Thursday, August 15, 2013

Chapter 3--Actor, Carpenter, EQ Guy

My first great story from the days after I decided to try out this new combination of Actor, Writer, Carpenter was one day in one of my apprentice classes that I was now taking for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. There must have been a hurricane that struck around Florida because from memory I am now going to say I announced to the other guys in this class in Milwaukee that there just could be a Major Earthquake striking that weekend like Central America or somewhere around there.

This is today the very first time that I had ever made such an announcement in such a public place as one of my apprentice classes and a Major Earthquake actually struck that weekend. It was a big enough one that there were probably pictures and news stories about it all over the news because on that following Monday morning there was no doubt with this class of guys that I had told them like on Friday about an earthquake striking. In the process that came next of them wanting to know how I knew there was going to be an earthquake, I simply tried to explain it off as being no different than the information that we are there learning on a daily basis right there in that Carpenters Apprentice Class.
That answer did not satisfy the one particular guy who was quick to note that I did not learn how to do that in apprentice class, no. “Not in these here books you didn’t” he went on to tell me. Of course I didn’t exactly learn all of it in those books, but the point I wanted to make that day was that my work with all of those tectonic plates is all in all very much similar to the work we were doing in that class of measuring and figuring stuff out and there was even one book that dealt with vibration analysis which to me seemed very much similar to what I was doing but of course his point was basically that it wasn’t where I learned how to predict major earthquakes like that.

It wasn’t too long before my newest idea of combining script writing, acting, and carpenter work was starting to work. There was enough carpenter work to keep me busy from the day I started my very first job with them in June of 1996, until the end of that first job around October and there was still plenty of film production work around Chicago at the time that I was able to continue doing that in between carpenter jobs.

Two of my biggest acting jobs of all time came around right about this time in history, give or take a year. The first was the day I was cast as “Prisoner 2” right next to Luke Perry in the movie Normal Life, and the other was when I was cast as “Thief” in a big scene in the CBS-TV Series Early Edition.
In Normal Life we were prisoners in handcuffs walking a hallway to an elevator and there was like five or six of us “Prisoners” who got in the elevator and actually two of them were jail guards. Beyond that point I do not want to tell you what all transpires due to it becoming the ending for that particular movie and you might wish to watch it some day and not already know how it ends! We were in a lot of scenes together and one of the other guys playing a prisoner turned out to have also worked on that commercial where I played the bum in the boxcar. He played a scarecrow out in the middle of a corn field, although he must have shot his scene on a different day because he was not a part of the characters shooting out at the farm on the day we worked on that commercial. The commercial is one of the next stories, too.
At some point they were filming the final scene and me and a couple of the other “Prisoners” wandered out to the parking lot to see what all the commotion was all about and I ran in to a couple of my old friends from the renaissance of Chicago Film Production. They were playing either Chicago Police, or Illinois State Police and Fred even had his very own police cruiser! There is a picture of me and Rocky posing together with the theme being I’m a prisoner and he’s a Chicago Cop with him holding the baton over my head, you know. That was a great movie job and when all the dust settled I was in close to ten different scenes as the guy standing right next to Luke Perry in the elevator mostly. At one point they gave me some lines to say, but I’m not really sure if I was too great of an actor at that point and those lines never made the final cut of the movie so far as I have been able to see. Could be other versions out there where I am seen saying something. . . but it could give away that ending, of course.

The other big and great part that I was cast for at about this time was a character named “Thief” in the CBS-TV Series Early Edition, that actually appeared right in the script. I even had practically my own whole entire paragraph explaining who I was and what I was doing in the show. It said something like, “And then a THIEF enters the scene and should either steal a ladies purse out of the baby carriage or somewhere and then have an encounter of some sort with Kyle Chandler.” Of course that was nowhere near what the exact words were, I just did the best I could at reciting them from recalling the brief moment when I saw it in the script. The characters name who was played by Kyle was Gary Hobson, but I couldn’t tell you if either name was in there or not. It also might not have said the part about the baby carriage, either, because I know that me and the director made a lot of the stuff up standing there and trying to figure out how the camera should pan from the scene of a fender-bender over to where I was about to do my thief business. I finally spoke up and told them exactly what they taught me in acting school and the director loved it. That was to do whatever I might do myself in the situation and if it was me, I told him, I would look around quick and then turn around and put the purse back into the baby carriage and run. Well, today you can view that exact scene and I even made sure I recorded a copy of it for myself and that is exactly what I did in that scene. Ran that whole entire distance of the city block along Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago about twenty-five times in order to get that shot just right, too.

Probably the biggest job of my film acting days back in Chicago in the 1990’s was the day I got the call to work on a commercial that paid Screen Actors Guild scale. Today it is the commercial we all know as Cropduster and it won a Gold Cleo for Cinematography at the Cleo Awards that year. We shot the first scene that was shooting that day as the sun was rising in the east there along Sandwich Road a little ways west of the furthest suburbs at that time. The cropduster was in the process of flying past and steering up and over some power lines just past the farm house and it took the pilot a few tries, but he eventually managed to get climbing, accelerating, and turning to the right all just right so the director liked it and then we moved on.
The ironic part of all that was that later in the day we were filming my part on the back of a flatbed truck built to look like the inside of an old train car with two bums riding in it, when the cropduster flies by us. The first time we could see just the two tires on the bottom of his airplane and the director hiding next to me behind a couple bales of hay called him on the radio and said to fly lower next time. Well, that worked because he flew lower the second time and I could see the whole landing gear. Eventually he got it just right again like he did with the scene we shot in the morning out in front of the house and that was the end of that shoot. Me and the other bum discussed the fact that it didn’t really matter how many times it would have took the pilot to get the scene right since we were getting paid S.A.G. scale and by that time of the day it was double-time and so it paid rather good while the director directed him there that day.
The other dude in the boxcar with me that day ended up being from Wisconsin and later he got the whole story about that commercial in the State Journal in a story that ran in the Rhythm Section which lead to an interview and then another story in my local newspaper.
Just this summer as I am now composing this here manuscript there was a huge movie that was also shot down there in that neighborhood called Man of Steel. Just south of the location that I still end up driving past there from time to time, is the town of Plano, Illinois and during production they had the entire downtown rebuilt by the movie company to be “Smallville” and actually be the town or one of the towns where Superman encountered some trouble without giving too much of this movie away, either. Although I had submitted my picture and resume on that project I never got called to work on it, the casting wasn’t one of the local agents, and so you do not need to look for me in that movie. I can say I am sort of hoping they make a sequel someday and shoot down in that neighborhood again someday.

On the movie Hoffa where Jack Nicholson plays the part of Jimmy Hoffa, there were more than a thousand of us playing the part of striking teamsters. This was a re-enactment of a big railway strike that must have taken place at some point in history. They did say it was like in the forties and we all had to agree to have our hair cut real short into 1940’s business haircuts. I didn’t have to think twice before I agreed and anxiously waited in line there behind a lot of other guys who might not have been so anxious. One or two actually had their hair quite long that day and it was somewhat of a scene on the first day standing in line to have the big haircut. I wasn’t much of an exception that day myself, since I had grown my hair down over my forehead for quite some time and had it growing over my ears from time to time, too, as well as down almost to my collar sometimes. Not sure how long it was on the day that I showed up for the haircut, but I can honestly say that the business haircut they gave me that day just so happens to be the way I continue to cut my hair today.
This shoot ran about ten days counting that first wardrobe day which might also have been the haircut day, not sure and some of the hours were particularly long, too. One of the days required like 1700 guys so that we could portray a huge scene where all of us striking Teamsters broiled over into a massive fight with the non-union “Scabs” that had been taking over the docks and it was a huge Malay! We spent a certain amount of time in what they called “Stunt School” being taught how to do all the fighting and hitting and falling down and all that stuff. In those good old days that used to be a really big deal to me since I was just starting out and all that stuff. Anymore today I like to say I try not to do anymore stunts if I can help it!
We turned out to be a huge part of the movie when it came out! The whole entire combination of all the scenes we shot in the railroad yard takes up about twenty minutes of the final cut. I met a lot of great guys on that project who I would continue to run into all through the remainder of the 1990’s and even a few of the casting people are still around Chicago today as well as probably a lot of the crew guys doing all the different jobs that make Chicago Film Production what it still is today! One of the questions I always still like to ask guys who I work with on movies and stuff is “Did you work on Hoffa?”

On Judgment Night I was really proud of the fact that I had one whole entire scene all to myself as a homeless person who was pushing a shopping cart across a vacant lot on the Southside of Chicago somewhere. This is another of my best as far as being able to see me in the movie, however they did take a lot of Close-Ups of me and I did not see any Close-Ups of me in the movie and so as a result you never really get to know it was me pushing that shopping cart.

On the movie The Fugitive I just so happened to play a homeless person again. This time in front of a homeless shelter where the two U.S. Marshals were asking us questions. I said some lines there in answer to their questions when they were asking me if I’d seen this guy before and showing me a picture. Something to the effect of having seen him around before, but not knowing who he was. Not really thickening the plot of that movie to the point that when they do arrive in Chicago in the movie they skipped right past us and had already found him at the hospital or wherever he was. I call that making the cutting room floor, which I managed to do my share of times, too.

There were only one or two more earthquake stories from these days, since I had realized that my new business of tracking earthquakes depended on big giant hurricanes making landfall and of course there would now not be any big hurricanes making landfall for what seemed like many, many years after 1994 came to pass. One that I do remember and probably have a whole write up about in my Earthquake Memoirs was named Hurricane Alberto, which made landfall at around Destin, Florida. It looked like the earthquake energy would probably travel up across the Atlantic and strike right around those countries along the northern border of Africa or a small country called Algeria. I only now know this because of doing some research for that other book I wrote a few years ago and have updated a couple time since, Earthquake Memoirs. It wasn’t too hard to find the name of the earthquake that struck Algeria since there have only been like two or three all through history and one was in 1954, one in 1980 and one in 1994! Well, how hard of a search was that? I like to say that with the internet now it sure speeds up some of those searches, you know. Today I can not even say how I might have discovered such a fact prior to all the resources the internet gives a person access to.
The more I got involved in my work with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters the more I was going out on some great construction jobs actually with the Milwaukee Millwrights Local who are UBC. Lots of good power plant jobs all around Wisconsin along with a lot of other different factories where we moved conveyors and machines around, too.

I know I stopped before I wrote out every single acting job and audition that I had in Chicago since I also have Life Story of The EQ Guy around here somewhere and the whole entire list of all the movies I worked on really belongs in that book, and not this and so I will say the same about construction jobs. Yes, I went out on a lot of construction jobs and was at a small power plant over by Whitewater in the summer of 1999 when it was starting to look like there might not be any work coming up for us. The guys were talking about all the new power plants being finished and up and running, and a lot of the big manufacturing outfits where we had been getting a lot of our work were now laying off and certain not to be needing much construction work. The guys began talking about all the things they do when construction work slows down in the Southern Wisconsin area. . . they search around to other areas and try to find who might still have some work going or jobs that might be coming up.
I had been out to Los Angeles a few times in my life up to that point and so among the towns that I made my calls to was L.A. While it was more of a place that I might go to do other things than construction work, construction work had proven to work out ok with my acting and so as a result I was not afraid to call around out there and see what was going on in the construction biz in Los Angeles.
I actually found some pretty good info and it was enough that I didn’t think I’d have too much of a problem finding work. Not sure exactly what the timeline was on all of this big decision making that I was so busy doing, it seems like it was probably after that last job at Whitewater had ended that I was doing all the planning. That would make sense because I clearly remember the job at Whitewater being where all the guys were talking about searching other places for work and that would have lead to me calling L.A.

So, I had a whole sheet of names and addresses of different motels all around the Los Angeles area and it was only a matter of deciding if I would want to head down into what I thought might be more towards the middle of their big industrial area. . . or take a right off the Ten Freeway (I-10), and head up to Hollywood. I suppose you could say that it didn’t matter what way I turned when I arrived in Downtown L.A., because by then I was well on my way to Bringing Earthquakes To Life!!!