A retelling, with permission and differences, of C.D. Rudd's classic webcomic SailorSun.org.
Billy Jones, a film student and extra, gets the offer of some overtime during the shooting of a special effects movie.... Maybe there was something in the contract he missed?
by Joyce Melton
I knew I'd been lucky to get work as an extra on the new "Special FX" movie, but dang, standing around waiting for things to happen bored me like a Texas wildcatter with a diamond drill bit looking for oil in the Permian Basin. As a film student, I understood why, but this was my second dull day on set — hurrying to get into position in the crowd scenes then standing around waiting for direction.
It was sort of good-news, bad-news, but apparently, they would be filming on Friday, too. Even though I'd already had to miss Wednesday and Thursday classes at UCLA, if I could get a third day in, I'd be eligible to apply for my SAG card. Wouldn't that be cool? Certainly worth a bit of boredom. In a few weeks, finals for the spring quarter would mean I couldn't afford to ditch class.
But sure enough, the assistant director in charge of the "background actors," Todd Harrelson, called me over. "Billy, we're going to need you tomorrow, too. We did all the crowd scenes yesterday and today, but we're going to need a few bodies to wander through some hallway and lobby scenes. You interested?"
Yes! "You bet, Mr. Harrelson," I said, beaming. I didn't even mind being called 'Billy' if I got more work. My full name was William Hallelujah Jones, of course. (My dad claimed odd middle names are necessary for people with common first and last names, and mom's maiden name had been 'Hall.') Back home in Oildale, my nickname had been 'Will,' but 'Billy' was certainly fine on set.
"Okay, then," said Harrelson. "Just go see Phyllis at the HR table, she'll get you to sign a new release after she gives you your check for today." Harrelson gave me a friendly squeeze on the shoulder and pointed toward where the other extras were lining up to get their pay.
"Thank you, thank you," I enthused. Good grief, try to act like a professional. I suppressed my grin with a practiced mantra I learned from high school drama, reciting silently, "Dolorous old baboons grope and mope." Imagining making all the rounded vowel sounds helped prevent a mouth-widening smile.
I know it worked because Phyllis Niall told me, "Cheer up," when I reached the head of the pay line. "You're going to be working tomorrow, too, Billy." She handed over my pay packet and a small sheaf of papers, "You have to sign another release, though."
"Thanks!" I said, after checking to see that they had paid the right amount. A hundred-and-eight dollars for two days' work meant a lot on a student budget. "Do I bring it back to you, here, after signing?"
She nodded, already dealing with finding a pay envelope for the next extra, who wanted to know, "Why are some people getting another day of work?"
Phyllis had that answer ready. "Billy and most of the others are film students, so the directors like to give them the added days as kind of a reward for skipping class to be here."
The man snorted, took his pay, and pointedly glared at me, but I just shrugged. "And here I thought Mr. Harrelson just liked my work," I remarked to Phyllis as I handed the signed release back to her.
She giggled, shaking her head. "You didn't have time to read this before signing, did you?"
I shrugged. "It's boilerplate, right out of the SAG/AFTRA book of approved contracts. I've read it before, and we even studied it in our classes at school."
"All right," she agreed, taking the paperwork. "Go see, Mr. Harrelson," she told me, "I think he has something he needs you for."
Nodding, I turned to look for the tall assistant director and spotted him with one of the cameramen near a large, antique-looking green camera housing. Wandering that way, thinking that officially I was off the clock now, but had been paid for eight hours work, while only putting in just less than seven. I guessed I owed the studio a bit of time.
Harrelson waved me on over. "Hey, guy," he said. "We've got some overtime tonight? You want in on it?"
"Huh," I said, as intelligently as possible. "Sure, Mr. Harrelson, is it time-and-a-half?"
"Yeah, yeah," Harrelson agreed. "Ten-thirteen an hour and all that. We're testing out this antique camera I borrowed from the museum. It's what they used to shoot for special effects back in the thirties."
"Huh?" I gave the peculiar contraption another look. The enormous lens stared back at me like a pop-eyed cyclops. Kind of creepy in a weird way, or maybe I'm just remembering it like that.
"Walk back and forth, do some running in place, pretend you're skipping rope, stuff like that," Harrelson ordered. This is called 'direction,' and some people are good at it.
I obeyed and, for the next almost two hours, did gyrations and permutations while the antique camera clattered way. They had to reload the film four times, and I saw that the film stock was oversize, not the usual 35mm but something larger. Odd for a camera almost seventy years old, I thought.
At one point, Ned the gaffer rigged a powerful light to shine on me while another roll of the special film was shot. The lights left me confused and half-blind, and I felt relief when Harrelson announced a wrap. Stumbling around, I tried to orient on the boss-man's voice while colored lights seemed to continue to explode in my face.
"Finis for tonight," said the assistant director. "Crew be here at six-thirty tomorrow, talent at seven. That includes you, extra-person; you've got to be here for make-up and costuming."
I nodded in the multi-colored darkness, blinking and trying to stammer out a question. "M-me, Mr. Harrelson?" But no one answered. When I could see again, the AD was nowhere to be found. The cameraman trundled the big special effects camera away on a motorized dolly, the gaffer stowed the powerful lights with associated cables away in their portable cabinet, and other people rapidly disappeared from the set. But no Harrelson.
For a moment, I felt very odd, as if something fundamental had changed about the world or myself. I tried to shake it off, reminding myself that it was nice to be getting an extra day's work and hoping someone remembered to pay me for two hours of overtime. I headed toward the exit as soon as I could see well enough to be sure I wouldn't step out in front of a golf cart driven by Kevin Bacon or something.
I had to toss my head to clear hair out of my eyes, and the sudden movement made my boobs jiggle on my chest. Yeah, I even took two more steps before realization struck. Since when did I have boobs? Or hair long enough to get in my face, for that matter?
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