I wasn't sure if I was going to be contacted by Hennessey Casting for Sunday's Roller Town gig, but just like clockwork, by the time I got home Saturday evening Erin had left a voicemail and sent an email reminding me of my pledge: Here's a fragment:
"We have you on a list of people who have expressed an interest in volunteering on Rollertown this Sunday. If we have not already spoken on the phone, please give me a call at ***-**** anytime after 1PM today. I don't know exact calltime right NOW (will have to wait until they let me know later this afternoon), but you can expect you would be needed in the 9am - 10 am range. Once I know the exact calltimes, I will confirm everyone on the list."
I called Erin back straight away and confirmed that I was in. As a side note, Erin Hennessey seems to be one of the most enthusiastic and good-humored people I've ever had the pleasure of talking to on the phone. Even at 10 in the evening her energy and positive attitude seemed boundless. How could anyone say "no" to that?
But then she had to go and spoil it all by asking:
"Aaaaaand what size roller skates do you wear again?"
I sighed heavily before responding.
"Hypothetically...size eight," I replied, enable to deny it any longer. I was going to have to skate tomorrow.
"Excellent! I'll send over your call time via email shortly!"
She wasn't kidding. Here's the email that followed mere moments later:
"Attached you will find the callsheet for background tomorrow - please have a look to confirm your information & calltime is correct. Thanks very much for helping us out with this production -we know this is going to be a fantastic movie, and we're so glad to have you on board.
As discussed, you will report to the parking lot of the Olympic Centre and look for the signs directing you to WARDROBE or EXTRAS HOLDING. Please arrive ready for action! As discussed - dress is late 70's - early 80's DISCO club wear. Try to do your best. If you wear your first choice,and bring along another option you also think is good, then wardrobe can quickly give you the once over and send you off to set.
We will be feeding you guys (we have a BBQ!) - but this is a pretty low budget production, so you may want to bring along some juice or pop or chocolate or whatever you're into that doesn't come off a BBQ.
Make sure you also bring along some thing warm to keep handy in case you have to be outside at some point.
If you are having trouble finding the set,or you are late, or if you can't attend - please call _____ tomorrow at ***-****.
We really do appreciate your participation - and here at Hennessey Casting, we do a lot of casting for different kinds of production - from radio to print to film & Tv.
Now that we have you on file in our database, you may be contacted about other opportunities.
Have a blast tomorrow!! And if any of you have SO Much fun that you would like to return on Sunday - you are more than welcome (some of you are already booked for Sunday). Just give me a shout at ***-****, or give your name to _____ when you are on set."
I almost had a coronary when I opened the attached document to discover that my call time would be at an ungodly 8 AM. It was already closing in on midnight so I hopped in my sensory deprivation chamber post haste and conked out for the night.
Before I knew it, the presumptuous alarm clock was bleating at me to get up. I rolled out of bed, put myself on an IV drip of caffeine and had my eternally understanding wife drop me off at the set. I appreciate her slowing down to twenty klicks to facilitate that, by the way.
For obvious reasons on Sunday, the background holding area had been moved to the dodgy bowels of the Olympic Community Center. In start contrast to the church basement, this place looked like a low-rent CBGB's. Er, I mean an even lower rent CBBG's.
But unlike last Wednesday, we didn't have long to wait before we received orders to strap on skates. I won't lie to you, folks, I was friggin' terrified. I'd been on ice skates plenty of times before, which is why I agreed to this madness in the first place. But somehow I knew that precious few of those limited skills would translate into the realm of roller skatery.
We were immediately set into motion doing a tight circular loop around the stage-half of the hall, away from the arcade games. Mercifully we had ample opportunity to practice before the camera started to crank. Almost instantly my legs became weak from tension. To make things worse, it was another hot day, the doors were barred up again and the endless exertion and nervousness caused an breakout of sweat. But it wasn't just me. Some people had the foresight to take paper towels or handkerchiefs with them, so that they might swab down between takes. The lesson to stay hydrated wasn't lost on us since a girl had nearly collapsed the night before while filming the zombie arcade sequence.
Just before we did our first take, it was decided to have us skating in two concentric circles. The more experienced skaters formed the core of a tightly-turning formation while the neophytes skated in a reverse orbit on the outside. Likely this was done to create an illusion of density in the shot, so it looked as if the roller rink was packed.
Despite my stark terror I managed to stay upright for the practice round. One of the veteran skaters gave me some sage advice about keeping my knees bent. Then, using a combination of "step and push" and adjusting my weight incrementally, I managed to navigate the turns well enough to stay afloat. I also used my cross country ski experience to snowplow into a rolling halt, not feeling comfortable enough to use the rubber stop on the front of the skate. After all, in order to do this, I would need to be on one foot for more than two seconds and, subsequently, that would have placed me far too close to my own mortality for comfort.
Considering that I'd never been on roller skates before, I was acquitting myself quite well, even outperforming a few of my unsteady peers. It was going to be alright! I wasn't going to humiliate myself after all.
And then the cameras started rolling for real.
The last time you went ice skating were you like me and vowed never to return because some hotshot assholes decided graze past you at Mach One just to show off?
Well, that's exactly what happened when "ACTION!" was called. A few of the more adept skaters got a bit overzealous, and I went down with a "THUD" when one of them cruised past me unexpectedly.
I swore under my breath, scrambled to my feet and was instantly in motion again. To my surprise no one yelled "CUT" until we'd completed several more laps.
Notwithstanding my regrettable tumble, we all got chewed out by the A.D. because we failed to convey any real genuine "party vibe". I can't speak for anyone else but it's tough to "celebrate good times" when you're constantly afraid of shattering your skull like an iPhone.
Nevertheless we nailed the shot within a few takes. What I thought rather funny is how people in their forties and fifties were skating rings around the younger people. To a lot of these people, being on roller skates was a lot like being back on a bike. After all, many of the older extras had loads of formative practice while the young snots were still in Pampers before roller skating even slipped into extinction. The prowess of some of the veteran skaters was really something to marvel at. I watched in awe as they cross-stepped, skated backwards, and twirled around effortlessly.
After several of these skating scenes were filmed, we were all dispatched outside to cool down. I took the opportunity to take a few quick snaps to give you some insight into the fashions and characters on display:
As you can see, some people looked pretty genuine.
As if skating around inside wasn't challenging enough, rolling around in the parking lot was particularly hazardous. Your momentum could instantly turn deadly if you brought up on a rock, twig of some other piece of detritus scattered about. Getting in and out of the building was also equivalent to an extreme sport. There was a plastic riser on the border of the door frame that might as well have been size feet high and made of ice. It was too wide for me to just step over, since, once again, I'd be risking certain death by standing on one foot long long enough to cross the threshold. Mercifully, there were a couple of carpet runners across the entrance and I became somewhat addicted to the welcome fabric mire below my wheeled feet.
Despite the carpet, I know of at least one kid that when down on his ass trying to navigate the hall entrance. The fact that we'd all signed waivers every day was certainly not lost on me. There are dangers inherent on every film shoot, but to strap hordes of scarcely-qualified extras into roller skates really seems like giving Dame Fortune a thumb to the eye.
We were eventually ushered back in and corralled into the set's fake snack bar area. This photo isn't lit very well, but it gives you a good idea about the level of detail they put into the set:
I apologize in advance for this blurry shot, but it does give some context to this next bit:
See the red tables with the wooden chairs attached? Well, no-one on the crew bothered to put a sign up telling us that they were for display purposes only. Like a drowning man swimming to shore I collapsed in one of them and instantly felt the horrible sensation of tipping forward. At first I hoped that I was just fainting, but all too late, I realized that the tables and chairs weren't bolted to the floor!
Given the fact that my feet had f#@$%^& wheels strapped to the bottom of them, there was no way I could prevent the inevitable. For the second time in as many hours I spilled onto my ass, the table tipped over with a bang and empty cups and set dressing snacks rained down on top of me.
"Yeah, those tables aren't safe," a retroactively helpful A.D. said as he drifted over to investigate the ruckus. "Don't sit on them."
"Wow, thanks for the head's up," I muttered sarcastically as I got to my feet. Despite my spill, it took someone else nearly going down a few hours later before a sign was finally put up.
I watched the activity surrounding the next set up with growing interest as Evony Rosen arrived on set. Here she is looking every bit the prom queen in a promotional shot on the Picnicface website:
She was immediately sent off to wardrobe and returned soon after as "Beth" in white roller skates and clad in a jaw-dropping one-piece jumpsuit. Jaw-dropping mainly because you had to wonder if the garment owed it's existence to the movie's costume designers or if someone had actually found the item in a Salvation Army clothing bin. Regardless, it was an absolutely perfect Roller Town outfit.
Also preparing for the heavy next scene was Kayla Lorette as Julia. Even at her young age, Kayla is a veteran improviser and has appeared in several television productions such as The Ron James Show, The Kids in the Hall miniseries Death Comes to Town and more recently the 'tweener sketch comedy show That's So Weird. Here's a link to her improv group's website: http://www.projectproject.ca/kayla.html.
I love how they call themselves the Wu-Tang Clan of Toronto Improv.
Anyhoo, at face value there seems to be a close, possibly familial link between Evany's character and Kayla's. Little sister, mayhaps?
Also in attendance was Brian Heighton, who some may remember as Ken Pompadour from CBC's late, lamented comedic consumer affairs show Street Cents. Since then, he's appeared in a slew of television and movie appearances far too numerous to mention. Just look at this prodigious resume on IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0374028/
In the original Roller Town trailer, Brian exhibits some...um, well, let's say... unconventional parenting skills, warning his "classically trained" roller skating daughter Evony that she's in danger of becoming a "roller disco double dicker" (which he then proceeds to illustrate in disturbing detail). Well, Brian's back in waht I assume is some sort of fatherly capacity and this time I suspect that he may have a 100% bonus in the daughter department.
Evany, Kayla and Brian are joined by Mark and Scott in a climactic scene whereby the villains use more conventional projectiles to wound some of our heroes. Fortunately there seems to be a higher power looking out for them and all of us extras are witness to the mysteries of the life-giving God of Disco.
We break again and I snap this candid pic of some of the principals catching a break before we're summoned back for the next series of shots:
From left to right riding the "Budget Bumper" is Brian Heighton as Murray, the "suit and tie guy" with his back turned may be Pat Thornton who plays the enforcer "Beef" in the film, Evany Rosen can be barely glimpsed in red behind Pat, Cheryl Hann , who plays one of three Boogie Wonderland Girls with an unfortunate predilection is seen sitting next to an unidentified crew member.
When we're all back inside, Picnicface acquaintance Jordon Talbot (who plays the McLovin-esque and appropriately named Jordan) skates around chatting with people, keeping spirits up and networking like a pro. The almost endless parade of attractive girls seems to be particular focus of his attentions, and frankly, no man alive could possibly slight him for that.
He's the guy in the white t-shirt in the foreground of this shot. Take note of the arcade consoles and the sign going up for the Disco Dawgfather in the distance:
The fun on the set continued unabated. In another shot, the A.D. had us cluster up by the stage at the hall's entrance. He then parted us like a polyester Red Sea so we could witness Leo/Mark Little's final confrontation with the forces of darkness. We're directed to watch in rapt fascination as he disarms one of the baddies and then seemingly becomes possessed by the God of Disco himself. Or St. Vitus. All at once it's as if his entire body is overtaken by the dance equivalent of speaking in tounges.
Frankly, we don't have to act as we watch Mark improvise perhaps the most comically inspired and unabashedly insane dance routine ever committed to celluloid. We do struggle, however, with keeping a straight face. I sincerely hope they keep the extended version so, you too, will some day be privileged enough to witness the glory of the "reverse crab". Trust me, you'll know what I'm taking about if you ever get to see it.
The shots continued to pile up as a dizzying pace:
- Mark fills in the blanks for us, hurling the disco ball that destroyed the arcade console four days ago. We collectively rejoice as he screams, William Wallace style: "Disco will never die, DISCO WILL LIVE FOREVER!" before hurling the sparkly weapon on it's course true and sure.
- Jordan and Cheryl share a tender and stomach-churning moment.
- A few of my fellow Roller Town residents struggle to keep Pat Thornton's "Beef" at bay. A wayward brick succeeds where the mob fails.
- The Disco Dawgfather (aka Cecil Wright), resplendent in a silver lame jumpsuit, DJ's the grooviest roller boogie party in history. We're all still enraptured by his rainbows of funk ("BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN!?!")
- I know why one of the extras on set gets the billing of "Awesome Cop", as he bops incrementally to the disco beat as one of the villains gets a "Whatever Happened To...?" moment for the credits.
- Evony goes for broke(n), nearly sacrificing her own skull in an amazing pratfall.
- George Basil kills us on every take as he whinges "Oww...owww, owww, owww...ow" every time he's dragged off screen.
- Since every movie should end this way: there are wedding bells in order for two of the characters. Here's a hint: it's not Scott Vrooman and Kyle Dooley (although that would have been a progressive and bold choice)
Hallelujah! It's a miracle!
Without a doubt, this was certainly the most fun I've ever had on a film set. It wasn't so much a film shoot as a constant party. Thanks to Hennessey Casting and the makers of Roller Town for being able to crash the event.
I'm also now convinced that I want to do this for a living. But how?
I'm reminded of that scene in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke is inside Yoda's hut. R2-D2, left outside in the rain and muck, rolls up to one of the tiny windows and pneumatically hoists himself up on his metal toe to get a peek at the relative comfort inside.
Frankly, I'm tired of peeking into the window.
What do I need to do to earn my right to sit at that tiny table and enjoy a bowl of root leaf stew?
EPIC: If invited inside I promise not be as pissy and ungrateful as Luke is here...
FAIL: Well, at least a lot of these morons will never be able to breed...