By Michael Heller
“Local residents wanted for a feature film! No experience necessary!” the flyer read.
“Wow,” I thought, “My chance for stardom!”
Or at the very least a brush with Hollywood right here in Sag Harbor.
The film, tentatively titled “Gabriel,” is an independent feature starring Rory Culkin, (brother of Macaulay). Written and directed by Lou Howe, the story follows 20-year old Gabriel (played by Culkin) who leaves a mental health facility to ostensibly come home to visit his family, but plans to track down an old girlfriend instead.
The crew spent the first week of its month-long shooting schedule filming in New York City and Connecticut. The rest of the time, filming will take place at East End locations in Riverhead, East Hampton, Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor.
After announcing my interest via e-mail, I received a response describing what I needed to know: dress in dark-colored winter clothing (“No bright or neon colors or prominent logos!”), bring a small carry-on bag (“… stuff it to make it look somewhat full”) and a book, Kindle, iPad, or headphones.
The call time was 7 a.m. the next day at Christ Episcopal Church’s rectory in Sag Harbor. At the appointed time, I found a beehive of activity. Against one wall was a makeup table and in a corner, racks of wardrobe. Second assistant director Melinda Ziyadat coordinated the day’s shooting at the far end of the room.
After my name was checked off a list I was handed a release to sign. I was a bit hesitant (the line, “Production Company shall exclusively own all now known and/or hereafter existing rights of every kind throughout the universe, in perpetuity and in all languages, pertaining to such results and proceed in and to my Performance and the Picture…” was particularly daunting). But figuring chances like this don’t come along every day, I signed away.
Then I was told to sit and wait.
Finally at 10:25 a.m. we extras were ushered into two vans and driven to “set” — a hired bus parked on Main Street. Known collectively as “background,” we were passengers in a scene in which Gabriel takes an unauthorized bus trip to Connecticut. On the way he makes friends with a little girl, played by six-year-old Adriana Barnett, and her mom, played by actress Patrice Bell.
The crew shot as we rode up and down the Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike. I did my best to “be” a passenger reading a book; aside from the moment during each take when Bell brushed up against me as she walked up the aisle, causing me to look up, I got comfortable and re-read the same paragraph over and over.
At 11:45 a.m., after several takes, the crew broke for lunch, and we were taken back to “holding” for some food. As extras our second-class status didn’t allow us to eat the same food as the cast and crew; we sat at separate tables and ate pizza from Conca D’Oro. None of us minded, though, as we were all enjoying our newfound stardom.
At 1:15 p.m. we were hustled back on the bus for the next scene, and it was then that we extras all got to strut our stuff. Gabriel’s bus arrives in Connecticut – played by Sag Harbor Village – and we all get off, collect our bags from beneath the bus, and walk off in different directions. After the first take, we were told we collected our bags too quickly; could we do that more slowly and perhaps linger around the baggage area longer?
Indeed we could, and did. We got lots or practice: it took six takes until Howe was satisfied, at which point the extras were “wrapped” for the day.
The day’s downtime gave me a chance to talk to some of the other extras, including Vivian Venner and her friend Richard Credle who drove from Queens to take part.
“I figured, why not try it?” said Venner. “I wanted the experience, just to meet everybody and see how it works, since I’d like to be an actor someday, or a model.”
Sag Harbor resident Kristin Puckett said she signed up to see “how the process works.”
“I loved it,” said Puckett. “Obviously there are times when there is nothing going on and it’s boring, but I think the whole thing is really interesting, especially when you actually get to see them set up the shots — that’s really cool.”
As for my role? With luck you’ll see the back of my head or an out-of-focus blur. But that’s OK – you’ve gotta start somewhere.