Some time has past since my last edition of Below the Line, and now I can write about more aspects of the film industry as it relates to New Mexico. Whereas my first columns pertained to being an extra, the term Below the Line itself denotes those folks in involved in crew work, from department heads on down. Directors, writers and managers (UPM, Line Managers) and the all important producers (can anyone say “payday”?) are above the line, while we worker bees happily ply our trade further down the list of credits. My very last gig was as an extra (on Hamlet 2), but my last credit was actually for a crew member (art dept/props for Naked Fear, which has a working title of Hunted). But today I wanted to talk about that all-important casting call for extras, but also goes by the name of cattle call if there’s lots of folks there.
My first cattle call was for a little film called Animal House, sort of a National Lampoon meets Saturday night Live wacky affair that helped make John Belushi well, John Belushi. I was living in Eugene, Oregon in the mid 1970s, and the University of Oregon was selected as the location of Faber University (that was the name, right?). A casting call was held at the college for the extras (or background/atmosphere as we’re listed on the daily call sheet), and man did we show up! Down in front of the hall were two or three guys dressed as nerds, and they were so successful in their “audition” that they were immediately cast as…nerds! They appeared exactly as they looked that day in the fraternity scene where the less desirable rush candidates are shown the water pipes in the basement (hey, it happened it me in real life…). Most of the time you get a look by a casting director or assistant director, they take your Polaroid (OK, now it’s all digital), and tell you you’ll get a call…or not. But a few of us who were in a play at the time were asked to be in the movie, and a friend of mine took them up on the offer and actually got some speaking lines. I, however, wanted to stay in this play and had a beard at the time, and since I wouldn’t/couldn’t shave it off, I was out of the movie. As I look back on it, was it worth it to appear in a play for 6 to 8 performances in Eugene Oregon, or to appear in a film, albeit as an extra, that was destined to be a classic of it’s genre and launch the careers of many actors in the process…? It guess you could say I’d like that one back.
Next time: “Hey, I though you were writing about New Mexico?”