Thursday, June 01, 2006

Chicagowood (a retro-post)

SO VINCE VAUGHN AND Jennifer Aniston did the unthinkable. They went ahead and filmed The Breakup without me.

You see, last summer while the film was in production here in Chi-town, I got in touch with the agency that was casting extras. For one reason or another (didn't have any logo-free t-shirts to wear/couldn't get downtown at 5:30 in the morning/etc.), I never got to work on the flick.

And then -- the chutzpah! -- they go ahead and put it out without me! Which fact is no doubt responsible for the bad reviews they've been getting.

ON A RECENT THURSDAY or Friday, I get off work and emerge into the small plaza in front of the Wrigley Building, where I see a sight that was quite familiar in the late '90s in Chicago: carts loaded with film and lighting equipment and young production assistants with walkie-talkies milling about. I went up to a couple of guys who looked like crew, wearing "Batman Returns" t-shirts, and said: "You're shooting another 'Batman' movie?"

"No," one of them said. "This is _____" (giving me a name I can't remember).

"So who's doing extras casting for this? Are they around anywhere?"

"I don't think so. And anyway, we're just here for today. This is mostly being shot up in ____." [He names the city, but whether it's Toronto or Vancouver, I can't recall.]

"So," I say, "they're just doing a few establishing shots here and that's it?"

"Yep," the guy replied, nodding sadly.

Another "Chicago movie" shot in Canada.

Besides the lakefront and skyline, the Michigan Avenue bridge is probably one of the more popular shots filmmakers like to show you to establish that "this story takes place in Chicago." They send a second or third unit to get a few exterior shots here. But the bulk of the film is shot up in Toronto or some other city north of the border. I can't blame them, since it's a lot cheaper up there.

While the film biz in Chicago is perking up somewhat, compared to the near-absolute stall of the last few years, it's still not where it was in the mid- to late-'90s, when TV series and feature films were being shot here practically year-round, and local actors and crews could at least count on getting some work in their chosen field.

My first gig as an adult was as an extra and photo double in The Fixer. From '97 to '99 I worked a British production, the exact name of which I've forgotten, and 10-12 episodes of Early Edition. In '02 I PA'd and extra'd in A Get2GetHer, whose first assistant director was a student at my alma mater, Columbia College Chi., and which was conveniently shot almost entirely at a house about four blocks away from my home. (It also co-starred this mamita, who I'm sorry I didn't "Get2GetHer" with when I had the chance. There's a lot said for being in the right place at the right time.) My feature-film debut was in Up Against the Wall, a "positive, uplifting African-American film" which was conveniently cast and shot at my school, and for which I auditioned for the lead part and actually got a callback. And -- get this -- it was directed by Superfly himself. (Rest in peace, you badass brotha.)

So anyway, I go on about my way, heading south on Michigan across the bridge. But as I walk, I notice I'm surrounded by oddly dressed people. They're dressed in overcoats, even though it's 70 degrees out. Then I heard someone say: "Back to one?"

"Yeah, back to one."

Okay, so these folks are extras and they're being rehearsed. They're being directed to go back to their original position. As with most extras, their task is pretty simple: walking across the bridge.

Across the river, some of these heavily-dressed folks are standing around and I go up to 'em and ask them who's casting extras for this flick -- so I can get in touch with the agency and maybe get to satisfy my movie bug again in upcoming productions.

After that I keep going down Michigan, then turn onto Lake and head west. And what do you know -- there parked under the el tracks are a bunch of "Movie Power" generator trucks. That means another production nearby. I ask the security guards who's shooting what, and they say "Conan O'Brien. He's here all next week." They were setting up all their equipment at the Chicago Theater. If you weren't able to catch the carrot-topped jokester on TV during his laff-packed visit to our little cow town out here in the godforsaken Midwest, read about it here.

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