Thursday, 26 January 2012

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

It's 7am and still very black outside. In the darkness, the outline of white rectangles can be seen. Approaching someone – anyone, I ask for my contact “Sarah” and I'm pointed to a red double decker bus parked beyond the trailers. Inside it is decked out with chairs and tables, all lit-up and a generator runs a large portable heater. I'm grateful for its presence. Today is going to involve a lot of waiting around and it's cold out there.

I've been an “extra” once before in Mumbai, purposefully milling around a spot I'd heard casting agents often recruit from. Being in a Bollywood film seemed the perfect way to round-off my days in Mumbai and almost like one of the city's must-do activities. Today I'm no longer an extra, I'm an “SA” (Supporting Actor) and part of a soon to be released TV series, rather than a low-budget film. Like in Mumbai, my day begins with a hearty breakfast provided by the company. Us lowly SAs are permitted to be served once all other cast members and crew are tucking in.

Back in the bus with a plateful of cooked breakfast, the SAs huddle together, bonding in preparation for the long day ahead. We're a mixed bunch, including a professional self-employed singer, a cheerleader for Rhinos, an entrepreneur with three businesses and a mother with her aspiring actress daughter. I'm looking out for some of the characters I've been told about by the friend who recommended the casting agency to me – the ex-comedian who is now retired and fires out one liners, the two elderly gossiping women who decided to do TV extra work rather than paying for the meal they'd meet up for once a week...

Few are here for the money (for a twelve hour day once the agency has taken their cut, the pay works out at below minimum wage) and some have travelled far. Knowing how little remuneration I can expect, I'm amazed the first talking point is where people have travelled from. I assume everyone is local to Leeds but this isn't the case and I'm soon hearing about people who travel across the country to be in different productions as a kind of hobby.

After breakfast, we're briefly in make-up and costume where I'm chastised for bringing too baggy spare trousers and my hair is made to look worse. The addition of a scarf apparently transforms me and I'm ready to roll, soon sitting in a mini bus bound for our first nearby location.

It's sweltering inside Tropical World but I'm grateful I've never been one for makes and logos. One of my fellow SAs is told to keep his chunky cardigan on to conceal the name on his t-shirt underneath. We're in the butterfly room for what seems like hours repeatedly filming the same tiny scene from slightly different angles.

Finally outside, the cold air initially feels like a treat but as the next scene goes through the same rigorous process as the first, I start to change my mind. I feel most sorry for the SA who appears in this scene as a jogger so is wearing tiny shorts and a fleece, standing around waiting for the “reset”.

After a two course lunch with a choice of four cooked mains, we're back out by the pond, completing the same scene. A scene that my involvement in has now come to an end. I'm standing around chatting to other unused SAs insulating myself with the many layers I brought with me – I have three bags full of spare “costume” changes I was advised to bring.

One of the principal actors is finished for the day and indeed the rest of the series so there are cheers and claps before we're back at the bus again waiting for costume and makeup. Transformed into a police officer, as the last one kitted out, I'm chauffeur driven down to the final location on the other side of Leeds. Here, I meet a few of the regular SAs who are given the same rate of pay for appearing in scenes at the end of the day.

It's dark again and nearly time to go home. I exchange phone numbers with a few of the other SAs, agreeing we might share travel on future projects. It has been a long day but when I evaluate it, I realise it's been pretty fast-moving and reflect on all the interesting people I've met who are doing this bizarre work in order to earn some extra taxable pocket money. I look forward to declaring this pitiful sum on my tax return next year and await the next phone call.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Short-sighted And Surrounded By Taxis?

Being short-sighted can lead to some embarrassing misunderstandings and at times, even be dangerous. I'm back to commuting on a Thursday and Friday, working temporarily in a part-time position in a school. As part of my daily commute, I'm reunited with Metro and today was struck by an article about the Metropolitan Police that rang true and instantly made me chuckle.

Back in my first year at Leeds University on a black winter night, I recall almost flagging down a police car believing it to be a taxi. My already slightly short-sighted vision combined with a few drinks and the darkness to convince me the approaching vehicle would be my ride home. Thankfully nothing bad came of this but some weeks later a police car actually drove a friend and I back to our hall of residence. I hadn't done anything wrong but as it was a Bank Holiday and bus services were limited the kindly policeman thought it wise to offer to drive us home, rather than us walk the half an hour along remote dark unlit pavements. Amusingly, speaking to a friend recently, I discovered he had a similar experience with the police, also in his first year. Perhaps we all just looked particularly naive and vulnerable, who knows?

Today's main news article about the Met's phone bill was accompanied by a tiny NIB about a police officer facing disciplinary action after posting remarks on Twitter that the police force were comparable to a "taxi service". He wrote these comments negatively about the force when in actual fact I have both quite literally mistaken the police for a taxi service and rather beneficially been chauffeur-driven to safety by a thoughtful officer.

The main body of the news article stated the Met had spent £35,000 on 110,000 calls to the speaking clock in the past two years. This particularly tickled me as only last week I spent some time analysing a text aimed at EAL learners in order to teach them about the services offered by dialling certain numbers. In the A'Level English Language class, we all decided many dial-up services are now somewhat archaic and almost obsolete as the Internet provides quicker and more in-depth answers. I really can not imagine why the Met are so frequently ringing the talking clock at 31p a minute when officers are surely all equipped with a phone, if not a watch when out and about. Still I guess someone beyond possibly the blind and more old-fashioned need to keep it going?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Bye Bye Bob

January is traditionally the month of New Year's resolutions and frugal living. Having over-spent and over-indulged at Christmas, it is the month we're supposed to detox and start saving pennies again. In keeping with this philosophy, I have been watching much more TV than my normal quota.

The announcement of Bob Holness' death began January with tributes to the Blockbuster legend. Watching old re-runs of the show, transported me back to earlier more innocent years when I recall pre-pubescent sleep-overs in a makeshift indoor tent, comfortingly shrouded in old sheets playing the Blockbusters board game.

Re-watching the show, I was instantly reminded of what used to appeal to me about it – unlike many TV quizzes I was always heartened I was actually able to correctly answer the majority of questions asked. Tellingly, The Boy recalls feeling particularly embarrassed by incorrect answers, rather than elated by merely being able to answer questions.

I'd forgotten the bizarre and unfair format of the show that sees two contestants compete against one, merely having to answer a few additional questions in order to complete a winning Blockbuster run. Watching the show now it looks so dated, from the slightly of-centre footage of the title screen to fashions sported by contestants, hideously colourful polo shirt prizes and video footage of the main holiday prize.

In keeping with 80s' and early 90s' fashions, following our Blockbusters tribute, we decided to have a Black Lace medley and watch old Bullseye repeats - another show with comically dated prizes (a tiny heavy-weight TV that's primary draw is its colour picture, an enormous camcorder that looked like it'd be too big for flight hand luggage size regulations..). It's just a shame, old 80s' and early 90s' adverts aren't re-run during "the break".

Aside from the return of Shameless and Sherlock Holmes; the start of channel 4's New Girl and the odd Dickens' adaptation, January television has so far been fairly uninspiring. The comically dramatic title of an Inside Nature's Giants' episode, Rogue Baboon, actually tempted me to watch a nature documentary and with Dating In The Dark done and dusted and a new Australian second series yet to air later this year, I also decided to give the second series of Playing It Straight a go. While musical interludes provide the perfect kettle boiling and toilet visiting opportunities, in all its mindless vileness, the show actually shows some promise as an equally trashy TV substitute. I look forward to Cara's journey of deception next week.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Uncanny Likeness Of Family

Bank Holidays are for catching up – catching up with house chores, sleep, hobbies, friends.... Many years ago before the 1871 Bank Holidays Act in the UK we had approximately 33 saints' days and religious festivals to celebrate as holidays. Sadly after 1834 the Bank of England no longer recognised them all and our “Bank Holidays” were reduced to just four: May Day (May 1), All Saints Day (November 1), Good Friday and Christmas Day. After the 1871 Act was passed there remained four official holiday days (Easter Monday, the first Monday in May, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day) but Good Friday and Christmas Day were also recognised as common law holidays. Today, we may not have 33 annual days off work but we do get holiday allowances and more Bank Holidays than they had back in 1871.

This year, we spent the Bank Holidays after a hectic Christmas finally catching up with TV shows we'd recorded and generally trying to recharge the batteries before work commenced. We've long been a fan of Misfits and watched both the film of This is England and the mini series set in 1986. This Monday we finally got round to watching This Is England '88 and a revelation was made.

People constantly seem to be searching for lookalikes. I can recall several recent conversations that have centred around saying who people in the room remind us of. I am even guilty of finding a bizarre resemblance between certain people and types of fruit and vegetable. Watching This is England '88 when The Boy said the character of Harvey looked just like Kelly from Misfits I couldn't help but agree. One quick IMDB search and all becomes clear.

Arthur Conan Doyle said: "Streams may spring from one source, and yet some be clear and some be foul". In Michael (Harvey) and Lauren (Kelly) Socha's case their family resemblance is uncanny: