Sunday, 25 November 2012

The 3 am walk!

After a 1 day of travel, 2 days of rehearsals and 7 solid days of shooting in Cape Town the upcoming day off was something we were all looking forward to. And the chance for me to let down my hair, kick off my dancing shoes and wipe off my makeup. We wrapped for the day quite late that evening, and took the usual half hour trip back to our hotel. I had actually climbed out the combi when one of my co-actors asked our driver what he would be doing that night. He said that he was going to a local hangout, about two blocks from our hotel for a beer. My co-actor asked if I wanted to join them for a cold one:

“I don’t know, I’m really tired, and dirty and I have half of my makeup still on”

“I promise, the moment you want to go back to the hotel I’ll walk you”

I reiterate, and was already out of the vehicle when this exchange took place


So off we went, well after midnight already, for our after-work drink.
When we walked into the bar we were greeted with a cheer. Myself and the other Gauteng-er naturally assumed that our local driver was well known in this local drinking hole, assuming that the others still in the bar at 1:30 on Wednesday morning we also dedicated patrons. Our party of three seated ourselves and asked our driver who the people were, he greeted back: “No idea”

On the street where I lived
Naturally by the time we had had our first drink at the local watering hole we were informed that the bar would be closing and that we should kindly vacate the premises. Our party of three, now only starting to relax and enjoy ourselves decided we should move on to a bar that would be open at this ‘early’ hour. So off we headed, from bar 1, two blocks and a doable walking distance from our hotel, to bar 2, a few kilometres from our hotel.

We had an interesting evening, as I suppose as all nights are when they start at 1:30am in the middle of the week. We were exposed to rather odd people. Two of which introduced themselves to me. Being my friendly self I answered back, which was followed by:

“So what do you do?”

“I’m in actress, I’m actually from Gauteng, but I’m in Cape Town for a shoot”

“What are you shooting?

“I’m not allowed to say, I signed a non-disclosure agreement.”

“How old are you?”

I stupidly answered and the two ‘gentleman’ exchanged a knowing look. I eventually caught on:

“I’m not a porn star! I promise”

Shortly after this incident, and another valuable learning lesson I decided to write off to experience, my fellow Johannesburger and I decided that it was time for our night to reach an end. We then realised that we hadn’t seen our driver for some time. We went outside to look for him after a brief scan of the bar yielded nothing. The car was gone.

After some phrases I will not quote on this blog, my fellow actor climbed on the phone to call our transport home. Who didn’t pick up. A few more unquotable phrases and attempted to phone calls later I was graced with the verdict:

“He left us here!”

“So what do we do?”

“I suppose we walk.”

“I don’t even know which direction the hotel is in”

Cold panic was relieved by my companion’s good internal compass and the fact that he had grown up in Cape Town. We headed into a direction which would take us home.

At one stage, walking home in the dark early morning, my bank card and drivers licence removed from my purse and tucked into my bra, so that my actual purse would be a decoy in the case of a mugging, we found ourselves walking past a long…long row of sleeping hobos. I elbowed my companions in the ribs and pointed. He mouthed back “Bergies” which is colloquial Cape Tonian for hobos and we, two soft targets, sprinted up the hill out of sight of the sleeping homeless.

After this potential dual with unconscious beggers I informed my companion that it was time for food if I was going to be walking any further. It had been hours since I had last eaten on set and we still had quite a walk ahead of us. We literally reached a fork in the road, and had to decide between a Caltex and an Engen. Spotting the Woolworths Food sign made up my mind, and we headed off for Engen. Upon reaching the garage’s court I spotted our driver, drunkenly slumped over the steering wheel of his car. I ran up and jerked the door open, which was unsurprising unlocked:
“Not cool dude” was the only response I could muster in my anger and simultaneous relief as my hotel key was in his car. I then grabbed the keys out of the ignition, locked him in his car and went off to buy myself some food. Upon return to the car, with our Woolies midnight meals, we found party member number three missing:
“I’m a better person than he is, so I won’t leave him here” my Joburg companion claimed, and stomped off to the bathroom, which produced number 3. His explanation for leaving us in a club without transport in Cape Town kilometres from our hotel

“Dude, I was hungry”

Throwing the hungry man in the back of the car, we drove him to our hotel, locked him and his keys in the car and headed off to our respective rooms. It had been a long day.


Sunday, 18 November 2012

When a cookie will do...

My first day on set I was astounded by the enormity of the project. All the people involved, all the equipment, all the security, all the catering. The 2 days before I spent rehearsing and fitting I had only met a section of our cast, and almost none of the crew, some of which were American. As South Africans, working with some American crew members, it seemed we felt the need whenever repeating something that was told to us by an American, to do so in their accent. I think my American accent sounds rather authentic now, thanks to all the practice.

You can usually identity crew members and stunt people by their damaged iPhones. Usually with cracked screens where I crane fell on it, or they dropped it down something or other they were shooting, or as falling on something with the phone still in their pockets. I can say, however, that most of these iPhones with cracked screens work regardless of the various states of disrepair which they are found in. Chatting to the stunt men, in particular was quite interesting. Hearing the politics about how badly South African crews are treated in the international cinema circles (I heard this same sentiment repeated by the Makeup Ladies, who are always good for a gossip, and who all know the models, the photographers and their business). One of the older stunt men thought it was his responsibility to inform myself and one of the younger Johannesburg actresses about things such as when we get Premium days, how much Per Diem we should expect. How to make sure your agent isn’t cheating you out of money and how overtime works. He always had some useful tip about what to look out for. Another the very large (6,8 foot or over 2 meters) stunt men, who is a martial arts expert, would always eat breakfast with his glasses while reading newspaper. It somehow didn’t really fit. I also saw him surreptitiously remove his glasses from some inner lining of his costume during a break while shooting to read a SMS! When I say the stunt people napping on the first morning I realised that in this industry, sleeping on the job is a requirement!

I had always read in various different textbooks, acting tip books and manuals that a required skill for an actor was being able to sleep in almost in position. When you are working on set between 14 and 17 hours a day this comes quite easily. You are so tired that the moment you have the time you pass out quite easily, but not without telling somebody with a radio attached to their belt and an ear piece in their ear where you will be doing exactly that. The studio we were sleeping in had a long, rather dusty bar. Two of my comrades had set up a laptop on the bar to watch series, and we were close enough to the set to see what was happening, but also far enough away to make a little noise. The bar was slightly wider than my hips, and I had been informed that I probably wouldn’t be needed for the next hour or so. This was also subject to immediate change most of the time. As one of the Makeup Ladies put it, the shot lists were ‘Toilet paper money’. Now on set you have these wonderful things called warmers, which are essentially a gown with fleece on the inside, plastic on the outside, a hood and a pocket. We wore these over our costumes to stay warm, as you can imagine. I found a rag somewhere, wiped of the worst of the dust from the bar, tightly wrapped my warmer around me and flipped the hood over my head to protect my costume and hair. I lay down on my back with my arms folded over my chest, like a mummy or a corpse and slept for an hour and half without moving. The Makeup Ladies loved me because I slept so statically that I required no touch-ups after my nap.

Most of my days on set were good days. Even when I was tired, of my costume was hurting me, or I had so stand in heels for hours. Essentially, I was excited all the time, and became more hilarious as I got tired. The second morning, however was perhaps my worst, as we were shooting outside, and the weather conditions were that far from ideal that that they were hindering the shoot. On top of this, shooting had been stopped for about ten minutes while the head of wardrobe fiddled around my but with some costume problem: “We have a rear-carriage problem here” she yelled to roughly 30 male crew members, who were all watching intently as she attempt to remedy the but-problem. After this the paramedic refused to give me a codine based pain killer for a really bad headache that was developing:
“If I give you codine you will become drowsy”

“I know my body, I promise you if I become drowsy you can harvest a kidney”

I received two panados and was required to make do.

The highlight of my morning that day had been lying on the warm tar wrapped tightly in my warmer while someone passed me an oats cookie. I immediately felt better.

As actors, we are quite easily satiated. Give us some tea, give us a cookie and tell us we are doing a good job. Every now and then one of the ‘grown ups’ would descend from behind their laptops to our level, tell us we were looking really pretty, that we were doing a good job, and offer us a cookie. We knew exactly what they were doing, but it worked!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Finding a fit.

I had received confirmation that I would be flying down to Cape Town to shoot an advertisement for an undisclosed client, at an undisclosed location for an undisclosed product (I signed a non-disclosure agreement before I had even left the airport grounds). All I knew was that I had to be ready to leave at short notice. Saturday evening I got a phone call from the production company doing the shoot. The needed my ID number to book a flight for me for Monday morning. Early Monday morning, and I was to pack for “more than a week”. So I did, and Sunday afternoon I received an email with my flight details, for seven am Monday morning.

So at 5:30am Monday morning I was in the check-in queue at Johannesburg International Airport. Two people were standing in front of me, and I heard mention of the product the advertisement would be for, so I assumed they were also flying down for the shoot. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my brother and a friend who had come with to drop me off trying to get my attention. Whispering and pointing at the two people ahead of me in that restrained way which was supposed to get solely my attention, but not the people ahead of me. I shrugged.

When I moved to check-in my luggage my friend came up to me. “Did you recognise them?” My friend had placed them, since the original bout of whispering and gesturing, that the pair are both known faces on South Africa and TV and film.
A view from the top
On the flight I met another blonde of (roughly) a similar age sitting next to me, and halfway through we figured out we were going down to work on the same shoot. A trip to bathroom after we landed and we followed the flow of passengers out of the bathroom to the luggage carousel. In our deffence, we had been sitting right at the back end of the plane and were therefore some of the last to get off. We are also both blonde. And after waiting ten minutes, and there being hardly any luggage left on the carousel we realised there might be a problem. As we walked to the office that dealt with luggage queries a large came looked at the both of us:

“Botha and Wasserman?”


“We have your luggage inside. Can I see your tickets”

The only two blondes flying in from Johannesburg had been waiting at the wrong luggage carousel. When we left to find the person picking us up, we were met with three other artists from Johannesburg. Our driver had been rather concerned when we had not exited roughly 15minutes after the other three artists from Johannesburg, who had been sitting closer to the front of the plane.

It didn’t matter however, because I was in Cape Town, being picked up by a driver, and on my way to get booked into the hotel before my costume fitting later that day.

Booking into a four-star hotel, a walk up Kloof street and phone call to my mother later I was picked up again to go to my fitting. While in the elevator at the appropriate venue my agent called me:

“The production company needs your ID number so that they can book you a flight to Cape Town”

“I’m in Cape Town already, about to go to a fitting”

“Well when they said you had to be ready to travel at short notice they weren’t kidding”

 The costume fitting was interesting.  I was forced into a too-small costume, which wasn’t quite symmetrical. I was assured that another, better fitting costume would be created for me, as they wanted me to feel comfortable. I nearly kissed the wardrobe lady. I also met some of the other girls that would be working with me. I was the only girl from Johannesburg in our group. I was also, as I put it, the curviest of the girls, some of them being full-time models, and such. When the client and director came to view us I at first felt very uncomfortable. About ten people walked into what had originally been a safe space, with all of us feeling uncomfortable in the costumes. And all ten people were looking at each of us rather intensely. And then I decidedly made a mind shift. When these people are scrutinizing every part of you and they aren’t scrutinizing you. They are looking at how you look in the outfit, trying to place the entire look into the context of what they are shooting. It’s not about you per say. It’s about the package, and the moment I told myself this I started to relax, and felt a little less like a cow at auction.

I think the biggest thing I learned during this shoot, besides actually working on something which was, in my opinion, rather high budget, was the changes in attitude I need to take. And this, on my first day in Cape Town, was the first one I needed to make if I’m going to survive this path that I’m on.