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Mar. 28th, 2011

A Day On the Set of Burn Notice or 15 hours of Sartre’s No Exit

Last Wednesday, March 23, I had my big adventure on the Burn Notice location shoot. As I’ve now had 4 days to recover (barely), I figured it was time to share the experience with those of you craving tidbits of my television exploits. If you’re hoping for glamorous morsels be forewarned: Glitz does not exist in this dojo!

Getting ready to...uh...Extract...

My rise to celebritydom (hence known as martyrdom) began at 5:00 am Wednesday morning, when my iPhone alarm started blaring some horrendous calypso ballad from hell, which roused me out of my exhausted slumber. Fighting the urge to test the durability of the phone’s case by hurling it against the wall, I instead opted for slithering out of bed and jumping into the shower. Pinpricks of excitement began to penetrate the grumpy drowsiness.  Actually, the hot water hadn’t kicked in yet and I was being skewered by ice-cold shards.

Luckily, I had already laid out my outfit and packed some extra clothes as I was instructed, so wardrobe would have something to choose from.  Must be great to run a department where outsiders provide you with the equipment. I wondered if I should whip up a few homemade lunch selections for the Craft Services department as well. Hell, maybe I should bring my own printing press with a couple of different styles to distribute a check to myself, too!

The girl from the casting agency, Kiley, Cookie, Candy, or some such other puppet name, had told me when she called, “You’re going to play a CIA Extraction! Do you know what that is? <giggle>” Hmmm. Was I going to play the actual extraction? The plan itself?  Or was I going to play the impacted wisdom tooth of a CIA Operative? I guessed it wasn’t worth bringing it to her attention that she probably meant I was going to play part of a CIA Extraction Team.  “Yes,” I replied, “I know what a CIA Extraction is.”
Suffice is to say, Kukla got all giddy on me, and she nearly had an orgasm (or maybe she actually did) when I confirmed I also owned a pair of black boots! I guess her husband, boyfriend, wife, or girlfriend (or any combination thereof) must have it made, as she seems so easy to please.

With my duffel bag already packed, with not only my wardrobe but my kindle, just in case I got the sudden urge to download a book in the midst of filming, I hopped in my car and took off in the dark morning, beginning the 45 minute drive to Miami Metro Zoo, where the shoot was to take place. Now I’ve been to the zoo a few times in the past, but I’m not that familiar with the south end of town, so decided my iPhone Google map GPS app would get me there with no problem.


Did you ever see the movie WRONG TURN?

The app told me to turn onto a ramp that is known by a different name in the real world. However, that’s not entirely Google’s fault. It seems in Miami, the people that name the roadways take sadistic pleasure in giving them like ten different names, so if someone tells you to get on the Palmetto, they could really mean 826 West, which sneakily turns into 826 South, and so forth. I also have a hard time putting my trust in a disembodied GPS voice. Mine’s named Timothy, and he’s from Australia, and I’m like, if you’re all the way down under, maybe you’re not the best person to be giving me directions in Miami, mate!

Several wrong turns and backing out of wrong toll plaza exits later, I finally turned into the zoo and parked 15 minutes before my 7:15 am call-time, making my way to the food canopy of course.

I must admit, the Burn Notice crew had a nice breakfast spread going. In the chill of the morning, I had my pick of sausage, bacon, eggs, hot or cold cereal, fruit, coffee, milk, etc. I could get used to this!

After my fellow extras and I wolfed down what we could just in case the crew realized they may have made a mistake and the food was not meant for us, we were whisked off to wardrobe so they could “have a look at us.” There went the cereal lodging in my throat.

The first of our four member CIA Extraction team, a nice young woman named Claudia, passed her inspection with flying colors. She was held up by the wardrobe team as an excellent example that she’d followed directions and worn appropriate garb. Then came my turn.

I wasn’t so lucky.

My first clue was when Wardrobe Lady # 1 wrinkled her nose at me, as if I were one of the animals in the zoo, and said to Wardrobe Lady # 2, “The pants have got to go.”

Excuse me? I know you just fed me breakfast and all, but I still have my standards! And the bacon wasn’t THAT good! And mind you, I was wearing khaki cargo pants, just like Corky, Blinky or Binky from the agency had asked me to. Well, the Wardrobe Queens apparently hadn’t read the memo and decided I needed to be wearing grey cargo pants instead. So off I went, deflated, like a kid who's been sent home to his parents with a positive lice test. I changed into the pants they dutifully provided me with.

Finally, we were shuttled to the set, a section of the zoo that’s closed off to the general public, where my fellow CIA team members and I were outfitted with all our cool gear: 50 pound vests, gun holsters wrapped around our legs like lead weights, and neck flaps that Velcroed around our throats, cutting off the oxygen supply. Mind you, by this time, the sun was starting to come out, and it was apparent it was going to be a hot South Florida day. Surprise! One of the crew members joked to us, “At least it’s not summer!” Hmmm. It certainly feels like summer in here, Bucko!

While I waddled along like Humpty Dumbass after my teammates, a panicked cry reached my ears. A frantic woman, wielding a can of hair spray in one hand and a brush in the other like weapons, rushed me, getting up in my grill and huffed. “Are you wearing a hat?” Maybe she was blind. I decided to humor her. “Uh, no,” I replied.  She leaned in real close then. “You have big hair. Just a little piece of advice,” she offered. “When you get called for one of these gigs, you should try and make your hair look the part before you get on set, you know, get a haircut, like military and stuff.”

I pondered this. As far as I knew, a CIA Extraction team was not a military operation, hence the CIA designation, and therefore not subject to the same type of hair requirement. Hello? Don’t they usually act undercover, you know, like covertly and shit? It would kind of be tipping off the bad guys if we all looked like G.I. Joe. I glanced at the rest of my team, which included a chick with a pony-tail, a Latin guy styled for salsa, and a curly-headed American dude sporting a scruffy beard. Yeah, my pompadour-ish hairstyle didn't cut the mustard, but THEY looked like standard military all right. Yep.

Sprayzilla squirted my hair full of gel and patted it like a TSA Agent. She did stop to comment while running her hands through it,  “You have beautiful hair.” Well, I did, until you screwed it up. Now I looked like G.I. Schmoe.

Then, low and behold, we were given helmets to wear! So no one was going to see my doo anyway! But at least I was sporting a new coiff, unlike my jealous extraction mates ;-)

I’m not sure how many hours we baked, but we were finally called on to film a scene, which involved hunkering down in the woods of Venezuela, on one knee no less, and dashing off when we got a signal. Now I don’t know about you guys, but it’s no fun being on your knees when you have to lug around an extra fifty pounds of gear. And don’t get me started on having to hop up on queue without tripping, and move “stealthily” through the woods. At one point the director kept shifting us around and turned to me and said, “Are you having trouble moving around?” I almost pointed my fake gun at him (which I was using to prop myself up) and pulled the trigger, which, by the way, is a huge faux pas in the television industry. We were admonished time and time again, “keep your guns pointed down.” I’m not sure how this works when filming shootouts, unless they’re between humans and Lilliputians. I guess they don’t want people feeling uncomfortable on the set. Hah! Trying wearing this get up! And I wonder if they have a rule about pulling the pins out of our fake grenades before we hurl them, too?

During the scene, I had to pretend to be talking on my Walkie (a fancy schmancy way of referring to a walkie-talkie, just in case you were wondering). For those interested in what I was saying, I considered muttering The Vagina Monologues into the mic, then, when my knees started to creak, thought about the Lord's Prayer. I finally settled on whispering the secrets of my grocery list.

After we filmed this scene, the series' stars started to arrive, oh, around 11:00 am or so. Must be nice to actually get to sleep in. First there was Jeffrey Donovan, looking good in a red t-shirt and jeans Even though he was sitting under his own "star" tent, he did make his way to our tent (which I nicknamed the CIA Extraction Team Pavilion, thank you very much) and greeted us, commenting that we must be hot in our gear. Uh, you think? But he showed that he cared, which perked me up a bit.

Next Gabrielle Anwar, and finally Bruce Campbell showed up, at least I think it was them, as by now I was suffering from heat prostration. They were very pleasant, though. They joined Mr. Donovan underneath the star tent when they weren't filiming any scenes of their own. I resolved that next time I took one of these gigs I’d bring my own sash to drape over a chair with my own name embroidered on it, followed by “Superstar, Bitches!” underneath it. You know, the subtle approach.

When we finally broke for lunch, the extras were the last ones shuttled to the lunch tent, and we were told that we weren’t allowed to go in until after every single crew member had entered and gotten their meal first. Really? Was there a food shortage or something? Did we also have to wait for the lions, zebras and giraffes to eat first, too? How about the Wart Hogs? There we stood, a pathetic lot of extras, staring inside the tent, salivating in the heat, as the vultures inside devoured their meals. I felt like Oliver Twist, and almost held out my hands and pleaded “Please, Sir, can I have some smores?”

None of this is a slam against Burn Notice. That's how it is on virtually every television and movie set.  If you're an extra, you're considered a grunt, kind of like an unpublished writer in the world of publishing. It's all about paying your dues before receiving the "star" treatment. But I can't help it if the Divo in me wants it NOW!

Once inside, I did get to sit directly behind Jeffrey Donovan, and maybe even bumped him with my chair. At this point, star struck had turned to heat stroke, and all I kept thinking was, “This is the longest day of my life...but the food sure as hell tastes good!"

After lunch, my CIA team filmed another scene, which I guess was the aftermath of the shootout scene they had filmed earlier with the Venezuelan border patrol, which we were not a part of. They were considerate enough to give us ear plugs to dull the sound of the shots, but by that time I wouldn’t have minded if a stray put me out of my misery. I was exhausted and longing for air conditioning and bed.

When we finally wrapped some twelve hours later, I hopped in my car and floored it out of there, until I got stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and didn’t get home until after 8:00pm, 15 hours after the whole adventure had begun.

I guess the moral of the story is that movies and television aren’t as glamorous as we think when watching from the comfort of our own homes. You can’t hit the pause button, take a little nap, squeeze in a phone call, get in some afternoon or evening delight, while eating your favorite snack. That’s not to say I wouldn’t want to make another appearance on Burn Notice, or any other show for that matter. I’d just like a little less Burn and more Notice. Hopefully, the next gig involves umbrella drinks in the inside bar of a luxury air conditioned hotel!

I've earned a new respect for television filming, and in all seriousness, the cast and crew of Burn Notice was nothing but professional and courteous all the way through.  Thank you for letting me play in your world!

Next up, I audition for a lead role for a University commercial!

Oh yeah, and squeeze in some writing in between. That's what I'm doing this all for.

Til then, that’s a wrap!

Mar. 19th, 2011

And so it begins: Our Very First Mission!

Welcome to the very first entry in my blog!

I’ll give you all a moment to contain your excitement. Feel free to indulge in your favorite “nerve tonic” in order to quell the anxiety. Then settle into your seat, head between knees, because we’re about to hit some turbulence!

My approach to writing a blog reminds me of watching a mindless summer blockbuster popcorn flick: I didn’t pay 12 bucks (or 15 by the time you read this) to spend an hour “getting to know the intricacies and subtle nuances of the characters as they struggle with existential themes,” blah, blah, blah.

Hell no!

I want to cram as many cholesterol saturated kernels as humanly possible into my mouth and watch me some splosions from the first frame to the bloated end!

In other words, I’m not going to start off this blog by boring you with my personal history, what my favorite color is, whether I’m an “innie” or an “outie,” etc. Not that that kind of stuff isn’t fascinating (uh..not really), it’s just not…me.

Instead, I’d much rather skip the first three bases and plunge right into home, so to speak.

How do most writers support themselves?

While your initial response might be “Duh, they write and sell their stuff,” I think it’s safe to say that most writers out there don’t have the luxury of concentrating on their writing full-time, much less being able to subsist on it. Despite the Cinderella stories that you hear about on the net ad nauseum,  accent on the nausea, (<giggle>“I got my agent within a week of querying, and went out on submission on a Friday and had 15 bazillion offers on the following Monday!" <squeal>) the truth is, for the majority of us humans, that is simply not the case.

At least that’s how it is with Yours Truly. It’s hard enough having to work an eight hour day only to come home, sit in front of a different computer, and hope you can regenerate enough zombie brain cells to type something coherent on a blank screen. Looking back on the three novels I’ve written, starting with Darius Devine and the Necromancer’s Curse, continuing through Dagger, and most recently The Torch Keeper (Yes, shameless plugs all, but it’s my blog so deal with it), I can’t comprehend how I did it.

But imagine my shock when, recently, I found myself another statistic of the economic woes plaguing our country. That’s right. Just a fancy way of saying, I was laid off. Those bastards!

So now, with the bills still coming and all this free time on my hands while I’m searching for my next Indentured Servitude, what to do?

The answer was clear: Go Hollywood, Baby!

Thanks to a tip from my fellow writer and SCBWI Aventura Critique Leader Stacy Davids, I became a paid Extra for an FPL (Florida Power & Light) commercial, which will air in Florida on April 4, 2011. So what if it was a thirteen hour day and didn’t pay much? It’s all about the life-experience, right? After telling myself this for the first five hours of the shoot, wherein we were confined to the dingy waiting room in a sports stadium, I changed my tune to “Screw this crap!”

Filming this commercial, though, led to making new contacts, and new gigs have been coming my way, left and right. Just two days later, I got to play an Undercover Cop in the new Charlie’s Angels pilot currently shooting in the Miami area! I actually got to flash the crowd (with my police badge, Naughty Readers) and go down on an Angel…uh…I meant take an Angel down. But, alas, I didn't get Touched by an Angel. And all it took was seven hours!

Since then, I’ve auditioned for a new reality show set on South Beach (oh, the ironies), where I got to improvise a scene in which I threaten a fruit thief with a baseball bat. Trust me, I’ve never really acted before, but it wasn’t difficult summoning the frustrations of the writing world and channeling the appropriate feelings for this part. I think that’s Method Acting, right? However, it does beg the question, just how real are these reality shows when they hire people to play characters? Hey, as long as they pay in real money, I’m not complaining.

Next up, an appearance on USA Network’s Burn Notice, where I get to be part of a CIA Extraction team. Hmmm. Sounds like a show about receiving rejections on publishing house submissions. Method Acting to the rescue yet again!

In addition to the acting, I’ve decided to branch out into the creative world through short story and article submissions, as well as entering writing contests and collaborating with my fellow writer pal, David Case, on a comedy pilot script. This is an exciting time for me, especially while I prepare to debut my new website and gear up to tackle my next novel. All of these projects are not only fueling my creativity and providing fresh and exciting fodder to write about, but some are also helping me earn a little extra cash. I guess you can say I’ve found the silver lining of being “full-time employee challenged.”

I’d love to hear stories from others out there and how you’ve had to whore yourself out for your craft!

Until next time, where the hell’s my close-up?

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