A Day in "the Life"
Alarm set for 6:45am for a 9:30am call. Certainly not bad considering I often get up at 3/4am for 5/6am calls, except that it’s rush hour in NYC. My favorite. My recent forced move added 10 minutes to my walk to the subway. A five versus 15-minute walk makes a world of difference I’m learning and it’s not even winter yet so I’m doomed. The current pro is I get extra steps/exercise each day. The con is that I am a sweaty mess by the time I get on the train. NYC has also turned me into a power walker, which doesn’t help my cause. I think today is the day I realized it was a problem when a man on the train made eye contact with me and pointed at his chin. Weird things happen in New York all the time so I shot him a confused look but when he did it a second time, I realized he was trying to tell me something about my chin. Sure enough, when I touched my chin, I felt a significant pool of sweat. Great. Looking back, I think this was pretty good foreshadowing of the day to come.
“But you’re standing in on a commercial today!” others in my line of work would say. It’s like winning the lottery in SI/BG work. People literally ooh and ahh when you tell them you’ve booked such a gig. Not because it’s glamorous. Because it’s good money and commercial jobs are hard to come by. This day was far from glamorous. When I arrived 5 minutes early, I was told they needed me on set immediately, sans breakfast, which happens to be my favorite meal and I’m not sure if they’ve heard but it’s also rumored to be the most important meal of the day. I never really got a chance to stop sweating cuz my commute involved 15 minutes power walking to the train, an hour standing on a crowded train with little to no AC, then more power walking from the train to holding. But I smile and nod, sure! Who needs breakfast? Let’s get right to work.
I spent the next several hours on my feet, rehearsing shots as the stand in for a well-known talk show host with no water, no breaks, and seemingly no appreciation. Communication and power struggles trickle down, I get conflicting orders, very little trust, and a good dose of man-handling. It also dawned on me that these people are taking this and themselves way too seriously. It’s a commercial and a mostly comedic one at that. The first AD asked me if I had been sent a script (which I had not and just the thought made me internally laugh a little), then proceeded to walk me through where to get one and how to interpret it as if I’m a child and this is my first time standing in. “Are you okay with this, whatever your name is? Make sure you know it.” Meanwhile, the actress has cue cards and a teleprompter.
When the camera operator and director were talking about lighting for one of the shots, the camera op said, “yeah, it’ll be good. Our stand in, I forgot her name, doesn’t have makeup on.” Huh? Yes, I do. Or I did. Maybe I sweat it all off? He knows I can hear him, right? Did I mention there was no AC in this tiny coffee shop full of crew and lights and equipment? And I made the genius decision to wear pants with no pockets on a day where the actress has to pull a phone out of her pocket. Of course she does.
Finally, lunch. I’m starving since I didn’t get breakfast and dehydrated since I didn’t get water. But I’m also standing in for the tiniest human I’ve ever seen. So, salad it is. I’d love a cup of coffee but I can’t afford to sweat anymore, plus I have an important errand to run. I promptly search BOA locations near me and hustle with my half hour to get a cashiers check to pay my rent.
With my remaining 2 minutes until we’re back in, I hurry and pee because God knows this will probably be my only chance for the rest of the day. You see, there’s an ongoing dilemma of needing coffee and water to stay awake and hydrated for long days on set but not wanting to have to use the bathroom because the exact second you run to the restroom, they will surely be looking for you. And we’re in! Now comes the awkward moment when the REAL actress comes in to replace you and you become very aware of the contrast in treatment. Cue the ass-kissing and continuous laughter over things that aren’t even funny. Except for her joke about her botox, that was funny. Or was it?
The actress thanked me and was very pleasant with everyone throughout the shoot. I now get a break but stay close, in the coffee sauna, I mean shop, which has gotten even hotter since we’ve added crew (the hair and makeup team, producers, and more important people that I’ll never meet) and turned off all ACs and fans for sound purposes. I finally get a chance to check my phone and see an e-mail from my NYC manager about an audition - a self tape for a feature film. Score! Scroll down...due by 10am tomorrow. Deep breath. Maybe three deep breaths. Since I have an early call time for work the next morning, this means I must tape, edit, and submit it tonight whenever the fuck I end up getting home. And the million dollar question...how many lines must I speed memorize? Last time was 7 pages. Phew. Today is two short scenes about 5 lines each. Let’s get to learning!
Every time they complete a shot, I stand up ready to take over for the actress. Sometimes they want to use me, sometimes they don’t but I sure as hell better be there just in case. But I also better stay the fuck out of the way. The delicate balance. At one point, the first AD tells me to go relax upstairs in holding and I am very surprised. Two minutes later, I hear him asking for me over the walkie and I jet back down. “Oh, there you are,” says the Director. Internal eye roll. I spend the rest of the day making myself available, learning my lines, nursing a headache from heat and dehydration, and searching for water which is nowhere to be found. We wrap around 7:30pm and I’m beat. Suddenly starving and parched, I wish I could just fly or teleport home rather than embark on this commute.
As I enter my destination in google maps, I notice the Director outside next to me. I contemplate saying thank you and goodnight but he seems busy and important and pretty content on avoiding eye contact with me. Fuck it. I go on my way. Power walk to the train and get a seat! Success! Remember I packed an emergency snack and bottle of water in my backpack. Double winning! See? I am smart after all.
About 20 minutes into my ride, a guitar starts strumming. A young man breaks into Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with such soul and passion, I close my eyes and feel tears welling up. The “bad” moments of my day suddenly disappear and I find myself thinking, this is what it’s all about. As he finishes the song, I am overwhelmed with emotion and kick myself for not carrying cash. I am just three stops from home when the train announcement comes, “This train will be going express.” Since express means past my stop, I am forced to get off and wait for another train. Suddenly I’m transported back to NYC reality. So close.
Finally, I arrive at my apartment and begin mustering up the energy to freshen up my hair and makeup (or I guess just re-apply at this point) and film my audition when I desperately want to shower, drink wine, and pass out. “You’ve got this, you’re almost there,” I encourage myself. I do what feels like a decent job, a few takes of each scene and sit down to edit. I watch my audition back and find myself criticizing everything about myself. It and I don’t feel good enough. I can’t pinpoint why or where this is coming from but wonder if it’s related to the nature of the business. I think about all of the covert (and overt) messages I received just today that might have contributed to feelings of self-consciousness and inferiority and how those might add up over time.
I edit and submit the takes I think are best even though I’m not feeling great about them and try to let it go. I practice some of my self care strategies including positive affirmations and decide some rest will be my best medicine tonight. Today was a FULL day. A prime example of how one day in NYC can feel like a week. As soon as my head hits the pillow, I’m out.
I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m complaining. The truth is, I feel completely lucky and grateful for what I have and this adventure I’m living. I look around and take it all in and have to pinch myself to make sure it’s real. I’m just tryna capture a piece of the hustle that is this time in my life.
Photo by: Darin Back Photography
Hair/Makeup by: Bangz Park Ave Salon in Winter Park, FL.