Cookies on the Double, Martha!- Double Chocolate Coconut Cookies! -213 eggs, 163 1/2 cups of sugar, 162 3/4 sticks of Butter, and 199 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 53 recipes to go!

May 14, 2011

Martha's Double Chocolate Coconut Cookies

André's Double Chocolate Coconut Cookies

Martha’s Double Chocolate Coconut Cookies were the cookies I chose to bake last month to share with my fellow cast and crew members for a day spent in front of cameras and lights in ill-fitting costumes sporting a ridiculous sideburns. I was recently cast in a small role in a documentary about the history of the Boilermakers by a local production company. I was to play the role of an arrogant dandy of Baltimore (c. 1842) named Hiram Burns. I was introduced to this production company last year when a friend of mine, Sean Bridgers was in town filming a trailer for a film he wrote called Arkansas Traveler. He asked me to play the role of a filthy barkeep in a one-whore whorehouse in the middle of nowhere, Missouri. How could I say no? You can see the abridged trailer here.

I really enjoyed working on this project. My friend, Sean is quite a talent and has had a terrific career since his graduate schooldays at Louisiana State University where I taught an adjunct course in music theatre performance. It was nice to see him again and meet some of his terrific friends. In the trailer, you can see the actor Garret Dillahunt who you may recall from the HBO series, Deadwood or, more recently, on the prime time sitcom, Raising Hope. The actress is Angela Bettis from Girl Interrupted and as Carrie in the remake of Stephen King’s Carrie.  Of course, I have no retention for names so I assumed they were like me, just local friends of Sean who were lending their time to see his vision come to life.  It was only until much later that friends pointed out who these actors were. If I had known, I perhaps would have gushed a bit around them. I’m sure they would’ve hated that.

Making a film, particularly one set during a specific time period, is a tedious and challenging process. Using the trailer above as an example, here’s what you don’t see:

It was about thirty-eight degrees on that early March day and we were all shivering, particularly Angela and the actor playing the shirtless giant. There were about twenty people off camera working crew for the shoot. Every time the cameras stopped rolling, a foul-mouthed, tattooed lady came over and covered me with more filth. I wasn’t wearing any shoes because they were too loud. My feet went numb from the cold. I was eating ice-cold biscuits and gravy with my hands caked in charcoal powder. The art director had attempted to light the fireplace of the shack we were filming in which resulted in the place filling up with smoke and nearly choking us all to death. This irritated the curator of the historic site we’d borrowed for the day’s filming. We had to speak so softly to achieve a proper whisper for the sound guy, we couldn’t hear each other’s cues. That two page scene took over nine hours to film.

So, it was a year later and I got an email out of the blue from one of the coordinators for the local film company my friend had hired to shoot his trailer. They had me in mind for a role in the first part of a four-part series about the history of the boilermakers. It was to premiere this Fall in Las Vegas at the summit meeting for the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers union with hopes to sell the series to PBS or one of the many cable channels for broadcast. They sent me the script and called me about a week later to come in and audition.

Auditions for film are very different than auditioning for the theatre. Generally when one auditions for the theatre, the casting director is quite a distance away from you. They usually have an entourage around them of stage managers, assistant directors, a dramaturge, and various assistants.  They are listening to your voice, and watching your body. They are looking for vocal projection, stage presence and a connection to the role. In film auditions, you usually are in a small room. Quite often a tiny hotel room or office. You sit on a couch just across from the casting director. Sometimes there one or two other people in the room. You chat about the project and the role a bit and then they turn the camera on and while seated, you try to become the character in the smallest way possible. They are looking at your eyes. They are looking at how the camera sees you. They are looking for a believable portrayal of that character and your ability to stay focused.

For this particular audition, the director was also the casting director. He was accompanied by two of the producers. In this case the producers were members of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. The director attempted to read the lines from the script while balancing a handheld camera on his shoulder aimed right at me.  This made for a clunky read. I did my best and once done I shook their hands and left not sure if I had given them what they were looking for.

I guess I did because two weeks later they offered me the role.

The shooting schedule indicated a day of rehearsal and a day of shooting. There were two scenes which consisted of about eight pages of dialogue mostly an argument between my character and a young Welsh boilermaker.  The scene was set in a dimly lit tavern in Baltimore filled with men of all classes, wenches and sailors. I had a friend and co-worker who is trying to gain some insights into the filming process and so I asked if they would mind casting her as one of the extras. They obliged.

On the day of rehearsal the director, myself and the young actor from Omaha, Nebraska playing the Welshman met at a historic farm building in Olathe, Kansas to run through our scenes. The basement of the old farmhouse was in the process of being transformed by the art director into an early 19th century tavern. The lighting director was treating the place so that it seemed to flicker with the glow of candlelight. We ran through the scenes several times discussing camera angles and how to involve the crowd of extras that would be on the set the next day.

Once everyone felt secure with how we were going to tackle the shoot, the young actor from Nebraska and I went to be fitted for wardrobe.

The actual shoot went fairly smoothly. So much of making a film can be summed up by the phrase “Hurry up and wait!”  Setting the lights, arranging the props, wrangling a troupe of over twenty extras and getting them all into costume, hair and makeup, setting the camera angles, running through the scenes, filming each scene from every imaginable angle are all parts of an exhausting and tedious process.  My day started at eight in the morning and concluded around eight in the evening with the filming of incidentals. Incidentals are all the little things film editors like to have to choose from when piecing together a story. A close up of a hand reaching into a pocket and producing a gold coin or a hand reaching over to fill a glass with whisky are all incidentals. I think they choose to film these last so you don’t see the exhaustion on the actor’s faces after a long day of hurrying up and waiting.

That said, I loved being able to do a bit of acting again. Stage and screen work really feed my soul and I had no idea I’d been so hungry for so long. I hope to soon door more acting soon. If I ever finish baking all of these damn cookies.

So, next year, if you happen to catch a documentary about the history of the boilermakers, pause long enough to see if you can catch a glimpse of me dressed like an evil, gay leprechaun arguing with a hunky Welshman with big sideburns.  If you do, then I expect you to point excitedly at the T.V. set and say “Hey! It’s whatzhisname with the cookie blog!” You’re loved ones will look at you as though you’ve lost your mind and honestly, they’re probably right to do so.

2 Responses to “Cookies on the Double, Martha!- Double Chocolate Coconut Cookies! -213 eggs, 163 1/2 cups of sugar, 162 3/4 sticks of Butter, and 199 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 53 recipes to go!”

  1. Mary Gemmell Says:

    Good to see you yesterday and love all your stories.

  2. Mary Gemmell Says:

    Good to see you yesterday and love reading all your stories.

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