By Chris Miskiewicz
I awoke today without an alarm, but instead a strange humming noise that went through the bedroom shaking ripples into the water glass beside the bed. I thought that it was strange that the glass was still full since Ghost Cat has developed a tendency as of late to put her paws in glasses and knock the contents out so she could run around and examine the spill. But we all know that cats are jerks.
I blinked my eyes, stared at the ceiling and slowly began to knit together who I am, what I do, and where I’m supposed to be. It was at this point when I rose like lightning out of bed ready to run my daily race.
“Where-do-I…” I muttered as one word, never finishing the sentence because I realized I had the day off.
For the last eighteen weeks I’ve been living on a film set. Rising as early as four in the morning to run out of my apartment half dressed, get on a bicycle, and ride to the stage or some unknown location that will undoubtedly involve a moldy church basement, which will double as holding for extras and catering. This will be where I live for twelve to sixteen hours before getting back on my bike and returning home to do it again the next day.
My primary job for the last two years has been working as a Stand-In for principle actors. No one outside of the business understands what this is. My job is to watch everything that the guy I’m standing in for does during his rehearsal, and then copy his moves, his lines, and how he did his actions for the crew to set up lighting, and for the camera department to figure out the dance that they’re going to do when they film. I always say dance because a lot of what they do with track, sliders, and positioning is just that, a slow dance to capture small motions that the actor may or may not do. If this were theater, I’d be his understudy. But since this is TV or Film I’m simply called Second Team, a term that I now hear in my sleep.
Like most film jobs it doesn’t take an incredible amount of intelligence to do the gig, but it does take a certain amount of superhuman endurance to deal with the hours, weather, and constant chatter of people around you.
My average day goes like this.
I wake at five-ish, turn the coffee pot on, fake shower, drink the coffee, throw my computer, extra clothes, and a handful of comic books into my bag, then rush out of the house on the bike listening to Big Linda’s “Get It While You Can” because it’s a good riding song. I get there on time, wherever “there” will be, despite rain, snow, or hellfire. I check in with production, get a voucher, get my sides for the day, which are the scenes we’re filming. Then I attempt to beat the other exhausted members of the crew to the breakfast truck so I can order something with eggs that was made with far too much butter for the human body to ingest in a week. I rush to set eating with one hand while circling the lines of whatever character I’m standing in for. Number six. Number thirty-two. Number Twelve. It doesn’t matter. They’re all me. I watch the rehearsal, and then go and do whatever my character did a half dozen times for camera with the rest of Second Team. I memorize the lines, which tends to take me ten to fifteen minutes cold, meaning without ever having seen them before, depending on the scene. Once I’ve done my job and everything is set, the actors come back in and do theirs. I go to a monitor and watch the first and second shot to see any changes, and wait for this portion of the scene to be finished before they turn around and need me to do what I did again.
You see, the wait is why I took this job. The wait can be an hour or ten minutes, but the wait is also paid waiting where I use the time to write. See, I learned a few years ago that writing requires sitting, and thinking, and typing, and no one pays you to burn through time like that unless you were hired to sit, and think, and type in your sweatpants. So I’ve found a corner within this position to make words happen.
Over the last two years I’ve been known as the guy in the corner of the room, or stairwell, or curb, or church basement, apartment complex, tower, van, subway tunnel, freezing factory, who’s got his laptop on his knees typing on something. Yes, it’s usually a comic book script or proposal. But it’s also evolved into a weekly short story (Which you are reading. Which was also written in this manner.) a novel, and sometimes sound design on a podcast when I’m not in the next scene. Usually someone who knows me will come up and ask, “What are you writing?” I love this as opposed to subnormal background actor number 383 asking “Did you get a WiFi signal?” His time, spent very differently than mine.
I tend to average around six pages on a twelve-hour day, which is terrible, but also impressive with the amount of distractions that are around. The other guys in my department, Second Team, have been a great help. They leave me alone, ask what I’m writing, let me go weird talking about half stories they don’t know just so I could work something out. We chat about shorts that we’ve been filming on the weekends. The weekends where we have 48 hours to ourselves to do everything we need to before the 72-hour work week begins again at 4:35 AM on Monday. All in all it’s like being in An Army for the Arts, powered by twenty cups of coffee a day. In between the shots. In between runs to get more coffee. In between the craft service guys bring sandwiches around. In between glancing at Facebook on my dying iPhone to see what’s happening to people I know who aren’t on a set.
So, I rise on this rare day off and think about the several thousand things that I’d like to accomplish. I make coffee, because I now only run on coffee. And then I remember that I have an audition at noon where I need to show New York Casting Director number 493 that I can play guitar and sing words that I didn’t write. To prepare for this I begin playing air guitar with Ghost Cat, stretching her out from head to hind legs and rocking out with her in front of a mirror while she mews. (It’s fine. She digs it.)
It’s then when I got dressed, throw my guitar on my back, grab my bike and leave the house only to find that the humming noise I heard in bed was a generator that was parked in front of my building for the TV show Blue Bloods who had once again set up shop on my block to film in The Palace Bar on the corner.
I stood there blinking for a moment.
“Oh God,” I muttered. “I’m living on a film set.”