On Mother’s Beach in Long Beach, next to where my team assembles for dragon boat practice, a film crew had set up a stage on the sand. This past Saturday morning, they were filming a scene on said stage. And by filming a scene, I mean filming a single scene. There’s little to take the luster off seeing a movie be made than seeing a movie be made, repeating the same thing over and over. And over.
The film is apparently of the working title Spring Breakdown, and appears to be a light comedy starring Parker Posey and SNL regulars Rachel Dratch and Amy Poehler. The scene we saw being done involved our intrepid heroines performing in (according to the sign at the back of the stage) an "all girl talent show." They were "performing" Wilson-Phillips' "Hold On" (I’m not sure whether they’re supposed to be lip-synching in the story, but they were in actuality), complete with choreographed dance moves, to an utterly indifferent crowd of beachgoers. I suspect the story involves the protagonists being outcasts amidst the debauchery of spring break, and that the extras were specifically instructed to stand at the foot of the stage and not move or show any shred of enthusiasm, because that’s precisely what they did. Over and over. Then at the end of the song the actresses come up to the front of the stage to bow, receiving only a slight dabbling of applause. At that point, Rachel Dratch’s character grabs a microphone and yells something about not caring whether they (the crowd) like them (the misfit performers) because they (the performers) know they are "freakin' awesome."
(Yes, you’d think after seeing it done multiple times the exact quote would stick with me better. After the first couple times one starts to block it out, I think.)
However, I’m not here to give you a preview of what presumably will be hitting your local multiplex next spring. (To be clear: I have nothing to do with the film; were it not for signs posted around I wouldn’t even know what the film was called.)
I could discuss what it is about us that attracts us to such spectacles. I could ruminate on how we may be drawn to movie sets out of some subconscious hint of a fantasy wherein we are lingering about and get "discovered" by the director (or someone associated with the production in some position of authority), get a speaking role (despite not being in SAG), and parlay that into a lucrative career as an actor, thereby permitting the glamorous life we see spotlighted on the myriad television programs about "entertainment news." I could offer some theory about how seeing places we frequent or know well included in productions that presumably will be seen by people all around the world applies some of that glamorous cachet to us, albeit vicariously, by virtue of our vague association with the location; if nothing else, it gives us something to talk about with people. However, I am not here to contemplate our proclivities for hero worship, even in small forms such as this.
No, I intend to mention something that one would not think about unless one is routinely part of movie shoots.
Obviously, there are extras at a shoot such as this. To have an apathetic crowd for the performers, they need a crowd, but they don’t need anyone with skills greater than standing and, presumably, not looking at the camera. The edge of the filming area was marked off with yellow tape, not unlike the stuff used by police to mark the perimeter of a crime scene (but without seeing the finished movie, it’s not fair to say whether the comparison is justified), except with the text "Hot Set" printed on it, and next to the cement walkway dividing the grass of the park from the sand of the beach were signs indicating by virtue of being in the area one was tacitly giving permission to be filmed, so presumably anyone passing by could be an extra. However, judging from all the young bikini-clad women who were by the set before we even arrived (at 8 a.m)—and after six years of being at this spot at that time, I can safely declare this was an unusual sight—clearly there had been a casting call attracting more experienced extras, so there was not much need for passers by to augment the crowd.
However, I’m not here to talk about the cute young things who were intended to represent the typical spring break destination attendees. I am led to believe these people do get a stipend for their time, and we could see they were provided some basic sustenance to keep them fed for the day. They weren’t "the talent" (whom I noticed were staying at a house across the street from the shoot when they weren’t needed), and ultimately all these young people had to do was hang out at the beach most of the day, which presumably they were inclined to do anyway. And no offense to the actresses identified as the leads, but this didn’t seem like a movie where I’d expect the budget to allow for too many extravagances for the non-talent. (Even "the talent" were only put up in a house across the street, not in individual trailers.) Thus, what really caught my attention about the setup: the porta-potties the producers provided for the presumably putrid purposes of these people. They were immaculate. (See picture below—I’m sure I’m the only person around who surreptitiously took a photo of that.)
Okay, maybe it's not that impressive, but relative to the beach restrooms we are forced to use, and relative to the porta-potties I usually see, they were amazing. And these were just for the extras. (Signs on the doors clearly restricted the "public" from using them—of course, one could simply walk across the background of a shot and no longer be the mere public but be part of the production at that point. I digress.)
No wonder movie tickets are over $10 even for matinee shows.