|Austin-Bergstrom International Airport|
A Slipping Down Life - will I ever see it?
by Dan Eggleston
I was leaving the Village theater in late July 1998, when I noticed a flier on several car windshields. Extras were needed for a scene in the movie "A Slipping-Down Life" (based on Anne Tyler's excellent book)
The scene was shot at La Zona Rosa, representing a club in Athens, Ga., complete with regional beer signs. I arrived at 7:45 a.m.; shooting was scheduled for 9:30. There were about 275 of us. For three hours we sat at tables passing the time. I brought some folders with jokes that I shared with neighbors. I sat opposite the costume designer of the play "Crucks" which I had just seen. Next to her was a nutrition major, who, ironically, chose doughnuts over fruit. Sabrina, a German, recognized my WC joke, never having seen it in English. She promised me the German version when she got it from her mom in Germany (I never got it; the joke follows at the end of this account). She may have received the KTOT (Kindergarten Teachers of Texas) newsletter when I was briefly its editor ten years ago.
Finally, at 11:00, we got started; we were divided into six groups and moved into the club for a concert scene. I was at the back, on a raised level, near the front of the group. We did two takes (with three cameras) of shots mostly of the singer (Guy Pearce). There were about three takes of audience reactions. I was at a table with three kids, about 17, who bummed a couple of smokes, and then shared each cig among themselves. Next to me was a young grad film student from Colorado. We had to pantomime applause, and initially love the music, but after Pearce started talking (instead of singing) a la Jim Morrison (the novel was written in 1970), we showed our extreme distaste.
Payment was a free t-shirt and lunch. It's a low budget indie (the budget was reported to be $3 million), so the t-shirt was nice, but very simple. I was expecting a cheap meal such as hot dogs, but we got a delicious lunch: chicken, rice, and squash, with salad, cake, fruit, and snacks (doughnuts and fruit were also available for breakfast).
A second scene was shot of a "successful" concert, but because they wanted as different a crowd (using the same folks) as possible, I didn't get used, perhaps looking too unique. So I went home after lunch.
The next day at Austin City Limits (ACL), I learned that there would be another crowd scene shot the next day in Lockhart. I signed up for it and learned the schedule was 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. The initial wait this time was four hours. I sat opposite two women, both at their first shoot. Patsy was a first grade teacher from Llano. Jennifer had a library degree and was in search of a library to go along with it (or a better part-time job in the meantime; she had a call to interview with the San Antonio Public Library while we were on set; a few weeks later she got a job with the Austin Public Library). I brought more material to pass the time: magazines and more joke folders. Jennifer looked familiar and when we spoke, she told me she recognized me from ACL tapings. She loved the jokes. Since her family also liked ACL, she gave me their email addresses. Two weeks earlier I sat in line next to her sister, Laura, who I'd already addedto my ACL list. Laura had looked familiar also when I met her. The two definitely look like sisters. Jennifer seemed like an old friend I was meeting for the first time and helped make the long wait much shorter.
Karla and her brother borrowed a folder of jokes and asked to be added to my joke list. Two years later she came to the Capitol grounds to be in a scene of "Pagaent" but, sadly, the scene had to be postponed since they didn't have enough extras.
The holding area was an old abandoned store and was stuffy until a big air blower cooled things down. There was a smaller group, about 100, with more kids (you had to be at least 16, though). One group of youngsters passed part of the time (too much) with a raucous drumming session. That afternoon, one of the drummers asked what I thought of his music. "Rather irritating."
Finally, we started. I was picked as a "featured" extra from a show of hands. Half of the "featured" were placed in seats near the back of the old movie theater across the street; then we had to wait while they seated the rest of the extras. I was in the row behind Lili Taylor, five seats to her right, one seat from the aisle. I was originally closer, but the director (Toni Kalem) moved Lili a bit to the left.
There was another long wait as lights were arranged. The setting was in North Carolina; the scene opened with a short song by a punk band, which we loved; then "Drum," (Pearce) the lead, did his set. There was a much less enthusiastic reaction. Some of us stood during each set; those of us with summer birthdays left as the set started (for drinks, a cig, the WC, etc.) and returned at "random" intervals. The woman next to me, due to the narrow aisles, complained about constantly having to get up (three others in the row had to get past her). She and her hubby were paid extras. To my left were two deaf girls who enjoyed a few Helen Keller jokes I showed them; they could read my lips pretty well, but I had to write a little bit when lips weren't enough. I also helped translate directions from the ADs (Assistant Directors). One of the girls, for example, was in Lili's light, once Lili's seat was lit. Lili's stand-in, turned out to be an ex-Lamar student who married a former student of mine, Frankie Hernandez. After about 90 minutes of shooting, we broke for lunch, around 5 p.m.
I'd made fancy computer signs of the names of the director and the three leads and a cover letter for Lili, which I handed her as she walked up the aisle during prep. During a break I spoke to Guy Pearce, John Hawkes and Kalem, got their autographs and gave them their signs. I told John of seeing him in "In the West" at Hyde Park back in '86 and have seen him in nine films.
Before each break a woman took Polaroids of us to assure continuity. After lunch, the man who had been sitting next to Lili didn't return, so he was replaced with someone similar.
Lunch again was great: chicken enchiladas, mixed vegetables, rice, and broccoli. I spoke to Lili after lunch (I've seen 17 of her films and she is a fantastic actor) and got her autograph. Jennifer had mentioned that morning that she wanted an autograph too, so I got one for her, which greatly surprised her.
After lunch, the director came back to my seat and personally thanked me for the sign and asked how I'd made it. A few minutes later, John Hawkes did the same and noted that at first he had not realized what the sign was.
We then did a few more takes of the same scene from different camera locations; this lasted until about 7 p.m. The first few rows were "wrapped" and they picked up their t-shirts. I took some photos of John, Guy and Toni (Lili was off set) (They can be viewed at http://www.zing.com/album/?id=4292866857 After an hour of waiting for the final takes of Lili's dialogue, I finally left. Since I was far to the right, I probably was off-shot for that scene any way. They were mainly to be shots of dialogue between Lili and the guy next to her, with the extras visible around them.
They were shooting in Lockhart Friday, but I was so worn out that I had to pass on a third day on this shoot. It was a lot of fun and gave me a better chance of getting on screen than on "Hope Floats". The hours and a/c were a great improvement over the late hours and heat of Smithville the previous summer.
When the film showed in 1999 at South by Southwest, I couldn't attend the first showing (at the Paramount) and the second (at the Dobie) was sold out. Jennifer saw it and said it was well done, but didn't see me.
The producers, Derlinda Dallas and Robin Lieberman at DVC Entertainment who reportedly backed the film to support their children's college education, refused to accept the director's cut (Kalem worked 15 years on this project) and would not allow the film to be released. They had the film recut and it was shown at Cannes in 2000. It remains in limbo as of March 2001. The production company's website is http://www.aslippingdownlife.com/
(The W.C. Joke)
One day, an English lady, looking for rooms in Switzerland, asked a local schoolmaster if he could recommend any. He took her to several places. After having decided on one, the lady started on her way back to where she was staying at the time. When she got home she remembered suddenly she had not noticed a "water closet" (bathroom). She immediately wrote to the schoolmaster to ask if there was a w.c. in or near the house.
The schoolmaster, upon receiving the letter, was troubled. His English was poor and he did not know the meaning of w.c. Finally he asked the parish priest to help him. Together, they figured out that it must mean Wayside Chapel, a stopping place for worship. So the schoolmaster wrote back:
"I have the greatest pleasure in informing you that the w.c. is located nine miles from the house in the center of a beautiful grove of pine trees, surrounded by wonderful scenery. It is capable of holding 250 people at one time. It is open on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday of each week. There are a great number of people who attend during the summer months. I advise you to come early, although there is plenty of standing room. This, however, is an unfortunate position if you are in the habit of going frequently and regularly. No doubt, you will be pleased to know that a number of people take their lunches and make a day of it. Others, who cannot spare the travel time, come by car and arrive just in time.
I especially advise your Ladyship to go on Tuesday, for there is an organ accompaniment on that day, and the sound is excellent. Even the most delicate sound is audible.
It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in our w.c. and it was there that she first met her husband. I remember the rush there was for the seats. There were ten people on the seat I usually use, and it was wonderful to watch the expressions on their faces. My father hasn't been there since the day he was christened.
A wealthy resident of the district recently put a bell on the door of our w.c. that rings every time a person enters. A bazaar is to be held to raise funds going towards the purchase of plush seats, as the members feel they are long needed.
My wife is rather delicate; therefore she cannot attend regularly. It is six months since she last went. Naturally it pains her not to go more often."
I close now, and if you wish me to save you a seat, I will be happy to do so.