Mercenary Weekend

(Originally posted 7/21/09)

Mercenary Weekend started for me at 3 o’clock Saturday morning, as I hit the road from Meadville on my way to Buffalo. I was a little bit on the early side, since I didn’t have to be on set for another five hours and it takes half as much time to get there, but this was my film debut (in SLIME CITY MASSACRE, no less) and I was just too keyed up to wait.

The trip was unremarkable but pleasant (the only real sight of interest was a road sign somewhere along I-90 that read CORRECTIONAL FACILITY AHEAD–DO NOT PICK UP ANY HITCHHIKERS). Dawn broke just as I crossed the New York border; it was a very Zen-like feeling cruising along, the interstate to myself, as the day illuminated around me. Looking back, it was almost a good omen of the afternoon ahead.

Got into Buffalo around 7, and found the set with surprising ease. Of course, it helped that director Greg Lamberson posted pre-production artwork on his blog, so I was able to recognize the location. Buffalo, it turns out, is also a remarkably friendly city, as I was sexually propositioned roughly five minutes upon entering the city limits. (Travel tip: women of indeterminate age hanging around a mini-mart at the buttcrack of dawn probably aren’t the best people to ask for directions; they’re apt to ask to bite you.)

“You know what’s so sexy about you?” my would-be paramour asked me. “Your legs.” That’s how I knew she was genuinely crazy, since only a plastic surgeon would find these thunder thighs scintillating. Well, that and she made it a point to repeatedly tell me she had eleven children.

“Why you goin’ to that nasty ole place?” she asked when I pointed out the location.

“We’re shooting a movie there.”

“Oh, you shootin’ a movie? I know where you can get a black girl and a white girl–”

“No, no, not that kind of movie!”

Early or not, I headed to the set (lest I ended up Baby Daddy #12), where I met Production Designer Emil Novak. He was a nice guy, who put me at ease and allowed me to help dress the set while we waited for the crew to arrive.

Once Greg and his camera team showed up, it was time for me to head off with 49 other extras to get dirtied up by the make-up staff. After getting every uncovered piece of skin slathered with “movie dirt” (i.e. regular dirt that was heat-sanitized by the fx guys) I was herded onto the platform set for my first scene.

(A quick word about the location, a long-abandoned train terminal on the outskirts of the city. This place is phenomenal, extremely well-suited for a post-apocalyptic horror film, with an imposing tower that looks like it belongs in Arkham Asylum. Greg got an invaluable amount of production value just by shooting here. So naturally I took a chunk of the platform home as a souvenier.)

The first scene was a simple one: we extras, playing the homeless inhabitants of the terminal, are flushed out by a group of mercenaries headed by Nelson Wakefield (who gives off a nice Tim Thomerson-like vibe in the role). Some words are exchanged with a fellow vagrant, who ends up shot in the head. For a fragment of a scene removed from any context, it’s a pretty cool moment, and I’m sure the final edit will do it justice (and yep, that’s me in the background of the master shot–accidentally on purpose, you could say). I even got to see the fx guys do a blood gag, which one of the fx crew/extras took in the face. That got a round of applause from the cast.

One thing that surprised me most was just how rapidly the novelty of being on a film set evaporated. I don’t know if it was the laid-back, smaller-scaled nature of the production, or the fact that I knew the director, but it wasn’t long before the euphoria of “I’m gonna be in a movie! I’m gonna be in a movie!” gave way to long stretches of tedium as we waited for Greg and his crew to line up their shots. You always hear just how arduous filmmaking can be, but it isn’t until you’re in the middle of it–or on the outside of it, in my case–that you understand the truth of it. Still, Greg’s crew moved fast and the actors were all well-rehearsed; the multiple takes were for coverage, rather than flubbed lines.

Next up, a quick shot as the mercenaries lead us inside the terminal for “processing.” This went by fairly quickly, as we filed in, found our places, and looked scared as certain key actors got their close-ups. But the big, gory death scene I was anticipating wasn’t to be, since once Greg got his shots he cleared us from the set to shoot some scenes with his Slime Heads (aka lead actors).

All was not lost, however, for once the Slime Heads were finished several of us were corralled back inside to film the bloodbath aftermath (actually, I wasn’t initially scheduled to be part of this scene, but the second AD decided to include me; so let this be a lesson–always be on good terms with the second AD).

I gotta tell ya, for my first time dying on camera I really couldn’t have asked for a better scene. Jay, the aforementioned second AD, arranged us in an orgy-pile of dead bodies as one of the fx techs splattered us with stage blood (which of course got in my eye and burned like a motherhuncher, but it looked cool as hell so I soldiered on). So I’m laying with my head in another guy’s lap (it’s okay, he works with my wife!) while a lovely young Goth chick rests her head on my knee. Now, I don’t have the softest knees in the world, so I don’t begrudge her trying to find a more comfortable spot to put her skull; but wouldn’t you know it, she happens to find a cluster of nerves I wasn’t previously aware of somewhere in my shin and decides that is the place to be.

So I lie there, in the lingering aroma of ball-sweat, blood drying on my face, and my left leg numb from the knee down. (I should also mention that at this point I felt the need to expel a little flattus, if you know what I mean.) This of course is the scene that took the longest to shoot. I have no idea what happened, since my eyes were closed for each take–I’m dead, remember?–but apparently it went well, since the crew was happy and some of the actors congratulated us on a good job. Plus, I didn’t blow any Hershey kisses in anyone’s ear.

There it was, my screen debut. While the rest of the crew broke for lunch, I decided to head home for a much-needed shower and nap. After a quick hello to star Kealan Patrick Burke (the award-winning author of THE TURTLE BOY), I went over to thank Greg for allowing me to be part of his show. At the risk of sounding corny, the warm thank-you he gave me was the highlight of the day.

Of course, the location didn’t have any place to wash my make-up off, so I figured I’d drive home with it on. The look on the toll collector’s face was definitely worth it. “You think I look bad?” I told him. “Wait’ll you see what waits for you in the Suburban four cars back.”



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