Monday, November 09, 2009

Quiet on the Set!

Yesterday, I worked as an extra for a film that is currently in production. Here are pictures (and just in case anyone is wondering, I asked for and received permission to take and post them).

We filmed at the former location of the Schneller Orphanage in Jerusalem’s Geula neighborhood, which served as an army base from 1948 to 2008, when it was closed down.

The view of the set from the courtyard:

Film set 1

The mock-up of the vegetable stand, with real fruits and vegetables (I wonder what happened to them after the day of filming):

Vegetable store on the set

Portable tracks for the camera dolly. Here, the whole setup is being tested prior to filming:

Testing the camera

Two gentlemen who also worked as extras record the moment for posterity:

Photographing the photographer

One of the crew members wore a particularly interesting t-shirt. I thought that some army units were so secret that no one was allowed to know that they existed!

T-shirt closer up

A view of the tower at the front of the building complex framed by high clouds:

Clouds over the tower 2

A view of the rear tower:

Closeup of rear tower

Wow, 1856! During a lull in the filming (there were quite a few of them, at least for us extras), I did a bit of exploring in the old complex. Here are some of the things I found:

A narrow corridor leading from the courtyard to the outside world:

A narrow corridor

Bits of ceramic used to reinforce construction:

Bits of ceramic

A board on which tools were kept:

Tool chart

Beyond the main courtyard, an overgrown back yard:

Beyond the courtyard once again

Heading back to the main area, pausing for a moment on cobblestones that are more than a century old:

On the set: Shoes on century-old cobblestones

Back on the set, various items:

Various items on the set

An extra waits (we all did quite a lot of waiting!):

Arch, stairs, actor

Now, just so that nobody gets the idea that filming is glamorous: the Schneller compound had been abandoned for some time and had no running water. Therefore, we had these:

The powder rooms

There was an outdoor sink nearby with liquid soap. There was also some grumbling, including by high-level personnel on the set, but there was nothing to be done.

Now comes the part that is a bit less pleasant to write about: the food. Actually, it wasn’t so much the food itself as it was a matter of being made to feel included, part of the team. Food is an important part of that... and here, someone evidently missed the boat.

The woman who was in charge of us extras knew that most if not all of us would be religiously observant people from Bet Shemesh and Jerusalem. She warned me beforehand that while there would be catered food on the set, it would not be kosher, since the studio had a contract with a company that did not keep the Jewish dietary laws. In practice, this meant that in the morning, most of the people there had a lovely breakfast that included hot dishes. Those of us who kept kosher had to make do with cold omelette sandwiches.

In the evening, after filming, dinner was served to the cast and crew. It looked like this...

Regular dinner on the set

... and it was served here:

At dinner

The extras from Jerusalem and Bet Shemesh who kept kosher—most if not all of us—got this...

The kosher dinner

... served indoors at room temperature.

This is the kind of thing that I would have expected to deal with abroad, not in Israel. I have to admit that I was disappointed—and not because of the food or its serving temperature. For me, it has to do with making everyone in the work environment feel included, like we’re part of the team, even for the brief time that we were there. The fact that we were served the food that we were served in the manner that we were served it—at room temperature and separate from the rest of the cast and crew—gave me a feeling that was, shall we say, less than pleasant. It was almost as if we were being told: OK, we’re the cool people, and you’re just the religious, small-town provincials. We had to do something for you, and here it is. Be grateful.

I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. One of the other extras called his wife during dinner and offhandedly described the food we’d been given as “hazerei”—Yiddish for junk. Sure, I would have preferred a hot meal and a fresh salad. But more than that, I wonder: would it have been so difficult to hire a catering company that kept kosher if only in order to allow everyone who had put in a long day of work on the set to be, and feel, included?

Nevertheless, all things considered, it was a good day and I had a lot of fun. I even received personal direction from the director! Lots of us extras did, and it made me feel like a real live actor instead of just a piece of breathing scenery. Here is a photo of myself in Haredi garb—specifically, the cape and turban. The clothes underneath are my own.

As a Haredi woman

The rest of my photos from the day of filming are here.

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