Andare, Partire, Tornare


Ok, people, let's make the magic happen!

I should have written my big West Wing entry a little earlier, but I had been talking to so many people about it that I just felt a bit exhausted about the subject. But I do want to make a few comments, because it was a pretty cool experience.

Firstly, I will let everybody know that I didn't gush. That was probably due to the fact that the atmosphere didn't encourage it - no glaring bodyguards surrounding the stars, no hiding in trailers, no dark sunglasses and distant stares. All the major players were right in the mix with everybody else, talking with extras, bumming cigarettes off of crew members, and being very gracious when approached for photos and autographs. They let a couple of fans from the nearby university into the set, and expressed admiration and a little amazement - Martin Sheen asked John Spencer, "When you were their age, was there anybody that you would have waited out in the cold at midnight to see?"

The problem of referral was interesting. The stars refered to themselves as "the players." Most of the time, when talking about them, people called the actors by first and last name - bolder ones, or those who were truly part of the buisness and felt themself on an equal footing, dropped the last name and simply said "Martin," or "Allison," trusting that their listener would know that it was *the* Martin they were speaking of. Nobody made what I assume would be the mistake of referring to the actor by their character's name, and nobody abbreviated - not one "Marty."

The crew was a lot of fun. Collectively, it was like a hive of bees, everybody frantically working to get stuff set up. But when taken individually, every one of them was genial and chatty, ready to talk about how extras have no common sense, bad catering, hack directors, or disasters that had occured on other sets.

Bless 'em, the extras were working really hard, but all for nothing - they will barely be glimpsed in the background of the scene. They were to ask as though they were at a party, and they mingled and chatted and gave air kisses. Some of them were funny to watch - one man kept approaching women to try and kiss them, and they'd pull back, trying to disguise an "ewww" expression on their faces. One woman had the biggest, most fixed glossy smile on her face, and kept losing her velvet wrap down the back of her dress. Another man would walk up to a table and mime picking up a glass from the table and pouring the dregs into his own glass - good behavior for a supposed guest at the White House! The crew does slightly patronize the extras, saying that they have no common sense, ("they come in groups and get treated like cattle, and eventually they start thinking like cattle.") and unfortunately I was witness to some of this lack of common sense. I was helping to hang big signs with bold black arrows saying "This way to the Bathrooms" and watched as extra after extra approached to guessed it...which way the bathrooms were! It's the big group of people thing - a mob is only as smart as its stupidest member. The clever extras who bothered to read the posted signs didn't draw our attention, but the flock of brainless ones did!

Standing outside in the cold, watching the scene play out on the monitors, was absolutely cool. The portico looked gorgeous, with light thrown across the columns and the shadowy figures of secret service men and Marines in dress uniform standing amid them. I could almost forgive the assistant director's constant yelps of, "Ok, people! Let's make the magic happen!"

I expected the night to get more surreal as I got more tired, but it didn't really happen - as the evening got later, and the extras started to droop, our gorgeously decorated room started to seem more comfortable, and more familiar, not more distant and seperated from reality. The smell of roses was everwhere, although the flowers themselves were starting to droop due to the heat of all the big lights. Allison Janney's beaded dress made a rasping sound whenever she walked, dragging the train across the cardboard laid down to protect the floors. Under the silvery dress, she wore big suede and fleece boots, which were only swapped for tall grey high heels when she had to go out and do her scene. People gossiped in corners, or read magazines and did crossword puzzles, or propped themselves against carts to take naps. It was a friendly, bustling work environment where the buisness was creating an illusion - and I liked it better that way because it seemed more honest. That probably doesn't make any sense - all I can explain it as is that these were professional people, who had learned their trade. There wasn't any magic about it - just hard work, dedication, and a talent for it. It was almost comforting in a way. But it does make me a bit wistful...every time I see a handsome young Marine guard on the show now, I'll think to myself, "Ah, but he was just another extra, and I know they don't have any common sense!"

For those who care, I believe the episode that was being taped will air a week from today. Look for columns.

8:31 a.m. - 2002-02-27


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