I acted in an episode of Stargate Atlantis. The episode title is “Midway” and it is part of season four. I’m pretty sure there are no spoilers in this that aren’t already on various StarGate websites, except what happens to my incredibly insignificant/disposable character.
The thing about being a “serious” actor is that planning is the mind-killer. When you get an audition, you are called for it the day before. Sometimes the day of. So if you have the “day job” as I do, you need to be able to skip out for an hour or so with very little notice. This is what kept me from getting the staff writing job at the ReInvent Technologies. They didn’t like that. And that’s what’s good about working at Embroidme – I can take off on my bike for an “extended lunch hour” if need be.
So I went to the audition for the show. Most of my auditions are for commercials, but I did audition for Stargate once before, for a role of a doctor. This time it was for a technician. The audition is usually just having the casting company take a look at you, on video, to see if you look the part. Sometimes they don’t even give you lines, and there’s usually very little proper acting involved. They take that video and show the director, producer, etc, and then those people, who are actually working on the show, will pick some of the people that showed up to the audition for a “call back.” That’s where you need to act, and do your best job, because it’s likely there won’t be any coaching on the set – you’ll be expected to be consistent with the performance that got you the gig. For my Stargate call back the director was on hand, and we went through the scene two times. The first time I did it I made them laugh. The second time was just the director asking me to tone it down a bit (I am a bit hammy at times). Quite often in an audition or a callback they’ll tell you to do it a different way just to see how you take direction, not because they actually want to see it done a different way. That’s the sense I get, anyway. So if you’ve spent all day practicing the scene exactly one way, and you get that way set in your mind and have trouble approaching it from a different direction, that’s not so good. But by the same token, if you do it a certain way one time, and you can’t exactly recreate it, that’s bad too.
So anyway I got the role. The two main worries I have when this happens is “what plans do I have to cancel” and “where is the filming and how will I get there?” In this case, I was told when I got the role that I would be needed for two days, somewhere within about a week’s time frame. As it happened, the Thickets show we booked in Chilliwack was in that time frame, so I tried not to stress out about the possibility of having to back out of that at the last minute, which would be to the extreme chagrin of Merrick and all the fans who had planned on attending. They got back to me and told me it was going to be Day X and day Z, which was no conflict. Then I heard from my agent again that the dates had changed, to Day W and Day Z. Luckily again this was no conflict, but you can see how random this all seems and how sucky things could have turned out. They just don’t tell you anything until the proverbial 11th hour. And in fact when it comes to the time of day you’re required to be on set (“Call Time”) they don’t tell you until literally the night before. So you may get a call at 10pm telling you to be on set in 7 hours. In my case, I got a call at around 9pm telling me to be on set at 7:30am. Then I got a call back in a half hour telling me that the time had been pushed back to 8am. Knowing that I don’t sleep well if I know I have to do something new/different (i.e. stressful) in the morning, I went to bed immediately.
As suspected I didn’t get much sleep. I kept waking up every few minutes after 5am.
When I got the role on that Mattel toy commercial a few months back, I asked one of the associate producers if there was a chance I could get a ride in to set in the morning. The set was out at Riverview Hospital and I didn’t really know where that was or how to get there. And to top it off, I didn’t find out until the costume fitting (Oh, I forgot to mention that in between getting the role and shooting for Stargate, I went out to a fitting) so that’s when I asked about getting a ride. Normally you are expected to get yourself to set and this is the difficulty I have with not owning a car. But they were very nice and I think it was the assistant director who picked me up in the morning. For Stargate, I found out that set was Bridge Studios in Burnaby (where Carina works as a graphics gal) which is the same place I rode my bike out to for the call back and the fitting. I happened to know that it takes about 40 minutes to bike out there, so that’s what I did on the morning of Friday Aug 24 at about 7am.
There is the typical Hollywoodesque security guard at the typical Hollywoodesque gates to Bridge Studios. The guard will ask you questions and then give you extremely precise directions on where to go and how to get there. Bridge has a bunch of courtesy bikes with which to tool about the lot, which is neat. In my case, I asked a few people if there was a place I could lock up my bike. The best anyone could suggest was just to lock the wheel to the frame and leave it on the lot because “nobody is going to steal it.” Well they were right but at the time I was dubious.
Craft services, as they call it, had breakfast set up in “the circus” which is what they call the area where the trailers are set up. I didn’t know when I’d be called to act so I didn’t want to get too logy, so I just had a Corn Pops/Cap’n Crunch melange. I found a trailer marked “Dempster” which is the name of my character and went right in to see what was what. They had a little photocopied booklet of all the cast and crew names, call times, shooting schedule, and the pages from the script that were to be shot that day. Very handy! My flight suit and boots were hanging up so I went ahead and put them on. Steve the 3rd Assistant Director greeted me and made sure I was taken care of. He sent me to the makeup girl and there was a lot of confusion about my beard. Normally the Stargate guys don’t normally have them. Being military, they’re normally quite clean shaven. She was tempted to at the very least to “clean it up” and I had to reassure her that I was told to leave it for the past several days so that it got as bushy and untamed as possible. She still fiddled with it a bit.
I began the first of many tried and true “hurry up and wait” sessions that are typical of shooting film & TV. I met with some of the other actors at their trailers. But it wasn’t too long before we were called to set for “blocking” the first scene. This is where the director & crew puts the actors in their places so they can decide how best to film their faces and movements. It was really cool to walk on set, because it was a labyrinth of corridors and rooms from the Stargate station. I even relaxed inbetween takes sitting in the captain’s chair of the bridge, which moved back and forth and I got to pretend I was Captain Picard.
A gentleman came up to me and said “Hello Toren nice to see you again.”
Me: “Yeah, uh, where did I see you the first time?”
Him: “Oh I don’t know, the audition!” It became clear to me know that this was the director and I had just embarrassed myself.
Me “Oh yeah, It was all a blur. Man I was so high!”
The first scene we shot was us reacting to some aliens. The second scene was a little more dynamic – the head Wraith kept breaking his alien nails off as he ripped my shirt open to drain my life with what they termed the “handgina.” I kept getting wraith dandruff all over my flight suit. I got a lot of good comments on my death screams. One of the challenges was continuity with the chair that I was kind of falling back into. I pretty much took it upon myself to memorize the start point of the chair during every take because the rest of the crew were busy with other things.
The props guy introduced himself to me and asked if I had a spare pair of glasses. They wanted to put my glasses on the prop that was my character’s dead, shriveled corpse. Of course I didn’t have a spare pair but offered my glasses if they took the lenses out. He took them away promising they’d be in better condition. They ended up not using them but when the glasses got returned to me they had put the lenses in the wrong way – left lens in the right side of the frame and vice versa. So I could only see through them properly if I wore them upside down. It took a while to track Troy down again to get it fixed. I would have done it myself because normally I have a tiny screwdriver in my bag to tighten the ever-loosening screw that plagues my glasses, but I didn’t bring that bag on this day.
Lunch was amazing, they really keep your tummy happy on set. I had lunch with Carina and Geoff – an old D&D buddy who was also on set with me when I was an extra in X-Men 3. My scenes were, oddly enough, the first couple of scenes and the last couple of scenes that were being shot that day out of a total of about 12 or so. So there was this huge period of empty time for me in the middle of the day. But you can’t leave set in case they need you. So I alternately sat in my trailer watching the one fuzzy channel that came through on the TV, or read my Comics Journal magazine with a Mike Mignola interview from the 90’s, raiding the craft services table that was always stocked with donuts, cookies, chips, veggies & other treats, and tooling around the set on my bike – it was after all a beautiful sunny summer day. I got out of my flight suit for all that and actually picked a couple of wraith fingernails out of it and returned them to the makeup crew. Damn I should have sold them on eBay!
Of the three possible scenes they hoped to finish the day off with, they only managed to do one, so I got sent home and was to reappear at about 11am on Monday. One of the things that kind of sucked was that even though I only worked for two days, I had to pay two weeks worth of union dues because the days were the last day of one week and the first day of the next week.
I forgot to mention one of the other things about these jobs that can stress me out: my health. Normally I’m in good health but migraines are totally unpredictable and I worry that just when my scene comes up, I’ll get hit with an aura and I won’t be able to perform well, or at all, for the next 5 hours. Luckily that has not happened so far. Also I had back pain all day on Friday, but it was more irritating than incapacitating, and I only really noticed it when I had nothing else to occupy my thoughts. Also I’m amazed that I didn’t spend the entire evening shoots farting like crazy after the lunch that was laid out for us. Luckily on Monday my backache was long gone, but I did have a bold new zit coming in on my forehead that I thought might be a minor threat to continuity if they did any close up shots.
Day two was so much more old hat. My confidence was high and I no longer felt “green.” There was a different makeup guy that day whose name was, I kid you not, Rex. He had a vastly different style of applying my makeup to Leia’s (from Friday) and he even did my ears. I was too late for breakfast but I didn’t have much to film on the Monday and I got to it without much ado. I spent much more time that day watching the other actors perform and it was a treat. For some reason my stand-in on the second day was a really tall black man.
I didn’t have any lines that day but I still had a lot of fun acting. In one scene the camera starts on me working at a station and I continue to do so as other dialogue happens around me, then I get up and walk in front of another character towards another workstation. I decided that Dempster, unlike the real me, was a terrible typist, so I had him hunting and pecking while he worked – so look for that in the final cut! I stayed for lunch, had a short scene afterwards and then I was wrapped! Geoff tells me that everyone gets a round of applause when they are wrapped, but I wasn’t expecting it and it made me feel like a did a good job.
And that’s my story! The whole experience was a real blast and everyone was super nice. The episode airs some time in the spring. When I find out I’ll post the news here.