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Life On The Set: Why Getting Robbed Can Be Fun

Sun., March 8, 1998

I was on location, shooting an episode of “Brooklyn South” for CBS.

I am what is known as “atmosphere.” In other words, I’m an extra.

When I arrived this morning at 5:30, the wardrobe mistress handed me a name tag. I was PAULA Teller. Later I found THOMAS Teller and BECKY and TERRY Teller. We decided we were the Teller family, the family of a very ethnically diverse foster home.

The set was a real, unused bank. The set dressers had signs up for 5.9 percent loans and had decorated each teller booth with balloons and colorful signs. It looked real. I was to be a supervisor at a desk behind the tellers. This instant promotion was probably due to my age.

We were sent to the holding room. When they called us out, we were to simply react to the bank being robbed as if it were really happening, screaming, crying and begging not to be shot.

The robber, in a black ski mask, came through the teller area with a rifle jabbing me in the back as I begged him not to shoot us. He herded us all to the center of the bank and told us to lie on the floor. During the first rehearsal three women in our group tore their pantyhose. Ten takes later, complaints were sounded. The thug actor pulled up his ski mask for some relief. His face and hair were soaking wet. I asked him if he wouldn’t rather have a nice 5.9 percent loan. He gave me a weary smile and said, “As a matter of fact …”

In the holding room, the assistant director, or AD, announced we would all get a $5 bump (raise) for wardrobe. On the second round, I found that falling on my left side repeatedly was beginning to get painful. My left knee was missing layers of skin in the area of a ligament repair I’d had 10 years prior. Others had similar complaints. After three hours of sitting on the floor and screaming, “Please don’t shoot us,” the assistant director came around again and said we would each get a $20 bump for being on the floor all day. We broke for lunch.

The lunch was heavenly. Filet mignon for the carnivores and beautifully steamed vegetables, casseroles and rice for the vegetarians. As always, there was a huge salad bar, and at the end of the table, several choices of fresh-baked breads and dinner rolls. I was stuffed. If I had to spend the rest of the day on the bank floor, I would surely fall asleep. I had more fresh fruit and black coffee for dessert just to stay awake.

After lunch we went into overtime at $7.50 an hour. Close-ups now. They would bring the three 35mm Panaflex cameras in very close to get the reactions of the floor people. Earplugs were being handed out from a huge Noise Filter Soft Foam Ear Plug box. There would now be gunshots as one of the henchmen shot his own partner. Despicable.

It does get a little difficult to hear the director’s “action” command when you’re ears are stuffed full of soft foam ear plugs. But after all, that’s what acting is all about, right? Brace up. Try to pretend you’re 25 again. Learn to read lips and minds, and thank God for film editors.

By five o’clock we, the floor people, were beginning to get irritated, what with the ruined hose and bruised rears. Not only that but we were all sleepy from the humongous lunch. We started to stand and grumble after every “cut” announcement. There was a helpless look on the AD’s face, the look of a captain in the midst of mutiny. There was nothing left to appease the shipmates. All the bumps and perks had been given away.

In a desperate moment he offered, “If you’ll stay on the floor, you can keep the ear plugs.”

A man from under a service desk yelled, “Are you kidding, sweetheart? Those were gone when you passed ‘em out.”

We laughed and agreed. But for some reason his statement invoked a collective compassion for the AD’s situation. The group slowly sank back to the floor. It was either compassion or the director’s announcement that this would be the final take.

Four hours passed since time-and-a-half pay went into effect. If we continued past that mark we would all be on double-time at $10 an hour. There is also what is known as golden time. If you’re asked to stay past 16 hours, you get one full day’s pay for every hour.

The director finally said “Wrap.” He still had the 5:30 a.m. energy going. You could tell he loved every minute of this 12-hour-long day and was ready to continue.

I grabbed my suits and backpack from the holding room, dropped my name tag off at wardrobe and stood in the dark by the production trailer waiting for the AD to sign my voucher. As I added up the hours and bumps, it totaled $115 gross. By the time Uncle Sam gets finished with it and I pay my bills, I might end up with 25 cents. It’s still pretty good pay for playing cops and robbers all day, and not having to cook or do dishes.

It was a short drive home to my tiny apartment in North Hollywood. Before I could get both locks undone, I heard my cat’s greeting. It was nearly 7 p.m. I dropped my pack on the floor, put the suits on the counter and sat down on my milk crate to call Cenex, a casting agency, to see about work tomorrow. An interview for “Star Trek” tomorrow? 1:45 p.m., Paramount? You bet.


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