Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Pay Dirt

I have received my first check from the studio. $110.10 for 13.5 hours. In addition to the usual suspects like SDI and FICA there is a little bonus with the entry of "Smoke". This is combat pay for working on a set where people are smoking. Since we all know that second-hand smoke kills millions of cuddly puppies, rainbows, unicorns, and orphans, the least the studio can do is kick us an extra twelve bucks. This was known to me during the casting call, but I wagered I wouldn't have to smoke. Perhaps I will have stunt cigarettes.

On the set of our 1981 Dean Witter brokerage house the two traders to either side of me are chain smokers in real life and are looking forward to getting paid to puff. Think about this. Your greatest consumptive vice, Abba Zabba, egg rolls, Rolling Rock...and they PAY you to consume it.

The call goes out from the assistant director ("background talent smoking please!") and they click open their Zippos and light up. From the AD: "Cut. Reset back to one. We're going again." Over the course of 40 minutes and five takes I watch them split a pack of Camels. It isn't their usual brand, but they wanted to be true to the period. You have to admire that kind of dedication. There's a lighting problem so we sit for 20 minutes and chatter. They smoke. A tubby prop man walks around to inspect ashtrays. Ours is squarish and fashioned from crackley, amber glass. It is remarkable in its ugliness and I loved it immediately because it is exactly what I remember my parents using. Prop Guy stops between our desks and eyes the ashtray like a college physics professor proctoring a mid-term. He inspects it carefully, thinks for a moment, then reaches into a large, 1-gallon sized Ziploc bag filled with cigarette butts, fills his hand like he's fishing for correct change, and drops them into our ashtray. He walks away satisfied.

Then the ironic happens. The AD commands all smokers to extinguish and to only smoke what is being doled out to them by Props for the rest of the shoot: nicotine-free, herbal cigarettes. They smell like Cloves rolled in potpourri. Their wine has turned to water.

And now each day at lunch the smokers bum rush our 27th floor elevator because they've spent all morning puffing away and have yet to have a single cigarette.