This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
I was explaining to a friend of mine the other day -- he's a banker in New York -- why, exactly, I'm hanging around the house these days rather than filming a pilot.
"They didn't want it," I said. "They thought they might and then I guess they decided no."
"How do you find out?" he asked. "Do they call you, take you to lunch, what?"
"No, they don't call you to tell you no, they just don't call you to tell you yes. After a few weeks of not hearing yes, or, really anything, you just...go about your business, you know?"
"God! That's humiliating. What a terrible business!" he said, which sort of rankled me. I mean, here he was, slaving away in some office, feeling sorry for me, who was sitting in my backyard in the middle of the day in my underwear, drinking a diet coke.
Okay, a beer, but I don't want that to get around.
And also, what he doesn't get is that this business is awful for everybody. The most powerful agent in town still has to suck up to an unsane, possibly schizotypal actor. The biggest studio chief around still takes a few hits everyday in Variety. The key, I guess, is to make a creepy kind of peace with your corner of the business.
A couple of years ago, I was working on a show and we were doing an airplane scene. Airplane scenes are easy -- you wheel in a fake airplane cabin and shoot -- there's not really enough room for anything fancy, which is why writers love writing them: the characters are strapped in their seats. All you have to do is write dialogue. Perfect.
And this scene was just a sight gag, really. The guy has complained about his back luck on airplanes -- he's always in the middle seat, next to a fat lady and a screaming baby, and so we cut quickly to the airplane interior, with him snugly crammed between a screaming baby -- easily hired and arranged; there are agents in town who specialize in infants -- and a fat lady.
Hiring a fat lady is trickier, because it's embarrassing to be hiring someone specifically because of their morbid obesity. You know, you walk into the casting session and the corridor is filled with fat ladies -- and they know why they're all here -- some of them even know each other from other auditions -- and you know why they're here, and they know that you'll probably end up hiring the fattest one, just because, well, fatter is funnier in this particular instance, but everyone has to pretend that something else, something not demeaning and creepy is going on.
So our casting director hires one, and she basically chickens out. We show up to the shoot the next morning and the woman she's hired is, well, she's plump. She might technically be spilling over the armrest, but not enough to really register on film. Now as it happens, our studio driver is a very large woman herself -- maybe three bills -- and she's standing off to the side, waiting for someone to drive.
At which point we notice that the actress we hired to be fat is a lot less fat than the studio driver just a few feet away, and the whole scene would be a lot funnier if, say, someone had the courage to walk up to Michelle, our driver and...broach the subject. But how do you do that? It's humiliating and mean and could just be incredibly devastating to someone. I mean, how does a decent person ask another person if she wants to play the part of Obese Airplane Lady?
I don't know how a decent person does it, but this is how I did it.
"Hey, Michelle, how's it going?"
"These morning shoots, huh? Gotta get my coffee. Anyhoo. Anyhoo."
"She's not fat enough, is she?"
"No, no, Michelle, she's not."
"You want me to play that part, don't you?"
"Yes, yes Michelle, yes I do."
"Okay. I'm in SAG. Gotta pay me double top. And give me a line."
See? All that worry about dignity and self-esteem for nothing. What was I thinking? We're all in this business together. We're all playing the role of Obese Airplane Lady for someone.
That's it for this week. Next week, we'll improvise. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.