By Bruce Mastracchio
We all have our dreams. As a kid, besides being a pro athlete, I had two other dreams. One was to become an Indian agent and work on a reservation, maybe save the proud Native American of my thoughts. The other was to go to California and become a stuntman in the movies. I actually had that plan more thought out. My uncle was a VIP at Bendix Pacific in the San Fernando Valley. He had a beautiful four-bedroom house in Van Nuys, with a swimming pool and a cabana with two bedrooms and big bath. I was going to go there and use the cabana, get introduced to John Wayne, who lived a couple of blocks away (one of my cousins went to school with, and dated, one of his daughters). My uncle liked me. He would help. I would work my way up from stuntman/wrangler to extra, to character actor and then – why not me? – full blown movie star. As I said. We all have our dreams. My mother put the kibosh on that, pleading for me to go to college. Knowing what she went through for us after my father died, I put my dreams on hold and took a different path. However, I never forgot the dream.
The call came: Report to Westwood Studios. You’ve been given a part! Two days of shooting on something called “Red Alert.“ You have never heard of it (this is the second edition) but the first edition sold over 6 million copies, and the pay is good, and this is what you always wanted to try. Go for it! You report.
The first thing that strikes your eye as you get out of your car are the tables of food set up outside. Every conceivable kind of breakfast you could want. There are fruits, cereals, eggs, bacon, sausage, juices, milks. Right away you can see that someone is going to be treated very well. You hope that that someone is going to be you.
You were asked to report to wardrobe at 7 a.m. They have called you three times to get your sizes right but you get there and nothing fits! Have you grown? But they are pros and soon they have your uniform decked out with four stars and five rows of ribbons. You are playing a four star Air Force General. The outfit is a little tight but you look good in it.
Now you report to makeup. Never powdered my face in my life, you think, and I just got a haircut, but they powder you and cut your hair some more and you have to admit it – you look pretty good! Next, signing the contract. Oops again! Yours is not there so they tell you to report to the scene and begin your “acting career.” They’ll get you later. This production is a CD-rom interactive video game. You really don’t know what that is, as you still use cassettes. A “smoke signals” guy caught in the technological age! It is pretty popular. It is all over the world, even in Russia.
The plot is typical. An evil genius is trying to take over the world. His name is Yuri. You are a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and in the first scene you are meeting with the President (one of the stars). You don’t recognize the name of the “star” but when he makes his appearance you recognize his face immediately. He was one of the stars of “Twin Peaks” (played Laura’s father) and he is in countless TV shows and movies. His name is Ray Wise. You know others will recognize him too. They start shooting the scene. You are at the far end of the table, and it doesn’t look like you will get much screen time as the cameras are focused on the president’s end. Oh well. You are in it anyway.
But, shortly after you are moved to the second chair from the president and they put this good looking blonde girl next to you. You wonder what’s going on but say nothing. You only have a couple of lines and a “fake conversation.” You have to say, “Good Morning, Mr. President.” You didn’t realize you’d have to say it, and stand abruptly, 40 times!
Wise is a professional. He does not flub lines but maybe three times all day; but the director wants the scenes shot with emphasis on different things. Lighting, sound, or maybe, one time, in a serious vein the next time in a comic vein. Then someone drops a mike or puts his shadow on the scene and we go again. You are amazed at the set. They built it right there; one minute a wall is there, the next minute it’s not, as they change the camera angle. Then at the end of the scene they put in a railroad track so they can circle the table. You thought you’d be bored, but you are amazed and fascinated by this “moviemaking”!
You are called out during a break to go to one of the offices and sign your contract. It is $150 a day plus overtime. Both days were overtime. The guy behind the desk looks like a bigger version of Bill Gates except he is dressed in dungarees and a sweatshirt.
“We like the way you look on camera,” he says, ”and we are going to get you on more plus we are going to use you again in future shoots. You will get more work here.”
“Oh,” I say, “you must say that to everybody to make them feel good.”
“No. I don’t say that to everybody and I don’t have to,” he retorted. I sign my contract and quickly exit stage right. A little perplexed.
“Who was that guy?” I ask one of the secretaries.
“Oh, he’s the producer,” was her reply. Gulp! Hope I didn’t blow it big time. But, it does explain why I was moved to the head of the table I think.
Back to shooting. In one 10-plus-hour day we only shot three scenes with the president. I realize that even though we are called “the Talent” ( the cameraman, boom workers, set people etc. are “the Crew”) we basically are “the Furniture,” without which no movie could be made. Still, we are the backdrop, extras. My two speaking parts probably won’t make it through the cutting room (or else they have to pay me more and give me a SAG card), but based on that the other extras are saying (there are 12 of them) I am getting a lot of camera time. We’ll have to wait and see though. I make a couple of suggestions to Mr. Wise. Surprisingly, he considers them, and even uses them in the scene. The third time I do it though, the director overhears me and I get put in my place. We break for lunch. A gourmet deal of chicken, brie, quiche and the like. They sure feed us well! There is a snack table available all day for breaks and it has everything from candies to donuts to cookies to fruits and vegetables with dip. There are all kinds of drinks from water to soda to juices and punch. I am impressed!
The first day is done. We shot for about 10 hours, with a few breaks. As I said, one scene we did about 40 times, but all of the shots were multiple. Then, after they shoot the whole scene, they go around and reshoot parts of it and focus on you (me) and the other actors to get close-up reaction to the president’s words or orders. Mostly, though, we make faces, expressions, turn to look, shake our heads, hold fake conversations or pretend to be writing in our top secret folders. It’s a hoot! I love it! Give me more! I am animated and attract the attention of the tall blonde, who is seated next to me. Turns out she is a Sharon Stone’s double and a producer in her own right. I am old enough to be her father but she doesn’t believe me and puts my age at 42 (I was 58 at time ). My head swells, of course. Turns out she is making a movie in the fall. It will be filmed in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Carpe Diem! Seize the Day! Seize the Opportunity! I talk to her about it. Angle for a look. A part. She says she will give me a chance as a Secret Service agent. I told her if Clint Eastwood could do it, so could I! Then I apologize for being so bold and cocky. But, she says, “ Don’t!“ She likes people like that. She says you don’t get anywhere if you don’t ask. Of course, I always ask. No moss growing here. In a short time I have been auditioned for a national commercial. Made the finals but not the final cut. Have also been called for four movies. Missed out on two due to my constant traveling back to my home state. Have appeared in several Las Vegas commercials, a national ad, a rap video and another movie. Like I said. The parts are background. Fodder for the stars and furniture, but the two stars in “Red Alert” are fourth and fifth bananas in the big films. You always see them. They get constant work. That’s the thing – getting work. Plus, I am retired so what do I care. They seem to like that about me. My carefree attitude. I keep everybody on the set loose with banter and BS and they love it! Except when I get chewed out by a director half my age. I would go nuts sitting there all day doing and saying nothing. Let’s be real about it.
Day Two: Ray Wise is gone. He is replaced by Barry Corbin, who is playing General Carville in the scenes being shot today. You will remember him as the mayor in “Northern Exposure,” but, like Ray, he gets a lot of work and can be seen on TV and in the movies constantly. Ray was congenial but reserved and did not interact much with us. Barry is a “good old boy.” He is big, say 6-1, 250 lbs, a Texan and real friendly. He jokes more but also has his moments of reserve. He will sign autographs and pose for pictures with the group however I bother him for neither. I tell the stills photographer to get shots of me with him when we interact in a scene. She says she will. She does.
Again breakfast and break food are great. Lunch is going to be a barbecue. What I fear most happens though. “Downtime” rears its ugly head. I work 3-4 hours right away but then am pulled from some scenes and have to sit around and schmooze, or eat, while sets are torn down and other scenes are shot. That part of it is “bor-ing” as the kids say. Me too. Might be the thing that gets me. The people here are very interesting and creative. I talk with the blonde to find out more about her movie. So far I am being typed as a military, sheriff, FBI type. At my time and age, if I get anything, just go for it. Who knows, who’s watching ?
I work again. The last two hours but there is a snafu. After playing a four star Air Force General in all the other scenes; in the last scene I am to be shot in front of a “blue screen.” I get into my part and the director says they can only see my head and hands. Seems the Air Force blue of the uniform blends right into the blue screen. What to do? Well, this is the movies, right? So I become a twin. From USAF four-star General Brock Masters – Viola ! I am transformed into his “twin” US Army two-star General Bryce Masters (I got to name both of me). It is a hoot! The Army pants are 34. I am a 36. They jury rig an elastic to stretch across the gap and of course the Army jacket covers it all up and I am good to go. This is the movies right? One guy, who is only shot from the waist up wears dungarees with the jacket, shirt and tie. ILLUSION! ILLUSION! The stuff that dreams are made of! I LOVE IT!!!!
Instead of sitting facing right (as to the president), I am facing left to General Carville. How does it look? I don’t know. Another 10-hour day. My scenes are over. I turn in my uniforms, sign out, say goodbye to all Talent, Crew and Bosses and head home to my “palatial estate” on Glacier Grove. When I get there I jump fully clothed into my 45-foot swimming pool (it is 80 degrees here) and revel in the wonder of it all. Who would have thought? A kid from the BTH in the movies! Granted it is not much but it is a start. I got paid for “acting” (like good background) so that makes me a professional actor. Does the ride stop here? Does it continue? Who knows? I am just going to sit back and enjoy the ride. I “did it,” at least once. May get a chance of something bigger in the fall. And then again, I may not. But, I am retired! I let my body sink to the bottom of the pool with the Sounds of Silence playing in my head. Let the film roll on!
Author’s Note: Life, as it always does, made the decision for me. Because of financial problems they moved their studio from Las Vegas (where I was living) to Los Angeles. They wanted me to go down there, but that was not for me. I did manage other things through my agency, Lear Talent, but tragedy struck back home and eventually my wife and I came back. In starting a home school I ended up with three students, two of them computer geeks as they call themselves. Once they heard I was in Red Alert, they told me I was an International YouTube super star, known by kids who play that CD rom interactive whatever all over, in Europe, Russia, etc. I do know some friends had seen this thing in England, Germany and Russia. I don’t even know how to watch the whole thing, but I have seen bits and parts.
Til next time WML & ITS: Bruce