Welcome to another blog. I am a retired Senior Executive (GSA) and the author of a recently published book, Confessions of a Government Man (an excellent Holiday gift for any past, present or future govie).
In my last blog I told the first part of the story of my brief Hollywood career while in the employ of GSA. This episode is the exciting conclusion.
At last it was time to start shooting. We were positioned so the SAGs went to the set first, naturally. Then we got the call. “Where are my non-SAGs!?” bellowed the drill instructor in charge of roundups. We wielded some power here because the scene couldn’t be shot without the GSA non-descripts. Sweet justice.
The Custom House was draped with tacky gold cloth. The hand carved identification was replaced with a sign proclaiming the place as the “Ritz Gotham.” RG flags flew where Old Glory had been. Flashing lights came from every window. One of America’s most magnificent buildings looked like it was hosting a Halloween party. Legendary architect Cass Gilbert, who designed this Beaux-Arts structure, would have turned in his grave.
The neighborhood ambience at night was tranquil. No citizens on the street shouting “Check it out!” in front of a carton of ties, sweaters, tee shirts, DVDs or batteries. Other cross sections of New York culture, including our own brand of cabbies, bike messengers and beer guzzling hardhats were gone. The convenience stores were closed and there wasn’t a coffee cart in sight. Not even a sign-toting protester or religion freak handing out leaflets.
We were carefully placed on and around the front steps. The scene was to depict a stream of limos dropping off famous guests. Our role was to “act enthused” while the stars alighted from the cars and made their way into the Ritz Gotham.
After Val Kilmer and Nicole Kidman stepped from their limo for the fifth time I was convinced that the retakes were because the leading lady and man just couldn’t get it done. Either that or it was a power trip for Kilmer to be dabbed and dusted by the makeup artist after each take. Next time I get wiskbroomed by Sal, my barber, I’ll imagine myself as Val Kilmer. It was time I had a talk with them because they were now wasting our precious time. If they couldn’t do it faster, better and cheaper (our motto at GSA at the time), it shouldn’t be done at all. Extras have a life to lead, too. I was ready to bolt the crowd and take both by the hand for personal coaching when I had a vision of Sgt. Allison ordering me from the set. Then an assistant director approached and tersely said to another member of our crew, a dapper looking gentleman named Leon, “Follow me.” Leon seemed to be the cause of the multiple takes and was pulled from the scene. Poor Leon. Maybe his white hair was a distraction. I had a brief flashback to my military days. When someone was extracted from a crowd they were generally volunteered to tackle a pile of potatoes or clean a grease trap. Leon was now history, or so I thought.
During the next take, Kilmer did his thing, the extras moved on cue and the non-descripts were animated to the director’s exacting specification. I glanced left and there was Leon, not on the sidelines as we had suspected, but right up there with the paparazzi, crossing the street in full view of the cameras for at least three seconds. Leon was now king of the extras.
When midnight came it was time for our lunch break. Not a midnight snack but a full meal. Being a union member here had another advantage. Allison announced, “The clock doesn’t start on the break until the last SAG person goes through the serving line.” Manhattan was at a standstill while the SAGs cuisined, no doubt costing the investors a bundle. My band of non-descripts weren’t allowed to partake in dinner until all SAGs filled their plates, which they did with gusto. By the time we reached the line there were a few stringy chicken pieces left, stuck to the bottom of the serving pan, but the salad, vegetables, bread and desserts were gone. Even the servers, who knew we were non-SAGs by our position on line, treated us with disrespect. I’ve never seen plates filled so high, but then again this might have been the best meal of the week for some of the SAGs. We were thankful for our government jobs which at least afforded us the opportunity to eat with regularity.
The caper went on through the night, after a full day at the office. We appeared in three scenes shot in reverse sequence and totaling a possible thirty seconds of actual footage. The director explained that through the magic of Hollywood, even though the last scene was shot with the Ritz Gotham behind us, when it reaches the silver screen, we will actually be facing the building from across the street. This was getting too technical.
By 4:00 AM it was time to call it a day. There was one more scene to shoot but rain was falling too hard. The missing scene involved four “thugs” who were supposed to trash the party at the Ritz Gotham before Batman saved the city. These guys were clad in ski masks, motorcycle leather, cheap jewelry and tattoos. Their bodies were shaped like Ford Broncos with the doors open. I didn’t think they were film actors. The quartet looked more like World Wrestling Federation bad guys.
As expected, the SAGs were checked out first. By 4:30 AM we headed into the night. The neighborhood by now was looking more like Manhattan and less like Gotham. My options here were to head back to the office and snooze until the regulars arrive or to not be a hero and go home and take a well deserved vacation day. I chose the latter. I arrived at my suburban train station at daybreak, in time to see my commuting buddies giving me quizzical fisheye looks on their way to work. “Another night of partying, Hollywood?”
Within minutes of arriving home I was out cold, a contented smile on my face, dreaming of my new stardom. It was my first 24 hour day since college, thirty years prior. I awoke at 3:00 PM with my head ringing like a world class hangover. It took three days to recover from this jet lag.
It was nine months from shooting to premier but, alas, none of us were favored with invitations. My tux stayed in the closet although it was a serious temptation to wear it to the local flick to check out if we made the movie or the cutting room floor.
My first contact with a movie reviewer came from my son who called me on opening night to inform me that I had my five seconds of fame. I checked it out for myself. When Kilmer and Kidman stopped to answer a “reporter’s” question, there I was in the background, on the steps of the Ritz Gotham upstaging the stars by my presence. I thought I heard one of the theater patrons say, “Who’s that next to Greenberg?” Fortunately my visual reflexes were quick enough to catch the moment. A blink of the eye and it was over.
The critics didn’t acknowledge any of the GSA performers but I am convinced that even though my fleeting notoriety was limited to a paltry five seconds, it was a real good five seconds.
As for my Hollywood future, I’m ready for the old actor’s home.
For more information about myself or my book please check out my website, http://www.thegovernmentman.com. For a look inside go Amazon.com.
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