August 10th, 2012 — General
We’re are back for our 5th year at my favorite festival — the Boulder International Fringe Festival. The show will be our biggest ever (90-minutes) and we’ll be performing in the really big Dairy Center Performance Space (250 seats).
I’ve been talking about the show so much the last few weeks, I feel like I’m just repeating myself here.
I recently sent out an email to my friends announcing this story in the Denver Post YourHub, but the link was defective so I can make amends (and stop repeating myself) by reposting it.
Magician Gregg Tobo brings his magic to the Boulder International Fringe Festival Photo by Florence Montmare
One of the most popular attractions at the annual Boulder International Fringe Festival has been the magic of Gregg Tobo who returns for his fifth year. His performances have earned him four “Encore Awards” and a following with people of all ages: the children drawn to his mystifying magic and the grown-ups applauding the power of his stories.
Tobo began performing at the Boulder Fringe Festival in 2007, reaching into his bag of tricks to create a different kind of magic show — a show that fools the mind while it inspires the heart. And this year, he returns to Boulder with an even bigger show featuring more magic and more stories.
“Developing for the longer [90-minute] format was a challenge,” recalls Tobo. “I had become adept at constructing a 45-minute or even 60-minute show, but the 90-minute arc was new to me, so I needed to take the show on the road to Santa Cruz.”
Read the rest here: Magician Brings Mystery to the Fringe.
June 21st, 2012 — General
Earlier this week we added about 40 new Chinese miners to the 50 “core” miners with whom I had been working for the last week and a half.
You can watch Oliver Stone’s Platoon, to get a sense of the strain caused by the additon of the FNGs.
In all fairness, the new guys are really nice people and no different than the “core” miners 10 days ago.
But having worked side-by-side as “core” miners for the last 10 days, having learned our roles and how things work on the set, there’s a sense that new guys are dragging us down and making us look bad.
So here’s a catalog of things a new guy should know:
Don’t expect to eat at regular hours. Yes, your first day was particularly brutal (catering ran out of breakfast and then we didn’t break for lunch until late afternoon) but we take our meals when it’s convenient for the director, not when you’re hungry.
Do keep an eye out for Craft Services. They supply us with snacks and beverages between meals, but their whereabouts are not always obvious, so pay attention.
Don’t wander away from your mark. You may have been standing there for 30 minutes without anything happening. Don’t assume that you’re not needed. You never know when they may start shooting again.
If you need to step away to use the restroom or grab a snack, a good time is generally when the crew starts moving lights around.
If you were issued a prop, don’t leave it lying around. It’s not uncommon for the Assistant Director to ask that you grab the prop you had this morning so we can match the shot. You need to take care of your prop. Remember the Extra’s Creed:
“This is my prop. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My prop is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life, etc.”
If you screw up, don’t waste a lot of time apologizing, just get it right the next time. And especially don’t try to apologize if your apology sounds like you’re trying to make excuses. Just get it right.
Follow directions. I know the directions are not always clear. The Assistant Director might say, “You five, come with me,” accompanied by a vague gesture that leaves you unsure of who he was talking to. Just make sure when the AD reaches his destination that five extras have followed him. If he didn’t bother to single out the five people he wanted then he probably just needs five bodies.
Don’t be a scene-hog. If you’ve staked out a plum position with your gorgeous mug facing the camera and the AD tell you he needs to to turn around and walk away from the camera, don’t be bitter. The AD has a film to make, he can’t be worried about your career as a Hollywood star. Accept your fate with Zen-like indifference.
Plus, if your backside was featured walking away in the last shot, the gods may yet smile upon you. The next shot may be a reverse angle that features you walking toward the camera.
The Yin and Yang of film.
But remember, even if you do land a most excellent position, gazing into the camera, you will still probably be: 1) out of focus, 2) out of frame, 3) under-lit, or 4) on-screen for such a short duration that your bountiful talent will go unrecognized.
You’re not a star, you’re background. Just do what you can to help support the film, even if that means standing a half-mile up the road in deep background.
You don’t sit in the chairs marked “Cast,”
You don’t use the restrooms marked “Crew,”
You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger,
And you don’t mess around with Jim Croce…
June 15th, 2012 — General
Johnny Depp walked by me last night.
He was walking about 10 feet away from me, dressed as Tonto.
I saw the back of his head.
Since I started working on The Lone Ranger, people have been asking me, “What is Johnny Depp REALLY like?”
He seemed pretty nice.
Image courtesy of Vectorportal.com licensed: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en
Johnny Depp was spotted on the set last week, but I didn’t see him then.
One person tells me that in between shooting, Johnny Depp came over and stood with the extras, making eye-contact and speaking briefly with them.
Other people present at this Depp-siting dispute that claim, saying that Johnny Depp stood with the extras with his eyes closed as he muttered lines from the script.
Johnny Depp in Rashomon.
When he’s in his Tonto wardrobe, it’s difficult to tell Johnny Depp apart from his photo-double.
A photo-double, I should explain, is a look-alike to the principal actor who is used in many scenes that don’t involve close-ups of the actor’s face.
For example, if the Lone Ranger is talking to Tonto, but we only see the back of Tonto’s head, then a photo-double may be used in place of Johnny Depp.
Or if we see a wide-shot of Tonto riding a horse across a field, then a photo-double can take the place of the principal actor.
I’m beginning to realize that the nature of the extra’s work is antithetical to the work of the principal actor. Extras are hired to be in the background in wide shots, while principal actors are hired for their work in close-up shots.
The extras and the principal actors often inhabit two separate worlds and (thanks to the photo-double) only a small number of scenes require both extras and principals.
A Venn Diagram for my 7-grade Math teacher
Because of the work of our makeup artists, it’s not always easy to tell Johnny Depp’s Tonto from photo-double Tonto.
The cognoscenti tell me that Johnny Depp’s Tonto twitches his nose (a mannerism his photo-double does not employ since his face is never seen close-up). Also Johnny Depp’s Tonto has a more defined jaw-line.
Those less discerning have noted that the Johnny Depp’s Tonto is always escorted by a large group of people, whereas the photo-double Tonto walks the set by himself.
The Tonto who walked past me was accompanied by a large team of assistants, ergo it was really Johnny Depp. My brush with greatness.
This evening as the bus delivered us to the set, there was a small group of devoted Johnny Depp fans waiting outside the gate. They held aloft a poster of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.
And even though it was obvious that Johnny Depp would not be arriving on a school bus filled with Asians, they waved and cheered for us as we entered the set.
And for a moment, we felt famous by association.
June 13th, 2012 — General
Day 5 marked another uneventful day for my team and me. Many other extras are called up to work and have been on set working these last few days. But my comrades and I (about 12 of us) continue to languish in the extra’s holding area where we dream that we are being saved for a special and glorious scene.
On Day 6 our fortunes change. As our shuttle bus arrives on the set we are met by a Production Assistant who tells us to forego “breakfast” and report directly to wardrobe, hair, and make-up. All the Chinese miners are needed on set as soon as possible.
We race to the set to find a wild flurry of activity, and we learn that there are only two kinds of people on the set: the quick and the dead. People zip around in tiny trucks moving platforms and equipment hither and yon. As an extra, your prime directive is to stay out of harm’s way.
But even though we are on set, our waiting is not over. We wait as lights are adjusted, props are swapped, makeup is retouched, costumes are repaired.
And then, after 2 hours of waiting, the Assistant Director singles me out for my moment of triumph.
“You!,” he says, “Come with me, bring that lantern. Start here, then walk this direction until we say ‘cut.’”
I have the audacity to ask, “How fast should I walk?” He replies, “Medium — not too fast, not too slow.” And then he’s gone, off to show another extra where to stand and what to do.
And he now knows that I’m going to be one of those “problem” extras who wants to know what his “motivation” is.
I soon realize that the entire process is in fact, fantastically vague.
Later in the day, after setting up a scene, the Assistant Director gave us this to work with: “Listen up, extras! The gist of this scene is that you are walking along. You look up and see the train and that’s f****d up! All right, let’s shoot this!”
It’s as if they’ve forgotten that we haven’t read the script or seen the story-boards. But more likely, information is provided on a need-to-know basis and we don’t need to know.
When we signed on to this project, we signed non-disclosure agreements to prevent us from revealing the plot. But I can honestly say that despite being on the set of The Lone Ranger, I still haven’t any clue what the plot is.
On the positive side, I thought that the cameras would be a distraction, but much of the time I can’t even see where the cameras are.
Being an extra means that you are in the background (“background” being the other term used to refer to extras) so often we may find ourselves 100 yards away from the camera. A camera could be hidden on the other side of a bank of blinding lights. Or, if multiple cameras are being used some may be concealed.
As an extra, not seeing the cameras means you can just focus on the task at hand: “Start here, then walk this direction until we say ‘cut.’”
When I decided to be an extra in The Lone Ranger, I assumed that my acting experience would be helpful. But that’s really not the case. All you need to do to be a good extra is follow directions as precisely as possible.
In reference to Jack Kerouac’s unedited stream-of-consciousness novel, “On the Road,” Truman Capote supposedly said “That’s not writing, that’s just typing.”
Well, when you work as an extra, “That’s not acting, that’s just walking.”
June 8th, 2012 — General
The next couple of days are less chaotic than our first day of shooting as we begin to establish our routine.
Day Three: The bus picks us up at 6:30pm, takes us to Creede, where we check-in, dine at the burger wagon, go through wardrobe, hair & makeup. And having transformed ourselves into well-fed Chinese mine workers — we wait.
The waiting is better organized tonight. We wait inside in a well-lit, well-heated room. We are well removed from the set, but for those lucky few who are called into action, a shuttle van is available to whisk them off for their moment of glory.
For those of us who are left behind to moulder, we discover that Craft Services has not forgotten us. An ice chest with cans of soda and a crate filled with cookies and crackers has been dropped at our door-step.
Our holding area is much more conducive to waiting than the cold, dark backstage area of the previous night and we amuse ourselves while we await our call, comfortable in a pleasant purgatory.
I should mention that my skill as a magician has been put to good use. Like a USO performer, entertaining the troops, magic has proven to be a popular way for us to pass the time. But (and my magician friends will sympathize) because of the hand makeup, it only takes a few card tricks to thoroughly ruin a deck of cards.
A dilapidated deck, after one evening's performance
Aside from the magic, we read, we play cards, we chat, we nap, we eat, and most of all we await the call…
And then as the sun begins to rise, they send us home.
Day 4: More of the same. Show up. Get dressed. Wait. And go home at dawn, without ever having faced the cameras.
Many of my fellow extras (and perhaps many of you) wonder why do they go to all the bother and expense to dress us, coif us, make us up, feed us, if they aren’t going to film us? Why not call only the extras you intend to use and let the rest stay home? Isn’t it wasteful to suit up all the extras if you’re only going to use a few?
The answer, I believe, is that it doesn’t pay to be penny wise and pound foolish.
Film-making is a complicated process and a good production needs to be prepared for any contingency. The schedule may dictate that you plan to shoot two scenes using 12 extras, but you bring all 50 extras to the set so you are prepared if/when things don’t go according to plan. The weather may not cooperate, or the special Motion Control camera may be fried, or a principal actor may be sick.
All of these things can be fixed in time, but time is always in short supply on a movie set. So rather than lose a day of shooting, when you can’t shoot the scheduled scene, you prepare to shoot another scene. And then you’re glad you have a stable of extras on call.
After all, compared to everyone else’s salary, extras are cheap (we happen to be making minimum wage). So you may as well have them at the ready, just in case.
June 7th, 2012 — General
I’m awake. Despite having gotten back to the hotel at 5:00am, and fallen into bed exhausted, I can’t sleep any more. It’s only a little before 9:00am.
My hair is still crusted with hairspray and traces of makeup still linger on my face and hands. I couldn’t muster the energy to shower when I got in this morning and fell straight into bed.
Here’s how the day went:
At 5:30pm the Chinese Miners lined up for a shuttle bus to take us from Monte Vista to Creede. An unusual sight for the locals, 50 Asian men congregating in a parking lot. As we waited, the bus driver told stories about a tragic bus crash in Creede that took place 25 years ago. Then he went into his mock flight attendant spiel explaining that, “In the event of a water landing, you’re all screwed.”
I think this guy really enjoys his job for all the wrong reasons.
By 6:45pm we are (safely) in Creede, CO, a small and quaint town, home to about 400 people. And nestled within this town is the set of The Lone Ranger, which constitutes a city unto itself.
We check in and grab a quick bite to eat.
By 7:15pm we are in the wardrobe tent getting dressed. Then we’re hustled off to wigs and makeup where 20 specialist await to style our hair and to apply makeup to our faces and hands.
Film is a literal medium and even the tiniest detail must be right to sustain the illusion.
After makeup and wigs we line up to have dirt rubbed into our clothes. First a rag soaked in mineral oil is rolled in black dirt and the oily mess is used to streak our costumes. Then a guy carrying a feather duster and a bucket of dust applies a light coating of dust so we look suitably gritty. The dusting process is slow and we are queued into a long line.
Having divested myself of any timepiece, I’ve lost track of time, but it must have been about 9:00pm when the dusting procedure was called to a premature close. Dusted or not we were to report to the extra’s holding area for inspection.
Standing in a single row, with our backs to the wall, a woman (whose title I do not know — but who is clearly THE person in charge of our costumes) begins to inspect the work so far, calling out any detail that doesn’t satisfy her discerning eye. “This wig is crooked!” “Why is he wearing that hat? I asked that we not use that style!” “He needs a darker vest!”
And with each pronouncement a costumer scurries over and makes the necessary adjustment.
Once we are satisfactorily attired, the Assistant Director selects who he wants in each scene. We are divided into teams/families and told that these are the people we will be working with for the rest of the shoot.
We begin the hasty march from our holding area to the set. It’s about a half-mile uphill and I’m glad my costume shoes fit well.
Non-disclosure agreement prohibits me from describing the set, but I will pause to say, it is truly stunning the amount of time and energy that was devoted to creating our make-believe world.
NOT the set of The Lone Ranger, but a photo from Disneyland that illustrates my point
And now we wait, divvied up into our teams/families.
And we wait.
After about an hour we are told to vacate the set and we are led to a back-stage area. We are outdoors. It’s cold and dark so portable propane heaters are brought in and we huddle. Craft Services brews coffee and plies us with snacks.
One team of extras is called to the set (but not mine) and we wait some more.
At 1:00am we break for lunch and march back down to base camp. They provide us with disposable aprons to wear over our costumes so we don’t soil them. Given the fact that they began the evening rubbing me down with an oily rag, I’m not sure why they’re worried about my getting salad dressing on my shirt, but they are taking every precaution.
We relax. We dine. And then we march back up to the set.
Once there, a team of makeup artists appears and applies a fresh layer of dirt and grime.
And we wait…until about 3:00am when we are told that we can go home.
We trudge back down to base camp, divest ourselves of our costumes, wash off as much dirt as possible, put on our civilian clothes and board the bus back to Monte Vista. (The bus driver informing us that driving at this time of night is so much more dangerous due to nocturnal wildlife on the roads.)
And at 5:00am I’m asleep in my room.
June 6th, 2012 — General
Here I am. Day One in the sleepy town of Monte Vista, CO. I’ve found the laundromat, a coffee shop that has Wi-fi (I wasn’t expecting that), and my hotel room window looks out on a drive-in movie screen (with in-room audio).
Best Western Movie Manor, Monte Vista, CO
Nice place. Know what I mean?
Things move so slowly around here that the magazines in the laundromat are more than 5-years-old. I saw the cover of this magazine and felt like I had been tossed into a time-warp:
Newsweek, July 31, 2006
I’m in Monte Vista for the filming of The Lone Ranger (with Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer). I will play the uncredited role of “Chinese Miner #18.”
Don’t expect any photos from the set (strictly forbidden) or any juicy gossip (protected by a non-disclosure agreement). But I thought I’d share my personal experience of being a movie extra over the next two weeks.
Here are my observations so far:
First, they film movies at all times of the day. Normal people have fixed notions about what constitutes “working hours.” Not so in the film industry. If you’re shooting on location, you work when the location is available. Or work when the natural light is optimal.
Today our call time is 7:00pm. Which means I’ll probably get back to my hotel room around 4:00am (maybe 8:00am if we go overtime).
When they cast me, the mentioned the possibility of shooting at night. My suspicion is that it’s not just a possibility — it will be the norm.
Second, costumes are decorative but not necessarily functional. I was already well on my way to Monte Vista when I got the message that it gets very cold at night when we’ll be filming. I knew it would be cold at 8,800 feet and I brought warm clothes — but nothing that I could wear under my costume. Had I thought of it before leaving I would have packed something.
So this morning I stopped by the local drugstore and purchased black wool socks, black T-shirts, and black long underwear. Black being the preferred color as it’s the easiest to conceal from the camera. We’ll see if it’s enough to keep me warm tonight.
August 8th, 2011 — General
When it comes to promoting a performance, repetition is your friend.
(Let me say that again…)
It’s important to realize that you message doesn’t always get through. I had dinner with 4 friends to whom I had mailed postcards and only 2 said they received them. What happened to the other 2? Maybe they got lost in the mail, or maybe their spouse threw them away, or maybe they didn’t recognize my face on the front of the postcard and threw it away themselves, or maybe I didn’t have the right address. Quien sabe?
Even people to whom I’ve hand delivered a postcard have said that they’ve misplaced the card and don’t know where to go to get tickets.
All this to say that it pays to repeat.
So one week after I sent out the mailing I sent out an email re-inviting all my friends to come see the show. It’s fast, easy — and compared to the cost of mailing postcards — it’s really inexpensive.
By the way, if you’re reading this before August 27, 2011 there’s still time to catch the show. This show looks like it will be one of my best. You can go to the Boulder International Fringe Festival site to order tickets for Gregg Tobo’s Magic and Prestidigitation Show. (Repetition, remember?)
These days I’m definitely running Alternating Current. Devoting time to marketing/Devoting time to magic.
I’m taking bits of the show out in front of real audience and testing them. I want everything to go wrong that can go wrong, and I want it to happen now instead of in front of a paying audience.
On Saturday, I performed a piece of magic that I’ve now performed 27 times, and something completely novel went wrong. Good. I figured out how to get back on track and salvage the performance, and more importantly I’ve figured out how to ensure that it won’t happen again. You can be a good magician if you never make the same mistake twice.
Meanwhile I’ve also been leaving little stacks of postcards in coffee shops around Boulder. Coffee shops seem to be where people go to learn about event in their community so most shops have a table or bulletin board where you can post (unless it’s a major corporate entity like Starbucks that likes to keep their shops looking uniform).
I’m surprised that I didn’t see more postcards for other Boulder Fringe performers. We’re less than 2 weeks away from opening and I expected to see lots of promo cards. Maybe everyone is late this year, or maybe they’ve decided to bet the bank on that newfangled Social Media.
Either way, I’m fine with that. It leaves the coffee shops wide open for me. (And I’ll be using Social Media too…)
July 22nd, 2011 — Business
I’m staring at a stack of postcards. 360 of them, all addressed and stamped and ready to drop in the mail.
The postcard is my primary means of promoting my appearance at the Boulder Fringe Festival. I hand them out; I mail them; I leave little piles scattered through the coffee houses of Boulder.
Wednesday I gave them out to 16 to some friends at lunch. At dinner I gave out a bunch more, including a stack of 30 to a friend who offered to give them to her friends.
“I measure out my life with postcards.”
Postcards are the ideal medium for a Fringe performer. The schedule for the Fringe Festival is inconsistent (one show is on Thursday at 8:30pm the next show is on Friday at 6:00pm), so it’s helpful to have a printed schedule that you can hand out to people. Anything you can do to help your friends say, “Yes, I can make it on Sunday,” will help boost attendance at your show. I even find room to put a little map on the postcard showing the location of the venue.
By the way, if you are reading this and live in Colorado, please come see the show. It’s a magic show unlike any other, a 55-minute theatrical magic show with storytelling and philosophy, and appropriate for all ages. Go here to see the schedule and buy tickets for Gregg Tobo’s Magic & Prestidigitation Show.
I intended to do my postcard mailing last Wednesday, but encountered a delay. A few months ago I had merged a couple of databases but hadn’t cleaned up the detritus. I didn’t realize how scattered my data had become. Two days later, the list is finally clean, the labels are printed, the postcards stamped, and we’re ready for a trip to the post office.
You should receive your postcard on Monday or Tuesday of next week assuming you are: 1) a friend or client of mine, 2) within striking distance of Boulder, and 3) I have your current address.
If you feel you qualify for a postcard but don’t receive on from me, drop me a line and I’ll make sure you get one for this show and any future shows I produce.
In case you’re in a big hurry to see the postcard, here’s what it looks like:
(The postcard was designed by Holly Crachee of Silverpoint Graphic Design. She designed my postcard last year, too, and I’m always pleased with her work.)
July 19th, 2011 — Business
Here I am. Back to visit my poor neglected blog. It’s been so long since I’ve posted I had forgotten my login information.
I’ve been crazy busy preparing for the Boulder International Fringe Festival. The show (Gregg Tobo’s Magic & Prestidigitation Show) opens in one month and I’m already feeling fatigued as each day is packed with things that must get done.
So I thought, just for posterity, I might use this opportunity to describe what I’m doing each day to prepare for the Fringe. It seems like an ideal blog project and might help me keep track of what I’ve completed and what still needs to be done.
Right now I’m staring at a stack of postcards I had designed to promote my show. They should have gone out in the mail on Monday, but they didn’t. They didn’t go out today either. So it’s a priority for tomorrow. I’ll send out about 300 postcards to my friends, families, colleagues, and acquaintances. I’ve already handed out about 100 to my friends. From now until the show closes you won’t catch me without a stack of postcards in my hand.
I spoke with my designer today about designing a program for the show. The program will serve three purposes: 1) Give proper credit to those involved in the production, 2) Use artwork and a brief blurb or quotation to set the mood for the show, and 3) Provide contact information to encourage people to connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, or web.
I’m keeping a small Moleskein journal to record thoughts and ideas for the show. Wording can be important and I spend a lot of time replaying my latest performance in my head, looking for opportunities to speak with greater clarity and precision. When I think a thought, the journal is there to capture it.
Also, I use the journal to keep a tally of how many times I perform each effect. Based on past experience, I need to log 37 performances in front of a live audience before I can say that I’ve mastered a piece of magic. Why 37? I’m not sure where the number came from, but it’s proven effective. After I’ve performed a piece of magic 37 times, I’ve learned the subtleties of the effect and I’ve been exposed to most of the possible dangers.
Much of the time between now and August 18 will be spent running off to small, inconsequential, venues where I can subject my magic to the only test that counts: performance for a live audience.
(Well that was easier and less time consuming than I thought it would be.)