"Are you one of my extras?"
That's how I'm greeted as I step into Ocean Blue on Hillview Street one afternoon this week to participate in a scene being shot for Steve Tatone's new indie thriller, "Blind Pass."
"Yes ..." I say dubiously, eyeing the 20-somethings gathered nearby, sorting though their voluminous hanging bags of potential outfits.
"Which of these do you think?" one of them asks "Sue," a down-to-earth woman in jeans and a T-shirt who appears to be the extras wrangler. She is blonde, buxom and has wide eyes that seem never to blink — the extra, that is, not Sue.
"That one's fine," says Sue, hardly glancing. She is the only person in sight who does not exude an "I am an important movie person" aura.
Sue looks at me, sans clothing bag. I shrug.
"What you see is what you get," I say. She smiles and says, "No problem."
Tatone, a gregarious, short, sturdy man in a black beret, introduces himself. The writer/producer of Sarasota's Midnight Pass Productions was the toast of last year's Sarasota Film Festival, where his first film, "A Beautiful Noise" debuted. Tatone has been filming his latest, which stars Armand Assante and Danielle White (from "A Beautiful Noise"), in and around Sarasota this month.
White plays the daughter of Assante, a rich Sarasota attorney. I don't really know the story line but I know that Assante dies (they already filmed his funeral) and White goes blind.
Tatone brushes off my apology for tardiness. I'd been told told the shoot would begin at noon and it is now almost 2.
"We're just getting ready to start," he says.
Not really. The first thing you learn when you're on a movie set is that there is an awful lot of down time.
They are setting the lights and laying the camera track. They are de-shining the bald heads of the extras with powder. They are doing odd things like wiping the rims of wine glasses that are never going to be visible without a magnifying glass and fixing a stray hair that is invisible to the naked eye.
They are heavily making up the 19-year-old star, White, a Booker High grad whom Tatone has lured back from California to make co-producer on this project.
Sue gives the extras their instructions — which consist of one rule.
"Wherever you are put first, that's your No. 1 position," she says. "Remember where to go when we say, 'Go to one.'"
My No. 1 is seated at a table next to the musicians playing behind White, who will be lip synching a sultry jazz song even though her quite remarkable singing voice will provide the actual soundtrack. The scene is set in a bar, several months before she goes blind. (Tatone swears it is a thriller).
From what I can gauge, my left knee may potentially be visible in the shot. As a lackey covers up the logo on the shirt of the extra next to me — "That's got to go" — I wonder if I should have shaved my legs.
More than an hour later, we are ready. There are about 25 people crammed into the small back room. There is apple juice in the wine glasses, which we are warned not to drink or move a fraction of an inch.
"Ready," says Tatone, seated behind a computer monitor that shows the camera shot. "Action."
A very large man in a suit crosses in front of the camera to my table, greets me and takes the seat next to me, slinging his very large arm over my shoulder. Apparently he is my date. I play along.
"Cut," says Tatone.
"That was good," my date says to me. "But a kiss would probably be better."
Tatone says the opening is too static. I am moved off camera and told to make my entrance three seconds after I hear "action."
"No. 1 position!" Sue calls out.
Wait. Does she mean my number one No. 1 or my number 2 No. 1? Too late.
One, two, three. I cross in front of the camera, taking care not to trip on its track. My large friend pulls out my chair for me, then plays with my hair, my hand. White sings like she really means it. She is very good.
We do this about five more times. People keep saying "Carrie!" and I look around to see what I'm doing wrong. It takes me most of the afternoon to realize that's the name of White's character.
We take another long break which not only seems to take many months but does, in a way, because when we return to the filming I am told I can no longer be in the shot because this is a scene seven months later and I do not have a different dress.
White passes by in a new outfit. It is also strapless and falling down.
"Forget the movie, I just want to hear you sing," I say to her.
She looks genuinely surprised. Her vocal career is as important to her as her face time on camera. How refreshing.
Tatone allows me to crowd behind the monitor, where each member of the crew is obsessing over what they see.
"She doesn't need the false eyelashes," says the makeup person.
"That extra needs a drink glass," says Sue.
The blonde extra sit
s in for White while they adjust the lights. On the monitor, she licks puffy, glossy lips.
"Steve, my man, you've got good taste in extras," says a leering colleague.
It's 5 p.m. and we are getting booted from the bar in less than an hour. People are getting rowdy, even though it's only apple juice. White is trying to stay in character. She's supposed to be heartbroken.
"Cool it everyone!" Tatone says, then whispers: "I want her to stay in the mood."
From my admittedly partial view, the first take is perfect. The camera moves in slowly until it is centered on White's limpid, tear-filled eyes as she finishes singing "You Don't Know Me." The camera stays on her forever and she never blinks.
"This is a killer shot," says Tatone. "That song will be off the charts."
They shoot the same scene six more times. Every time it gets worse. The camera moves too slow. White's makeup starts to melt. Her hypnotic stare turns into insuppressible blinks.
"I'm sorry!" she says to Tatone, wiping away tears.
"No, no," he says, "you were great."
To me he turns around and adds, "In her mind, her character would never cry ... but she's wrong."
I say my thank yous and goodbyes. Because I am reporting, I will not be paid the $7.10 an hour the other extras will take home for their efforts.
The next day I get an email from the friend of my "date."
"Really nice to meet you," he writes. "You did a terrific job yesterday. Hope to see you on the set again soon."
My left knee was very proud.