Saturday, March 29, 2008

Background for "The Box"

Last month a big time Hollywood production was using NASA Langley as a location. The film, "The Box", is Richard Kelly of "Donnie Darko" fame's latest and is based on a Richard Matheson story about a couple that receive a mysterious box. There is one button on the box and instructions explaining that they will be gifted with one million dollars if they push the button, but someone they do not know will die. The film expands on that theme in ways that, for the moment, are under wraps , but what we do know is the story takes place in the 1970s and the lead character, played by James Marsden, is a NASA scientist. Richard Kelly choose NASA Langley for a location because his father worked there in the 70s as a researcher.

A call went out for extras, especially men with long hair and sideburns, so I threw my application in and landed one day of work playing a member of the press. Instantly I envisioned getting a tiny, but nevertheless, critical speaking bit and hobnobbing with the stars. I was ready for my close up.

The first taste of Hollywood was the costume fitting. On the application we had to fill-in all of our measurements, many of which I had no clue (hat size?) and had to have my wife break out the tape measure. The day of the fitting, I arrived, filled out more paperwork and was handed a suit matched to my size (sort of). It was a fine polyester relic from a simpler time and fit me like a glove, a small, rubber glove that only allowed for some breathing and movement. I joked with the costume person that I hoped my character didn't have to do any action scenes or even bend over quickly, as the suit was likely to explode at the seams. She failed to see the humor in that idea and assured me that I would probably be standing still.

For shoot day, we were warned that it could go as long as fourteen hours and with an 11 am start time that would mean up until 1 am. I arrived a little early and was glad I did as there was quite a large throng of folks there all ready for their fifteen seconds of fame. The extras were herded into a gym that was the holding area. First order of business was to check in, fill out more paperwork, get your costume, then get into the very long hair and make up line. While making my way through this obstacle course, I ran into an old friend, Tom Nuckols, who had caught the extras bug while working on the HBO series "John Adams" and jumped at the chance to further his craft when he heard about "The Box". Here's a shot of Tom and I, a picture that always makes me think, "would you buy a car from these men?". Tom said that he modeled his 70s look after Tony Orlando and I think he nailed it.

Tom had worked on "John Adams" for weeks and had played a variety of background characters. He knew the ins and outs of the extras scene and helped me navigate my way through the maze. He was through hair and make-up and sitting down eating a doughnut, while I was still trying to shimmy into my threads. I waited for a couple of hours in the hair and make-up line only to get to the end and receive no make-up and just a comb pulled through my hair. After seeing lots of other extras, especially the women, getting really cool hair-do's, I was a tad disappointed, but that's show biz.

We waited for a couple of hours before anything happened , snacking from the craft table and meeting other extras. I was surprised at the number of NASA people there, lots of closet actors on center. The first scene requiring extras, or "background" as we were referred to, was an outdoor scene showing scientist arriving at a building. Tom and loads of 'scientist' extras were herded away and not soon after it began to rain. HARD. After a couple of hours, they all came back soaking wet.

More soon....