Author: Varner, Mark

How I was NOT in a movie
Dear friends,

This was going to a column about how I was going to be in a movie. Yes, a real feature length film. Instead it’s a column about how I am NOT going to be in a movie.

A few months ago a friend and I signed up on a website to be extras in a movie that was being filmed in San Francisco. It is going to be a horror film. I won’t mention the title, but it will be a low budget movie that will probably wind up going straight to video, but who knows.

In my life I have made a point of doing things that I never thought I’d do. No, I’m not a great adventurer, so that wouldn’t include climbing Denali, diving in a shark cage or parachuting into an active volcano. But I never did radio until I got my bluegrass show on KAZU, I never put on a concert until I started the Otter Opry, I never visited places like mainland China or Taiwan until work brought me there, I never did any public speaking until they propped me up in the bright lights of the IBMA stage to accept the award for the Bluegrass Breakdown. Stuff like that. Being an extra in a movie was supposed to be one of those experiences. Something out of the norm that pushes, even frightens you a bit.

So Saturday was my big day, or night as it turned out. They started their day at 6PM. It seems a film crew’s day is a long one, like 12 hours, so you can do the math to understand what the end of the “day” was.

I was to play a doctor examining a patient, a very brief scene with no dialogue. I was to dress nicely, in business attire. Fine. That would be fun.

But as soon as things got rolling I was told I would be given an additional extra part. I would be made to appear as if I had been severely burned and thrown out of a window into a parking lot. To this end I had to wear a rubber suit that covered my head and body. It took about an hour to get me into my costume and make up. I worked with the special effects guys and that was interesting and fun.

Unfortunately, after I was in costume they rearranged order of shooting and I was shuffled to the end, with more important scenes starring the main characters being done first. As I mentioned, their day was over 11 hours long and that meant I had to stay in the rubber suit from 7PM till 4:30 AM, before they told me they would move my scene to Sunday night’s shooting. At about 3:30 AM I was ready to rip the stuff off and grab my clothes and literally run away into the night. But I promised myself if I EVER got out of that costume I would NEVER come back. (As it turned out it required chemicals to melt the glue that held me in the thing, so I never would have escaped anyway!) I was, to be honest, rather traumatized by the event. Not only that but bored. Really, really bored. I forgot to bring a book, so I borrowed one from one of the special effects guys. “How to Survive in the Woods.” I can now tell you how to kill and eat a porcupine.

I was amazed at how glacially slowly everything on a movie set happens. I thought my work was tedious. Ha! I’ll never be able to watch a movie again without seeing each of the cuts it takes to make a scene and imagining all the work required by the crew to make every shot happen. Ugh!

I will say the folks that worked on the crew were absolutely wonderful, friendly and fun. I had a chance to talk about bluegrass with several fans of the genre.

As if to encourage me to follow my instincts to bail on the production, the transmission on my van went out on the drive home. I had to drive from Colma to Boulder Creek in 2nd gear at 45 miles per hour. So I would have no way of returning for Sunday night’s shoot anyway.

All I wanted was sleep when I got home at 6:30 AM. I called them when I woke up and told them making films, as it turned out, was not my cup of tea.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to sit down on Sunday afternoon and work on your Bluegrass Breakdown’s August issue. I love this job!

Your pal,
Mark Varner
Posted:  7/20/2009

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