Photo by James BunoanExtras are the Lowly Worms of the movie industry—more pathetic even than production assistants, writer's assistants and, I'd like to think, the "best boy." Who named his job?
So maybe it's to be expected that the prospect of waiting hours to try out—for a part that'll be shorter and less significant than their actual audition—turns would-be extras into big, quivering, honey-glazed hams. Just in time for Easter.
This I learned on a recent Saturday in North Long Beach—right on the Formica sand—when I auditioned to be in the new Lords of Dogtown movie. It starts shooting April 2, with Huntington Beach standing in for the old Santa Monica Pier, and features Aussie hottie Heath Ledger in the lead.
My audition lasted five minutes, but I'm used to rejection. Unlike everyone else.
The madness began at the beginning, when the head casting person told a group of us she was looking for people who could skate dry swimming pools. It was the Dogtown 101 lecture—how they were a crew of Venice skaters who revolutionized the sport in the '70s, how they skated pools emptied by the drought, how they paved the way for skating's first octogenarian, Tony Hawk.
So, the casting person said, "we're really interested if you can do pools."
Behind me in the ancient, dimly lighted VFW outpost where they held this roundup—so old it had a framed Bill Mauldin World War II cartoon on the wall—a voice piped up: "Are you talking about swimming, or pool tables?"
She was Sunday Burke of Calabasas, a short-tempered, 40-ish Asian woman in a black, hand-crocheted, floppy hat. Like several others in this initial group of 20-some early risers, she said that being an extra was one of her primary sources of income.
I weighed her competition, mostly portly men, graying at the temples. In the past, they'd played lawyers, but today they were trying out for tourists, in tired Hawaiian shirts and ill-advised shorts and flip-flops. I could feel an air of futility and sameness descending.
Many hopefuls, like fresh-faced ex-New Yorker Joey Martin, were in their 20s and actually dug the '70s. Martin dressed the part, right down to thrift-store wedgie sandals.
But most of the extras hadn't seen the essential Dogtown and Z-Boys documentary and didn't know Venice from Midway City. It was a little unsettling that people so clueless about this quintessentially Southern Californian subculture had driven from as far away as San Luis Obispo to try out for a movie about it.
And they were cranky besides.
"You guys think you're all teenagers, but you're not," a septuagenarian actress lectured half a dozen skaters her grandson's age, who were ollie-ing off of people's cars in the parking lot, trying to warm up on stiff vintage skateboards they'd lugged from San Diego County. She wore an embroidered, blue chambray housedress: "A real 1970s dress," she confided sternly, but her hair was a wig, 'cause "they don't like me in my hair, even though I have more than you do."
I took her word for it; there's nothing worse than looking at sweaty wig head. And I backed away, bumping into totally extreme skater dude Angelo Ciaramitano, a shaggy, blond Spicoli riding a vintage board in full sun—wearing a thick thrift store sweater, shredded Levi's and torn Vans.
Watching him (a) almost face plant on a metal shipping container; (b) trip while trying to execute a jump; and (c) nearly kill our photographer in the process, I wondered, doesn't he ever get hurt?
"Oh, he gets hurt all the time," his bud, surfboard shaper Kevin Shaughnessy, said, to my great relief.
But falling is like a Zen thing, Ciaramitano explained, perspiring profusely.
"All you do is go," he said, unmindful of his resemblance to Patrick Swayze's character in Point Break. "If you fall, rest and breathe a little bit and you go back."
A guru of grind, Ciaramitano drew a crowd in just the couple of minutes we spoke. His skater buds and a couple of pretty girls in tight T-shirts hung on his words, poised to see what he'd do next. They could have been watching Hawk pull the 920.
And I made the mistake of doing what I'd been doing all day: Playing straight man. Maybe that's the special talent I should have listed for the casting people.
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"How old are you?" I asked Ciaramitano, figuring him at around 24.
"I'm 18," he said, instantly correcting himself with the catlike reflexes that let him scope some tasty nugs and weeze the juice at the same time, bud-dy.
"Well," he amended, indicating the hottest girl on the tarmac, "it depends on how old she is."
He's perfect. He's mine. I own him. If you wanna cast him, you gotta go through me.