Sometime in the late 1990s I was working on the movie Independence Day. I was chatting with another extra who worked often on Y&R and DOOL. I had always been under the impression soaps were some kind of exclusive club that would never allow me to tread in their hallowed halls. Yet he convinced me to send in my headshot. On that particular day, on the set of Independence Day, I was playing a general with an immaculate uniform. On one part of the stage was a set of the oval office in the White House. As usual I snuck in my little camera (cameras are absolutely forbidden) and when lunch was called, several of us asked an AD if we could shoot a couple of pictures in the oval office set. Amazingly he said “sure”.
Just for the heck of it I sent DOOL casting a headshot and enclosed a snapshot of myself in the oval office in my general’s uniform. I sent it on Thursday. The casting office at DOOL got it Friday. Monday I got a call from Linda Poindexter, the background actor’s casting director at DOOL. She booked me for the following day.
I had picked the ultimate right time to send in my head shot and the little snapshot. She complimented me on the snapshot which apparently caught her attention. Equally important DOOL had a thread (a story line) going which took place in the fictional town of Arimed. This town was notorious for being populated with old despondent residents. My head shot filled the bill to perfection. 🙂
Subsequently I was booked in the Arimed thread for about 40 days. Now remember that bookings (unless you get a longer term contract) are made daily. So I got to talk to Linda nearly everyday. Though to this day I have never met her in person, we became great phone pals, exchanging tidbits about kids and things that were outside the studio realm. After Arimed was finished, even though there were no calls for background in my age group, she still booked me periodically apologizing for not being able to book me more often. I know she watched the taping of the episodes in her office so she can decide on who to call back. So it was most rewarding to know she was so satisfied with my work.
Clip from several different scenes, notice Krista Allen who later became a co-star on Baywatch Hawaii. This is one of the rewards in background acting, being able to work so closely with the most beautiful women in the world. 🙂 :
Clip from a couple of days during the Arimed trial:
Soaps have an entirely different methodology from movies and other weekly TV series. Since an episode must be taped each day, you can see how that creates a very difficult situation. Normally an hour episode on a weekly series has 7 days for shooting and a movie will take a month or more. Soaps employ a technique called “block and shoot”. Translated that means, the actors enter the set, the director places or blocks them in their positions. We background stand on the sidelines and take notes. It is assumed we background are able to work with a minimum of direction. The actors go through their lines, many still holding their scripts. There are three cameras on camera carts which are constantly moving from one position to the next. When you see a switch from one actors face to another’s, it is not a cut and new setup as in a movie, it is one of the alternate cameras. The cameras also go through a blocking during the block phase. A couple of grips continuously paste little colored markers on the floor for the cameras and actors next positions as they progress through the scene. It is an elaborate ballet of camera and actors moving in perfect synchronization. On many soaps, DOOL included, there are two people on each side of the cameras with idiot cards that have the entire script for the scene. It is most difficult to expect the actors to memorize a script every day. Though some do.
I was constantly amazed at Eileen Davidson memorizing her lines every day. Moreover she would not allow her lines to be included on the idiot cards. What a great talented actress. I worked so long with her in the trial sets that I got to know her quite well, great sense of humor and, so knowledgeable.
Once blocking is completed, we background are moved into the set, some of us placed in specific positions, the rest told to ‘do what is natural for the scene’. Taping begins at once and within a very short time the cast moves to the next set, we are wrapped and expected to leave the premises ASAP. Soap stages cannot tolerate extra people getting in the way of the warp speed shooting schedule. All the sets normally used in the soap are squeezed together on two stages. The ceiling is covered with spotlights about one for every square yard. Two lighting men with long poles adjust the overhead lights when a set is activated. Soaps have a theatre feel to them. The director does not say “action”. When the director is ready to shoot a scene, he notifies the floor manager. The floor manager then notifies the actors to get ready. He then counts down in a not too rapid cadence – 5, 4, 3, 2….. there is no “1”. It is silently counted by all the actors and then the action or spoken words begin on what would be “0”.