Sunday, 28 September 2014

Drama Queens and Castings Take Two


Last Saturday my daughter and I wept for England in the graveyard of a London church.  It was awful.  Really emotional.  Which is saying something when the funeral was nothing more than a bit of acting, and the ‘deceased’ was a carpet of fake turf and two bags of compost from B&Q.
          ‘Eleanor to Make-Up,’ came the call, as my daughter was chivvied onto a collapsible stool.  A make-up artist, tools strung around her torso in a multi-pocketed apron, began whizzing brushes all over my daughter’s naked face.  After three hours of standing around doing nothing, suddenly it was all go, go, go!
          ‘Sorry to do this,’ the make-up artist apologised as she turned Eleanor’s face grey, ‘but we need you looking really rough.’
          ‘I thought I looked rough already,’ Eleanor lamented, her complexion stripped of its usual glamourous cosmetic layers.
          ‘Not nearly rough enough, but don’t worry,’ the make-up artist assured as she added the appearance of tear-streaked mascara to Eleanor’s cheeks, ‘we’re getting there.’  Next a dab of pink powder to rim her eyes for that super-sore I’ve-been-crying-for-days look.  The whole thing was topped off with dabs of rose powder around the nostrils to give the appearance of a hooter that had recently seen more tissues than a Kleenex factory.  ‘Perfect,’ the make-up artist stood back, ‘you look absolutely dreadful.’
          ‘Awful,’ I agreed, standing from my viewing position, ‘but in the nicest possible way,’ I assured the make-up artist.
          ‘Eleanor to the graveside!’ came another shout.  ‘Now then,’ said a blonde director by the name of Jo, who I later found out worked for Saatchi and Saatchi.  She was surrounded by a crew of ‘gofers’, cameraman and a soundman. ‘I want you to look shocked, horrified, you name it, and to say, “We didn’t mean it…not like this.”  Others were directed to stand close to the grave...the distraught parents – who had only met that morning – along with a group of actor school friends (who were more interested in talking about the recent X-Factor auditions), and finally crowd people.  The director looked about.  ‘We need more crowd people.  Excuse me,’ she looked at me, ‘can I borrow you for a moment?’
          ‘Me?’ my mouth dropped open.
          From her position beside the grave, Eleanor’s red-rimmed eyeballs met mine.  She gave me a warning look.  Absolutely not!  Say no!
          ‘Well I’m not sure, I don’t have any acting exp–’
          ‘That’s fine,’ said Jo, ‘I just need you to look miserable for a couple of minutes.’
          ‘Oh, that’s easy,’ I smirked and took my position by a tree.  After all, my kids were always telling me my expression was one of either disgruntled or miserable.  I could sense Eleanor’s alarm.  Her embarrassing parent was now going to be in an advert.  Why couldn’t I have just remained on the other side of the camera being an embarrassment over there, well out of sight of the fake headstones?  I studied the props from my tree position.  They were very realistic.  Even from this short distance they looked like lichen-covered concrete slabs and polished granite.  The giveaway was behind them, wooden spoons and other gimmicks holding them upright and in place.  The inscriptions were very unique.  Whoever had been tasked to make them had amused themselves whilst toiling away.  1509-1979 ~ Here Lies a Goddess and I’ll be back…as Rain Man.
          And speaking of rain, a flurry of ominous looking clouds were gathering.  The morning had started off in a blaze of sunshine and I had optimistically worn a cotton dress.  As a stirring wind whipped through the fake graveyard, polystyrene headstones took off and my thin dress flapped about my bare legs.  I shivered and took solace knowing that the director had assured the scene wouldn’t take long.
          Forty-five minutes later I was still standing there and absolutely frozen.  The heavens had opened and a gofer had been dispatched for a dozen black umbrellas.  Crew members were now erecting what looked like a pop-up marquee to protect equipment.
          ‘Do not move,’ came the instruction, ‘we don’t want to lose position.’
          One by one, the actors turned blue.
          ‘And…action!’
          ‘We didn’t mean it…not like this,’ Eleanor sobbed.
          ‘Keep repeating it, leaving a gap of a few seconds.’
          ‘We didn’t mean it…not like this…we didn’t mean it…not like this…we didn’t mean it…not like this.’
          From my tree, I stifled a yawn, shivered and maintained an expression of abject misery.  Which was extremely easy by this point.
          ‘Excellent,’ said Jo.
          Thank God, I heaved a sigh, and made to move towards my bright pink coat laying under the pop-up marquee (which naturally I’d been banned from wearing as it was too cheerful in colour – the coat that is, not the marquee).
          ‘Nobody move!’ the director ordered.  ‘We’re now going to do close-ups on faces.  Eleanor, get ready to say your lines again.  Just keep repeating them over and over, as before.  And…action!’
          ‘We didn’t mean it…not like this…we didn’t mean it…not like this…we didn’t mean it…not like this.’
          ‘Sniff,’ said the director, ‘now shake your head.  More tears please!’  The make-up girl was summoned and blew crystal something-or-other in everybody’s faces.  There were howls of complaint as eyes stung and watered.  ‘Do NOT wipe those tears!  And…action!’
          ‘We didn’t mean it…not like this…we didn’t mean it…not like this…we didn’t mean it…not like this.’  Snort, sniff, shudder, shake.
          I clung to my tree for warmth and thought longingly of hot chocolate, jeans and a sweater.
          ‘Well done everybody,’ said the director, ‘the next bit will be shot in a house.’
          Everybody sighed with relief.  The house turned out to be the director’s own home, a beautiful revamped Victorian terrace in trendy Islington complete with an ecstatic young beagle to greet us all.  After hot cups of tea, everybody got into position.  Eleanor sat on the stairs with a laptop for a prop, appearing to pick up a stream of abuse from a cyber-bully.  From the depths of my handbag, I discreetly pulled out my iPad.  How exciting – I’d be able to show the family how it was all done! The sound man was hanging off the staircase with a vast fluffy microphone on a boom stick, and there were huge lights shining all over the place.
          ‘And…action!’
          I held my breath and started filming.
          Five minutes later Jo gave the thumbs up.  ‘That was wonderful.  Thank you very much for coming along today.’
          ‘Guess what, guess what!’ I said excitedly to Eleanor as we headed home in the car.
          ‘What?’
          ‘I managed to film a bit of you on my iPad.  Reach onto the back seat and grab my handbag.  Have a look and tell me what you think!’
          Eleanor made a long-arm and grabbed the iPad.  She leant back and pressed the play button.
          ‘Brilliant, Mum.’
          ‘Is it good?’ I grinned.
          ‘If you like that sort of thing.’
          We ground to a halt at some red traffic lights.  ‘Why, what’s wrong with my filming?’
          ‘Look,’ my daughter showed me.
          ‘Oh,’ I said in disappointment, ‘I didn’t press the red button properly.’
          ‘Mm,’ Eleanor agreed, ‘so consequently, when you thought you were pressing stop, you instead pressed start. 
          I stared in dismay at my epic piece of filming…peoples’ feet, flashing wooden floorboards, somebody’s handbag – ah, mine – the legs of a coffee table, and a beagle’s bottom.  Oh well.  Which reminds me.  Did you hear about the young lad who landed his first part in a play?  He was playing the part of a man who’d been married for thirty years.  ‘Keep at it, son,’ said the boy’s dad, ‘and maybe one day you’ll get a speaking part…’

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