she said I could pass for a fan. I was whisked off to a holding tank of processed extras. Tom was probably sitting in a lounge chair somewhere with air conditioning sipping mimosas.
Wranglers soon escorted us over to venerable Franklin Field, where the action shots were being filmed. Only about 500 extras were on hand so the rest would be left to clever editing to fill a 62,000 seat recently imploded stadium where Vince Papale actually played football from 1976-1978. When I entered Franklin Field for the first time, I saw a half-full stadium of subdued fans. Wait a minute? They were not people at all but dummies. Some casual inspection determined that there is such an enterprise as an Inflatable Crowd Company in Van Nuys, California. They ship inflatable people that staff on the set mask, wardrobe, and position. I realized the only difference to now between the dummies and I was that I could walk to my seat. The wranglers wore headsets and repeated directions from the director, a straw hat donning Ericson Core.
Football players began to appear on the field to stretch and toss footballs around. I knew I was in hardcore Philadelphia when the extras posing as fans actually booed the actors playing Philadelphia Eagles for dropping balls they should have caught. Only in Philly! We took our seats among the dummies and were given instructions about the first take. Another wrangler handed out a smattering of pennants through the crowd.
I pointed to my kelly green jacket and shouted, "Perfect match, huh?"
The wrangler took one look at my jacket and honest to God, he replied, "Pass this pennant down to Super Fan."
Did he just call me Super Fan I thought to myself? What a freaking coincidence. (See post January 27, 2005 entitled Super Bowl 39 for mega irony). So I was one of only approximately 20 Eagles fans with a pennant and the only one wearing an authentic Eagles jacket. If I couldn't play the part, at least I now dressed the part.
Mark Wahlberg whisked by riding shotgun on a motor cart. He pumped his fist in the air to excite the troops. Everyone cheered but the mute dummies. During filming, anytime I had a chance for a more prominent part I volunteered my untrained services. When they asked for actors with birthdays in the month of February to randomly stand up for a cheering scene, I moved my birthday up. When they asked for actors whose first names began with the letter B to stand up and boo, my name was Bubba as far as anyone knew. Anyone with a Social Security number ending in five, had to stand and follow the flight of a punt. I changed my social security number and watched the pigskin fly on my tippy toes.
The down time backstage proved to be a hoot. I have never seen so many 1970's clothes that should have burned with the disco records of the 1980's. Just eyeballing people in tasteless plaid pants, scarves, and vests using cell phones, Ipods, and MP3 players was worth all the money I made on the job. Backstage, I came across the actor playing #68 of the Philadelphia Eagles. He looked physically imposing but I couldn't remember who he was playing. When he turned towards the bathroom, I caught the last name on the back of his uniform. It read Gay. I must have looked like I had seen a ghost.
I collected myself to interject, "Blenda Gay? How is your marriage?"
"Do I know you?" he winced. "Did we film together?"
"I would sleep with one eye open if I were you. Blenda Gay, your wife bludgeons you to death after this football season. You're playing a dead man."
I don't think he heard me but I wanted to tell him to play this game as if it was his last but I realized the actor did not share my warped sense of humor. On with the show. I came to know that when a wrangler said out loud "Eric wants". They referred to the director's transient needs. During the scene to track the flight of the kickoff left to right, the extras were positioned in the first three rows of the grandstands with the dummies behind us. I heard a wrangler say to another wrangler, "Eric wants". The wrangler in receipt of the new information pointed to me.
"Super fan. You're wanted as pedestrian walking through the concourse during kickoff."
I jumped out of my seat like an audience member forging their way to Contestants Row on The Price is Right. A wrangler took me to my mark, which was in the concourse facing the playing field at the 50 yard line. A camera was positioned right across the stadium and faced in my direction. It was poised to catch the ball's flight coming across the screen with a natural background of me and an army of fans. When the director said Action! I strutted my way into the stadium. On the second take, when I got to my seat I found water bottles at the base of my seat. My feet got tangled. There are 205 bones in the human body. All of them fell forward into my seat. I ended the take a twisted twit. I wasn't too happy with my performance. The guy hunkered in the seat next to me apologized for littering the area.
"I doubt whether the are going to use that angle. Sorry."
I said disgustingly. "I guess not. I nearly knocked two dummies off of their moorings."
The extras who attended the first days of filming, were rewarded with bigger parts than a latecomer like me. It was not only who you know but who you knew first. I quickly determined that the bigger the part, the shorter the distance between you and the camera. In the late afternoon, I watched a camera get lifted on a boom to the upper deck. A crew set the camera on a tripod in the middle of an upper deck section. Every extra in the end zone shoot was instructed to go hydrate then sit in the shade with the dummies on break. I ain't no dummy. I was looking for a different kind of break. I hung around a wrangler looking every bit out of place. The wrangler guarded the only section open to the upper deck. You needed a special password to go up into the upper deck section and for good reason. They didn't want different people sitting in seats previously occupied and already filmed. This would create a logistical nightmare for editing.
Having stolen the password from a fellow thesbian, I still felt like a fool when I asked a wrangler, "Do you need any replacement Huckleberrys?"
The wrangler looked at me funny but he called upstairs. It was just two of us in the entire section of the stadium. The players relaxed in the locker rooms. The extra minions remained on break across the stadium.
"Ricardo, do they need any replacement Huckleberrys? I got an eager beaver in an authentic Eagles jacket down here."
I heard the answer come through the walkie talkie. "Hold on, they are reviewing the footage from the other day to see who is not here and where they might need to backfill."
After a few minutes pass, the wrangler got word. The wrangler said to me, "It's your lucky day. I got you an aisle seat. Get going."
I wound up in a cheering section of about 50 rabid fans in the famous 700 section. I couldn't believe I had weasled my way to be only 20 feet from the camera. Staff began to pass out cold beverages with a clear plastic lid. I was living large and getting jiggy with it. I removed the plastic film and swigged it.
The guy next to me lays into me. "That was a prop for the scene. You bleeping $ss*o>#!"
I had never swallowed a prop before but by golly it was mighty refreshing. Hand an unsuspecting fan a cold drink on a stifling day with 52% humidity and see if history doesn't repeat itself. The camera filmed at my back with the live football action moving towards the near end zone. After the first take, a wrangler came whipping down the aisle. He came right to my seat. He instructed me not to raise my pennant so high because it was cutting off the camera shot to the field below. I knew I was in prime real estate. Can you say Best Supporting Actor?
The director's voice boomed over the public address system. "Reset. Take your places everyone. Picture is up. Everyone remember what to do for play 16? Root, Suspense, Cheer, then Sustain until Cut. Roll'em and........................................Action." I didn't have the foggiest idea what to do at first so I just faked it. An hour later, I was leading an E-A-G-L-E-S cheer like a drunken yahoo and low fiving low income actors up and down the aisles.
I filmed as a background extra in the end zone, a pedestrian walking into the stadium, and a nose bleeder. For a non-actor, I was doing a convincing job pretending to be other people. I was Huckleberry Hound, Bubba Mac, and a man with a social security number ending in 5 who had a birthday on leap year. I would have done this gig for absolutely nothing. So it was a bonus earning wages acting and getting free breakfast and lunch. I grabbed three breakfast sandwiches and ate two bagged lunches. Like so many wannabe actors surrounding me, I refused to be a starving actor.



Blogger Zelda Parker said...

"Fly Joe Fly," your stories never cease to amaze me. What will you do next?

8:40 AM  
Blogger justrose said...

that is so damn cool.

1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, so when I do see this movie, I'll be looking for you in every scene on the field! LOL!!


8:16 PM  
Blogger Buddy said...

That is pretty cool. Thanks for giving me a heads up.


8:42 AM  
Blogger honkeie2 said...

You are becoming my number one Nj hero :-D. That is too kewl! I would love to have done something like that but I am such a spaz I'd probably get booted for being a drunkin yahoo for real lol!

2:39 PM  
Blogger eatmisery said...

There are many layers to your life, Joe.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

An Ihp?

nothing cool about it in that heat.

that's called grandstanding.

thanks for visiting. this buds for you!

for the most densely populated state in the country, that is a real compliment.

layers of clothing that is.

7:55 PM  
Blogger PaxRomano said...

Picture it: A back lot at Parmount. The director of the film is screening some of the daily footage from Invincible for the producer of the film and various other Hollywood types. In that smoke filled room, they watch and suddenly, for a fleeting second a casting director see's you in the back ground.

"Stop the film!" the casting director yells. And then he says, "Go back a few frames..."

Joe's face fills the screen.

The casting director jumps to his feet, "That face, that's what we've been looking for! Get that guy on the phone, I am going to make him a star!!!!"

The others nod in agreement, more cigars are lit as a Star is Born!

9:46 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

you mean the same guy who ate a prop and fell headfirst into his seat???

6:33 PM  
Blogger lilly05 said...

Pretty amazing joe...what's next?

4:49 AM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

Joe thanks for coming over to my blog and posting there. Sadly to say, my experience with attempting to even get IN the hotel for the Extra casting call didn't work...I was kicked out of the line up for giving the lady attitude when she told me that my hair color had to be natural to even be considered for the Brad Pitt Western movie...however, I noticed that another girl got let in and SHE had colored hair and fake nails which was against the rules of the description!! At least I didn't have to wait THAT long in line-but I was pretty upset about the whole thing.

I loved reading your post about being an extra-what a difference it would be to watch the big honchos having everything at their disposal while the regulars would have to eat out of a brown bagged lunch!!!

12:04 AM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Better luck next time. See you at the next casting call.

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Joe, everything you said is true.I was an "extra" also. They called me back to do a few more days but one day in that heat was more than enough!

9:05 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

if you find an acting job in room temperature, drop me a line at Freudian Slips and we can tryout for the part together.

10:51 PM  
Anonymous Horse said...

You have a very cool blog! I have a horse related site. It pretty much covers all horse related stuff. Check it out if you get any free time.
Best Regards,

8:38 AM  

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