Filming a Hostage Situation

In addition to my million jobs, I agreed in March to take a role in a student film being done this month. It was a straight offer, no audition, and besides being flattered to be asked, I liked the director’s writing and him in general, so I said yes.

Filming is always kind of hard just because the hurry-up-and-wait of it all is exhausting. This factor was doubled for this film because the on-set hours were 10 pm- 6:30 am. I came to the set at 11 pm after ASMing a show beforehand and auditioning earlier that day. I had meant to take a nap during the day, but never got around to it, so I knew I was in for a rough night.

Even though I arrived on the diner set an hour late, they hadn’t filmed anything. I was pleased to find that one of the actors on the project was the guy who had played my love interest in the last film I did. We get along really well, so I knew that my downtime would be fun. The crew got me working fairly soon after I arrived, giving me my character’s waitress apron and nametag. For the first 45 minutes of filming, I said one line and poured coffee. Even so, it was fun because the people from this university are so great to be around. The film is essentially a Sherlock Holmes-inspired story, and I was geekily thrilled when, after noting that I poured the coffee left-handed, the director added a line of the Sherlock Holmes character’s about it.

After filming that scene, I and a few of the other actors ordered food while the three main actors and the crew did some close-ups. At that point, it was one in the morning. It would be another hour or so before I filmed anything, but when we finally were summoned, it was for a long time.

The film, besides being Sherlock Holmes-inspired, is also a hostage situation, and we were doing a large part of those scenes that night. The scene involved six of sitting against the wall, our wrists zip-tied, figuring out before actual filming how to get to a standing position without full use of our hands (it’s really hard.) It should also be noted that while the crew tried their hardest to keep the bindings as loose as possible, the zip ties were still pretty painful. At one point, trying to loosen mine with my teeth, I accidentally tightened it, and it took less than five minutes for my hands to go numb. By the end of the shoot, my wrists were raw and they were still sore the next day. 

I’d never shot anything like a hostage scene before, and it was really interesting. A part of me was legitimately scared; the gun that was being used, though it was an orange toy gun painted black, looked very real. It also felt very real during the part of the scene where it was pressed against my temple. It didn’t take much acting during that part to seem terrified. You always hear horror stories of fake weapons being mixed up with real ones and actors sustaining injuries, so each time the actor holding the gun would absentmindedly flick the trigger, I’d flinch. 

To work on these scenes was a great, different acting exercise. Usually when doing a scene, I look my scene partner in the eye, unless my character has a reason not to do so. In these scenes, I found myself looking not at the guy holding the gun, but the gun itself as it was waved around and pointed at people and sometimes at me. It was a different kind of focus that I’d never exercised during a scene.

It was a long time before that scene was over, but when I did get breaks, I attempted to sleep in one of the diner booths. It wasn’t easy, but right before my last shot, I must have drifted off, because the producer had to wake me up to film it. I was so tired and couldn’t even keep my vision straight during the twenty minutes or so it took to shoot the scene; I’m sure I look totally spaced out in that scene.

But as tiring as it was and will be this weekend, I really enjoyed it. I also got a really sweet email from the director yesterday, thanking me for my good work on the film and saying how happy they were to have me. This weekend will be our last shoot, and while I’ll be happy to sleep again, I’ll miss it, and these people.

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