During yesterday’s hike on Sanitas I enjoyed a long chuckle thinking about the first movie I ever worked on…because getting lost in thought is the only way I can make myself keep running. It was called “A Passion for Justice, The Hazel Brannon Story” starring Jane Seymour and directed by her husband James Keach (the one wearing S&M in Police Academy 4). I was 19, about to start my Junior year as a Journalism Major at UGA, and chomping at the bit to get on a movie set…even if it required hand washing Jane Seymour’s bras every night at 2 am.
As I said, it was the summer before my Junior year and I was juggling summer classes, technical directing the “Syndicated (to three whole other Universities) “UGA University News”, working on weekends as a production assistant for local television commercials and interning 40+ hrs a week for “Between The Lines”, the public affairs show for TBS… yes I did see Ted Turner and Jane Fonda on a regular basis and I will forever be a HUGE fan of both! Did you see Jane on the Golden Globes this year? – HOT!!!
Before telling you about the movie I have to share a little about the internship at TBS… because this is how my thoughts ramble when I’m running.
As the intern I was at the mercy of the ladies who ran Public Affairs. Some were fabulous while others (most all of them) forced me to pay for being both younger and firmer with shitty errands and many loooong nights logging painful interview tapes. One of my actual duties was answering all the viewer mail for Karen, the on-air talent (and my first experience with certified insanity) who had developed a pretty strong fan base in cell block 4 of the Kansas State Maximum Security Prison. The prisoners would send her love notes and random questions about her favorite foods and preferred dog names and it was my job to dignify each of their subliminal requests with the answers she would most likely give. Karen was pretty rough on me, perhaps the worst of the nasty women I’ve ever encountered, and I have no shame in admitting that my retaliation against all the shit that whacktastic bitch put me through was to respond to the inmates with long descriptions of eating bananas like a monkey and loving bacon so much she’d be willing to sleep with it (I seriously did). Now that I’m older I should feel bad but in all honesty her vanity loved that her fan base had jumped tenfold for no apparent reason and it gave me a smidge of satisfaction for having to step and fetch for her spiteful disposition. No harm, no foul.
Now to the movie gig…
Early August of that same summer I got a call from a Wardrobe Stylist who was always very generous about letting me assist on commercials when she needed free labor. She was calling to see if I could work as the Second Costumer on a 5 week movie that was about to start, THE VERY NEXT DAY. Without consideration for why I might be replacing someone at the last minute, I jumped at the chance. I knew I’d most likely have to quit University News and that I’d have to beg my professors to start classes late… AND I’d have to fib about my experience as a Second Costumer because I didn’t actually know what one was… but I so desperately wanted to work on a show that I didn’t care about the potential devastation I was bringing into my life, and I agreed to do the job without hesitation.
Not sure why this was put on youtube but here it is for your viewing pleasure!
The pay was $700 / week, flat (read “unlimited hours”) – my mind was blown!! Until this point in my career (s?) the most I had ever been paid was $50/day working golf tournaments on The Miller Cold Patrol – tight skirt, fluffy hair, motorized Keg Cart. If you happen to google “The Miller Cold Patrol” just know that things have definitely changed since my tenure…A LOT! When I was on The Patrol there was no drinking and we were told our pay depended on keeping our weight down and our grades up. From what I can find on the web, this is no longer the case (insert Church Lady voice). It was a cheesy job but it was great pay and helped balance the humiliation of my only payrolled job which was making min wage ($4.85 at the time) at the Creswel Dining Hall serving 3000 students their dinner and then mopping the floors at the end of the night. Needless to say, I was OVER THE MOON with the idea of making enough money for rent and groceries in less than a WEEK!!!
I was told to meet the wardrobe team in a field in Conyers, Ga at 5:30 am the next morning; I’d be dressing extras, organizing laundry and helping the team prep clothes for the cast. It was pitch black when I arrived, there were about 200 people milling around and I was clueless. I asked the first person I saw with a walkie talkie how to find wardrobe and they tossed me in a van and sent me to base camp. At base camp I found the “Extras” trailer and felt a huge sigh of relief…until I opened the door. Inside were piles and piles and piles of clothes, in big heaps, covering the floor and spilling into the well of the steps. There were clothes in the driver’s seat, sticking out of drawers, in the tub, crammed under chairs… it was a major holy shit moment. Come to find out they fired the original Second Costumer late the night before, and apparently she got mad.
As I looked around, clueless as to what I was supposed to be doing, the Key Costumer came into the trailer and let out the longest string of foul language I’d ever heard in my life…and then she looked at me and asked, “Why the hell aren’t you prepping the principle clothes????” It was obvious that no one had shared with her that I had no experience. I was terrified to see her bad side but I knew I’d have to explore the possibility if I was going to sort this craziness out. I clearly remember taking a deep breath to prepare an explanation but she cut me off, and I swear these were her exact words, “That lazy f*cking b*tch! I’m gonna kill her next time I see her!” She looked at me and asked, “You wanna know something? (to this day I thank god that my gut told me it was a rhetorical question) Today is gonna suuuuck!!! Come on… I’ll pull outfits while you prep. We’ve got too much shit to do to be standing around here!”
I followed her to the main wardrobe trailer which was immaculate. It looked like Camille Grammar’s closet (a little plug for Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills!!), complete with shoe racks, floor to ceiling mirrors, a full kitchen and three other costumers… all happy to see the bottom of the chain had arrived. The Key started pulling clothes and something told me to find the iron. I got plugged in and started ironing everything I saw with wrinkles. After the clothes were prepped I helped her carry the outfits to the star trailers (with instructions to keep my mouth shut) and made sure the actors had everything they needed -hose, hankies, socks… panties if they wore them. As soon as we had the Principle Actors sorted the Key looked at me and said “Now go dress the extras”.
I walked to back to the wreck that was the Extra’s trailer and found 125 people waiting for me to give them something to wear. Over the walkie I kept hearing the call for 50 extras and even though I knew it was being directed at me I didn’t know how in the world to make it happen. It was bad. Now’s a good time to share that this movie was set in the 1950’s. Beyond little waists and big hats I knew nothing about the style. All the clothes, accessories, jackets and shoes were vintage, in vintage sizes (in piles on the floor) and I was clueless about street clothes vs. evening wear vs. teen fashion vs. knee lengths vs. grocery clerks vs. minorities vs. whites…all important details I knew nothing about. The hour that followed still remains one of the biggest professional nightmares of my life.
The Extra’s lined up outside the door and started telling me their sizes and favorite colors. I just started pulling clothes out of the piles and giving them to the hands reaching in, in hopes that they’d sort it out for themselves. But it didn’t work. The people started complaining about wrinkles and fit and wrong colors for their complexions and stiff shoes – I was shocked at how little they tried to make the best of an obviously horrible situation. I pleaded with them to make it work (I was the original Tim Gunn) and did my best to keep moving forward but they just kept complaining and refusing to give me any slack. And the entire time I could hear the anger over the walkie as the set was on hold because of me… I was seriously about to cry.
After 45 minutes of marginal success I found myself in a stalemate with a size 12 who was insisting she was a size 6. The woman had come back for yet another option and no matter how much I pleaded she absolutely refused to put on a larger size. I was at the end of my rope and the woman was refusing to let anyone else get my attention when all of the sudden the Key stormed into the crowd and screamed (again, these were seriously her exact words) “GIVE ME A BREAK!!! YOU ARE EXTRAS!!! YOU’LL TAKE WHAT YOU GET AND MAKE IT WORK OR YOU’LL GO THE F*CK HOME!”. Then she turned to Size 12, and without looking away she told me, “Give me that dress” and she gave her the one I had been begging the woman to try and said “You will take this and wear it with a smile or I’m calling your agent and telling her to send me a real size 6”. Next she turned the wrath on me “RULE #1, DON’T MAKE ME LOOK LIKE A FOOL EVER AGAIN!”
Even though it came with the highest level of mortification I was so grateful she had come to the rescue. As she continued throwing outfits out the door she gave me a very loud lesson on dealing with extras. “When they stop being helpful you stop being nice! They don’t tell you what to give them, you tell them what to wear! Even though they act like it, they are not the stars of the show and even if they were we’d still be the ones telling them what to wear! If something isn’t working we’ll fix it later, in the morning your only goal is to get them to set with clothes on!!!” During this time the only acknowledgement she gave the extras was to tell them to bring the clothes back or not get paid. It took her about 20 min to get everyone dressed and as the last person walked away from the door she looked at me and said “never take crap from extras again…now get this trailer organized!” and then she left.
I was certain I would be fired by the end of the night but I channeled my fears into the task at hand and started pushing the piles around to make some room to work. I organized straight through lunch, only stopping when called to prep and deliver the next round of principle clothes and again when I was called to Jane’s trailer to gather her dirty laundry and prepare it for the afternoon pickup (Jane was lovely by the way). After the laundry pickup I returned to my trailer and managed to get the rest of the piles of sorted and hung according to color and size. I’m guessing it was around 8pm when the extras started returning their clothes so I quickly developed a system for checking in the wardrobe and signing pay slips so they could leave as quickly as possible. Once the 125 outfits were accounted for I bundled everything into canvas bags and tossed them out the door for the evening laundry service to take away.
The rest of the night was spent learning how to pull the principle clothes according to scene numbers, prepping the principle outfits for the next morning and then securing the trailers so they could drive down the road without everything falling off the racks. My last job of the day, after I got home at 2am, was to hand wash Jane Seymour’s bras in my mother’s kitchen sink and then dry them with the hairdryer so they wouldn’t lose the signature “50’s perk”. I did this every night for 5 weeks… and every morning I’d wake up to my mother and her friends pawing and petting Jane’s bras and holding them up to their own breasts to marvel at her tiny little bust line.
By the end of the first week I was almost up to speed with set life. I was very privileged in that I ate my lunches at Jane’s table with the other Wardrobe ladies and was given exceptional treatment by the crew as one of “Jane’s girls”. With the exception of a few political things here and there I managed to keep my backside clear and by the end of the movie I was considered a functioning crew member in the Atlanta Film Community. When the show wrapped I was invited to go to LA to work as a Costumer on Jane’s show, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, but I made the decision to finish my degree knowing that I’d be able to continue my career in the film business after I graduated college…and that my parents would kill me if I dropped out.
As for The Key, she remains a good friend who I get to see about once a year… and even though I moved up through the productions ranks and eventually got to a place where I could hire her expertise for film projects, she has never let me live my first real day on a film set down.