Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Making Lemonade

So I show up at the studio for Major Restaurant Chain, and pretty quickly things go sideways. I was actually early, so I spent 45 minutes or so just going over the script incessantly so I'd have it down cold. At 8:30am the director wants to see me so I can walk the set and get acquainted with what I'll be doing. Funny thing is, he keeps referencing lines in the script that aren't there, a la "here's your spatula for when you talk about flipping burgers". Burgers? What burgers? I don't mention burgers at all.

You guessed it -- they'd changed the script. Like, radically. Somehow the changes didn't get communicated to me, so here I am having memorized a script that basically didn't exist anymore. Fortunately, I'd heeded the note from my agent to "bring your Ear, just in case", because now I really needed it.

The Ear, for those who don't know, is shorthand for "ear prompter". In its most basic form, there's a wireless receiver that plays into an earpiece. You see broadcasters wear 'em all the time. That clear plastic tube that coils up the back of their neck and goes to one of their (real) ears? That's so a director or prompter in the booth can talk to them, telling them to go to commercial or bailing them out if things go wong. For the type of job I was doing today, the wireless receiver is replaced by a tape recorder which plays back to an antenna fashioned into a loop, which is then worn over one shoulder under my clothes. The broadcaster's earpiece is replaced by a wireless hearing aid, which is tuned to the frequency at which the antenna is broadcasting. And what's being broadcast into my ear? A tape of myself, reading the script. It's kind of bizarre, actually, and most actors require a certain amount of training in order to perform well using this device. Why? Because it's difficult for most people to listen to something in one ear and then repeat it verbatim out loud, just 1 or 2 seconds behind the tape, without looking glassy eyed... or like they're concentrating hard... or like they know what they're actually saying.

So I go downstairs, virtually undress completely so I can put the antenna on, then look for a quiet place where there aren't people talking on cell phones (an irritating habit a lot of actors have while they're waiting to be used) so I can spew the new script onto my recorder. Back upstairs, and we did 3 or 4 takes until we realized that the pacing of the script, as I'd recorded it, wasn't going to work. Back downstairs, re-record it, then upstairs again, this time with my pause switch (it's a little on/off switch that snakes down one sleeve or out of one pocket that allows me to halt the playback for a moment if needed). As it turns out, it was needed, and it was kind of tricky flipping the switch at the right moments without the camera seeing.

Still, by Take 8 we'd actually shot something that could be used (and 2 of the previous takes had been bad for lighting & camera reasons), so I was beginning to feel like maybe I shouldn't punish myself for not having practiced my Ear technique for nearly a year. Of course, as soon as I thought that, the next take sucked, but Take 10 was "da bomb", and both crew and client were laughing at the playback and clapping afterwards. Mission accomplished and, surprisingly, on schedule (they'd allotted until Noon to shoot my section, and that was precisely the time we finished).

Home now and, as usual after one of these high-concentration gigs, I'm exhausted. Off to bed for a nap...

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