Tuesday, October 25, 2005

On the set of The Wire

I spent several hours yesterday on the set of The Wire, and it was a very cool experience. While I could see how it could get boring as an assistant or some other similar position, doing work as an extra was worthwhile, and I want to do it again.
Getting There

The day started off early, as my brother and I got to the location at 6:30 am. There were huge trailers set up all along the side of the street, and I got out of the car and wandered around for a bit, hoping to find someone who could tell me where I should go. There were a couple of huge, white vans, and it turned out the second one I tried asking was the van for the extras. I got in with three other girls, and we were whisked away to a church, where the extras were meeting before heading over to the on-location shoot.

As I walked into the foyer of the church, it became painfully obvious that I was firmly in the minority, ethnically speaking. I was one of exactly two white people (but to be fair, I am technically Hispanic-Caucasian), as the rest of the 20-25 extras and crew members were of the African-American persuasion. The only other Caucasian was a very short, older woman in her late fifties or early sixties, with slightly curly blonde hair. She was having some makeup applied by the makeup girl, and I noticed that she had the look of a white trailer trash junkie. It was appropriately fitting, then, that she would go on to play what appeared to be junkie buying drugs from some street kids throughout the entire day's shoot. She later told me that it was just her second day overall of filming; I'm not sure if both days would account for scenes for the same episode (The Wire is well-known for featuring a veritable cornucopia of characters, broken down into
groups such as "The Law," "The Street," "The Hall", "The Port," etc. on the official website) .

I checked in with the lady in charge of the extras, and she checked my name off a list, saying "Ok good, you're here... you're going to be one of the drivers." As it turns out, the extras there were divided into pedestrians, drivers, and junkies, with about 6 pedestrians, 5 drivers, a handful of junkies and some miscellaneous characters (why does that sound like a bad urban nursery rhyme or limerick?).

All of the scenes I witnessed being filmed were, without a doubt, for plot developments involving "The Street." We spent the whole day filming at an intersection
near Greenmount Street and Barclay Street in North Baltimore.

The Bogey Car

After getting my brother and our car, we drove to the location and waited for our cues. The first scene of the day was a rather simple one, as it was a set shot of a couple minor characters crossing the street. The most complicated thing about the entire shot was the camera set-up, as it was set on some rails and called for a rolling shot of the street, following the characters as they crossed. The drivers would then drive their cars intermittently, emulating a normal real-life scene (obviously). We were the second car on one side of the street, with two other drivers waiting for their cues on the other side.

The very first take was ruined in a funny manner; well, at least I got a huge kick out of it. As soon as the crew and director yelled "Rolling!," a normal civilian car came out of nowhere, apparently failing to see the neon orange cones which were placed up the street for the simple purpose of deterring normal civilian cars from coming out of nowhere to ruin a scene (this particular instance was all caught on film, much to the director's chagrin). It was a crappy old beige 1980-something car, and once the dude realized he had stumbled on the set, he awkwardly stopped in the middle of intersection. It was at this point that I heard someone say, "We got a bogey," and someone else answered, "Yep, bogey" over his headset. The director yelled "Cutting!" as soon as this happened, and the fantastically confused driver of the interrupting vehicle started getting his bearings straight and slowly drove off.

The assistant who was giving the drivers their cues then spoke into his headset mike and said, "Ok, we're going to have to re-start the scene because of that stupid bogey car." Partly because of the professional and almost bored tone of the assistant (I'm sure this has happened dozens of times to them), mainly because of the desperately confused look on the bogey car driver's face, and mostly due to how many times people kept mentioning "bogey" and "the bogey car," I of course found all of this uproariously funny. But that's just me.

The Jetta's Date with Destiny

As it turns out, there's a decent chance that the silver Delgado Jetta will end up in one scene, as we did three takes, with the last one seeming to come out well (as it turned out, three takes was on the low end of resets and takes for one scene). The shot in question was done two scenes after The Bogey Car Scene (aka the most generic city scene ever). The scene itself featured what looked to be a new quasi-main character, a tall, lanky black man with dreadlocks (at first I thought it might be
Omar, but I'm pretty sure the man in question is a different actor/character). Tall Lanky Dude was featured with his back to a black SVU, talking in a somewhat impassionate manner to one of the street thugs. There were a total of 2 drivers for the scene, and we were the first to go. One of the assistants would cue us to drive a few seconds after the scene would start shooting, and after the third take, the director seemed to be happy with it and the crew moved on to the next scene.

I overheard mention that the day's scenes were for Episode 3 of the upcoming new season, so I guess we'll see if the Jetta makes it onto high-end cable television (it's also possible you might be able to see me in the shot, depending on which camera angles they use).

"Let's do it again!"

I was also very interested by the whole process of shooting a TV series, even the more boring aspects like watching the crew position the cameras and the directors working with the actors. All of the details were terribly interesting to me, even though most people wouldn't be interested in the slightest bit (just like I would be absolutely fascinated if I ever had the chance to watch one of my favorite bands produce a record - I would be as happy as an overweight kid in a candy factory just watching the band fuck up a song and have to do another take in total frustration).

It's also noteworthy that the top 5 phrases shouted by the crew are:

1. "Rolling!'
2. "Action!"
3. "Cutting!"/"Cut it!"
4. "Let's do it again!"
5. "Re-start!"

As anyone can tell, shooting scenes for TV series and films can feature a great deal of takes until the scene is right (one of the scenes was done at least 8 times before the directors were satisfied).

I'm more than happy I took part in the shooting, no matter how insignificant my part was. I look forward to doing it again, whether for The Wire or maybe another show or movie, in the near future.

More blogs about The Wire.


adspar said...

hahaahhahah Bogey!! SWARM SWARM!

How much did they pay you?

F.J. Delgado said...

I had to fill out a form, nothing too complicated, but they will be sending a check. I didn't ask how much they would pay, but I would think it will be for about $10/ hr. I've heard extras usually get $100 or $200 for a day's work, so considering I put in almost 9 hours, that would make sense. I'm also getting a "bump" because I used a car, so I'm not sure how much extra that pays.

The funny thing is that some of the extras were complaining about getting up early and waiting around for a scene for hours. I found this sort of ironic, considering what unemployment checks represent. What would he rather be doing? Working at Mickey D's for $7 an hour, moving around a lot more?

Obviously it's a matter of perspective, but I thought the dude was an incredibly lazy asshole with that attitude, but that's life in the big city, I guess.