I’m writing from the set of The Good Wife on this fine winter’s day. I’ve worked this show several times and it’s one of my favorites. At least, it’s one of my favorites to work because while I’m told it’s an excellent show, I’ve never actually seen it. I can say with authority that they have a great crew, a fantastic set and most importantly, they always hire the best catering company and the craft food services table is second to none.
However, today we are not in the studio. We’re shooting on location somewhere out on Long Island which sucks because this crew isn’t great at location shoots. It’s not terribly surprising if you think about it. The Good Wife is a workplace drama, therefore roughly eighty-five percent of scenes take place on their incredible set. In the studio, these guys are a well-oiled machine, but like anything else, when you take them out of their element things can get a little hairy.
This particular shoot is going to be a really long day. I just found out that I probably won’t even be going to set until this evening. Why I had to be on a bus to Long Island at 5:45am I’ll never know. But whatever the reason, the end result is that I’m going to spend a lot of time in holding this afternoon.
What is holding, you ask? Well, I like to think of holding as a kind of day care center for background actors, but whereas day care centers are comprised of cozy, brightly colored rooms filled with toys and nap mats where a nice teacher named Miss Crissy gives you snacks, the background holding area is typically located in an abandoned warehouse or dingy church basement full of uncomfortable folding chairs where angry, unkempt productions assistants yell at you all day and try their hardest to keep you away from the snack table.
Today we’re holding in a vacant office park. It’s a bit stark, but at least it has heat (unlike many of the churches/warehouses), clean bathrooms and plenty of outlets to accommodate the post-lunch stampede of frantic actors desperately clutching the chargers of their mostly dead smart phones. Suffice it to say, I’ve had worse.
But when you’re stuck in the same (often too small) room for upwards of twelve hours, you’ve got to find a way to make do. For instance, I’ve fallen asleep in the following inappropriate places:
* in a chair outside of The Gap at the Queens Mall at three o’clock in the morning
* on a bench at Greenpoint Park
* on the floor of the Brooklyn Museum in the middle of the afternoon…while wearing a ball gown.
On rare occasions the holding area can be really fun…
Like the time all of the background actors had to self-report to set with their cars so there was no holding area. We were filming at a Park and Ride on Staten Island on a gorgeous day and we got to hang out on the grass or in our cars all day. One guy had huge subwoofers in the back of his truck and a few other people had frisbees and whiffle balls and stuff, so in between takes the whole place turned into a giant picnic. It was super fun.
Or there was the time we were filming on a boat on the Hudson River. It was for a booze commercial and when the shoot was over we got to enjoy the rest of the cruise AND drink the leftover booze! (Okay that last bit isn’t entirely true, but it would have been awesome if it was.)
Frequently, for large-scale outdoor shoots, the holding area is just a giant tent in the middle of a field. This is always an unfortunate situation because not only are you at the mercy of the elements, but there are no (or precious few) cell phone charging stations.
Other times the holding areas are just downright strange.
A few years ago I was working on the show Gossip Girl. We were filming a party scene (I’m pretty sure that’s the only kind of scene they had on that show) in an old bank in Brooklyn and the holding area was in the vault. Picture it: over two hundred background actors crammed into (an admittedly large) bank vault for three, fourteen-hour days. It was miserable. And cold. And loud. It was like a giant echo chamber with no cell phone reception. That was one of the worst shoots I’ve ever been a part of. I took a sabbatical from BG work after that one.
I had another strange one just last week. We were filming at a bar in Brooklyn Heights, but because it was so cramped in there we had to use the funeral parlor next door as our holding area. This is what I saw as soon as I walked in:
Five minutes later, it looked like this:
It wasn’t at all weird to think about the fact that I was applying my lipstick at the same table that only yesterday had been used to hold up somebody’s dead grandmother’s coffin. Not weird at all.
Perhaps the most common on-location holding areas are bars and restaurants. I’ve been to some of the swankiest restaurants in Manhattan, just not as a customer. Well, not a real one anyway. I’ve ‘eaten’ at The Plaza Hotel, The Jane Hotel, Giando On the Water, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, et al…
The most memorable of these occasions was the day I was playing the hostess at what was supposed to be a fancy country club in the Hamptons, but was actually Delmonico’s, one of the most famous restaurants in NYC.
I wearing really uncomfortable, super high heels and because I was playing the hostess I was on my feet for the entire shoot. To add insult to injury, we were shooting on one of the hottest days of the year and apparently the ambient noise from the air conditioner was too loud for the sound guy’s taste so they turned it off. Needless to say, by the end of the day my feet were hot, sweaty and swollen. Not to mention sore.
When they were done shooting my scene (I say ‘my’ because if that scene wasn’t all about my superior hostessing skills, then I don’t know what we were doing there) they still had another scene to shoot in a different part of the building. In their infinite wisdom, the crew decided to start setting up their next shot before dismissing the background, even though we weren’t needed for that scene. That’s usually not a problem, except the room where they chose to film the next scene happened to be the same room we had been using as a holding area.
[Note: We (the BG) didn’t just collectively decide to dump all our crap in this particular room. It was our specifically designated holding area, which made production’s decision to shoot in there doubly confusing.]
Anyway, in addition to being marooned in this restaurant for several more hours with nothing to do, my sensible, comfortable flats were now maddeningly out of reach. I tried to be a trooper, really I did, but after a whopping three and a half seconds I kicked off my heels and made myself comfortable. Right in the main dining room at Delmonico’s, there’s me – barefoot. Feet up on a table…
The funny looks I received from the members of the waitstaff who were starting to set up for dinner did nothing to deter me. That’s what you get when you mess with BG holding – smelly feet all up in your dinner. Boom.
Speaking of dinner…one of the production assistants just announced that it’s lunch time! Score!