June 4, 2014 —
My call time was 10 a.m. Saturday morning in Brooklyn. The day before, I met with the director to finalize my costume and props. The vintage Burberry trench coat fit well, and I could wear my own black slacks and sensible brown shoes. “As long as you can run in them,” he said. He said nothing about jumping.
My daughter suggested the old backpack I had bought over 40 years ago in Paris. It matched the Burberry and was approved. The producer stuffed it full with rope lights and other accoutrements of my character’s trade. I was to be a searcher for alien life. Think of Gertie from “ET,” all grown up and a little outside of society at large. She is always alone. She’s in her own world.
I liked the character instantly and the props were great. Huge old headphones and Bell & Howell binoculars. A mini satellite dish and an old transistor radio with a dangling antenna. My own glasses were acceptable, but the director smudged them with some kind of cream to lessen the glare. So I was largely blind. And asked to run down the park steps without holding on to the railing, something I take care to do even when I can see.
There was no budget for hair and makeup, so I did my own. This is not something I am particularly good at in real life, but Gertie being Gertie, it didn’t seem to matter. The night before, I plucked eyebrows until I was red and sore.
The project was a music video for a band called The Stationary Set. “A music video?” a friend asked. “Did you have to dance?” I didn’t have to dance. I didn’t have to sing. I didn’t have any lines at all. All I had to do was act. But it was not lost on me that I was the only 60-something on a set of 20-somethings. Maybe a few 30-somethings. And the band was hot. I mean rock-star cute and talented, with a little swagger thrown in. And nice. The lead singer was the songwriter. He was also a poet, but I refrained from bonding with him over poetry to concentrate on the task at hand.
The first day of the two-day shoot had 20 shots, all outdoors and timed to the sunset and subsequent darkness. Most of those were with the band members on a roof-top in Brooklyn. The band had approved the concept for this video out of a desire to do something atypical. Although the song is a love song, “Year of My Sign” is about waiting for something or someone you desire, and the director came up with the idea of this character, Gertie, waiting for the aliens she had met so long ago to come back and contact her. The band loved the idea.
The best part is the end, when the band and Gertie all are levitated into a beam of light coming from the dark sky. For that, I required a stunt double. When the director said “Jump!” I thought “Jump? That wasn’t in the audition.” My jump, coming off a recently sprained ankle, was feeble. So I traded shoes with the producer, who ably levitated with the rest of the band.
Like Gertie, I am often in search of unlikely outcomes. But unlike her, I am rarely alone. My family and friends provide a comfortable landing for my most far-flung adventures. This time, my son was the hero, casting me in a music video he directed and produced with his company, Six Part Productions. Maybe this is the year of my sign.